Woman, 54, Shares the Reality of Retiring Young: 'Seemed Fun But It Wasn't'

After decades of working, many people yearn for retirement. But when the day finally comes, it can be hard to adjust to life without a 9 to 5.

In 2022, the average reported retirement age is up to 61, according to a Gallup Poll. Jeanne Thompson considers herself "very lucky" to have had the option to retire aged 54 after agreeing to an employment buy-out offer that she couldn't refuse.

After 25 years of working in the corporate world, Thompson, a mom of two, had high hopes for her retired life. She saw many opportunities to travel and exercise and was looking forward to ditching a three-hour daily commute.

A study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Human Interest, a company that helps employees with retirement plans, revealed the top goals for future retirees. Like Thompson, 38 percent of 2,002 U.S. adults aspire to write a book, and 34 percent plan to learn a new sport.

However, the reality of retirement was the opposite of what Thompson had envisioned. Thompson spoke to Newsweek about the highs and lows of retiring early.

Thompson, now 55, worked her way up the career ladder and achieved great things along the way. The self-proclaimed extrovert thrived in the working environment as a senior vice president at a large Boston-based financial services company.

A typical day for Thompson meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. and driving for 90 minutes to start work at 7 a.m. in the office. She would usually walk back through her home door in Boston at 7 p.m. The 55-hour weeks began to take their toll and Thompson admits she was "burnt out".

She told Newsweek: "Looking back, I was a workaholic, but I loved my job and the company, it was phenomenal.”

"I'm an extrovert and I get my energy from people so when COVID-19 hit and we were working from home that began to take its toll too."

After the pandemic, Thompson went back to the office three days a week, resuming her three-hour commute. "My role was busy and involved leading teams, public speaking, and traveling all over the world working with organizations to help employees plan and save for retirement," she said.

"I was offered a voluntary buyout and even though I wasn't ready to retire, the package was too good to be true so I accepted it."

Expectations vs. Reality

Thompson completed her last working day on December 31, 2021. She assumed the start of the new year was going to be "fantastic", but that's not how it turned out initially.

She told Newsweek: "The first six months were rough; I worked my whole life and I am used to a routine.”

"I was used to people calling, and emailing me all of the time, then suddenly it was very quiet.”

"As the sole breadwinner for 7 years, raising two kids and looking after my aging parents, I was often exhausted.”

"I didn't keep up with friends because I was so busy with work and raising my family. I also didn't have any hobbies.”

"I was very lost as my parents sadly passed away, the kids are grown and at college, and I had nothing to do.”

"It was strange having the luxury of downtime; some days, I would wake up at 7 a.m. and stay in bed until 9 a.m.”

"The idea of retiring early seemed fun but it wasn't; I felt like I was too young and still had a lot to offer.”

"I felt guilty because I was lucky enough to retire but I couldn't figure it out; I wasn't happy.”

"I had work friends but I never had a big network. I had to figure out who I was and what I liked to do.”

"It was very hard as I didn't anticipate the transition. When I was working, I had done studies on the emotional aspects of retirement with the Stanford Center on Longevity so I thought I would be fine.”

"I thought I would travel, work on writing a book, get back into shape, play pickleball, and live a carefree life.”

"But I struggled to find my way, at first I didn't want to do anything and even though I was bored, I didn't know what I wanted to do."

Thompson revealed she knew other people who retired early, including her husband, but nobody ever spoke about the mental struggle.

"Everyone assumes retirement is awesome, and they don't want to hear that it's not; they want you to tell them how fabulous it is, but it wasn't for me," she added.

Retirement Risk Zone

It turns out Thompson's feelings are common for retirees. Newsweek spoke to Doug Dahmer, the CEO and founder of Retirement Navigator, a financial service that provides individuals with the tools to organize and pre-test their lifestyle choices ahead of retirement.

He said: "The retirement risk years tend to start around age 55 and end about age 75. These years have earned the reputation as the retirement risk zone because these are the years in life where we tend to have the highest concentration of tough choices to make — and we also tend to have little ability to respond or recover from poorly made decisions.

"The stages of the retirement risk zone include hesitation, followed by anticipation, then realization, reorientation, and finally reconciliation. It is usually during the first post-retirement phase of 'realization' that many baby boomers begin their process of regret and worry."

Dahmer states it is quite common for people to "overlook future large lump sum cash outlays" such as payments towards cars or necessary home renovations.

He said: "This often results in people muddling through the start of their retirement to try and determine which desired life outcomes to pursue, and then out of necessity they must attempt to cobble together a funding strategy to deal with these lump sum abnormalities."

Dahmer encourages people to make a retirement cash flow strategy that includes "many future life choices that will create years of higher spending."

'I Am Finally Living How I Thought I Would Be'

Thompson admits she finally felt comfortable with her choice in January 2023. She has moved to Florida and regularly plays pickleball.

The aforementioned study revealed a new location was a key desire for those planning retirements. The results found 31 percent of Americans intend to move to another city and 25 percent aim to move to a different state.

She told Newsweek: "I am finally living how I thought I would be.”

"Over time I have been meeting people by getting out and doing things.”

"I have made new friends from my neighborhood and pickleball is very sociable too. I have also rekindled with former retired colleagues who live in the area."

Thompson has also discovered TikTok and has created an account dedicated to her journey  jdawgretires where she has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on her clips.

"TikTok has become a hobby of mine, in the morning, I wake up at 6.30 am and look at TikTok rather than check my emails for 30 minutes.”

"I have shared my struggle online and it has allowed me to be creative. I love the TikTok community.”

"I feel like I am becoming who I was meant to be, even though most people do that in their 20s."

It isn't just new hobbies and friends Thompson has made, she has also found other ways to keep herself busy that involve making money and sharing her expertise.

"I don't think I will ever go back to a 9-5 corporate job, those days are over for me.”

"I now consult for a small start-up business, I enjoy it a lot. There are only four of us so I don't have to deal with the things that come with a big company, with overhead and politics that come with a big company.”

"I am also coaching women about work-life sway along with some public speaking.”

"Life is finally good and how I imagined it would be, it took some time to get there though."

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