When Should I Retire? My Struggle

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Usually when I write an article, I hope for a lot of views. But this time I’m not so sure. It’s because this article is way more personal than what I usually write. You may think me shallow or worse after you read it. But if I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that I’m not, you’re not, we’re not alone. Nothing is new under the sun and maybe you are going through the same experience as me.

When Should I Retire? My Struggle

When Should I Retire? My Struggle

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Elephant in My Room

I didn’t sign up for this annoying aging thing, but I am getting older. Apparently. I’m 66, at last count. Which I’d like to point out is my early middle sixties, not my late sixties, or even my late middle sixties, but...even so. Unacceptable. Actually, kidding aside, I’m really fairly OK with the aging. It’s not the getting older, per se, that is bothering me.

It’s the big looming elephant in my room. Retirement.

Until recently, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar. It was something that happened to other people. Other people as in old folks. I've been insensitive, especially when I realize that I've been able to work this long while others, even some young people, did not have that choice.

But more and more, retirement seems like a real thing. For me.

What I don’t love is how thinking about retiring is forcing me to examine myself.

Signs it May be Time

There are signs. Friends and colleagues around me are retiring like flies. I have to ask myself if they know something I don’t. Like when to quit.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing. There’s actually a small group of us my age in the hospital, and we fist-bump or high-five when we run into each other out and about in the hospital or in the elevator. “Still here, right?” “Yep!” We talk in low tones about “How much longer do you have?” knowing it’s not wise to talk openly about retiring at work until you’ve decided.

I’m aware I think about retirement more often, sometimes daily. That’s a change. I think more in terms of not being at work than of being at home. By that, I mean I see it framed more as a loss than a gain.

Recently I was awarded Nurse of the Year in my county by ACNL in the Lifetime Achievement category. Another sign that my career’s at the tail end?

Then there’s my health. My back went out recently and I thought, “Is this it?’ but then I recovered. To work another day, month, maybe years?

Weary Short Timer

More and more I have the mindset of a weary short-timer. I no longer fight every battle, because maybe I’ll be gone before it all matters, anyway. I think I’ve distanced a bit, but then it never sticks. I haven’t quite reached that tipping point of disengagement.

Sometimes I’ll sit back and see a decision being made and just shake my gray-haired head. But... no one asks me.

Admin, "Beth, you've worked here as a professional clinician for over 10 yrs. What do you think? Will this new initiative work?" (scenario that never happens)

Then again, it’s not that they ever did ask me, but my tolerance for repeated mistakes is lower. I’ve seen the pendulum swing to the right and then to the left and back to the right again on any given issue. It’s a bad case of “Been there, Done that”.

I lack enthusiasm for the Flavor of the Month. I zone out if someone starts saying they want to “move the needle” or do or don’t have the “bandwidth” to “pick the low-hanging fruit”. Just don’t admonish nurses to be “more resilient” when taking away resources. It’s not an opportunity to “do less with more”, it’s short-staffing.

So I guess I’m still plenty passionate. I just don’t want to hang on too long as that old, negative, jaded nurse.

I love what Laura Gasparis Vonfrolio, nationally known CCRN guru and speaker, said when I asked her why she still works in ICU. She paused and said, “To be a pain in their a**

Grief and Fears

Grief is not too strong a word when I think about my retirement. I’m grieving a stage of my life. The biggest, longest stage. Leaving my job is a loss. A loss of who I am and a loss of the community I’ve been a part of for 40 years. I’ll be in a new community. The AARP retirement community. Yikes.

I’d miss helping nurses pass their Arrhythmia exam and connecting with the fresh and bright newly licensed nurses in each new cohort. I’d miss my work team and I still love my job.

I’ve never been fearful. I wasn’t afraid to leave home when I was 16. I wasn’t afraid to leave an unhealthy marriage. I wasn’t afraid to attend nursing school as a single parent of 3 little ones, with no financial support. I wasn’t afraid to be a nurse manager and I wasn’t afraid to write and publish a book. I’m not afraid of taking exams or even of public speaking.

But retirement? Terrified. Well, maybe not terrified. But maybe, yes, a little terrified. What’s so scary?

At heart, it’s a loss of identity, of status.

I dread the, “Hi! What do you do?” “I’m retired” encounter. If I’m not an experienced, competent nurse, then who am I? I like being an expert. What good are all my certifications and accomplishments in retirement? Is my ego really as big as all this sounds? Now that’s scary.

Shouldn’t I base my self-worth on how good of a person I am? I thought I was secure but maybe I’m actually deeply insecure. And am I over-analyzing all this? Probably.


Then there’s finances. Have I saved enough? Will I be able to live with a new budget? Maybe I spend more money than I realize on work, like gas and potlucks and gifts and clothes, and I’ll save money like others tell me. Or will I have to pinch pennies to buy my grandchildren birthday gifts?

How about my extensive work wardrobe? I work out of an office, some days I wear scrubs, and other days I wear clothes under a lab coat. I love expressing myself through my clothes and colors, and combinations. And shoes. And accessories. Will I be relegated to lounge wear? Will I schlep around in boring leggings, T-shirts and flip-flops? Vain much? Guilty. My vanity needs some structure.

Or will I turn into a couch potato and not get dressed at all? Without my existing structure will I be lost. Is this the beginning of the end?

What will being with my loving husband 24/7 day in and day out be like? Granted, we’ve been married for 21 yrs., but not during the work week. I’ll be switching my work wife for my husband.


Maybe I’ll volunteer. But then I laugh and think, “Right!”. In less than 2 months, I’d probably try to re-organize and take over whatever poor, unsuspecting organization that takes me on as a volunteer. In other words, I’d be working, not volunteering.

Fortunately, I do have other options. I have purposely built bridges to help me transition, such as my side jobs as a nurse writer and subject matter expert. I could definitely spend more time on my blog, nursecode.com., which I would love to do.

But how relevant will I be as a blogger if I don’t know the very latest thing happening in hospitals? What if they initiate electronic white boards or robots or something and I’m not there to critique it, make all my jokes about it?

Final Finale Thoughts

According to Erik Erikson, I’m officially in the final developmental stage of my life- integrity vs despair. I choose integrity. That means not having regrets when I look back. But I do have to reflect on myself closely in order to move forward authentically and grow.

In retirement:

  • I can channel my creative energy. I have a huge amount of creative energy and I spend a lot of it for my employer in my practice as a Nursing Professional Development Specialist. Maybe it will be amazing to channel all of it on what I choose that day. Every day.
  • I’ll write another book. I’ve always wanted to write a novel or maybe an autobiography.
  • I’ll spend more time with family, and I’ll travel more. Garden. Maybe I’ll do take up mosaics.
  • I’ll visit my sister in the fall in Vermont and watch the leaves change together.
  • I love to learn, I live to learn, and that needn’t change. Maybe I’ll read the classics and Shakespeare and learn something new. Study a new language.
  • I’ll sit with this upcoming shift in my identity. It’s my next major life challenge. Deep breath. I’m going to rest in the not-knowing and stay in this space, not avoid it. I can do this.

I think I’ve decided. I’m not going to retire, not right now. I’m warming up to it. But I’m not there yet.


So my husband just sat down beside me and asked me what I’m writing. I told him it’s an article titled “Retirement: My Struggle”. He laughed out loud, which I wasn’t expecting.

“Is that funny?”

“Yes!” (laughing harder)

“Really? So, what about it is funny?” (puzzled)

“Beth, you’re not struggling!”

“I’m not?”

“No! You have too much fun at work! I watch you every day. Honey, you love what you do”

Oh. Right. He’s right

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development, and am a blogger and author.

149 Articles   2,669 Posts

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27 Comment(s)


38,333 Posts

I would be retired for good if it were not for the amount of money I owe to the amount of creditors that have holds on my bank account and the fact, that yes, my rent does get raised every year, and whenever the owner does an upgrade to his aging building. My rent finally surpassed my fixed income, so I am damned to a full time job or two if I want to buy food and pay utilities, no choice in the matter. When a person's health starts to give way, it does get one to thinking though. This is not what we signed up for when we entered the world of work. I have tried to warn my grandchildren about all of this but they won't listen, they think saving for retirement is not something they need to do. They will see. Around the time they turn 66.

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 11 years experience. 2 Articles; 6,837 Posts

A wonderfully introspective and insightful article. I hope we get to keep you around a bit longer Beth. And I hope it is because you are indeed having too much fun and not because you have to.

meanmaryjean, DNP, RN

Specializes in NICU, ICU, PICU, Academia. Has 45 years experience. 7,899 Posts

I am eligible for my full SS retirement benefit in 21 months. But I honestly do not WANT to retire- not yet anyway.

What I would like is to do something part-time, on my terms. Maybe return to the world of peds home vent care? Or (not kidding- I've thought a lot about this) prison nursing where there are no visitors and no extreme customer service expectation. Who knows how I'll feel in 21 months?

Thanks for sharing- it's a lot to think about for sure.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience. 149 Articles; 2,669 Posts

1 hour ago, not.done.yet said:

A wonderfully introspective and insightful article. I hope we get to keep you around a bit longer Beth. And I hope it is because you are indeed having too much fun and not because you have to.

Thank you kindly, not.done.yet ?


"nursy", RN

Specializes in ICU, ER, Home Health, Corrections, School Nurse. Has 40 years experience. 289 Posts

I've always had admiration for the people you read about "so and so is 87 years old and still goes to work everyday as a nuclear physicist doing ground breaking research in saving the world, etc. etc,. " and I think I want to be like that ...except.....I DON'T! I want to retire YESTERDAY and travel with my husband and explore the country and have fun! BUT it's obvious, Beth, that you aren't ready to retire. So maybe you will be one of those people I read about and admire for working instead of retiring, so don't fret about it! Keep on doin' what you're doin', and when the time is right, you will know!

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 11 years experience. 2 Articles; 6,837 Posts

My retirement plan is to teach adjunct part time after I leave acute care. Who knows how realistic that is but I am 17 years away so....yeah. Even if I could retire right now though, I honestly would not want to. I love my job on a level that is just ridiculous. But 17 years is a long time and a lot can change, so I save and daydream and use as much PTO for travel now while I can. Hubbie is already retired (and much older than me), so I get a little of both worlds.

Beth, when my mom retired, she went back and forth on it for years. Then there was a huge change in leadership where she was working and a change in software and suddenly she knew. It was time. She'd rather retire than have to relearn all that stuff and get used to a new leadership team with new priorities. She retired happily and has been busy going to shows, book club, swimming daily, shopping, traveling, working charities for the homeless and doing tons of happy hours with her girlfriends on Fridays. She loves it and has not had a moment of regret. When you are ready, I think you will know it.


llg, PhD, RN

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 45 years experience. 13,469 Posts

I've crossed over from the "not-quite-ready" group to the "yes, I am ready" group in the last 6 months. I am now 64 1/2 and plan to retire in 15-18 months. A couple of things helped move me further along the path. Many of those things are things you mentioned in your article, Beth -- things like not wanting to invest a lot of energy and passion into issues that won't come to fruition for another couple years and/or lacking enthusiasm for the flavor-of-the-month.

But what really put me over the top was being forced to make some firm plans and commitments about my retirement living arrangements. Now that I know that I will be moving to a new home and starting to visualize that life in concrete terms, I am wanting to "get on with it." I'm looking at some new home furnishings, developing some new hobbies, etc. and generally starting to make definite decisions and plans for that phase of life. Before, I just had vague thoughts about where I might move and what I might do. But once I had to make a commitment and pay a deposit (or lose the opportunity for a great housing option) -- it because very real for me.


mimibrown, ADN, BSN

Specializes in Med-Surg. Has 8 years experience. 73 Posts

I'm one of the newish nurses who love to learn from nurses like you. I love your writing and hope you don't slow down anytime soon!

Davey Do

Specializes in Psych (25 years), Medical (15 years). Has 43 years experience. 1 Article; 10,084 Posts

Standing ovation for your article from someone who hung on every word and can identify, Nurse Beth!

I've decided to retire if any one of these three criteria are met:

1) I get fired.

2) I can't do my job anymore.

3) Wrongway Regional Medical Center becomes a carpet warehouse.




1,487 Posts

Your health is absolutely perfect, and you have not had the grim reaper whispering at your door. Not even a little. No aches and pains, no diagnosis of any kind.

You totally love your job.

At 66, this makes you part of the 1% of the 1%.

I am in my late 50's and saving like mad, because I can see my future. Which is not the above.

I realize I won't know whether to take social security early for a reduced benefit until the time comes.

I won't miss the nonsense. Throughout my entire working life, I rarely worked with anyone longer than a year or two. All that drama for an acquaintance.

I left various jobs and a few months later, I was never there.

Nope. Not me.

TriciaJ, RN

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory. Has 41 years experience. 4,292 Posts

I was ready to retire a year before I actually did, then I hung on by the nails. Too many hobbies and interests sat on the back burner for far too long. Now I'm up to my neck in elderly parent-in-law issues and so grateful I'm not juggling a job.

If you're still enjoying everything for the most part, no need to go anywhere. You'll know if your heart just isn't in it any more. As far as one's identity, if you can't picture identifying yourself as anything but a nurse, then maybe you have put too many eggs in that one basket.

I liked the part about sticking around to be a pain in their a**. The only problem for me was that they'd been a bigger pain in mine for far too long.