I didn't choose retirement, retirement chose me


I've always worked - I had my first Saturday job when I was 14 years old - working in a department store selling purses, alarm clocks, and other assorted goods. Then it was the dress fabric department at another store, and then into my career as a dental hygienist. From there I moved onto working in a call centre, and then into dental reception, and finally, I was head hunted by a surgeon’s Practice Manager. She offered me the Perfect Job – great hours, great pay, great office, great team…….

But we all know that if something seems too good to be true….. it often is too good to be true.
Forty three years after I started in the workforce, and with an anticipated ten years still to go, things took an unexpected and upsetting turn, and suddenly I was handing in my resignation.


The Perfect Job started well, but rapidly disintegrated and spiralled down into the job from hell. I won’t go into details because, well…..bygones (to quote Richard Fish from Ally McBeal). It would be safe to say that within three years I went from loving my job to dreading going into the office. I felt traumatized, and taken advantage of, I was losing the ability to separate my work/home headspace, and it reached the point where I’d get teary just thinking about going to work.

me in the office job from hell - one step away from tears most Mondays

I tried many different ways to handle the situation, but there was no solution. Each new approach improved things briefly, and then the cycle would begin again. I had no choice but to hand in my notice before I became a nervous wreck (I think I probably ended up with some PTSD from it all), so I had to walk away.


My first thought when I left was that I needed to find a new job. I couldn’t possibly stop working because I should be adding more money into our retirement fund. I applied for a couple of jobs, but my heart wasn’t in it – I went to one interview and afterwards came home and emailed them to withdraw my application – I just couldn’t face doing it all again. So, I decided to stop looking for a new job, I gave myself six months grace to breathe and to recover some of my old resilience.

Surprisingly, we didn’t struggle for money – we’re debt free and live fairly frugally, so things just kept going along normally. Despite that, I felt guilty for being at home and loving it -when I believed I should be out there looking for work. Then covid hit and life turned upside down, everyone stayed home, and nobody was working. It was the opportunity I needed to allow myself more time to heal, and more time to figure out the “What’s Next?” stage. I realized that I really didn’t want to go back to work, I didn’t want to compete for a position with people who desperately needed a job. I loved being home and wanted to stay there.


What began as taking a break, then unemployment, then lockdown, became a process of recovery and reassessment. My whole approach to life changed and I finally allowed myself to consider early retirement. I didn’t have the preparation time that others have when they give themselves a transition plan, I just plunged in and hoped for the best. I began to think about retirement as something I’d worked hard for and deserved, rather than something that I felt guilty about.

some people want material things - not me, I just want a happy life

I didn’t plan to be retired at 57, but obviously life had taken an unexpected turn and I arrived there much sooner than I’d expected. It took a while to stop justifying how I spend my time, and to stop basing my self-worth on what I do. I’m getting so much better at “being” rather than “doing” and I love that.


It’s been 2½ years since I left that horrible job behind, it took me a year to recover from the fallout, and another year to find my feet as a non-working person. I’d worked steadily and solidly for 40 years, and I had no plans for retirement – it wasn’t even on my radar, but I’ve gradually figured it out.

I discovered that I don’t want to be filling every waking moment with busy-ness, I don’t want to be proving myself to others by the bucket lists of things I’ve ticked off. I’m just happy, I’m content, I’m at peace. My days are varied, and I feel like I’m learning new things and becoming more creative as time goes by. I still blog each week, but even that’s taken a back seat as I spend more time in the real world. I volunteer one morning a week, I joined a ladies discussion group at our church, I’ve been invited to participate in an art group, I walk every morning, and go to a weekly exercise class and to tai chi. I’m teaching myself calligraphy and I’ve been trying my hand at some collaged pictures – so much fun!


These days I wake every single morning with a smile on my face. I don’t need to set an alarm to wake me anymore, I get up when I’m ready. Every day is filled with things I enjoy doing, and people I enjoy seeing. I had no idea when I was struggling to face going to work each day that my life could be so delightful. Looking back, I would never have had the courage to choose to retire – so I guess retirement had to choose me. And I’m so glad it did!


I didn't choose retirement, retirement chose me. How I'm coping with that and where life it taking me now.

I didn't choose retirement, retirement chose me. How I'm coping with that and where life it taking me now.

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Cresting the Hill - a blog for Midlife (Middle Aged / 50+) women who want to thrive