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How do I know when I’m supposed to retire?
August 5, 2018
1:10 pm
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A First Person story from the Globe and Mail - 5 August 2018

How do I know when I’m supposed to retire?

By David Sheffield

“So, will you be the next one?” My much younger colleague is standing by my desk with a big smile. I pretend to not understand, but I know what she’s asking.

Canadian workplaces have been hit with a wave of retirements so massive that some have tagged it the grey tsunami. The term sounds ominous, conjuring up legions of aging people, such as myself, about to crash on the shore of an unsuspecting society – and in our drawback, drain the treasury and suck away the wealth of subsequent generations.

The demographics of this aging population are well known. In 1945, the end of the Second World War was celebrated with a prolonged bout of procreation that lasted for 20 years. The baby boomers – some 8.2 million in Canada alone – have fought a determined battle, but time is winning.

As a typical boomer, I have worked for more than half my life, my labour consuming perhaps the best years. Whether we like it or not, what we do goes a long way to define and, if we are lucky, enrich us. So how do we know when to stop? How will I know when to stop? Milk has a best-before date, tires have tread-wear indicators, but what about boomers? We admire and miss those who go out at the top of their game, beckoned by a bucket list brimming with challenges and possibilities. Then there are those who soldier on long after their campaign has ended.

I always knew that I did not want to be the old man in the corner. In my first office job, there was an eastern European fellow who reacted to almost everything with an incredulous guffaw and a dismissive hand motion. Nothing could, would or should change and we were crazy to think otherwise. We viewed him as a curiosity, an artifact, a communal granddad and an object of pity. His last major pronouncement in 1989, just before he retired, was that the Berlin Wall would never come down.

At the downtown station where I board the train for my morning commute, there is a poster ad for a personal-injury lawyer. Weathered but handsome in his white hair, sharp blue suit and power tie, he exudes confidence and wisdom and you just know he commands respect. No old guy in the corner, this man is in the corner office. He is the senior employee who we would like to be. Yet, for many, the final years are the worst of their career, feeling that their experience and expertise are utterly wasted. On a good day in the office, when I’m filled with accomplishment and stimulating engagement with colleagues, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. But on a bad day, I feel like a ghosted icon on my computer screen – there but not there, slowly sliding into irrelevance.

My company recently moved into a bright new office building: open plan, cubicles, all clean lines and glass. Goodbye spacious private office. We are like eggs in a crate now and I am in a corner. We have stand-up desks that rise with the push of a button and most of my colleagues now work standing, with headphones and music to quell the noise. This environmentally certified building recycles rainwater for use in the washrooms. A sign advises us not to drink out of the toilet or urinals. I feel as if I’ve landed in a new world and do not quite know what to make of it.

Some feel that to retire is to die. With the end of compulsory retirement in Canada, the decision went from a fixed date to a major life choice. Turning to the wise oracle of our time, Google, I search: When do you know that it is time to retire? Most answers are financially focused: “When you have saved 25 times your anticipated annual expenditures.” One site tackles how to be emotionally ready to quit work: “The ideal time to retire is when the unfinished business in your life begins to feel more important than the work you are doing.”

Sometimes I look for a sign, thinking I might pull the plug when someone stands up to offer me a seat on the daily commute. I ward this off daily by regularly offering my seat to others and, when standing, try to look relatively stable and comfortable even as my aching back screams for a seat.

At our office, the retirements go pretty much to script. Cake is served, a slideshow plays, eliciting remarks on how young everyone once was; speeches recount some career milestones – perhaps contributing to a new accounting system, being an enthusiastic member of the softball team, or maybe just having just been there a long time. The retiree, often with obvious discomfort at being in the spotlight, acknowledges the accolades, saying they will miss the people but not the work. And then they are gone. When my time comes, will I genuinely feel no regrets or just wish I could start over?

I stay in touch with recently retired colleagues and friends and, of course, the first question I ask is, “How is retired life?” The standard reply: “How did I ever find the time to go to work every day?” Like recent converts to a new religion, they speak of having the luxury of time, being able to savour the morning paper, travel at will and take up pickle ball. Pickle ball, promoted as: “the serious sport with the funny name that keeps you fit, socially engaged, and alert.” Will pickle ball be my retirement salvation?

Is time off more precious when it is scarce — an afternoon, a weekend, a three-week vacation? My father used to lament that he could never get everything done that he wanted to, “even in a month of Sundays.” Do I want a month of Sundays or years of Sundays? Would too much time go from being a blessing to a curse? Will I end up “just sitting at home growing tenser with the times,” to borrow a line from Bruce Cockburn? Yes, I could see that as a default option. It frightens me.

My still-smiling young colleague jolts me out of my thoughts. “So, will you be the next one?” I can tell that she, 20 years from now, will quickly answer, “You bet, I’m out of here asap!” Instead, I reply, “I’ll let you know. Just working through a few details.”

August 5, 2018
5:05 pm
Saver-Mom
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Wow, that article is very touching and thought provoking. I have pondered similar ideas, wondering when enough is enough and what will there be to fill my time, will I be happier without the stress of work, or will I be bored and lacking an identity.

August 5, 2018
6:59 pm
julio
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1) stop calling yourself “being that” (like in I am a receptionist, I am a oil field worker, etc.) and move to calling yourself “doing that” (like I am now the person who is doing reception work,...). This step helps you stop identifying yourself with the job, and it alleviates fear of the loss of identity.

2) if you don’t have a hobby or some preferred activity by now, it is perfectly OK. That is who you are. However, declare for yourself a goal you can never run out of - like “every day I will enhance the welfare of everyone I will come in contact with”.

3) request from Servicecanada 800-277-9914 your estimated CPP and OAS amounts. Then ask about your possible work pension and add personal saving (non-reg. & both reg’s), maybe even bsns. retained earnings.

4) educate yourself about retirement calculators, putting emphasis on “presumptions!!!”. ONLY YOU know what presumptions you can soundly sleep with at nights. If you have a trusted friend, consult. I do not recommend any alphabet soup titled professionals. Why? Ultimately, bottom line, losing their desk situation - their firm profits are their job number one. ONLY YOU can focus your numbers on what you NEED, not what you or others want. Ensure, that your numbers/investments are more then a reward mechanism for advisors whose advice carries a high price. Realize, that they are businesses and YOU are their profit source. Do not get greedy and do not assume more risk than the absolute minimum your objectives demand. ONLY YOU can do it, (if your desire to get this going is enormous). Your willingness to read this attests that you are on your way.

5) from the above, using your needed income (not wanted), it will point to a calendar date.

6) when both psychologicals and financials are in line, that is the date for you to retire. If you love your job, you stay in it, until you stop loving it. Realize, how many around you are counting their number of years to qualify for a full pension. Do not pitty them, that is who they are. You now know better.

7) ALL presumptive situations in the future will solve themselves, as they ALWAYS did in your past. Your only job will be to stop making mental models what should be going on and laugh about all situations as they occur, today, not when having guests over for a drink ten years from now.

8) enjoy.

August 9, 2018
5:25 pm
Bill
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Boomers, obsessing over and analyzing every feeling. If you're wondering, you're not ready. Just keep working until the day you no longer want to go, then quit and go do something else (that's my view).

August 10, 2018
7:29 am
Norman1
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The musings seem to be from someone who is trying to be "fashionable" and worries too much about what others think, instead of doing the right thing for him/her. Sort of like those yuppies of long ago who insisted on a kitchen with expensive Jenn-Air stoves. Quite laughable to spend that kind of money just for show. They didn't actually cook at home and ate out all the time!

People who retire too early will be so bored. After five years, they will start looking for a job, any job to pass the time. sf-frown Driving a school bus. Flipping burgers at McDonalds. …

August 10, 2018
8:13 am
Bill
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A lot has to do with whether you prefer to be around people, are primarily social, or you prefer your own company, enjoy solitude. The workworld is a very handy setup for the former. And if asked I'm quite happy to encourage people to keep working and depositing to, instead of drawing from, the various pension plans. sf-wink

August 10, 2018
8:20 am
JenE
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Well, I retired at 55, 14+ years ago and far from being bored I’m having at least as much fun now as I did back then. It’s all individual. If working makes a person happy, then they should keep on doing it, no matter what other’s expectations are.sf-cool

August 10, 2018
9:44 am
Rick
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My brother-in-law is 68. He says he's on the Freedom 95 plan. He just enjoys his work. I quit a year ago and have no trouble finding ways to fill my day.

August 11, 2018
10:33 am
mmlt
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Retire as soon as you can. Life is short. There is so much more than being slave to the man. Even watching grass(not the funny kind) grow brings me joy.

August 11, 2018
11:21 am
Bill
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Still think it depends on your personality. Every teacher of young kids will tell you there are always those who like to crowd right up front close to the teacher doing whatever s/he's directing, and then there are those who bolt for the door whenever they get a chance. And some in between. If you're keen about the work that's laid out for you to do, keep on working. I've seen lots of that type who are unhappy retirees, don't seem to want to do much that they have to come up with by themselves.

August 11, 2018
11:28 am
Rick
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mmlt said
Retire as soon as you can. Life is short. There is so much more than being slave to the man. Even watching grass(not the funny kind) grow brings me joy.  

Agree 100%. In my work, I had to deal with a lot of people of all ages that suffered some serious, life-changing curve balls that completely affected their and/or their loved ones capabilities. You never know what tomorrow will bring. I had planned to retire at 65, but after seeing so many tragic circumstances and hearing their stories, changed it to 60, and still had to move my retirement up several months for health reasons. Enjoy what time you have left on your own terms while it is still possible.

August 11, 2018
9:53 pm
Norman1
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I disagree. Life is short for some people. But, it is not for most. Two former neighbours made it to their mid-90's. One co-worker passed away in his mid-60's. Another passed away in her 30's. That "life is short" justification has been used for some really stupid decisions.

I agree with JenE. No reason to leave one's job if it makes one happy and one can still perform it. As well, it can't really be a burden if one no longer needs the job financially and one chooses every day to show up for work.

August 12, 2018
5:54 am
Bill
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I agree with the "why change things up if you're happy when you get up in the morning?" view. You become what you do, a slave learns to love his chains, etc, etc. Many people's identities become firmly wrapped into their work identities so it's painful for them to separate. And some would rather plow the same row deeper and deeper over wrenching themselves into another life.

Worst thing to do is guide your decisions by the current pop-culture mantras like "work/life balance", "there's more to life", etc. Ignore the sheep, and when you get to that blissful stage of life that it's an option just do whatever you want to do.

And don't forget the dog factor. I know two couples who retired some years ago now, promptly got dogs (his-and-hers in one case) and, aside from their servitude to the dogs, they ain't doin' much else or goin' anywhere much. From talking to the two men, one openly regrets not getting to go to his old workplace every day and the other hints at the same. So you never know what turns someone's crank.

August 12, 2018
6:10 am
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I know of two individuals who are far beyond their "best before date" but go to work everyday, hating it everyday but hang on still waiting for the golden handshake because they believe a farewell package is due to them for their years of service. It's individuals like these, that truly leave companies in a bind.

August 12, 2018
12:40 pm
mmlt
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Top It Up said
I know of two individuals who are far beyond their "best before date" but go to work everyday, hating it everyday but hang on still waiting for the golden handshake because they believe a farewell package is due to them for their years of service. It's individuals like these, that truly leave companies in a bind.  

I worked with a few fellows that should have been put out to pasture. It's sad. Some do not realize their expiry date and some do not care. Often its an unhappy home life and plain greed keeping them going. They do not care about the impact on company and more importantly, coworkers.

August 12, 2018
6:58 pm
Bill
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It's the business's job to handle its "human resources" appropriately. There are appropriate responses to anyone who's underperforming, no matter the age or years of service.

August 13, 2018
4:59 am
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While, in general, there's no longer a mandatory retirement age in Canada, companies shouldn't have to severance hanger-on employees, who are past the age of 65, in order to get rid of them.

August 13, 2018
8:36 am
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Norman1 said

People who retire too early will be so bored. After five years, they will start looking for a job, any job to pass the time.  

"any job to pass the time" - certainly not the target profile of individuals that a company wants to keep on their payrolls.

August 13, 2018
12:48 pm
mmlt
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Bill said
It's the business's job to handle its "human resources" appropriately. There are appropriate responses to anyone who's underperforming, no matter the age or years of service.  

I could not agree more. You need to have competent management. I've seen more dead weight in management than I did among the grunts.

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