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Winding Down

Kristine Hayes

I LET MY EMPLOYER know last week that I’m leaving. It’s a strange feeling to think I’ll soon be saying goodbye to the daily routine I’ve followed for more than two decades.

When I began working at the college, I was 31 years old. If I wore my blonde hair up in a ponytail, I was often mistaken for a student. But working at a college provides a unique perspective on aging. Every year, I grew older but the students surrounding me stayed the same age.

I still remember the shock I felt—just a few years into the job—when I realized the incoming freshman class had been born the year I graduated from high school. Now, as I prepare to leave, I’m keenly aware that almost none of the students who wander around campus was born when I began working there.

It’s been 24 years, 48 semesters, almost 8,800 days.

To be honest, I never expected to stay that long. I took a $5,000-a-year pay cut when I started working as the biology department manager. But since the job came with some excellent benefits—including a generous early retiree perk—I decided to take a chance on it.

My predecessor had left the job abruptly, apparently disillusioned with department politics. She left behind a letter for me to read that described, in great detail, the turmoil that existed. She predicted I wouldn’t last six months.

I took it as a personal challenge.

To be sure, it’s never been a dream job. Most of what I do involves solving problems other people don’t want to deal with. I make sure broken equipment gets repaired. I ensure the various lab exercises being taught each week run smoothly. I order supplies and I pay bills. It’s not glamorous or particularly challenging. It does, however, allow me to work independently, making it an ideal match for my introverted personality.

And the benefits have been generous. The college has made regular contributions to my retirement account since the day I started. I’ve had good health care coverage and plenty of paid time off. And even though it has no monetary value, the fact that I’ve been able to bring my dogs to work with me every day for 24 years is, perhaps, the benefit I’ve valued the most.

For sure, I’ll miss seeing some of the people I’ve worked with over the years. But new adventures and challenges are ahead. Leaving behind a steady paycheck isn’t an easy decision, but it’s one I’m slowly becoming comfortable with.

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mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 months ago

Congratulations on retiring while you are still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. I took early retirement 22 years ago so I could travel before I got too decrepit, and now I am no longer healthy I am so glad I did. From reading your articles I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

I’ve had a few people encourage me to retire as soon as I was able to. Even if I have to eventually return to work, I’m happy knowing I should be able to take at least a couple of years off.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
10 months ago
Reply to  Kristine Hayes

Richard Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute”, wrote a less well-known book called “The Three Boxes of Life”. He suggested that rather than breaking life up into discrete chunks – education, work, retirement – we should intermingle them.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
10 months ago

Kristine,
Congratulations on a great milestone. I hear in your words that you are at peace with your decision,and that’s a wonderful thing. I wish you the best in this new phase. I’ve enjoyed your articles and look forward to reading about your new adventures.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Thanks Rick. I’m looking forward to having more time to write, train dogs and spend time with my husband.

steveark
steveark
10 months ago

Good for you! But you may be surprised that people will seek you out from your former employer or other opportunities will pop up. I worked about one day a week the first five years of retirement at shockingly high consulting rates. I backed that down to one day a month last year but the offers keep coming. My old employer wants me back for a few month stint, I’m not willing to give up that much time for money I don’t need, but it is nice to be pursued. I chair a college board and we hired retired profs all the time as consultants.

Last edited 10 months ago by steveark
Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  steveark

I’m hoping that the small community we’re moving to soon may provide me with some part-time work if I need to earn some extra money. There’s an amazing library just a mile from where we’ll be living and being a librarian has always been something I’ve thought I would be quite good at. I love to research things and am quite resourceful. I’ve been thinking of taking a few online librarian courses just so I can be ready if they have a job opening.

John Redfield
John Redfield
10 months ago

Best wishes in retirement Kristine and I hope you continue to contribute to the Humble Dollar. I always enjoy your refreshing honesty and I always look forward to your articles.

I retired at 59, 7 years ago. There are plenty of articles and opinions about the ‘keys to retirement’ that may or may not be relevant to you. I think it’s a matter of becoming comfortable with who you are and not who you were.

I remember asking my grandfather about retirement and he said, “In the morning I put things away and in the afternoon I try to find them.”

Good luck!

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  John Redfield

Thanks for your comments John. I am definitely planning on continuing to write for Humble Dollar. I’m sure the next year or two will provide me with many subjects to write about as I try transitioning from the working life to the retired life.

I love your grandfather’s take on retirement. That lifestyle sounds delightful to me right now.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
10 months ago

Congratulations on making your exit, Kristine. You may think yourself an introvert, but online you are very open and sharing. With best wishes for what ever is next and hopes that you continue sharing from that other side.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  Jo Bo

For as long as I can remember, words come much easier to me on paper, or on a screen, than they do coming out of my mouth. I’ve always loved writing and wanted to pursue it as a career at one point, but I was too scared I wouldn’t succeed at it. I’m hoping retirement allows me more time to write and share my thoughts with anyone willing to read them.

medhat
medhat
10 months ago

Congrats Kristine, and hope the next stage is even more rewarding.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  medhat

Thanks! I am looking forward to the future. I’ve been working full-time for thirty years straight so the first thing I’m looking forward to is just having some time to relax!

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
10 months ago

Congratulations, Kristine, and I’m sure you will enjoy a long and happy retirement.

This spring makes 5 years in retirement for me, and I’ve enjoyed every day of it. Once, while I was still working, I asked a colleague who’d recently retired what it was like. She smiled and said that, instead of rushing off to work in the morning traffic, she could now take a deep breath, sit on her deck, and have a second cup of coffee. I think she nailed it.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago

Thanks Andrew.

For thirty years now, I’ve had to be, ‘out the door’ by 7 or 8 am every day. I can’t imagine what it will be like to not have to rush around in the morning, but I’m sure looking forward to finding out what it feels like.

Jack Hannam
Jack Hannam
10 months ago

I hope you leave a letter for whomever succeeds you. Judging from your previous writing on this website, I believe your successor may feel more inspired than challenged. Good luck in whatever you do next!

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  Jack Hannam

Thanks for your kind words. I have been thinking about all the things I’ll tell my successor about the job and I do hope they’ll find it as rewarding as I have. 24 years is a long time to stay in one job these days, but with any luck, my colleagues will find someone who will stay even longer than I did.

DrLefty
DrLefty
10 months ago

I got my first professor job at age 30 and I looked 22. I frequently was mistaken for a student. I’ve often made the same comment that “the freshmen are always 18 and I keep getting older.”

At 61, I’m now older than the parents of most of my students, though they might not realize it, thanks to the miracles of still looking younger than my age and a good hair stylist. For me, the challenge is to keep my cultural and historical references/jokes up to date. Back in the 90s, I could refer to the latest “Seinfeld” episode. Now I teach students who weren’t born when 9-11 happened.

Congrats on your retirement, Kristine (and on your handsome windfall from selling your house!). I’ve enjoyed your work and hope you’ll still write for HD sometimes.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  DrLefty

Thanks for the kind words. I can relate to your story about being challenged by cultural references. A few years ago I had two student workers who loved listening to music from the ’80’s. They’d often listen to music while they worked for me in the lab. One day I started singing along to a Madonna song and they were absolutely shocked. “How do YOU know the lyrics to that song?” They had never made the connection between my age and the songs of my youth.

I’m hoping the plethora of free time I will soon have will allow me to write even more posts for HumbleDollar.

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing your experience of retiring. I retired a little over 3 years ago and I had initially struggled a bit with the thought. I was approaching 65 but had a (mostly) great job and coworkers. However, my wife had retired 6 months previous and was anxiously to start the next phase of our life. We’d been living on our retirement budget for about 4 years at that point so I had high confidence that the money side was well understood and executing to plan. But it was still emotionally hard to step away from a successful career to go in another direction. Due to the nature of my job part-time work wasn’t really an option. Also, my position was part of a nationally distributed team so maintaining any long term social bonds after retirement wasn’t really very practical since most of the folks I worked closely with lived in other parts of the country.

But 3+ years later I can definitely say it was the right decision. It’s been a wonderful experience. Looking back, I think approaching it with the right attitude was very important. Yeah, things are different, but that was part of the fun. Figuring out how best to spend the newfound luxury of “free time” was a nice problem to have. My wife and I approached it with gusto and we’ve had a great time making the transition. As so many others have said, if you’re successful at the transition you’ll get to a point where you wonder how you ever had time to work.

Best wishes on your retirement and I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  OldITGuy

Thank you for your comments. Having a spouse who has been retired for almost four years has definitely provided a powerful incentive for me to retire. We’re both looking forward to new learning opportunities, a new place to live and the chance to spend more time doing the various activities we both enjoy. And yes, I’m hoping to spend more time writing as well.

George Counihan
George Counihan
10 months ago

Retired for two and a half years one of my pastimes is our ROMEO club … (Retired Old Men Eating Out) … Every two or three weeks a group of 6 or 8 former co workers gathering for breakfast at various local diners … Lots of stories about grandkids/projects/aches and pains … so it is possible to stay in touch with old friends Enjoy and best of luck

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago

Thanks George. I’m looking forward to what I refer to as, “my next, best life”.

Jim Burrows
Jim Burrows
10 months ago

I predict you that before long you will be so busy being “retired” you will wonder how you ever had the time to hold a job.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Burrows

I think you’re absolutely right. My husband has been retired for a few years now and always tells me how glorious it is.

BestBoy
BestBoy
10 months ago

Like you, I began working at a university (my own alma mater, in fact) at an early age (27 for me). Also, like you, I enjoyed excellent 403(b) retirement account contributions, first rate health care insurance, and ample time off.

For me, an added benefit was that I greatly enjoyed being in what our provost had once called “the last of the medieval institutions!” I encouraged those who reported to me to take advantage of free tuition, lectures, and events on campus (and gave them time off to attend, if during the daytime). There was always something to do–art exhibits, musical performances, departmental colloquia, and theatre, etc. The fact that the university was enveloped in a beautiful campus was a cherry on the top.

I eventually left for higher level job in a part of the US that my wife and I wanted to live. My new institution (a liberal arts college) allowed dogs in the office; so, I always encouraged my colleagues to bring theirs in so I could play with them at lunch time. Pure bliss!

As my career was coming to a close, my wife and I took a leap of faith, and I accepted a job running a department at a university in Europe. We like it so much here that when I retired (a bit early as we had planned), we stayed in the beautiful city and country that has adopted us, even if obtaining fluency the local language has been challenging given our grayish hairs, and we regularly have to concern ourselves with currency exchange rates.

The financial benefits have been great for this career direction, as have been the nonfinancial benefits of having really interesting colleagues, who generally weren’t focused solely on making money. I had worked for a while in the for profit sector, after grad school, and found that while there were plenty of smart people there, academia suited me better. I also found that after a long, satisfying career, retirement was the perfect “Release 2.0” for our lives together.

Best of luck in your own “Release 2.0” adventure.

Last edited 10 months ago by BestBoy
Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  BestBoy

Thanks for sharing your story. Academia is certainly an interesting world to work in. I suspect it’s difficult for people who have never been employed in an academic setting to understand the appeal. In general, wages are lower than in the private sector. But the benefits–time off, flexible schedules, etc.–seem to more than make up for the lower salaries.

John Goodell
John Goodell
10 months ago

For being a supposedly bad investment, a lot of us seem to have dogs. Congratulations on reaching the finish line – excited to hear what’s next!

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  John Goodell

Thanks John. I’m not entirely sure of what the future holds, but my husband and I are thinking about starting a small (very small) dog training business. Such a business could help offset the high cost of…owning dogs.

R Quinn
R Quinn
10 months ago

I predict you will be fine and enjoy a long and enjoyable retirement. Within weeks your work life will be a distant memory.

The possible downside is the shock that work friends will fade away. Those of us who retire become just another retiree, but that’s okay.

I worked for the same company from my first job at 18 in 1961 until I retired in 2010. Amazingly it wasn’t nearly as hard to retire as I anticipated.

It’s time to train those puppies, take a few shots at targets, enjoy the sun, do things with your husband and never look back.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
10 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Thanks Richard. Those are exactly the activities we plan on doing. I’m also hoping to find more time to write.

I’ve seen the ‘fading retiree’ scenario many times over the past 24 years. Since I’ve been at the college, there’s been a nearly complete turn-over of the faculty within the department I manage. When many of them retired, they wanted to maintain an office space in our building. Their plan was to keep coming to campus on a regular basis to write papers, keep up on current research, etc. In the end, most of them showed up just a handful of times before eventually succumbing to the pleasures of retired life.

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