Retirement: Shouldn’t it have been easier?

The author and her husband aboard Kindred Spirit, their home away from home. Photo courtesy Joanne Milke

Midwinter 2021

By Joanne Milke

In the summer of 2017 my husband and I had just finished a long, lazy summer weekend on the hook aboard Kindred Spirit, our 36-foot Saberline trawler, and were packed into the dinghy headed back to the dock. My anticipation of the busy week ahead grew. The upcoming weather promised to be fair, and summer nights were already getting shorter. “Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to rush back home and instead stay the week?” I said to my husband.

“Give me three more years until retirement” was his pat comeback.

My husband had a financial retirement plan worked out to a summer 2020 timeline, and I’d followed along without considering the matter too deeply. The idea of retiring was definitely enticing on these Sunday evenings, and whenever I would face annoyances at work.

Soon it was 2018, and then 2019. Retirement was now knocking loudly on our cabin door.

After raising three children as a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, re-entering the job market was challenging and required me to develop technology skills and catch up with best practices. Since that time, some 20 years earlier, I had built a successful and fulfilling career. I liked the work I did helping others and, lucky me, COVID-19 measures wouldn’t eliminate my job.

On the other hand, my husband and I dreamed of the day we could travel extensively on Kindred Spirit without the confines of vacation dates and busy weekend destinations. We even entertained the idea of living on the boat for the summer.

Looking back, I realize that – at the time – the idea of retiring in the spring of 2020 felt a bit like falling off the edge of reality. A reality that was, thanks to COVID-19, already upside down. Adding to the confusion was the fact that I had friends who had already retired, but, on the other hand, I had others who swore they never would. It didn’t help that several retirees told me that hanging up your spurs is far less glamorous than it sounds.

And, of course, there were other things to consider.

Waking at 6:00 a.m. and returning home at 6:00 p.m. – and a two-hour commute within this timeframe – had become my life. It was comfortable enough, but also demanded a level of energy that could only be replenished during the course of a leisurely weekend. Like so many others in the work-a-day world, I accepted this lifestyle. It was my comfortable routine.

During the COVID-19 shutdown of March 2020 and the quick switch over to working at home, I actually grew annoyed. I had set up my home office in a room that I considered to be my personal sanctuary. Now my work life was invading my off-hours and quiet space. I wanted my old routine, work friends and separate office back.

Slowly, and rather stubbornly, I found that I actually enjoyed the benefits of working from home. I could linger in bed longer in the morning, enjoy conversations with my husband before work, and walk with my neighbor at noon. And, with the commute erased, I could prepare a real dinner. As many others did during the spring of 2020, I started a garden. I stocked my little backyard pond with fish again, and generally started to enjoy being home throughout the day.

Spring weather was late in arriving in 2020, but my husband and I were finally able to enjoy time on the water. Living simply on a boat was a long-shared pleasure enjoyed by my whole family. Boating in the time of COVID-19 allowed a return to what felt like normalcy outside the confines of the house, with the added bonus of facilitating safe travel and permitting socializing between boats.

Time on the water in New England is delicious, but brief, especially when tied to work schedules. Our summer felt like it was slipping away; we wanted more time to cruise to ports unknown. This, ultimately, was the decider. I had plenty of time to prepare for retirement, but it took the COVID-19 pandemic to convince me it was the right thing to do. Being on the water helped me turn the page. I gave notice on June 30, and officially retired on July 30. Suddenly it was OK to relax and start enjoying other aspects of life, and I gave myself permission to do so. We are now entering cruising plans into our log for our next life adventure together on Kindred Spirit.

Joanne Milke retired from her job as an administrator in higher education in the summer of 2020 and is now, along with her husband, enjoying the boating life outside the confines of work.