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Slowing to a Stop

Dan McDermott

THERE’S AN OLD JEST that goes, “How can you tell if someone is a runner?” The answer: “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

I’m a runner and have enjoyed running for more than 20 years. For me, it’s not about aspiring to go farther and be faster. It’s more about being outdoors, getting my heart rate up, clearing my head and just moving my body.

This spring finds me training for a half marathon that I’ll run with my son. We’ll peak in our weekly training distance in a month and then, a few weeks before the race, we’ll begin to taper. We’ll start reducing the distances we run to rest our muscles, lessen the possibility of injury and be ready to perform our best. We want to go the distance—and claim the race T-shirt, of course.

Like our peak training distances, the years before retirement often coincide with our highest-earning years. They can also be the most complex and involved both at work and at home. Rather than abruptly stopping your income and your daily work, I advocate a tapered approach to retirement.

Even among the financially well-set, the dissatisfaction with a sudden, total retirement seems to come after the initial honeymoon period. There’s a lack of engagement. No more problems to solve, people to interact with, or advice to give and take. The disengagement drives many to return to work fulltime after only a year or two.

How best to begin to taper from your peak? More employers are sponsoring programs of gradual work reduction before retirement, according to The Wall Street Journal and other sources. If your employer doesn’t, you might encourage management to develop one. You could even craft your own tapered retirement plan with the cooperation of your manager, once you are sure you’re ready.

Readers have offered some of their own creative approaches in the comments section of HumbleDollar and my own blog posts. One person was a partner in a business. He used the freedom that allowed to gradually cut back his hours during the years before full retirement. He accepted fewer new clients, avoided certain unpleasant projects and took Fridays off.

Another commenter said that, while she doesn’t have a formal phased retirement option, she’s essentially designing her own. She’ll continue teaching but shed some administrative duties. She’s completing a writing commitment this summer and it will be her last. She’s finishing a term on a board and won’t renew. Her husband is scaling back his hours, too. They’ll use some of their freed-up time to explore other interests in preparation for full retirement.

You can use examples like these to craft your own tapered retirement plan. After all, you don’t have to sprint to the finish to earn the race T-shirt.

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life form
life form
8 months ago

This is my first year retired.
I’m using it to get health stuff done, bone grafts and teeth implants are taking the longest ’cause you have to wait 6 months for the bone grafts to be dense enough to take the implants. Slightly cracked hip screwed back together. Cataract surgery and liver treatment are finished with easily acquired good results. So I’m almost fixed up.

But when the teeth thing is over, I’ll be looking to teach some again (physics, which is a fun and dynamic subject to teach.)

I miss the energy and joie de vivre of the young people.
They are a fabulous hedge against depression.
I’ve taught in the US, China, and Taiwan, where I am now.

But I’m just gonna work half days.
I’ll come in early, but I want to leave at 2.
I don’t want the full class load.
I can take less pay, no problem.

Juan Fourneau
Juan Fourneau
8 months ago
Reply to  life form

Completely agree with your feelings on being around young folks.

Dan McD
Dan McD
8 months ago
Reply to  life form

Good luck with your list of health improvements! I like your step-down version of teaching where you can work fewer hours, but still get the ENERGY from teaching Physics (pun intended). I’ll also remember your line that “…youth are a fabulous hedge against depression.”

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

In 2008 I put in a formal phased retirement program at my company that allowed one’s pension to be paid while working for the same company – based on IRS rules.

The hours you worked were limited, but it was a great way to both transition to retirement and train your replacement when applicable. Under the rules you could do this for up to two years, but the rules were often broken.

If you had reached SS NRA you would be collected SS, your pension and some pay as well.

Dan McD
Dan McD
8 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Thanks for sharing, and by putting this in place back in 2008 you were ahead of the curve. Sounds like a win-win for the employee and the company.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
8 months ago

Dan, thanks for the insightful article. I thought about this much of the day. I’ve been ambivalent about whether I’ve really retired, since I still do some consulting, and my wife worked until last summer. Your article made me question my thinking. I think my race started last summer, when my wife stopped working. I just haven’t acknowledged that the gun sounded and we are off.

Dan McD
Dan McD
8 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Rick – I’m glad that you found the article insightful…and that it caused you to think about your own situation. The only perspective that matters on whether you’re retired or not is yours! Enjoy your time consulting and sharing your knowledge and experience.

Philip Karp
Philip Karp
8 months ago

One can use many different analogies to describe your interests in your weighing balance to continue paid work vs. retirement.
I continue to work 2/3 time because I regard myself as a thoroughbred horse.
Yea, I started out as a young workhorse with a yoke around my neck and pulling a plow at work.
But with more experience and seniority, I became more of a highly valued thoroughbred worker who developed a reputation for getting things done well.
You ask “how did I transition”? I learned how to manage available staff effectively by being a hands-on-kind of team manager and delegating work assignments to staff who showed the best skills set for what was needed.
I’m 74 y/o and having the time of my life interacting with the young to old
and I still have my humor intact.

Dan McD
Dan McD
8 months ago
Reply to  Philip Karp

Philip – thank you for sharing your thoughts on your approach. I’m glad to hear that you’re having a blast and keeping your sense of humor!

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
8 months ago

Thanks for the thoughtful read. I retire in exactly nine days. It’s a milestone I’ve been planning for–and looking forward to–for years. I recently spent four weeks ‘trying out’ retirement and am confident I won’t miss working at all.

I’ve commented on this subject before on other blog posts. I think if someone does, or doesn’t, feel disengagement in retirement depends on their personality. I’m an introvert who very much prefers to work alone. I’ve been fortunate to work in a job for 24 years where this has been possible 99% of the time. I show up at work, do my job, and go home. Once I’m at home, I pursue the many hobbies I actually enjoy. This has been my routine for nearly thirty years now.

During my trial retirement, I spent my days training dogs, writing, working out and spending time with my best friend–my husband. The furthest thing from my mind was my job and the stress associated with it. I’m confident I won’t suffer from work disengagement.

Dan McD
Dan McD
8 months ago
Reply to  Kristine Hayes

I enjoyed your comments Kristine – and now you’re down to 8 days! Your thoughtful approach and 4-week trial run should serve you well. Good luck and enjoy your retirement!

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