Test Driving Retirement

Recently, I have been privileged enough to enjoy, what I refer to as, a short hiatus or sabbatical from my otherwise non-stop career. I took retirement for a test drive, as my friends often say. Or, ‘He is freaking lazy’, as my real friends would say. More literally, I was unemployed. Not from lack of available work, but from lack of necessity. But telling people I was ‘unemployed’, as the short version to ‘What have you been up to lately?’ in reference to my career, left a negative perception that I couldn’t find or wasn’t able to work. And, as I am way to young to be kicking the tires on any retirement plans and a decade or more away from any serious consideration of no longer working in some capacity, I also could not answer with the standard ‘I am retired’. Going into this self-imposed exile from the labor pool, I knew it would not be forever and that I would eventually, by financial necessity, need to return to the daily grind that is the churning and huddling masses of the work force. So, I was not comfortable implying that I was truly retired and no longer needed to work. That is why I preferred the word ‘hiatus’ which, by definition, is a limited term interruption to something. Or, ‘sabbatical’, which was my favorite as it is indicative, not only of being temporary, but of being a cessation of scholarly employment in pursuit of higher learning. It seemed to fit better as to what I was trying to say.

I quickly found that, in answer to an inquiry about your employment status, the term ‘sabbatical’ is never enough for most people to grasp the concept and settle for a one-word answer. In academia, taking a sabbatical is not unusual, as many professors step away from their teaching duties to further their own studies and knowledge. But outside of that, it is not a common reference. Like you, I have never worked in an industry or company that offered sabbaticals. The concept that your employer would continue to pay you and retain your position, whilst you gallop off to an enrichment of self-learning or self-discovery, is just not something most people can imagine. You can imagine an employer sending you to a seminar in a nice location, for several days, and the moments it will feel like they are paying you to be there enjoying a mini vacation. Or even the few weeks of vacation you have well-earned as part of your negotiated terms of employment and in reward for your dedicated and continued hard work. Or any of the other absences that an employer is flexible and compassionate enough to provide as unpaid leave while retaining your position. This ain’t that.

This is the blessing of not working for an extended period, while you retain your income, and are free to follow other endeavors. Even in the academic world, the rationale of a sabbatical holds the predominant understanding that the time away would be in the pursuit of knowledge in their given field of study and instruction. But this is all that, and the freedom to do as you please. It is what we all would imagine a well-planned retirement would be, except for the fact you know you are returning to finish many more years of forced labor. And, now that I have written this far, I realize ‘sabbatical’ is not the right term anymore. I wasn’t on one of those either. I wasn’t continuing to have income. The only part of ‘sabbatical’ that worked was the fact I was returning to work at some juncture and retaining a position. Not to imply that a position would be waiting for me, but that I have very marketable skills and can find employment. So yes, a position would likely be available to me. The term ‘hiatus’, and the simple definition of being a cessation of employment, seems vague yet somehow more accurate. Honestly, I was truly ‘test driving retirement’. And I don’t have an English word for that in my limited vocabulary.

‘Retirement’ is applicable because I chose, albeit at an odd age and point in life, to stop working and live off my own ‘retirement savings’ as income. This does not include any Social Security benefits (far too young to be collecting that, but hopeful it will still be around when I finally get there) or disability benefits (not disabled). But it is money that will not be there when I do retire, so in a real sense, it is my ‘retirement savings’. It is also applicable in that I was free to enjoy my time in pursuit of my own interests and enjoyment. ‘Test driving’ is the kicker with the unique ability to show the fact that leading the leisurely life of a retiree was recognized as a limited-time event. Although, hopefully repeated. And therein lies the accuracy. I was truly ‘test driving retirement’.

I was taking this break from the work force knowing the time would likely return to me in how long I would have to work before I could take the keys and drive my retirement off the lot. It may well extend it. Who knows? I may never see those keys. I took it knowing the money I spent would not be there later. I was spending time and money that I could not get back. I knew all that. And, if we are talking about, living with all the expected amenities you have now, for as long as you can possibly live, insuring you never run out of money; or hoping to leave behind a substantial sum to others; or quickly getting to the amount of savings you have predetermined to be enough for forever so you can start living, then I can’t argue that spending money, as I did, is a prudent choice. But if we are talking about both time and money having any sense of value, then when they are spent is less important. Isn’t it? Is what I give up now of more value when I have it later? In terms of money, many would say yes. I will not argue that the comfort of savings, to someone living paycheck to paycheck, removes the relentless concerns of the next bill in the mail or one of the many unfortunate turn of events that life brings. And that is money well-saved and a comfort I hope to retain. Nor can I argue the comfort of knowing your “best years” will be spent in the style you have envisioned and planned for. A delayed gratification likely to pay great rewards in the years to come.

But, if money cannot buy the intangible fruits of life, we hold so dear, love or time. Then it is relinquished to buying ‘things’ or for leaving behind, and I will defend an argument that there is nothing, literally ‘no thing’, you can buy later that you couldn’t enjoy now. What would dreams be made of then? As for time, it gets a little trickier. If you have lots of time, and you have money, you can make more money, but inevitably not ever enough to buy more time. You will have the comfort of a chosen lifestyle, as you work to a dollar figure or a designated age stipulated as your ‘best years’, before you take the time you hope lays by the unforeseen length of your road ahead to enjoy the money you worked so hard for. Hopefully, recognizing the time, things, and people you are sacrificing now to get more or have enough. Maybe success will allow an estate to leave behind. You are blessed. None of which grants more time. In fact, money is not a measure at all, as time is the critical component.

We all have some time. We hope a great deal of time, relative to what everyone considers a long life. We don’t want to run out, but whatever amount we have is consistently dripping past with no possible impedance. When we are faced with running out, we are prone to be desperate for more and yet all the money we have won’t buy any. We hope that time is kind. That it will keep us as we see ourselves being in the future. That body will not fail and intrude on our vision. That illness and accident will not invade our lives. We hope that the things we sacrifice, in earning the money that won’t buy us more time, are well offered and well received. That the ‘nows’ that have become ‘thens’ are truly more important than the ‘nows’ we hope to have. But when it comes to time, we only know we have some and we don’t know what it holds.

I chose, very selfishly, to ‘test drive retirement’. I don’t know how much time I have left (no reference to some veiled terminal illness or otherwise impending demise intended). I just wanted to experience some of that well-earned freedom and enjoyment in life, while my body could, the resources allowed, and good friends and family were still around to share it with. I chose to go and do those things now. Ride my motorcycle on trips that will soon be beyond my range or skill level. Camp and hike the woods with friends. Golf with the boys teasing me about using the yellow senior tees due to my ‘retired’ status, before I can no longer swing a club. I spent time with family before either their time runs out or mine. I started hobbies. I read books. I sought self-improvement in both mind and spirit. I lived, laughed, loved, played and made the memories that neither money nor more time could etch into the lithograph of fond scenes I can now recall from any rocking chair that my future may hold. I let go for a bit and focused on living my happiest life. Very selfish. Very rewarding. Time is again the measure.

If (knock on wood) I were to pass suddenly in the foreseeable future, I will look like a genius. I will have stolen some of my ‘best years’ away from my perceived destiny of a long life that hinted they lay ahead. I will have made the time to be near, talk to, give to, and love the people closest to me. With good body I have done and with clear mind I have relished in the beauty of the world around us, peace of mind, and the joy of family and friends. I will have memories that will be just as cherished and remembered as any that can possibly wait to blossom from hopes that time for more exists.

If I am destined to live out my years to a ripe old age. If I must continue to work with a body even more ravaged by the passing of time. If I must struggle by in the hopes that what I haven’t spent is enough to see me through. If my future leisure or lifestyle is forfeit because of the leisure and lifestyle I have enjoyed in the present. Then I will look the fool. But again, time will be the measure.

All I know is, that I did those things now, and I have lived a beautiful period of my life that time can no longer take away. I would imagine all my readers know someone who has worked their whole life and never got to enjoy the fruits of their labors or get back the tithe of time that they imagined was in their future. I chose not to allow that to happen. It is my sincere hope that any reader has more time ahead then they can imagine, and I hope you do all those things now and in your future. But time, the measure we keep coming back to, is a clock for me not a crystal ball. It doesn’t reveal how much time I have left. So, I chose now, as it is the only thing time will promise me.

But the time I took, the money I spent, the friends and family I enjoyed, the love we shared, the unforgettable memories we made, the beauty I saw, all things that were the life I lived, with argument, are just as valuable as any that may lie ahead. May be more valuable, in a “bird in the hand” kind of way. They may easily outweigh the drudgery or pain of future work that I am not promised to make it to either.

Fool or genius. I will plow full steam ahead hoping I have no regrets about my choice. Pretty much like we all are required to plow ahead, hoping we made a good decision and then waiting to come out the other side and see. The one regret I won’t have is taking the time now. Taking as much of that one thing I am not promised, as I can. Being selfish. Being greedy about that constant passing by of something I can’t control. Not fearing my ration of ticks on the clock is shorter than I know, but facing it could be.

To the time I have ahead, however long or limited it may be, I say this, “I have taken what is mine from you. I have lived. I have spent you and my money on the things that bring me the greatest joy. I have gulped from the fountainhead of life rather than sip from its calm pool of safety. I have not allowed you to decide when or what I did. You cannot cause me to regret my decision. You can only cause the regret of things wished done, time better spent, space unshared, or love unspoken. You can come this minute, or you can wait decades for me in a darkened corner of a life well-lived. It won’t matter. You can’t ever take away what I already have.”

6 Responses to “Test Driving Retirement”
  1. I need a “love” button for this! It is a true testament to exactly why and how you have lived the past few years of your life. You needed time to make life better for you, rather than making it better for an employer. You took it – and you crossed things off on your bucket list that you may not have included in the first place! I am glad to have gotten more of your time during this test drive! I’m sure I’m not the only one, either.

  2. Hi Brad, in my view living ur life to d fullest and embracing life is never selfish but souls purpose as u mentioned, when time comes and u fulfilled ur responsibilites whats going to stop?

  3. Sherry says:

    I have to admit, I a tad jealous of the bravery it took to take an out of order retirement. I don’t possess that type of courage. Good for you Sir. Enjoy every second!

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  1. […] you have read my entry ‘Test Driving Retirement’, you are also aware that I have had plenty of time to devote to writing. Without external […]

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