Over the Threshold into Retirement

After months – no, years — of planning, I finally have walked through the door to retirement. I have received my last paycheque. In a couple of weeks, I will pack up my office at work. I have bought a house in a different province, in a community closer to our kids and grandkids. And I have booked a moving date.


One of our favourite hikes in the landscape we are leaving behind.

Rethinking my Identity

It has been an emotional roller-coaster. Regular readers will know that I have struggled mightily with the challenge of stepping away from my work identity. What you might not know, as I have not shared it until now, is why I have found it so hard to leave work.

After all, a job is just a job. People go to work to earn money in order to support themselves and their families. If they are lucky, they have work that enables them to contribute something useful and meaningful to society. If they are even more lucky, they have the kind of workplace where colleagues are almost like family; where they work together with respected colleagues to create and build new knowledge, systems, or services; and where they are deeply appreciated and seen as integral to the business or institution. Sometimes, a person becomes so wrapped up into their work role that it becomes almost impossible to separate one’s personal identity from one’s work identity.

That is my situation. My job isn’t just a job for money; it is a big part of my identity. You see, I am an academic.

From the day that I began pursuing my PhD in the late 1980’s, through to accepting my first tenure-track position as a professor, to achieving tenure, eventually being promoted to full professor, and then moving into university administration, I have loved the academic life. I have deeply enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with students: in a teaching role, as graduate supervisor and mentor, and designing and developing academic programs and services to support students.

I have loved being a researcher. Really, could anything be more interesting than thinking up questions that you want to know the answers to, or speculating about why things are the way they are, and then studying those problems and writing about them? On the practical side, it is very satisfying when the problems you have been studying lead to new processes or ways of doing things that make a real-world difference for people. This is especially the case when you have the chance to work with a new generation of researchers and teachers who are inspired to take their own practices in new and productive directions. How could I ever walk away from all that? That was the dilemma that faced me when I began to consider whether and when I should retire.

Yet, I had reached a level of exhaustion and burnout that was scary. My creativity and love of the academic life had faded to numbness. My husband had been retired for eleven years already and was eager for me to join him before we both got too old for outdoor adventures. Our four grandchildren were growing up in locations far away and we could not visit as often as we would have liked. None of our close friends lived nearby. I could afford to retire. All the signs were pointing toward retirement, but still it was hard to make the choice to do so.

Putting Plans into Action

However, for me, the long interim period of working through the decision of whether to retire, how to retire, and where to live after retiring was necessary, I think. It helped me come to terms with the identity question. I decided that although I was leaving my role as a university professor, I would retain my involvement in research for at least a year or two after formally retiring. So I made arrangements to facilitate that plan, and committed to continue on with some academic research projects that I had initiated during my year of administrative leave.

We toured around the province in which we knew we wanted to live, and jointly made a decision to buy a house on Vancouver Island. As it turned out, the date we took possession of our new house was the same day I retired! I thought that I would write cautionary notes here, advising readers against combining the two stresses of retiring and moving by doing them simultaneously. However, for me, it actually has been a great thing. It has distracted me from mulling over what I am leaving behind to focus instead on the new home and new life, and to throw myself into the practicalities of making it happen.

There is a sense of relief in finally moving from thought to action. Coming to our new community and new home, knowing that we will be moving here for real very soon, I have a huge sense of anticipation about new possibilities. Vancouver Island is so beautiful and lush. I love being near the ocean. The grocery stores have lovely produce and seafood counters. I will be closer to people that I love. Already, I can hardly remember why I was clinging so hard to my old life and our former home. Onward! There are exciting adventures ahead!Gideon Sock Puppet

The beautiful BC coastline, not far from our new home.

From Retirement Reflections: Thank you to Dr. Sock for sharing her longstanding dilemma with her decision to retire and the reasons behind this. As a long time follower of Dr. Sock Writes Here, I am privileged to have ‘Gideon Sock Puppet’ as my new real-life neighbour. I know that her retirement has been off to a fantastic start. I look forward to reading (and now ‘hearing’) about her upcoming retirement adventures!

Please join us next week — same time, same place. Janis, from RetirementallyChallenged, asks us “What’s So Challenging About Retirement?” This post contains Janis’ signature positive outlook….you won’t want to miss it!

50 Replies to “Over the Threshold into Retirement”

  1. The struggle sounds familiar. Although I didn’t move when I retired. I thought about it for a few years. I finally retired when I realized my husband wasn’t getting any younger (and neither was I) and if I wanted quality time with him, it was time. I was able to structure my departure with a six-month part time transition which worked for me. At the end of that time, I was reasonably sure I made the right decision and as you say, looking forward and not back. The really good news is that both of us had a job we loved. Not everyone can say that. Enjoy Vancouver Island. It always sounds so beautiful to me.
    Kate recently posted…Random 5 for September 17 – The 80s, energized, computers, seasons, winterizingMy Profile

    1. Kate, it is so true that we are not getting any younger. Yesterday my husband Rob and I went for for a short hike in a nearby regional park with our old arthritic dog. As we stood on a rocky point looking out at the sea sparkling in the sun, I said to him, “I am so glad I retired! Why did I think it was going to be so hard?”

      He replied, “I am just glad that I encouraged you to do it while we are still young enough to enjoy going for hikes.” He is seven years older than me, and we love doing outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, and skiing. But as you say, we are not getting any younger.


    2. Having time for Richard and me to enjoy our lives together, while we were still young enough to do so many things that we wanted to (and without me constantly saying, “I need to get this done for work”), was a big consideration in my retirement as well. I’m happy to also belong to the club of people who greatly enjoyed their careers. I’m even happier to be able to currently be enjoying so many things from our bucket list. You are right, Kate. So many people cannot say this. Makes me grateful every single day.

  2. It seems to me that you are an academic whether or not you’re getting paid to be one or not. So, while you may not have a definite title saying such to the world, you know in your heart who you really are. Your identity is within you, not via external validation. Plus how exciting is it to let go of who you used to be, and become who you will be. Congratulations on retirement. It’s a good thing. Really.

    1. Ally, I really liked how you verbalized the identity issue that comes with retirement. “Your identity is within you, not via external validation.”

      1. Fran, I agree. As it turns out, I am discovering that being an academic is only a small part of my identity. With the gift of time that retirement has provided, I am able to become a more well-rounded person. I can now explore and give time to all of those interests and passions that used to be relegated to the margins of life.


    2. Once an academic, always an academic. That is a good insight, Ally. Now that I have stepped away from the workplace, I have found that my identity has not disappeared. I still work on the research and writing projects that interest me but at my own pace, and without all the other distractions and obligations.


    3. Great insight, Ally! I agree that while our identities may ‘reorganize’ in retirement, who we were during our careers does not disappear. Richard will still call me on my ‘school administrator’s voice’ when I get caught up in things. And, he can still win a personal argument by trumping me with his lawyery-skills.
      I also second your conclusion. Retirement IS a good thing. Really!

    1. Hi, Xenia – Thank you so much for stopping by. Retirement can be such a wonderful time of adventure. I love all of the possibilities that it brings!

  3. This was a very interesting post. I think for those in professional positions, it does take a while to mentally transition. I’m always amused by the story a friend told me of his CEO father who retired abruptly with a plan, and the first Monday morning he promptly took down the living room drapes in an effort to “reorganize” the home. A long discussion apparently took place with the woman of the house later in the day. 🙂 I will be very interested to follow your journey.

    1. Well Marty, I have not taken down any drapes yet. But, I have to confess that I have interfered with Rob’s method of loading the dishwasher!

      Seriously, though, as he has been retired for 11 years while I have continued to work, both of us being home together is going to take some getting used to. We both enjoy having some “alone time.” I have an office in our new house that I retreat to in order to work on my research or other writing, and he has his computer man cave.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

    2. Hi, Marty – A very similar experience happened to good friends of ours. The man, a workaholic, had left all household related tasks to his wife, which she happily accepted and did well. On the first day of his retirement, he did things similar to taking down the living room curtains to ‘reorganize’ their home. Like with your friends, a ‘discussion’ quickly ensued. His ‘home reorganization’ did not last for long after that — not long at all! 🙂

  4. Thanks, Donna, for inviting me to write this guest post on Retirement Reflections! As you mention at the end of the post, I have now retired and made the move to Vancouver Island, and I couldn’t be happier. Yet, making the decision to do so was really hard. As it turned out, my identity didn’t disappear at the end of the job, as I had feared it would. I think that if I hadn’t written about my turmoil at the time, I would have already forgotten how hard it was to decide to retire and what worried me so much.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to do this guest post.

    Dr Sock recently posted…A Day in the Life of a RetireeMy Profile

    1. Hi, Jude – I am delighted that you agreed to be part of this series. Your concerns and indecision about retirement are shared by many, especially your worries about loss of identity. Now that you have survived the decision-making, and the retirement process itself, you have landed very positively into the beginning of all that the next chapter has to offer. I look forward to reading about your many adventures that lie ahead!

  5. Thank you Donna for another great guest post.

    Thank you, Dr. Sock, for sharing your journey to retirement. I am thinking ahead to my own retirement and find it enjoyable and helpful reading about how others got there–what worked well for them and what did not. Good luck in your new home and your new adventures. I look forward to reading about them!

    Christie Hawkes recently posted…Friday favorites: football, family, food, funMy Profile

    1. Christie, one thing that was hugely helpful in my own retirement transition was reading others’ blogs about their retirement experiences. I am afraid that my mental image of retirement used to be quite negative until I started reading blogs such as “Retirement Reflections,” and “A Satisfying Retirement.” I used to believe that retirement meant dropping out of the mainstream of society, whereas now I see that it can be a wonderful time of following one’s passions and leading a more full and balanced life.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

    2. Hi, Christie – I first started reading blogs in general (and retirement blogs in particular) when I was considering my own retirement. I agree that it can be very helpful to read first-hand what other people have experienced. It really helped give me a sense of ‘normalcy’ as I went through some highs and lows. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to featuring your Guest Post in October!

  6. You’ve certainly picked a beautiful place to enjoy your retirement years. I’ve got many years until I’m able to retire, primarily due to needing health insurance coverage, but I’m looking forward to it. For me, I’ll have more time to write. Wishing you the best in the years to come. Thanks for inviting Dr. Sock today, Donna!

    1. Hi, Debbie – Thank you for your kind words. I’m learning tons from the Guest Hosts as well. I look forward to featuring your post soon!

  7. The anxiety of an approaching retirement soon followed by the realization that you should have done it sooner… classic! I just can’t believe that you waited 11 years after your husband retired… my husband retired two years before I did and (as much as I loved my job), it drove me nuts to have to go off to work every day with him at home. Although we are still working through the 24/7 togetherness, I wouldn’t trade our life for anything. I’m enjoying reading about your post-work adventures!
    Janis recently posted…GratiTuesday: September’s SerenadeMy Profile

    1. Hi, Janis – I agree that the anxiety of approaching retirement is often followed by the realization of just how amazing retirement can be. Richard and I retired at the same time. Jumping off the ‘retirement bridge’ was a sheer leap of faith — like you, I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything! I am so glad that Jude is now experincing the same positive landing!

    2. Janis, I wouldn’t have been ready to retire before I actually did, as I needed to come to a sense of completion. So I don’t regret the time that it took to make the transition. But I am surprised and delighted to find out that I like retirement as much as I do!

      In the case of Rob and me, it is a second marriage for both of us. He was already retired when I met him. From my perspective, the years of only one of us working went really well. He took on much of the housework, and was a calm and supportive “house spouse.” And the extra years of income allowed us to look forward to a more comfortable retirement than would have been possible otherwise.

      I am so glad that you and your husband love retired life.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

  8. Love this post! Thanks Jude for sharing your story. So happy for you that there is a “happy ending’. It’s tough to walk away from a rewarding career. The intellectual stimulation, the collegial environment, and the connection between identify and career…all the things that made the retirement decision a difficult one.

    But you did it, and did it successfully! Congrats, and so very happy for you.

    1. Hi, Carole – Thank you for visiting Jude’s post here. I believe that her dilemma with retirement, and her happy landing, serve as great inspiration to others.

    2. Hi Carole. Thanks for following me here to Donna’s blog! Yes, it was hard to walk away from my career. One of things that pushed me in that direction was that during the last several years, I found myself in a role that was super stressful and not very enjoyable. It began to take a toll on my health.

      Making the decision to retire took a long time, and like Kate above, I was able to transition out gradually. I think that was key.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

  9. I have never had ‘a job to have a job.’ Even though I always needed the salary (and who doesn’t?), I knew I couldn’t sit in a lifeless cold little office for years upon years (as several of my friends and relatives have done, making lots of money but watching their life dwindle away). You and I are fortunate to have always loved what we do. I think that assures you that you will always be what you do. An academic. A researcher, a person who uses her intellect in whatever she does. Only now, you can do that while off enjoying some retirement time with your husband. Win/win.
    Pamela recently posted…Wise Being of the NightMy Profile

    1. Hi, Pam – Thank you so much for stopping by. I agree that despite Jude’s earlier angst, she has now landed at a ‘win-win.’ I can’t wait to read more of her stories…and yours!

    2. Pamela, sitting in a cubicle watching your life dwindle away — that is such a sad thought. Yet so many people do not have a lot of choice in the matter. I am so very grateful that I had the good fortune to have had a career doing something that I love.

      My career as an academic was actually my second career. I’ve decided that retirement will be my third career!

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

    1. Anabel, if you had asked me earlier in my academic career when I would retire, I would have said “never!” Like your husband, I see it as more than a job; it is who I am. But I have lots of other interests and passions too, and it is time to give more time to them.

      By the way, I see from your blog that you are continuing to visit all of my favourite places in Alberta! I love the Icefields Parkway.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

    2. Being a HUGE fan of retirement, I’m even cheering for John to retire!! As I’ve mentioned in many posts and comments, I believe that today’s retire can keep so many benefits that they had in their careers (except sadly the paycheque). But ‘identify’ and ‘remaining involved in things that we love, like research’, are more and more accessible to retirees. John – I’m waving the retirement banner for you!!

  10. I can tell from this post that your transition has not been easy. Therefore, it is even nicer to read that you made the decision and you now have a positive outlook on it. I was going to suggest remaining involved in some of the research somehow, but it looks like you got that covered.

    Changing homes at the same time as retiring must be the perfect distraction, and exploring your new neighborhood has been nothing short of delightful, based on your blogs and photos. Having Donna as a neighbor only adds to the excitement and new opportunities to be had. 🙂

    Congratulations on the decision and the move, Jude. Your “new” identity will incorporate all the good of your previous one and add to it on a creative, multi-faceted and maybe even happiness level ten-fold! 🙂
    Liesbet recently posted…Day Trips around Santa Fe, NM – Los AlamosMy Profile

    1. Liesbet, thanks so much for your insightful comments. Yes, the pre-retirement decision-making was difficult. I can be a bit of a worrywart, trying to analyze something from every possible angle before making a decision. But, the good thing is that once I make a decision, I don’t look back.

      I really love the area that we have moved to! The landscape is gorgeous and it is great to be close to the sea again. My kids and grandkids are close by. And living on the part of Vancouver Island as Donna is an added bonus!

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

  11. Letting go of a long time identity is not easy and I understand the anxiety and doubt. Many of us go through the same thing. I agree so much with what Ally said. You are still you. That academic will always be there.

    I like your version of retiring – packing everything up and moving to a new life. It’s dramatic and signals a brand-new chapter. It sounds like you already love it!
    Joanne Sisco recently posted…Bouncy FunMy Profile

    1. Joanne, for a long time I didn’t recognize that many people do experience anxiety and doubt about retiring. People I knew who were retiring expressed such happiness to be free of work that I thought maybe I was a bit weird to be finding it so hard.

      I like that way of putting it — packing everything up and moving to a new life. What a glorious opportunity to start over, or to write a new chapter of life. It is a rather dramatic way to say “yes” to new possibilities.

      Dr Sock recently posted…Why the Angst About Retirement, Dr Sock?My Profile

    2. Hi, Joanne – I agree that the thought of ‘giving up our identity’ is truly daunting. In the case of many retirees (me included) we soon realize that we can retire AND retain our identity. Cake + Eating it too! 🙂

  12. I’m stopping by from Jude’s blog too! We retired on the same day and shared quite a bit the last year! I’m always excited to find new blogs too! As a qualitative researcher, the title of your blog intrigues me! Looking forward to digging in and following along!

  13. Taking that final step is so hard and I know how you feel. My husband is older than I and had been retired for a few years. I’m finally took the plunge and retired early but what a shock to the system. Four years later I am finally getting a handle on retirement and how I want my life to be. Enjoy your new home, it sounds lovely 😊

    1. Hi, Sue – I love reading all that my favourite bloggers have in common (and all that makes us unique). Sounds like quite a few of us (you, Jude, Kate, me…and likely many more) hare our (retired) husbands to thank for us retiring early. Enjoy Spain. I can’t wait to read about your travels!

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