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Top 5 Reasons to Retire Early

Author Greg Davis
Editor Vinci Palad

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. 

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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.

 

Final Thoughts

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



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14 thoughts on “Top 5 Reasons to Retire Early”

  1. Retirement is something I think about more as I age. I am 54. I have a daughter in her 3rd year of college and a daughter in her senior year in high school, so I am nowhere near financially independent enough to retire, but maybe in 5 years. However, I quit doing hospital coverage in 2017, so this seemed like a semi-retirement. I also worked in the ER from 2003 until the end of 2020. COVID didn’t drive me out. A new EMR system drove me out. After this, I had every weekend off, so it seemed like another semi-retirement. I was president of the medical staff, vice president, credentials chair, and chair of the department of medicine from 2011-2019. Now my obligations for meetings sprinkled throughout the month are gone. I am in private practice, so I set my own schedule and hours. This brings quite a bit of joy, and if it doesn’t, I can always change it.
    As long as we are able to maintain a good living and my health keeps up, I may do this until I am 70.

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  3. While early retirement may be a good option for some I prefer easing into it over a few years. I just turned 60. I cut back my work to 4 days a week over a year ago. A month ago I started taking another half day off. My plan is to decrease to 3 days a week within the next year keeping my options open to cut back more as desired or needed. This way I continue to do what I love, keep my employment benefits, and have more leisure time while still physically able.

    Reply
  4. Love the quote at the end. For me, I can’t see myself retiring to do nothing anytime soon, but I do want the freedom to pursue a passion. The flexibility in schedule is also a huge bonus.

    Reply
  5. It does apply. The reasons are all very valid. I pay for my own health insurance, it is very expensive but a part of my overall spending budget. I retired from a very high stress job at 58 due to my own health reasons. I am better now but still dealing with a serious health diagnosis, This can hit anyone at any time, I too didn’t think it would happen to me. So everyone’s reasons and circumstances are different and valid. I’m sure the author struggled with the decision, it’s never easy. Just don’t let the “one more year syndrome” get in the way when life intervenes to tell you it is time.

    Reply
    • Great post Mid50’sDoc as your point is a great reminder that “it can happen to me”. I agree that it’s never an easy decision to make to retire early. I wish you continued improvement on your road to recovery from your health diagnosis. Enjoy your retirement!

      Reply
  6. Thanks for the interesting article. I think a lot of what you describe is right on target. For me (not a physician but a former management consultant and international economic development professional) I took about 3 years off in my 40s and then retired at 58 at the beginning of COVID. The stress and wanting to have more flexibility in my life were very important motivators for my early retirement. However, as a Type A personality I did not fully anticipate the impact of having nothing to do other than working in my yard, running errands, doing laundry, cleaning, and some cooking. I found that living without some meaningful work to do that made an impact in society and was interesting and mentally stimulating left me bored and looking around for something to do. For the past couple of years I have had some part-time flexible consulting which has been great. I highly recommend that people who are used to being busy all day and doing meaningful, intellectually-stimulating work find some part-time, flexible but stimulating work or volunteering to do for at least a few years after early retirement. There is only so much tennis, golf, or other fun hobby you can do, and while it is fun and may be good exercise, it isn’t nearly as satisfying as stimulating work that you can do that is flexible and not too stressful. We may not need the money, but I do think we need the mental stimulation and psychological satisfaction that comes from making a positive impact in the world. Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
    • Thanks John for your honest assessment as I agree that while it’s not about the money, finding some PT meaningful work in retirement pays off in numerous benefits. While playing pickleball and bicycling with others is great, volunteering or doing meaningful PT work is more stimulating for our overall health while making a positive impact on the world around us. Enjoy your retirement and keep sharing your 2 cents as it’s more valuable than you could imagine!

      Reply
  7. Easy decision when you don’t actually retire, just leave your very high paying corporate job with a silver parachute including health insurance to be a professor. Doesn’t apply to hardly anyone reading this.

    Reply
    • Thanks Anthony for your feedback. While I respectfully disagree with your comments, I think it’s important to note my severance package didn’t just fall in my lap as it took weeks of negotiation to include the health insurance component. Also I would note that when a couple leave their friends & family and relocates to the Midwest to live on only 20% of their prior combined income (from my corporate job and her healthcare position), it’s a real challenge to anyone in this readership contemplating an early retirement. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

      Reply
      • So your retirment required moving? Losing all friends, caregivers, neighbors? Could you have stayed at your home with your partial retirement? If you financially could, why did you move to a lonely place with more free time and nothing to fill it with? I am asking because reason I am not moving.

        Reply

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