While the global pandemic was a horrific event in many ways, one purpose it did serve was for each of us to re-evaluate how much our work meant to us.
For many, it drove home the deeper analysis of whether we should retire early, particularly for those professionals in the stressful medical field.
Let’s review my top 5 reasons for us to consider what we all dream of at some point in our career: retiring early.
1. Job Stress
Stress comes with all jobs in one form or another. According to the American Psychological Association, those exposed to a chronically stressful environment, such as working in a high-pressure environment, can and will experience burnout. In fact, in a 2023 survey, burn out was listed as the number one reason why physicians leave their jobs.
What does burnout feel like?
Exhaustion, feeling negative or cynical and being less productive at work. And if you are an educator or health care worker, you are at an even higher risk of developing burnout. According to the American Institute of Stress, over 75% of American workers say job stress affects their personal relationships.
While I loved working in the Finance department at Hershey for 23 years, the last several years at Hershey were incredibly stressful when I served in the temporary eighteen-month role of interim CFO.
I realized my happiest days at work were the same days I was teaching my evening classes at local colleges. I enjoyed being in front of a class and sharing my past experiences in the business world to show my students how to apply various accounting and finance topics to real-world scenarios. Thus, my “first retirement” came at age 54 when I accepted an early retirement package from Hershey and became an accounting professor.
2. Health Issues
As we get older, the health issues tend to increase, which can serve as a strong motivator for us to retire early. If you go this route though, it is particularly important to ensure that you have enough funds set aside to help you manage your health in the future.
Without your work health benefits, you will have to have something else set up to help you cover prescription costs and potential surgeries. I was fortunate to have received an early retirement package when I retired from Hershey that included medical benefits until age 65, when I will be on Medicare.
As many of you know, heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I am currently on medication due to meeting two of the three risk factors (since I am not a smoker). Unlike the famous song by Meat Loaf, this is when two out of three IS bad. I am trying to ward off heart disease with increased exercise and improved eating habits.
3. Family Obligations
Many Americans who are nearing retirement may also be dealing with parents who are entering end-of-life care. 40% of those currently in the workforce are serving the role of caregiver for an aging parent.
My wife was forced to retire early at age 50 from her stressful role as a Pathologist in 2014 when I retired from Hershey and made us move 700 miles to Champaign, Illinois to pursue my dream of being a college professor. As it turned out, my wife became the primary caregiver for the next several years for her mother who experienced a severe stroke.
Caregiving responsibilities extend beyond aging parents, too. Some of us have a spouse with complex medical needs, an ill family member or even a grandchild who needs babysitting. Whatever the case may be, supporting your family is an important job, one that could (and SHOULD, in my opinion) be more important than your professional one.
4. Work-Life Balance
How many times have you ever missed an event, trip or important family event because of work? Or felt that you were more irritated with your partner, spouse or child because of work stress? You are not alone as this happens to all of us in demanding stressful jobs.
While my wife and I do not have children, we have certainly missed our share of family activities (sporting events, concerts, etc.) related to our nieces and nephews. Also, I can’t tell you how many times we have left holiday gatherings early so that we could both be back at our busy jobs the next day. From time to time, we get so caught up in our work and busy lives that we forget some of life’s simple pleasures, such as family time.
I enjoyed reading a book by Bonnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of Dying, where Bonnie shared with her readers one of the biggest regrets of people she has cared for under hospice situations, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time in the office.”
If you feel like your job has taken over your life and you are struggling to keep up with your duties as a partner or parent, it might be time to consider leaving the workforce for good in an early retirement mode.
It is important to remember that you only get one shot at this thing called LIFE, so if your work-life balance scales lean heavily to the work side, (as ours did), it might be time to push work off the scales entirely and focus on the fun things you can do in retirement.
5. Pursue Your Passions
Causes you have always been interested in can benefit from your time and expertise as retirement allows time to volunteer for projects close to your heart. You might even take up coaching a sport for your children or join a non-profit that interests you.
Or you can follow the lead of my 80-year-old sister, who has been volunteering at a local food bank for 30 years! There are numerous ways to enjoy retirement at your own pace while also contributing to society.
Last year, my wife began assisting with local social service agencies in Philadelphia, such as Broad Street Ministries, which offers “radical hospitality” to our neighbors in need (i.e., homeless), creates connection and community, and restores hope and dignity. A year later, she is now working three days a week in their busy mailroom and loves the interaction with folks who are less fortunate.
She is also involved with a special rowing club on the infamous Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Per their website, Hope Afloat USA is a “rowing program developed specifically for breast cancer survivors helping each other reclaim healthy, joyful lives through the ancient sport of dragon boat racing.”
I am excited to see my wife participate in this amazing program as it allows her to connect with other women going through similar life experiences. As a bonus, the rowing and coordinated weight-lifting exercise program are excellent for maintaining her fitness levels.
I have experienced two retirements in my 40-year career. As I mentioned I retired from Hershey at age 54 in 2014. After seven amazing years of teaching accounting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was able to “fully retire” in 2021 at age 61.
I am now enjoying retirement by sharing articles on this site as a freelance writer. Also, I am a fully published author and enjoy spending more time with family and friends. I will leave you with a quote on the fun part of retirement, which is learning and experiencing new activities!
Based on your personal circumstances, you may be influenced by one or more of the above reasons to retire early. Just remember not to jump into early retirement without the required proper planning. On the other hand, there is no reason to delay if you have all your bases covered.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis