Do You Really Want to Retire?

Recently, the “I want to retire” mantra seems to be an ever more common theme. I am even hearing a greater number of people in their early 50s, with successful careers and some with high-paying positions, say they want to retire.

Marsha is a highly educated college professor, researcher, speaker and author. She loves the prestige of her occupation, the intellectual rigor, and being a leader in her field. What she dislikes is working with undergraduate students that she finds disrespectful and unengaged in their studies. At 70, she still needs to earn a living but will retire if she cannot get rid of the unpleasant parts of her job.

Nick is the chief financial officer for a large company and commutes two hours every day in heavy traffic. The job he loved changed significantly after the company’s most recent merger. He has much more responsibility and much less control over his day and duties. His wife retired early, and the family is counting on his job financially as its sole source of income and for the good health insurance.

Cindy works for a wonderful company with great benefits but is bored after 30 years of doing the same job. She works directly with the public, which has become increasingly rude and demanding. Donita has a high-paying position at a large bank. But along with a high-paying position comes mountains of stress. Both Cindy and Donita are more than ready to retire.

A common thread among these retiree “wannabees” is a sense of unhappiness or discontent arising from job issues. Ungrateful students, rude and demanding customers, significant stress and the related health concerns, and changes in company structure and leadership are all factors in play. Retirement often seems like the first solution to such problems that people will consider. However, is retirement really the answer?

Full retirement is a significant life change with lots of considerations. Retiring in your early 50s or 60s leaves you with decades ahead, and you will need to figure out how to occupy that time. Quitting work before you have enough financial resources for the lifestyle you envision will not lead to a happy retirement. In addition, discussions with your spouse to understand his or her thoughts and feelings on the matter are critical.

If you are deeply unhappy with your work, figure out the root cause of your angst. Maybe your current job isn’t the best match for your skills and you can make a change to put your true passions to work elsewhere. If you are a trained pastry chef but are stuck behind a desk, find a way to make a good living making those wedding cakes. Maybe you are commuting many hours a day and could instead work from home a couple days a week or get a closer job.

If you really want to retire, practice before you turn in your notice. Plan a way to take some time off and appreciate what it means for your day not to have a job. Practice not having a paycheck, and understand how that affects your budget. It is one thing to say you will cut back expenses and another to turn down friends when they ask you to go to dinner or on a trip. A poor retirement is not a fun retirement.

If there is a specific problem with your job, consider working with your employer to address the issue, or look for another job entirely that is better suited to your skills. If your financial health is not adequate for such a move, phasing into retirement may be another option.

This commentary originally appeared July 7 on

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