How to Take Control of an Unexpected or Unwanted Retirement


I suffered an early retirement in February 2002–months before my 44th birthday.  I was injured at work, and was forced to retire. Now, as each February rolls around, I celebrate the fact that I am retired, and managed my lifestyle and finances so that I didn’t have to work during retirement.  Although there’s this hype going on about people making a fortune in their 20s and 30s so that they can retire early, I can only laugh because those plans don’t apply to me.  My early retirement was both unexpected and unwanted.  I had goals that will never play out.  There was no closure for me, and I struggled for nine years before I surrendered to retirement.

Retirement is What You Make of It 

Although the media glamorizes fame, power, money, big houses and expensive cars, I don’t buy it.  In the past, people held onto their jobs for 30-40 years.  Now, you wonder if you’ll have a job tomorrow. 

Today, retirement means different things to different people.  Nothing is guaranteed in life.  When it comes to those Golden Years, the people keep working because they know they have nothing to live on.  Or they know nothing but work, work, work. Here are some reasons why people retire long before they hit the “ideal” retirement age of 65:

  • you were fired
  • you can no longer do the work you love, and you refuse to learn anything new
  • you can’t find a job
  • your employer went out of business
  • your business failed
  • you dropped out of the workplace to take care of a family member (like an aging parent)
  • you figured you have enough to live on, so you say, “I quit!”
  • you needed a change, retired on what you saved, and followed your dreams when it came to doing something else
  • you received a generous inheritance or actually won the Lotto

Change is Good

When it comes to an unexpected or unwanted retirement, you have to deal with it.  I was so angry to be dealt this awful hand at such an early age, but now, at 55, I do understand why.  In 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage Five Kidney Disease.  In 2013, I had a kidney transplant.  Because of all the time spent in treatment, no employer would want me. 

While working, I always had this fantasy of calling in dead instead of calling in sick.  Wouldn’t that be just fabulous?  Well, it’s not going to happen.

Prioritize Your Life

Unfortunately, this society is weaned on a distorted view of the American Dream.  You have the media, print, television and movies to thank for that.  And you can throw in some family members and friends.  In a perfect world, if I had retired this year, I would have more than enough money to fuel my retirement.  Focus on what is important to you, then weed out the rest.  These days, I’m not going to lose sleep over money.  Nor will I waste my time catering to toxic people.  I have found that retirement is the happiest time of my life for me.

You Don’t Need a Million to Retire

Just how much do you need to retire?  Are you still in consumer mode and don’t want to break this wasteful habit?  Do you plan to spend, spend, spend until you die?  Do you always want “Only the Best,” and are willing to pay the price for it?

An Unexpected or Unwanted Retirement has its Hidden Blessings

Retirement has taught me well.  I’ve found that I need very little to keep me happy.  I see the waste when people hang onto things that they no longer want or need.  When you own so many possessions, you become a slave to them.  He who dies with the most toys is a losing game.  Get it through your head that you can’t take it with you.  For you, the blessings of your retirement may include:

  • more time with family and friends
  • travel
  • new friends or romance
  • new hobbies or interests
  • time to reflect on your life
  • the need to get healthy
  • getting rid of unwanted possessions
  • volunteering for your favorite cause
  • mastering your debt

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

It is hard to break old habits of spending and blowing money, but it can be done.  It is hard to slow down when all you’ve done all your life was go, go, go.  It is hard to deal with forced retirement when you had so many plans for the future.  Change is very hard for people who stick their feet in the mud and refuse to budge.  But that’s their problem.  Focus on what you really want and need.  Set some goals to better your life and those of your loved ones.  Work with what you have, and learn from people who live frugally.  Take a few risks, and don’t worry about the outcome.  When you welcome change and are willing to change bad habits, this is where you are rewarded with new insights for a happy retirement.




Photography (Hawaii) by Jack French


  1. marlenebertrand · February 9, 2014

    Like you, Arlene, I was forced into retirement. But, in 2008 I was forced out of my job by reason of corporate downsizing. At first, I cried and mourned the loss of income and was scared about my future. But, I embraced retirement soon enough and for most of my retirement years I can say that I am happy. In fact, as I look back at that day I was terminated I see that day as a blessing I was not aware of. My husband and I gave up (lost) our big house, fancy cars, and lavish lifestyle. But, what we have now is much more rewarding. We have each other and we have time to spend together all day. Learning to garden has been a joy I never experienced before retirement. If I want to go visit a friend and have tea, I can do that without having to check my schedule. I never wear a watch anymore. Of course I get to my doctor’s appointments on time; that’s what alarm clocks are for. I’m never in a hurry at the grocery store; sometimes, I just let people go in front of me for no reason. I have no place that I have to be at any particular time. It’s so nice. As one retiree to another… CHEERS!

    • Arlene Poma · February 9, 2014

      Marlene, thank you so much for your comment! Love it! My parents were immigrants, so it was all about money, fancy cars, huge houses, and all those fancy luxury items to show that you were a success in America. Are you kidding me??? They had plans for me, but at the same time, they did not prepare me for the outside world because they were stuck on their immigrant dreams. When I separated from their poison and followed what I really wanted for myself, I was much happier. Like you, I don’t wear a watch. It is a cheaper version Philip Stein that Oprah wears. I bought it on a cruise about seven years ago. It is gathering dust because I don’t want to invest in a new battery. $$$ And it would cost $50 just to replace the wristband! I am just tickled to watch people stress out on the way to work. I smile and wave at people who cut in front of me and all those horrible things careless drivers do on the road. I am quite generous when someone wants in. I take my time while going about my day. I love pushing a cart through the grocery store, Target and at COSTCO because I don’t feel obligated to buy anything. But I do enjoy watching people and seeing what kind of garbage they put in their carts. It’s the good life, Marlene. And we are so blessed!

  2. ChgoJohn · February 9, 2014

    I, too, had retirement thrust upon me, Arlene, and the advice you’ve offered is sound.The initial shock will fade away and a wonderful, fulfilling life awaits.

    • Arlene Poma · February 9, 2014

      John, I am just tickled to death when I wake up every morning. The day is all mine. I answer to me, and not the Big Boss Man/Lady cracking that whip! Thank you so much for your comment!

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