When should you leave?

“There is a trick to a graceful exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over – and to let go.” – Ellen Goodman

I am not exactly sure when I personally decided to retire. I think it was when I had received an award for many years of volunteer work. We were out celebrating at a restaurant in St. Louis. Family and friends were in from out of town to help me celebrate and many glasses of wine had been consumed. I was feeling grateful for the honor. Thankful for my family and friends, but also physically and emotionally tired. I was pushing that magic number: 70.

What if I just moved the time line up a bit and did not wait until 70 to retire? My husband was not going to retire. He loves what he does and interaction with his clients. My justification for this seemed so logical. With him still working, it would give me time to “settle in”, making my own personal adjustments to life after work.

I had just read an article interviewing Jane Pauley about her new book and one particular quote of hers struck me. “Unlike previous generations we can imagine retiring to something rather than just from something.” What I thought was so great about her words is that is what I wanted to do. Retiring to something sounded wonderful, it just made perfect sense.

I read somewhere that retirement is about the alignment of two things: money and values. When deciding if you should retire, determine the type of lifestyle that you want to live and most importantly, if you can afford it. Well, we had money saved. We had just signed up for Social Security. I was on Medicare, so what was I waiting for.

Many have told me that as they contemplate retirement, the time never does seem right. Often, as we age, retirement is a word you keep kicking down the road, waiting for that perfect venue to happen. But waiting for that perfection gives us the excuse for not taking any action at all.

Most of my firm’s employees were in their 20’s and early 30’s. Three of my partners were a quarter of a century younger than I, was it not time for their vision to lead our firm into the future?

The year before I retired I watched things change in my business on a global level, as we opened up a new office in China. A number of our key clients had opened up offices in Europe and Asia and I knew that was the direction we were headed. As I watched these changes swirled around me, I knew in my heart, that I was the “old guard”. My younger partners were definitely excited and driven by the new opportunities. All I could think about was how long the plane ride would be to Hong Kong! At that point I knew I was ready, and this is how it should be … to know when it is time to hand over the keys.

Years ago a very respected and powerful woman in St. Louis, Ruth Jacobson was managing partner for Fleishman Hilliard. She was a mentor in my younger days. One day over lunch Ruth told me that an important piece of advice she could give me was to remember “not to stay too long at the dance” and know when to move on when the time came.

As I sat in a meeting listening to my younger partners six months before I announced my plans to retire, I could not only hear but feel the passion they had for moving the company to a different level. I found myself wanting to chime in to tell them some of the things they were contemplating would not work, but wisely, I kept my mouth shut. I learned the hard way sometimes my passion and drive frequently took over my common sense when offering my sage advice. I realized in that moment it was their turn to make mistakes and that my dance was really over. It was time for me to let go. It truly was my time to learn how to build a life beyond work, into the life I was planning to have. As hard a decision as it is, closing that work life door on your terms makes all the difference.


  1. I used to be tired. Now I am retired.

  2. Here in Australia we have a popular saying – “don’t hang around until you reach your use-by date”.

    I opted to vanish from the work scene at 64 when I realised I had reached my best-by date – I didn’t want to linger in the office waiting for my use-by date to arrive.

    The author of this excellent piece said it right when she wrote, it’s best to retire to something and not from something. Which is what I did.

    Now in my early 70s and my architectural photography has kept me interested and active, also traveling (until Covid put the brakes, I hope only temporarily, on my global wandering early last year) – I’ve been to several Asian countries to photograph old colonial architecture, I have a web site for clients, and I sell my images to publishers and media.

    A new life indeed!

    Note to the author, more pieces like this please!!

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