Tomorrow will mark the 12th anniversary of my retirement as Postmaster of Acton, California.I was fortunate to have been able to retire early. I celebrated my 50th birthday just two weeks prior to my last day on the job. The United States Postal Service, my employer for nearly 25 years was in the midst of downsizing management positions in the face of declining mail volumes due in large part to the growth in online communication and billing coupled with the increasing loss of package delivery service to UPS and FedEx. Because I was able to apply the over 2000 hours of unused, earned sick leave as an additional year of employment, I just barely met the minimum requirements for time in service and age. But I also had to consider the financial ramifications of this important decision. Together, my husband and I worked out the cost of giving up a fairly well-paying job and accepting a pension payment that was less than half of my then monthly salary. We owned our home mortgage free, had no outstanding loans, and our kids had both earned scholarships that would pay for the bulk of their college expenses. In the end we decided that the reduction of our stress levels and the improvements in our lifestyle would more that offset the loss of income.
I went into work on the last day of January 2005 with the intent of spending a full day at work helping my replacement to learn the ropes. Instead, by noon he suggested that I could be on my way, that he was ready to assume full responsibility for the office. It hurt just a bit that I could seemingly be so easily replaced, but at the same time I was looking forward to the next chapter in my life. And I have never looked back. The first few months, with my kids away at college and my husband still working, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my seemingly endless hours of free time. I set about cleaning, organizing and painting the inside of our house to get it ready to put on the market (we had pretty much decided that it was not where we wanted to be in retirement). I took the dog for long walks in the hills and trails around our community. I read every inch of the daily newspaper. I wrote letters, did yard work, cooked and baked, and whatever else that caught my fancy. Just as I was so easily replaced at the office, I easily adjusted to a life of my own scheduling. And I loved it.
Within a couple of years, my husband was also able to retire. Because we had planned well (that’s why I use the work fortunate rather than “lucky” when I talk about early retirement) we were able to do so much more than just make our own schedules. We sold our house in California and moved to a log cabin on a lake in Maine. Don builds boats, large and small, in the basement and I can work on stain glass projects on snowy, cold winter days. We have learned to cross-country ski and make thrice-weekly visits to the fitness center at the nearby university to work out. In the summer and fall we enjoy being on the lake. Year-round we enjoy exploring our adopted home state. We have also traveled to some pretty amazing places like Antarctica, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos and Marquesas Islands, Iceland and New Zealand. We have driven the highway and byways of America in our camper van to discover the hidden gems of its vast landscape and camped in National Parks, Seashores, and Monuments too numerous to mention. There is much more we want to see and do. I believe my life, our life, has been so much richer for foregoing potential earnings and leaving the world of work responsibilities in the rear-view mirror. I have no absolutely regrets about my decision to retire early.