Early retirement, it’s official! The first school year passed without me being in the classroom. As a recap, I retired last September and for the first time in 20 years I didn’t start the school year as a member of the teaching faculty at Oklahoma State University.
Instead, in 2021, I took early retirement at 55 years old (the earliest available as part of the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System) and embarked on my first year of retirement.
We (Bill and I) celebrated with a trip to Petit Jean State Park and Moss Mountain Farm, both are located in Arkansas. We also undertook a kitchen remodel and planted his and her gardens (think veggies-Bill and flowers-me). I learned to make homemade tortillas and garden focaccia. We hosted our family during the holidays and took lots of day trips just for fun. We also walked in the mornings, I attended a swim class twice weekly and we took care of our flock of chickens and ducks.
And before I knew it, I looked up and the campus was hosting graduation ceremonies. My first official school year as a retiree had flown by and I had discovered that retired life is really really good.
Today I’m sharing a bit more about my first year of early retirement and four lessons learned.
L1: You are much more than who you are at work.
I am more than Dr. Weeks. To be fair, I knew this before retiring. After all, my family, friends and children never referred to me as Dr. Weeks. I was always Mom or Penny or sis or something else less formal and/or more familiar.
But I have quickly discovered that I didn’t need to be Dr. Weeks to be both happy and fulfilled on a daily basis.
I loved teaching and seeing my students grow and develop. I dedicated decades to my role as an educator, academic, advisor and colleague. I was highly committed to my role as a member of the faculty and profession. And I’m thankful for a career that was professionally and financially fulfilling
But, in exploring the possibility of early retirement and deciding to take the leap, I choose to pivot and not look back. I choose to let go of who I was professionally, to let others step in and run the academic programs I created, to be me outside of my role as Dr. Weeks.
I choose to love each day that I created at home, away from the office. I choose to pursue personal happiness, daily life and simple joys. I choose to examine my personal values and to build a daily life where my personal values, vision and goals were aligned.
You too are much more than a teacher, banker, doctor, cashier, secretary, personal assistant or whatever it is that you do for work.
Prepare financially and then take the leap!
L2: Celebrate retirement your way!
Retirement is something to be celebrated. You have set aside enough savings to live your life outside the workplace. This is a huge accomplishement!
You know that you are more than who you were professionally. You have decided to focus on yourself outside the workplace. And now it’s time to mark the occasion.
I’m not talking about one last office party with a service pin or watch or other odd gift surrounded by colleagues confused by your decision or wishing they were taking the leap with you.
I’m talking about a celebration that is uniquely you, planned by you, to celebrate and transition to retired life.
Our Retirement Celebration
For many retirement is marked by an extravagant once in a lifetime vacation.
For us (Bill retired one year prior to me), we marked retirement with (1) a short vacation to our neighboring state AND (2) a once and a lifetime kitchen remodel.
The short vacation was spent in Arkansas with family members that are also retired. We stayed in a cabin at Petit Jean State Park, played lots of cards, cooked together, relaxed together and talked about retirement.
We also spent the day at P. Allen Smith’s gardens at Moss Mountain Farm. This was my second visit to the farm, the gardens are spectacular and filled with inspiration. Spending time with happy retirees quickly thrust us into our new way of life. It was the perfect beginning
Upon our return home, we jumped into our kitchen remodel. The kitchen remodel was our once in a lifetime project to kick off retired life together at home.
The project was consuming, creative and ongoing AND we were both highly motivated to create our dream kitchen.
Our kitchen remodel wrapped up about the same time the school year wrapped up. The new kitchen is a joy to cook in and now we have the opportunity to cook all of our meals here, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So, what will you do to celebrate your retirement?
As a side note, I also learned very quickly that being home to oversee the remodel was very important, that remodel projects are bound to grow beyond the original scope and take a lot longer than originally projected. (I’ll share more in a future blog post.)
L3: Keep the routines that work for you.
I have been a Monday morning weekly list maker for as long as I can remember wanting to get things done. It has been one of my routines for a very long time. I also know that people in general have different personalities. Some are list makers and some are not. I fall into the first camp, Bill falls into the second camp.
As a retiree, I was no longer going to the office on Monday mornings and so I naturally quit my Monday morning routine which included making my weekly To Do list and calendar.
However, the absence of a Monday morning routine didn’t last long. I quickly discovered that although I didn’t miss going into the office, I did miss the routine of planning my week.
So I returned to making a To Do list and calendar of appointments each Monday morning. My week is much happier when I sit down on Monday’s and make a list of items I’d like to accomplish and commitments I’ve made for the upcoming week. During this time, I also review last week’s list including what I accomplished and what I have put off doing.
I enjoy the weekly reflection and planning. It’s a routine that works for me.
My Current To Do List
For me, a weekly To Do list is also a sign of intentional living. The list represents what I value (my health, relationships, responsibility, creativity and life-long learning…for starters).
During my first year of early retirement, my weekly lists have included morning walks with Bill, twice weekly swim class, evenings in the garden, errands, gifts I need to buy and mail, kitchen remodel related items, travel related plans, and new things I now have time to try (like making a garden focaccia).
The point is I am the same person I was before retiring. My use of a To Do list to organize my time and responsibilities has not changed. What has changed is the added freedom of what makes it on the list.
L4: Retirement is an opportunity to explore.
I have lost count of the number of people that asked me what I would do all day when I began sharing that I was retiring at 55. This question baffles me!
Have you ever wanted to learn something new or pursue something that you had dabbled in but didn’t have the time to fully explore? Retirement has proven to be the perfect time for learning and exploring new things and opportunities.
A few new things…
I grew up in Texas and have eaten a lot of really good Tex-Mex in my lifetime. But since moving to Oklahoma, I have only found 1-2 restaurants that can compete with the flavors and quality that I grew up eating.
For the last 20 years, I have dreamed of making my own Tex-Mex cuisine at home but it never made my To Do list.
This year was different. This year I taught myself to make homemade flour tortillas. Bill also canned a ton of homemade homegrown salsa and I can whip up guacamole in my sleep. Next up is homemade corn tortillas and cheese enchiladas. Can’t wait to share my favorite recipes with you.
I also decided last fall that I wanted to spend more time in the garden. Bill built 6 new raised beds for me, we added trellises, a brick path and irrigation. Earlier this spring, I loaded the beds with flowers. It is going to be amazing.
To top it off, now I have time to complete the Master Gardeners course and will begin classes in the fall.
Life has endless opportunities to explore. I’m just now starting to scratch the surface.
I’m Retired for Life
I have heard of people retiring and then finding that they’re bored and don’t know what to do with their time. I have also heard of people doing everything they wanted to do soon after retirement and then returning to work.
Personally, I can not imagine falling into either of these categories of retirees.
Retired life is really really good. It’s a luxury to not work. It’s a luxury to decide how to spend each day.
Each day becomes an opportunity to learn, enjoy being at home, spend time with loved ones, explore new ideas and places and/or serve others.
If you follow me on Instagram, you can expect to see lots more of what’s happening in the kitchen and in the garden. I will also be sharing more here on the blog. Drop me a note below and let me know if you have questions about retirement or our country home and garden life.
x Penny Pennington Weeks
A Home and Garden Tour of P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain Farm
How to Care for Backyard Chickens