Exit strategy: conversations with my mom


“I wish I had retired later. I find retirement really boring.” My mom said. She was over for her weekly cup of coffee & a visit with the kids and I. Although we keep Sundays as a strictly family day, Saturdays are usually bustling as our extended family usually drops in for a visit at various points in the day. Between music lessons, birthday parties, and visits, it’s always a chaotic day of the week. We love it though, it’s nice to be able to be so close with our parents when so many people live far away from their families.

Still, I was shocked to hear my mom say she wished she had worked longer. I remember when she decided to retire she was working in an extremely stressful environment and had had enough. A pediatric nurse for over 30 years, it was getting more difficult to work the long hours and overnight shifts. When she retired, it seemed like the ideal time for her and with her pension we didn’t worry about her ability to support herself.

My mom is fairly healthy and she enjoys travel, so in the beginning she traveled quite a bit with a girlfriend who also loved to travel. Her girlfriend ended up getting married though and the traveling slowed down. She also used to play cards one day of the week but stopped going when the friend she went with moved out of the city to be closer to her family. Now I guess she feels rather aimless. She still goes out to lunch with friends once-a-week, and will visit friends in Florida during the winter, but I can see how she feels like she needs something extra.

I know she just needs to adjust and add things to her life but she hasn’t done that yet. As people have moved on, she hasn’t added new things to her life. I know she can and probably will adjust, she is just in a rut right now.

What’s interesting is that this conversation occurred because I was discussing early retirement (specifically the fun I have been having with the retirement calculators) and was showing her how amazed I was at the numbers. Since she is in this rut though, all she can see is how boring her life is lately so she can’t imagine why anyone would draw that out. Conversely, I am in a pretty stressful job right now and can’t imagine doing this for the next 25 years. In a way we are both wrong: she won’t always be bored, and I won’t always be maxed out.

The grass is always greener

Most people who seek out early retirement do so not just because they just don’t want to work. I’ve noted (rather unscientifically, true) that most people want to raise kids, travel, volunteer, and have hobbies that will more than keep them busy over the next X amount of years. Mr. Tucker and I definitely could think of a million and one ways to fill up our days because we’ve thought about and talked about early retirement since our late 20s. Despite being derailed by setbacks that pushed early retirement out of our field of vision for a few years, we are back on track and are both looking forward to transitioning out of full time work completely within ten years.

A cautionary tale

In university I spent a summer working a job at a city yard. Basically, we were “on the bucket,” which was short for walking the city with a garbage bin on wheels, cleaning the streets with a grabber. It wasn’t glamorous but it paid decently and was low-stress.

Our day started at 7:30am and I would ride my bike the 5k from my house to the yard every morning. No matter when I pulled up on my old clunker of a bike, a couple of guys who had retired within the past couple of years would already be sitting around drinking coffee. Being 21, I was confused that anyone would retire and come back to their old job everyday, but a few did fairly regularly.

Given the vehemence with which these men (I was the only female) hated their jobs and constantly were counting down their days to retirement, I always thought it was weird that anyone would come back to visit so often. But there was a fairly steady roster of retired men who would come back and grab a coffee with the guys, or pop in for lunch. At the time I was completely confused but now I understand it: these guys had no exit strategy. After 30+ years of doing the same thing every day they didn’t prepare for what they would do when they didn’t have to go back anymore. So they did what was familiar to them: they came back to work to enjoy the camaraderie they had missed when they retired.

You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone

I often take out way too many books from the library. Curse you, express reads shelf!

The thing is: work is often boring! Coming to work is just a habit that many people who are bored in retirement just haven’t broken. I just spend 5 years working 8-10 months of the year and I can say with absolute certainty that during the months I was off I was at home (and the kids in school), I could fill up a day. There was no end to the things I could do and frankly, I enjoyed it and was never bored.

Mr. Tucker and I have often had conversations of what we would do if we didn’t have to work every day. In these discussions there is no end to what we could do in a day, which is to say it’s mostly just an extension of what we already do. We’d spend more time also doing things we enjoy doing but that we don’t currently have time for, and try our hand at more DIY projects (such as our backyard reno this summer). While some of these plans rely on us being more or less able-bodied, retiring early will hopefully ensure we will be pretty mobile.

Of course, our current plan includes having kids still at home at least for another 6+ years when Mr. Tucker retires, which means our days will still be regimented. They will have school schedules, activities, and possibly jobs so our lives will include that chaos. I also will probably be working in some capacity at that point, which means we will have to work around those hours. We are approaching this goal slowly, one small step at a time.

Still, it’s important to have an exit strategy. I think the best way to do this is to have hobbies and interests outside the day-to-day work/kids/tv/bed schedule that most westerners adhere to. I have found that over time, many people get so busy with life that they set aside the things that make life fun. Both Mr. Tucker and I have an interest in music, writing, biking, skiing, and travel – all of which could fill up a life quite nicely. We also would like to do more of the things we currently enjoy doing – such as drawing and knitting – that we just don’t have time for in our lives right now. On top of these things, we’d like to explore some new stuff we’ve dabbled in and have enjoyed but that we just can’t fit into our lives, like gardening and spending more time volunteering.

If all those things get boring? Well, I am sure I will never run out of interesting books to read (and I have yet to finish every book in our local library). In fact, I would rather be bored in early retirement than exhausted at a stressful job. As much as I absolutely love my career and am so grateful for a challenging, supportive environment, there are a million and one other things I enjoy doing as well.

So for now my exit strategy is to keep up with my interests, look forward to creating new interests, and to explore the million and one things there are to do with my time that aren’t working 9-to-5.