Countdown to Retirement

I got my first job at the age of 14. Except for two brief periods of unemployment in the 1970s, I’ve worked ever since. Retiring early has long been my dream. Early on I decided a government job was the best way to make my dream come true.

A passion for public service was never a factor. I wanted the pension plan, mostly, along with health insurance, and paid sick and vacation leave. After years of working nights, weekends, and holidays, I also wanted a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday schedule with holidays off.

I went back to college, finished my four-year degree (in ten years), and landed a state job working as a staff assistant at the university. Employees could take up to six credit hours a semester for free. I had no interest in grad school, but my bosses convinced me not going would be stupid.

Three years later, my spanking new M.S. degree enabled me to land a federal government job with the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program. The opportunity to make a difference ignited a passion for public service. I loved the work and was on track to retire when I turned 58.

After eight years at KSU, I was sent to Washington DC to work (on loan) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a year that ended up being extended to eighteen months. Before my time ran out, the University of Georgia made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Athens in February is hard to resist.

The trade off, ironically, was having to give up my federal pension. Instead of retiring after 30 years with a guaranteed income for life, I’d have to work until I’d accumulated enough money to cover expenses for the rest of my life. Retie early? I’d be lucky to retire at all.

Fortunately, I have always loved what I do. The job — improving financial literacy — has been the same through three employers for more than thirty years. Shifting my focus over the years to different topics, initiatives, and audiences has kept things interesting.

As my retirement accounts grew, so did concerns about my portfolio. I knew enough to know I needed help and hired a financial planner. She said the ship had sailed on retiring in my fifties, but I wouldn’t have to work for the rest of my life. Woo hoo!

Dealing with budget cuts, picking up the slack from lost positions, and functioning in a massive bureaucracy are sometimes a challenge. I get frustrated, but cope because I want to retire one day and, for the most part, the good part of the job outweighs the bad. Going with the flow, however, seems to get harder with age.

For a host of different reasons, changing jobs eventually ceased to be a realistic option. Until I saved enough to retire, I was trapped. At one point, unhappiness led me to try going on disability for my vision issues. They offered accommodations which I was happy to accept: I no longer travel and can work from home.

The accommodations helped with my vision issues, but sucked much of the joy from my work. The best part of the job — networking with educators in Georgia and colleagues all over the country — was no longer possible. I also felt very disconnected.

Two years ago, I met with my financial planner again to get updated projections. There are lots of unknowns, including whether or not I go on disability, but retiring after I turn 62 early next year appeared to be doable.

I swore to retire as soon as possible. The thrill was gone. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Then they asked me to teach a class (Spring 2018 semester). To be totally honest, I said yes for the brownie points. Between Andy’s death and a serious bout with the flu, I ended up missing half the semester, but the experience whet my appetite for more.

My department head thought I’d say no when she asked if I’d teach a three-credit course in the Fall (2018) — just this once. I said I would, if and only if I could teach it every semester. She was only too happy to agree.

Best decision I ever made. Everybody wins. I’m swimming in brownie points, and my Consumers in Society class is the most fun I’ve had in years.

Having the option to retire is a game changer. I no longer feel trapped. In fact, I’m having too much fun to quit. Should that change, I’ll let you kknow As always, thanks for stopping by.

2 responses to “Countdown to Retirement”

  1. Your life is a great story, Michael. Thanks for sharing something that we can all learn from: we can never know exactly what’s in the future, and joy can come from unexpected places.

    • Thank you! I tell my students to plan for the life they want and be prepared for the life they get. I feel very blessed to have had the career Ive had and to have met so many wonderful colleagues–like you! Thanks for stopping by.