How I Made the Decision to Retire
I received this bouquet of lilies at my office on my last day of work. Though Scott was out of town at a conference, these beauties made a celebratory statement from him. My friends at work oohed and ahhed over them with me, just like in the movies. They were the most beautiful lilies I have ever seen, large and fragrant, without a flaw. I will miss this little office, with my Parisian collage, and the years of meaningful conversations with inspiring colleagues and friends that still echo in the walls.
Though I had been on the countdown, as I packed up my office, it felt completely surreal. Friends were dropping by, last-minute details were finalized and the day simply flew by. My car was jam-packed with boxes, books, and files representing my career. I didn't know how I was going to get the flowers home. In the last moment, I spotted my small Ikea wastebasket in the corner and realized it was the perfect fit to protect the blooms (and the water in the vase). I'll always remember that moment, racing around with gorgeous blooms in a trash bucket, smiles, and a few tears, shared with some of my favorite people as I sped away for the last time.
Since I published the first post on my retirement, I've received many comments, emails and tweets from readers who are also preparing for retirement in the near future. It IS an exciting time of life, I promise you. Most of us look forward to retirement, a change of pace or a new chapter, and daydream about it from early in our careers (especially on a tough day). Figuring how to do it is the tricky part. I know it was for me. Scott and I had many conversations, scheduled several "business" meetings, crunched endless numbers, bumped up our savings, made projections and met with professionals for advice. I carried a notebook with notes, figures, and timelines around with me for months, in case a question would come up. This all weighed heavily on my mind.
When I'm wrestling with a decision, I usually seek pen and paper, or a keyboard. One sleepless morning, tossing and turning with the weight of this decision, I penned this from somewhere deep inside, as I imagined the future.
When I retire...
- I will never advise staff on when to call the sheriff on a 3rd-grade student that threatened to shoot her classmates.
- I will never have to hold an IEP meeting with a parent who threatened to kick our teacher (and the principal) in the “f*@#ing’ head” and hold a meeting with security on call.
- I will never have to support a parent who was so physically abused by her emotionally disturbed 4th-grade son that she had to renege on his adoption. His previous living situations included living in a dog run by the river.
- I will never have to lead an IEP meeting with districts/agencies fighting over who has to pay for a student to move from juvenile hall to a group home when no relative will claim him.
- I will never wonder if we did enough to keep a 10th grader from attempting to hurl herself off the “green bridge” in a suicide attempt.
- I will never have a student attempt to stab his favorite teacher with scissors and knives in class.
- I will never have to worry about a parent, or ED student, coming to school with guns. (Years ago a threatening parent came to school looking for me. He wore a black 10-gallon hat, but I’m unsure if he had a gun. Thankfully our custodian is a superhero and headed him off.)
- I will never hear a siren or see a police car in front of the school and race to see what is happening in our classroom.
- I will never have to witness a 3rd-grade female student being hog tied by the sheriff and put into the patrol car.
- I will never have to track a helicopter across the 4-lane highway as we search for an eloping, traumatized student.
- I will never have to deal with a student raging outside the classroom, trying to break down the trees and calling his clinician, one of the best people I know, a “F*@#ing Bitch”.
My list was more about what I would no longer be doing, felt I should no longer do, after my 33 years in education. In the last 16 years, working in county programs for students with mental health challenges (classified as emotional disturbance/ED), I experienced the highest of highs with my teachers/clinicians when students succeeded--and there were many highs. Our programs were exemplary countywide. The list above was more of the lowest lows that are also part of the job. For 16 years...
As I re-read it, with a few tears, I knew my decision was made.
Imagine the Future
From my journal:
There are days, and sleepless nights, when I feel the weight of change, even good change, and I realize how anxious change makes me. My career in education/school psychology has defined me in so many ways for the last 33 years.
*Who will I be when I don't have that title and sense of professionalism any longer?
*Who will I be when my primary goal is not caring for the well-being of others but more for myself and those I love?
*Who will I be without the daily contact with my beloved friends and colleagues at work?
*Who will I be when left to my own devices each day?
*What will this decision allow me to do?
- To pursue my passions of creativity, travel, entrepreneurship.
- To spend my days doing what I love and not putting out fires and managing crisis situations.
- To have more time and freedom to care for myself, mentally and physically, and nurture those I love.
- To have a day-to-day life that focuses on the positive and not trying to heal the trauma and negativity of life.
Undoubtedly, I am feeling the fear,
the anxiety of change...
and I'm doing it anyway!
Trust Your Gut Instinct
And with the click of a button, on a sunny Sunday, I submitted my retirement information to my pension fund. Scott snapped a photo of that moment. We popped a mini-bottle of champagne that we had in the refrigerator -- and it was flat -- we laughed!!
No matter, our mood was fizzy anyway!!
What did I learn about making a monumental decision like when to retire? Despite careful research, extensive planning, saving up for it, there is really no roadmap for when you will feel ready for it. In the end, as with any big decisions, it's always a leap of faith and having the confidence to know you can make it work.
Are you in the process of making big decisions? Is retirement on your horizon?
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