How to discern when to retire

Retirement initiates a major life transition. For some it is an escape from work that was drudgery. For others it means letting go of a position that has defined who they are. For some it means a lower standard of living. For others it sets them free to do things they never before had time to do. For married people it changes their relationship with their spouse.

An old tree surrounded by dramatic clouds

Discerning when and how to retire involves looking at your health and finances, your life’s work and dreams for the future, and the effect your retirement will have on others. Below are guidelines that may be of help if you are wrestling with when to retire.

  1. Schedule a few minutes of silence near the beginning or end of each day to plant yourself with God at the center of your being while letting the possibilities of retirement hover at the edges.
  2. Carefully calculate what your financial resources will be upon retirement. Then make a list of expenses that will be absolutely essential: food, housing, utilities, clothing, medical costs, transportation needs. Next calculate the minimum cost of additional things that are extremely important to you such as gift giving, hobbies, entertainment, travelling to visit family. And finally come up with an additional figure for other things that ideally you would like to be able to do in retirement.  If you need help assessing your financial situation, you may have a friend or relative who can help. Or you can look for help by going to “financial planning for retirement” on the internet.
  3. If you want to take time to get in touch with feelings and the deep thoughts of your heart about your job, set aside time to become still. For several minutes, in your body try to feel your job and all that is related to it. Wait to see if an image springs up from your depths. If an image emerges, meditate on it, pondering shapes, colors, possible sounds and smells and other associations that may speak to your situation. Explore any analogies that come to you. In time, possibly begin to write a stream-of-consciousness passage, a conversation with God, or a poem. You may want to take coloring pens to express your feelings on paper by the colors you select, the shapes you form, how hard or softly you press the pens against the paper. If a strong image has come to you, let it become embedded within you and speak to you over time. This exercise can be done in a single chunk of time or spread out over several days.
  4. Explore your deeper feelings about retirement by implanting in your body a sense of what it would be like to be retired. Then follow the same procedures as laid out above. Whatever you do, allow things to reveal themselves over a span of time
  5. Spend some time writing about the trajectory your work and vocation has taken over the course of your life. What was exciting about the work you did, what was drudgery?  How does your current work feel in terms of excitement or drudgery?  Are there things in life that you deeply desire that would be possible  if you were retired?.
  6. It can be helpful to ask one or more trusted friends, family members, and/or co-workers to spend some time with you either one-on-one or in a cluster to quietly listen to your musings as you consider when you might retire. Request that they listen deeply, without judgment, and that they offer no advice.  Let them know that you would like them to listen carefully and then allow time for what you say to settle in, and only after that to pose brief, clear, thoughtful questions that you can think and pray about, or that you can respond to if you feel ready to do so.
  7. As you near a decision, as confirmation look for signs of the Spirit such as the same message coming to you through different channels; strands of your life converging; feelings of joy; surging energy; and the preeminent sign, a sense of deep inner peace. The absence of this final sign is a warning that something is unresolved.
  8. If you are married, have some conversations with your spouse to ascertain his or her needs as well as your own. The two of you together may want to make use of some of the above suggestions, doing some discernment as a couple.
  9. As you look toward retirement, take time to develop a plan for the first few months so that you are not left with a huge void in your life.
  10. Even after you set a date for retirement, continue to take the time each day to be quiet and hold your plan in God’s presence.

Be patient with yourself as you consider retirement and after you retire. Retirement is not one, but many transitions. It may take time to let go of what is and move forward into what can be. Your life is a journey that has brought you to the place you now stand.