I have no idea what I would do if I retired early

Regular readers know that I am not as happy with my job as I used to be and I really want to leave this state.  DH’s job is flexible geographically, but it’s at a start-up and could either go big or go out of business in the next couple of years and there are only 3 cities in the US where it would be fairly easy to find a new job in his specializations.

Our married and adult life we’ve followed my job.  If we changed to follow DH’s I might have to leave academia entirely and I’m not entirely sure if I would be able to or even want to make a transition to industry.  (It would be very easy to transition to government but I SO do not want to be a government policy analyst.)

We could have me do the RE part of FIRE.  DH’s job isn’t as stable as mine, but we could probably handle the time it takes to find a new position, and it would be faster to find a new position in more expensive cities.

Recently Revanche asked what I would do if I retired early.  And had I given thought to what I would do if I retired at a normal age for retirement.

Honestly, no.

I don’t want to craft.  I’m allergic to most green things, so gardening is out.  I would probably end up taking a leadership position in activism and that would make me so unhappy all the time.  I do so much more good so much less unpleasantly by getting rid of my students’ math phobia.  (And I could teach K-12 but that also sounds pretty unpleasant.  And yes, I have done volunteer tutoring before… there’s a lot of sitting around waiting for someone to show up.  Teaching Montessori sounds up my alley, but it would pay so little and I would be so sick at first.)  I don’t want to write novels.  I do like reading them.  But…

I mean, I could retire and read novels and catch up on all the movies I haven’t watched since my kids were born.  I would make elaborate dinners.  And organize things around the house.  And gradually get lonely and depressed.  I would probably set myself strict schedules to make my days go by more quickly.  I might look into fixing up my health, but also I might not.  Whether or not I got out and spent time with other not employed people would entirely depend on where we were living– I do not at all like the SAHM around here.  I picked up books at the library the other weekday when story time was starting and it was a terrifying parade without a single mask.

I could also play video games which are really engrossing but make me incredibly depressed when I stop, unfed and unwashed with bleary and dry eyes, having spent the day and much of the night playing.  (I cannot have access to video games or that is all I will do.  I don’t even take restroom breaks until I really have to.)

I would probably try training service puppies.  I have the kind of forceful personality that dogs tend to respect.  And I LOVE puppies.  Dogs, not so much.  I mean, if it were my own dog, that would be different, but I’m really a cat person at heart.  So I do think I could train puppies and then give them back.  I mean, I trained my sister’s dog and then left.  Fostering kittens sounds like a lot of heartbreak (longtime readers may remember when #2 fostered).

But yeah, I would probably end up finding a cause and try to fix it and be unhappy and stressed.  That’s what I DO when I have too much time on my hands.  Having a career is a way of keeping me safe from that.  Also keeps me from being too controlling over my kids.

In terms of what about normal retirement?  I have not actually thought about it because it depends on so much.  Do my kids have kids?  How is our health? How much money do we have?  Are we both still alive?  So many things can change and it’s decades from now so, no haven’t done planning.

So… I think even if things are terrible I’m unlikely to quit my *career* if I can help it, though I might quit my job.  I’m hoping to have something lined up, preferably in one of those three aforementioned cities.  I’ve been thinking that a SLAC might be nice, so long as the teaching load isn’t too onerous.  (I don’t want to go above 2/2.)  I don’t know.

What would you do if retired early or on time (but were not super wealthy, like if you’re partnered your partner still had to work)?

30 Responses to “I have no idea what I would do if I retired early”

  1. Omdg Says:

    Ooh! I have thought about this A LOT.

    I don’t know that I would enjoy the kind of industry job that would hire me. I think… I would try to do locums anesthesia one week per month in a location nobody wants to live to support myself, and swim for fun in my free time, catch up on sleep, read books, schlep my daughter, etc. I don’t know if I would be happy not using the analytical side of my brain, so I think I would have to come up with something to keep that that part of my brain active too. Write novels?

    I might volunteer at a health clinic if I could do something that was less adminy and more see-patienty. I’ve also thought about doing peds palliative care, but I don’t know if I could stomach more dr training.

    So, no retirement for me either. My nightmare scenario is where I get sick and have to quit work because of that, and have to give up essentially everything that keeps me happy.

  2. Jason Says:

    Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth. This is something I think about all the time. I have the right job, but in the wrong city and the truth is I am not sure I would get hired full-time (maybe…I would hope) if I left my tenured position. I wouldn’t mind being a lecturer if it paid me somewhat commensurate with what I have now (probably not). And I am not sure what I would do outside of this. I am sure I could get a job doing something, but I know I would have and am having a major identity crisis because so much of my identity has been wrapped up in being an academic.

    But we have a younger child and our parents are getting older so we want to move close to our home state so they can see him more. We have enough money for Coast FI and would just need to make enough money to sustain our living until a normal retirement age, but it is that sense of purpose and what to do that I struggle with.

    For the next couple of years our plan is to stay put, but I know that will change in about 3-5 years and I am not sure what I will do for work. I hope I find something, but I don’t know what I am sometimes if I am not associated with this profession (something I am working on).

  3. mnitabach Says:

    Regardless of exactly when I go emeritus, my plan is to step off the treadmill of grants, papers, running a lab, admin roles, and devote my professional effort solely to broader strategic mentoring of students, post-docs, and other faculty, both at Yale & at other institutions. I already do a lot of this, my sense is that I’m quite good at it, and it has become by far the most rewarding part of being an academic for me.

  4. Turia Says:

    So Q and I have an appointment with a retirement planner because I’m not good at doing the number crunching based on assumptions and I want someone else to tell me that we don’t have to save above and beyond what we already do for retirement because then we could do other stuff with our excess cash flow (privilege!!!!). We’d also like confirmation that I could occasionally turn down a particularly crappy adjunct offering without us suffering financially (privilege again!!!!)

    FWIW, the front-of-house person I’ve been chatting with to figure out what we need in terms of services told me that academics never retire. Teachers retire the second they’re eligible but academics just keep going and going. So far Q has been completely unhelpful whenever I try to engage him in a conversation about what he wants his retirement to look like.

    From what I can see at our institution, the elder brigade (this is a humanities field) are very good at dodging their teaching, so they keep drawing their excellent salaries while having even more time for research. And since they’d all just do more research when they retired, they don’t see the point of giving up the salary since it funds their trips to libraries in nice places.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Academics retire, on average, at the age of 72 (at least according to Ashenfelter and new nobel prize winner Card, though that may be out of date). My mom retired at 72 because her pension system is set up that she would be paying them for the privilege of teaching after that.

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Want to do a little (mostly) painless activism? Vote Forward is doing a big send to Virginia potential voters in 5 days on October 16th. https://votefwd.org/campaigns

    You can encourage Democratic-leaning voters or voters from underrepresented communities to vote. You will need a printer, envelopes, a pen (or pencil) and postage stamps.

  6. CG Says:

    Ah…go to architecture school, become a master gardener, write those mystery novels that have been in the back of my brain, read all of the books, buy some land and build a cabin myself, volunteer in some way that’s really meaningful to me, like literacy or helping immigrant families settle in. If it were right now I would just be able to do a lot of kid schlepping with less stress. Financially we’d be fine if I retired today, but I’ve always been held back from quitting by the thought that my marriage would suffer if I didn’t have something else I could claim besides taking care of my family. The things I’d enjoy doing instead mostly don’t pay, or don’t pay well, or you have to be both lucky and good to get paid to do them and I have no idea whether or not I would fall into that category. And DH would (rightly) see those as hobbies, not avocations, and afford them the respect of hobbies. And I’m pretty good at my job at this point. So I stay. But I suspect I will retire pretty early unless something big changes in my life.

  7. xykademiqz Says:

    I love teaching and research, but hate most service and I hate the grant-writing game. I thought I’d never retire, now I’m not so sure. I will be 60 when my youngest is out of college, which is I suppose when i could retire; we’ll see how we do financially. I’m not dealing well with the idea of becoming an old woman, but I’m not that worried about what I’d do. Although losing the structure that comes with a job might be a touch daunting. I have some fiction-writing plans, and if those go well in the next few years, I might retire sooner rather than later.

  8. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    Academic here, and as Turia suggests, I don’t want to retire–but I have been pouring myself into teaching, developing new stuff, teaching stuff that no one else wants to do, so I’m pulling my weight and not being like the ones that she mentions. If I retired, I’d be like the old joke about the farmer who, when asked what he’d do if he won the lottery, said, “I’d just keep farming till it’s gone, I guess.” I’d just keep writing & researching, because like nicoleandmaggie, I can’t imagine that much gardening.

  9. Bardiac Says:

    I’m almost old enough to retire, and have set a date, even. And told my dean and colleagues.
    As a single person, I can’t imagine being bored until/unless I’m housebound for some reason. There are walks to take, parks, cities, countries, and museums to visit (etc), food to try, camping to do, birds to see, trees to hug, and yes, books to read! (I hope to have ten years in retirement where I’m young enough still to do a lot of that stuff. And yes, I’m concerned about covid and climate change and what my ethical behavior should be.)
    I think a big difference is that I teach at a school with a 12 credit hour/semester load (+ service, + research, etc), and it’s exhausting. Covid has made it all the more exhausting.

  10. ccerebrations Says:

    Honestly, a big sell to me about academia is never retiring. I think if I were to leave or maybe even without leaving but later on if I have more time, I would work on something or at a nonprofit that promoted science education. And by that I mean something that would involve problem solving like figuring out kits and curriculum that could bring cool science to those underprivileged, rural, etc.

  11. Lisa Says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, too, from a couple of different angles. First, from the “what do I want to accomplish in my career” angle (i.e. why am I still working besides $). Second from the “what do I want to accomplish with my life” angle. In my ideal world, the two would be linked, and would both be in line with my core values. I don’t have a clear vision of what this will look like yet, but I have identified some core values and actions I can take to help set me up for future interests. Specifically, I love to travel, so I’ve been working to nurture international collaborations and connections that will allow me to do that more as my kids get older and beyond. I’m interested in promoting equity and representation in my field, and am thinking about how I can best do that (from mentoring students from various backgrounds to getting involved in my trade organization leadership to doing a sabbatical teaching in an underserved area). I’ve considered administrative positions in EDI, but also think that doing that kind of work in positions not explicitly dedicated to EDI can be impactful. And I’ve been considering what kind of a parent to adults and grandparent I want to be. That’s pretty far in the future for me, but I’m trying to establish meaningful relationships with my kids now to pave the way for that. And set aside money so we can finance family trips. I love hiking and am trying to put in place healthy lifestyle habits that will give me the strength and agility to hike frequently when I have the time to do so (maybe I’ll have more time one day?). I am the type of person who tends to overthink everything, but I feel that if I’m not intentional about my life it will get away from me too fast and have often found that the things I take time to envision come to pass, even if not in the exact way I expected. (For example, I had been thinking about ways to spend more time with my kids and be around in the afternoons after school – thank you, COVID!)

    Speaking of overthinking things, I also occasionally ponder what I would do if I became too sick to work and travel, or if a family member needed extended care scuttling my best-laid plans. I don’t think it would hurt me to practice and learn how to enjoy the quieter, more home-bound activities that could get me through those situations. I have a friend who, with her mother, practices hobbies she could enjoy if she lost function in one area (enjoying music if she loses her eyesight, enjoying painting if she loses hearing or mobility, etc.).

  12. middle_class Says:

    Part of me thinks I would do all of the folllowing and more: learn to sew, paint, garden, do yoga regularly, improve my cooking. skills, volunteer at an animal rescue, maybe foster dogs, read more, write, travel if possible, write a lot of letters to government officials and newspapers, and be more politically active in general and in my community.

    Part of me thinks I will become very lazy and watch a lot of TV.

  13. Debbie M Says:

    Wow, you’ve put a lot of serious thought into this. I’ve always thought that professors never retire, they just go emeritus. And then they just do the one thing they love most (usually research, sometimes teaching, occasionally service). But I assume that doesn’t work if you’ve actually left the university.

    My answer is very different from yours. I actually quite enjoy just doing hobbies all day, like reading and playing video games. And I like having more time to do housework, make food to bring to parties, etc.

    I did enjoy doing the fun parts of my old job by getting half-time temporary jobs for various colleges at my old university, but that seems to have dried up. Then I tried other jobs that sounded useful and doable (tutoring and working elections), but they are not fun at all (this is my last election). I fear that the intersection of things that are needed, things I am good at, and things I enjoy is vanishingly small. Though one friend of mine has told me that my work in researching election issues is very useful to her, and that almost fits (I don’t enjoy it that much, but I’m doing it for myself anyway, and I do have time when I’m not working).

    But meanwhile, there are always loads of new things to learn and try. Currently I’m trying to be more vegetarian (I learned this weekend that I like Fuzzy Taco’s fried avocado taco, for example) and learn Spanish. And things always come up. Like we visited a friend with a new roommate who has a Severe Macaw (what a name!), and I just read up on Severe Macaws now that I have a specific bird to think about while I’m reading.

    I’ve learned that the yucky things that I let pile up while I was working are still piled up, so I need to just make a schedule to do them anyway or admit that I’m not willing to do them and either hire someone or let it go.

    Also, I need more ways to have fun that don’t involve sitting in a chair. We’re playing a VR mini-golf game with friends in other places (other houses, even other cities and other states) and even with strangers, which feels like socializing and going outside but doesn’t actually add up to much movement. I miss ballroom dancing, but people just don’t circulate like they used to (by which I probably mean that coupled up old people don’t circulate like single students do), so even after the pandemic, I will still miss it a bit (my boyfriend does dance, but none of the fast dances, and my favorite teacher has retired). I also kind of miss ultimate frisbee, but that’s kind of crazy hard even when I was younger and more in shape. I don’t really like yoga, though.

  14. Leah Says:

    Does it count as RE if I’m staying at home with kids? I’m in this odd position now where I am staying home (and glad of it — I was burnt out and needed a break) yet still feel itchy to contribute in some way, but I am busy with the kids. The big two go to school during much of the day, but I drop off and pick up with school hours so that we don’t have to pay for before/aftercare. I have the almost one year old at home. The baby does nap fairly well, so I have a few hours to figure out. I volunteer some at our local nature center. Sometimes, I can bring the baby (tho it messes with nap time). I’m fortunate to have a relative temporarily close by who comes over sometimes to hang out during nap time or play with the baby for an hour or two. I also tutor a student for 2-3 hours a week, and I’m the fundraising chair of the PTO.

    I keep feeling like I should do more, and then I remind myself that taking care of our home takes time. I’m trying to dig out from COVID clutter. I struggle with decluttering and letting go of stuff. I’m also trying to help my aging parent downsize their stuff as well, and I still have a few more boxes of my mom’s stuff to go through. It’s been four years since she passed away, but it’s tough stuff. It’s all memory paperwork of things like newspaper clippings about family members and more. It’s really hard to carve out the time while also being a full time caregiver.

    Still, I’m glad I’m staying home. My mom passed away before she really retired; she had to leave her job due to having cancer, but I’m not sure that really counts. I’m glad to have some time now to do things I enjoy occasionally. I do go for a lot more walks, and I have a bit more time to do some art projects or reading. I imagine I’d have a ton more time once the baby goes to school in a few years, but I’ll likely have to get a paying job again by then.

    Anyway, it’s just interesting to me how much my time is still filled up. I have a planner to help me keep everything straight. All the little commitments add up, and I actually had to back away from some other ones I thought I could do because it was too much. Some things I still did while working, like be a Girl Scout Troop leader or deal with family bills, are now things I have to make time for during caregiving. I think I used to do my planning while taking a break from things like grading previously.

  15. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    I love the idea of you swooping in, training puppies, and swooping out.

    I’m working through this and more questions right now, both in my imagination and in a mega post I’m working on so when I look back five years from now, I remember what I’m thinking at this point in time. Both PiC and I have swung the full arc from “why would I ever stop working?” to “yup I could stop working that’d be GREAT how about now?”

    Our situation is fairly different from yours. Our two are still incredibly labor intensive and will be for a while yet. Apart from the kids, our respective hobbies could actually keep us quite busy. PiC would love to be outdoors doing various fun things 5 days a week. I could slum it at home for the same period of time doing something between “not much” and “a ton of chores and projects just for fun”. I’m discovering that I do like the idea of doing fun projects to make money after retirement if I have the right partner to do it with. For a long while I didn’t think I wanted to but I’m realizing that even though I’m a solitary creature in many ways, for things like work, I prefer a partner.

    Longer term, in terms of years and decades, I need to think on more. I’d want to do something meaningful. Maybe more than just my current giving project. It’d be easy to just grow that one because it takes plenty of time as it is, though. There are a million causes though and I could easily break my own heart with all the things I couldn’t move the needle on. So I have to pace myself there just like you do with the activism.

  16. Cynthia Says:

    I struggled with all of this. My answer was to fill my time with a blog called “I’m Thinking of Retiring…Or Not”. I chose the RE part of FIRE. Mostly it goes well. I’ve been out of the game so to speak since April of this year. And I admit to wanting another job, at least a part-time one. Not so much for the FI part of FIRE, But for the structure to my day. I miss that. If you’re looking for suggestions, I’ve chronicled my struggle with the retirement decision here https://imthinkingofretiring.com/


  17. Astra Says:

    I think I will tend my garden, literally.

  18. bookishbiker Says:

    This is my eternal question – what would I do if I didn’t have a job? I don’t find my job that meaningful. I could walk away tomorrow and would miss the people and the money, but very little about the day to day. I do sometimes get satisfaction at being good at a specific thing, but I think I could get that buzz in some other way. So in some ways, yours is a nice problem to have! Except for the whole being trapped thing. If you wanted to pick up a job-job, is there some kind of technology or tool or process that’s adjacent to your role? Could you work for those companies?

    I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have 40 hours filled up, but I don’t think boredom is the most damaging thing in the world. I suspect/hope after a time of recharge I’d find some kind of rhythm to my days. I already do a lot of fun things in my non-work hours, and I regularly get a pile of books from the library and return them unread, and I’ve stopped adding items to the list of shows/movies I hope to watch because I never get around to it. And then of course there’s a huge world to try to explore sometime, if I could still afford it. So I think if I were actually retired, I’d figure out ways to have fun and learn things and volunteer and would find that satisfying.

    Things I would do if I had all my days free endlessly: volunteer for various music fests, like bluegrass/folk. volunteer for film fests (did this pre-covid but was typically so fried from work I almost never actually stayed to watch the movies), volunteer for local theater, volunteer at local non-profit movie theater. hike more, kayak more, maybe craft/cook more and sell/give away at our farmer’s market community table. take a film class, maybe take some other local history classes, learn about geology. Is that enough? I don’t know but I’d like to try and see.

    At this point I’m 5-15 years out from retirement. I don’t want to wait that long so I’m seriously looking at creating a break for myself, since sabbaticals aren’t a thing at my company. it would be interesting to see what I do with a chunk of unstructured time. Maybe I’d get bored and go back to work sooner than planned, but that’s okay too.

  19. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    I’m excited for my future as an indolent potato.

  20. SP Says:

    I feel the same, but the second half of the sentence is “… but I’m confident I can figure it out!”

    I do worry about the lack of larger purpose and do not imagine that retiring will make me happy, and I probably have some soul searching to do on that front. But I also think it would be just fine.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I know me… I get into so much trouble when I don’t have a productive occupation. Idle hands and all that.

      (#2 has NO problem with not having any occupation– she is very good at keeping herself occupied in a safe manner!)

  21. Ewan Says:

    This is something that we’ve discussed a lot. I have *zero* worries – play more bridge, practice more piano, try again to learn Japanese, work out more, hike the Appalachian trail, cook more complex things, learn to play the bamboo sax I bought 20 years ago, read some of the hundreds of books on the to-read pile – heck, catch up on Dr Who from the DVR which will take a couple months! I could easily and very very happily fill every day even before I consider going back to (law) school, activism, maybe running for office, fostering cats or humans… and so on. My university will keep the subsidised healthcare in place forever if I stay until I am 55, so that’s the first decision point really. My wife gets much more of her identity from her job; I’m working on her :).

  22. First Gen American Says:

    We have a very awesome friend group locally who are going to retire around the time we will and already have retired friends. Not one has trouble filling their day and they have no desire to return back to work.

    My spouse is retiring at the end next year. He’ll be 56 but we both have parents who died in their 50s so want some time not working just in case one or both of us croaks young. I am assuming he’ll do some engineering moonlighting once the house projects are done. I will still work for the health insurance as I am 7 years younger. I do get a lot of fulfillment out of work but there is a lot of stress too, especially right now with unhappy people who can’t get material and it being at much higher prices.

    It’s not the work or the hours I hate, its the stress. And I hear you on the activism. I joined a board for another reason (to develop their STEM collateral for teachers) but a few months in they lost 1/3 of their funding which put the kaibosh on my original purpose. The first board meeting I predicted it as big potential issue and then it came to pass. Ugh. It was horribly stressful and just one more turd on an already very complicated life. It’s one thing to volunteer but another to be responsible for keeping a place afloat. So I’ve decided to go back to ala carte activism. Stuff I can do In bite sized chunks because solving big problems can take a toll on ones health.

  23. Lisa Says:

    Sounds like some people have good retirement role models. What do they do? I haven’t found the right role model for me yet – most of the retirees I know give me good examples of what I DON’T want retirement to look like for me, though.

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