Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Retirement Planning – A Shifting Line in the Sand

My husband called me the other day with an idea for a RetirementSparks post. Someone told him the time was twenty-five minutes to three. My husband countered that it was actually two thirty-five. He saw this as a variation on the glass half full vs. empty question. Stated differently: Are you focused on the present (it’s two thirty-five) or the future (twenty-five minutes to three)? I’m guessing he sees the present as the half-full option here.

The retirement correlation seems to be: Do I have three more weeks left in my working life? Or am I three weeks away from retirement? Neither, as it turns out. As my presumed retirement was drawing closer, I expected my plans to be solidifying. Instead, they seem to be turning to jello. Put another way, that line that I drew in the sand a few months ago seems to be shifting from my reading glasses zone to my driving ones.

Some things at work have conspired to make it likely that I’ll be working full time at least two or three more months. Or, futuristically (and glass half empty,) that retirement will be two or three months away. The more I try to plan for retirement, the more I find myself questioning how to define it.

Although my first benchmark was eligibility for Medicare, that had more to do with when I might be able to afford to retire, not when I planned to do so. Likewise, the date when my pension from a former career maxed out helped to define an “earliest possible” date.

Many people define retirement as when they stop working, preferably out of choice. For some that means no full time job; for others, it means not even part time work. I’ve always thought of “retirement” more as being able to stay up as late as I want every night and then sleep in, a time when I could spend my waking hours doing whatever I want. Or doing nothing. (As if.) I know that at least one of you gentle readers out there shares that view.

I suppose I could work part time and still qualify as semi-retired, using my own definition. That of course begs the question: “Is retirement a state of being or a state of mind?” If one’s schedule says “retired,” but one’s head is still “showing up” at that mental office every morning, who’s kidding whom? Likewise, if you come to work every day, but are counting the hours until the final punch out, aren’t you effectively retired?

When the dust has settled (or the grains of sand,) I suppose it doesn’t really matter how you label the phase of life that comes sometime after age 65 for most of us. And it’s not that important exactly where we draw the line. What matters is how gracefully we navigate the passage. Of course, it would be nice to do it in a boat that doesn’t leak and with at least one paddle. And a really good bottle of wine.

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