Retiring last June, at 59, came about 4 years earlier than expected.
I'd made the "economically unfeasible" choices in college: majored in English without wanting to go to law school. Then became a teacher out of sheer altruism, motivation, perspiration and the (naive) hope that I might make the world a better place (if I could help teenagers learn to read critically and deeply, write fluently and honestly, and think logically and globally.) Thirty-seven years later, I've only rarely regretted the choice, usually when grading essays on nights, weekends, Christmas, and every spring break. I even took 2 years off to earn another "impractical" degree (an MA in English and American Lit.).
I was lucky enough to marry a great guy with degrees in chemistry, biology and theology. After feeling cloistered as a pastor, he wanted to work out in the "regular world." So he got a job in pharmaceutical sales, from which he retired after many successful years. (Read: he made a lot more $ than I did.)
There have been major challenges throughout our marriage (losing a child, adopting another one who developed mental illness, then my husband developed serious COPD about 28 years ago.........and he had never smoked); for sanity's sake, I spent most of my career only working part-time. So I never built up as much service credit as I would need. However, we have been frugal and responsible in saving for retirement. I also knew that, by working until 63, I could provide for myself the highest possible teacher's pension.
But, a year ago, we learned that my husband's lungs had deteriorated to the point that he functions on only 20% breathing capacity. He decided to take disability retirement at 62. My quandary was this: do I work another 4 years to improve my pension? or do I retire with less and, thus, "buy" those four years with my husband instead?
In effect, did I want extra time with my husband? or another year of paychecks?
I chose the husband, and have not regretted it for a moment. We did all the careful math and-- because of our pensions, 30 yrs. of LBYM, and our taste for a simple life-- all has worked out just fine. We can read and discuss all the books we want. We volunteer, go to the park, drink coffee any time in the AM, visit friends whenever we like. Many precious enjoyments are free.
Henry David Thoreau mourned those who live their lives in "quiet desperation." So he went to the woods to "live deliberately." So might each of us, whether we live near the woods or not.
Or, as Whitman says in "Song of Myself," "I loaf and invite my soul."
The best of life, IMHO, lies beyond the paychecks and politics of a career. Don't get me wrong: I loved mine. But there came a point when I wanted as much time with my husband as possible!