Dear Alma, I’m burned out and can’t afford to retire

Dear Alma, I’m burned out and can’t afford to retire

A cri de coeur to our agony aunt:

Dear Alma,

I am in my mid-50’s, play in a medium sized orchestra, and teach part-time at a university. I have been in this situation for many years, and am wondering when or if I can retire. Neither job is substantial enough to give me retirement benefits, and so I have done my best to pay off my mortgage, live within my means, and my kids are taking partial loans to get through college. I don’t have a lot of personal retirement savings, and don’t know how I could really grow that in the next years. But I am burned out and wish I could know when I can stop.

Churning and Burning

Dear Churning and Burning,

As classical musicians we often don’t have the retirement safety net of other professions. Unless we were fortunate enough to land a steady job, which are few and far between, and those jobs, as we know, can be soul-sucking and detrimental to our emotional well-being.

I would go ahead and make an appointment with two or three financial advisors or retirement advisors. It seems as if you haven’t done this yet from your letter. They will help you figure out exactly what you have coming to you from the government, any Union benefits, health options, and will crunch the numbers of what your house and possessions are worth. They will let you know what your life would look like if you downsize your house, sell your instrument for a less expensive one, retire at 60, 65, 70 – also what a partial retirement (giving up orchestra but keeping your teaching position, for example) would look like. You need to go on a fact-finding mission to plot the next phase of your life.

I also think about these things, about where I want to live when I retire, and if retirement is even a realistic thing. My daughters have a piano teacher who is well into her 80’s, and I can see that not only is it great for my children to glean knowledge from a wise older person, and have an active relationship with an elderly person, but the teacher herself is engaged and it helps improve her life to be active and surrounded by children and families. It’s a beautiful, symbiotic relationship.

Realistically, Churning and Burning, life expectancy is between 75 and 80 years. So you have quite a while to go. Let’s think more about quality of life rather than length. What can you do for a living which might offer you a bit more quality – talk to friends and make a list of what you can do to help you find happiness and enough financial stability to pull you through the next 10-? years, by which time your kids will be finding partners and starting families. Make a plan, take care of your relationships and finances, don’t worry too much about your current jobs and burnout, make small adjustments in your work situation if possible, and think of the future, where you will hopefully be babysitting and surrounded by people who love you and want to take care of you.

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