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Am I ready to retire a little early? Well, yes, and no

Terri Donahue of Center Moriches learned she could

Terri Donahue of Center Moriches learned she could retire a year earlier than planned, though she loves her job as a reading teacher. At 61, she says, "I feel too young to retire," but looks forward to more opportunities to travel and be with her grandchildren. Credit: Mark Donahue

After receiving my bachelor’s degree and teaching certification in 1976 and the times being what they were in the field of education, I was unable to secure a teaching position.

Newly married, I knew I wanted to start a family soon, so it didn’t seem imperative to begin a teaching career, only to leave it shortly for motherhood. After my second son was born, I decided to return to school to pursue my master’s degree in reading.

Five years later, I completed my degree, just as my last child was about to enter school full time. I was now able to begin teaching at age 33, somewhat late by teaching standards back in the day, but not so late nowadays. When I began, I looked at teaching not so much as a career that would take me to retirement, but a job that I wanted to do for a few years to help bring in more income or until I got tired of working.

I ended up loving my job, as it was not just a job, but a calling in which I was rather proficient. Ten years later, when my marriage fell apart, I was ever so grateful for my job that not only gave me a purpose, but now was my solace, my distraction, my financial support and independence. It was my job — the security of it and its income — that helped give me the strength to follow through with my divorce.

Now, 28 years into my “career,” yes — now it really is my career and not “just a job,” — I realize how fate had led me down this path and gave me a sense of worth. Thinking I had two more years to go before facing retirement, I found out from my union president that I had become eligible to retire next year, after 29 years, because of my age. I’ll turn 62 in February. When he told me this, it threw my psyche into a tailspin. The ultimate planner that I am, I found a wrinkle in my plan! A year earlier! I am not ready emotionally. Thoughts that went through my head were mostly financial.

I have been remarried now for 11 years, yet money and my job had became my security blanket. I have invested wisely in my 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans. My pension and investments “should” garner me an income close to what my salary has been. But, a whole year sooner?

What was I afraid of? Retirement is scary. Once upon a time, I thought retirement meant that you were OLD. But at almost 62, it has now become the new 42. So retiring this “young” can have a scary future. So many panic-like thoughts run through my mind. I want to be able to continue living the same way, with money left to travel. Ah yes, travel — to be able to go on a vacation, anywhere, anytime, without being relegated to the school calendar.

I could now travel during off-peak times without the crowds! But will I have enough money? My financial adviser, with whom I have been in close contact over the years, assures me that with my pension and investments, I will be OK. He reminds me that I will no longer have certain taxes taken out of my pension or investments, so I should bring home almost the same amount of money.

OK, travel is an incentive to retire; money will be OK, but what else? Is there life after retirement? For 29 years, I have gotten up every morning, created lesson plans, enjoyed working and making a difference in the lives of children. I identified myself as a Reading Teacher. I was proud of that title. And, despite all the changes and movements in education, suffering through state testing with Common Core, and constant changes in administration, I really and truly love my job. I love the children, my colleagues, the routine, and even the challenges. I’m not one who is counting the days till retirement, nor am I dreading it.

Yes, there is trepidation. I love working, although it would be nice NOT to have to wake to an alarm each morning. I would like to continue to work in another capacity — perhaps pursue my other passions, writing and poetry. I’d love to have a book published someday or even have my own column. Perhaps I could work freelance.

I am talented and love jewelry making, painting, photography, and other craft-related ideas. These would give me an artistic outlet, as well as a way to make money on the side. It would give me time to be with my grandchildren or care for them on a sick day to help out my son and daughter-in-law.

It would give me more time to spend with my mom, who is turning 87. Although she is fairly healthy, perhaps God and Karma are telling me that retiring a year earlier than planned would give me an extra year to spend with her. So, while retiring at 29 years as opposed to 30 was not in my life’s plan, I plan to embrace it. For we don’t get to pass through this life but once, and now is the time to reap the benefits for all my years of toil. It seems that the bottom line is now, I will have the time to work on all the unfinished aspects of my life and have fun!

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