A Neon-Orange Card Lays out My Plan to Retirement, But It’s Scary

The Orange Card

The Orange Card

The only thought more stressful than continuing to work is the idea of retiring. For the past six years, I maintained a low tech retirement countdown on a bright orange index card – a list of milestones. Twice each year, on my service anniversary date and my birthday, I pulled out the card and ticked through the most recent set of accomplishments.

  • Sell our house
  • 54th birthday
  • 30 years of service

Some milestones indicated the end of a financial obligation, others the checkpoints related to my pension. On major events, I would take the day off; sit in a coffee shop; pull out the card – and with a bit of ceremony strike through the associated line. When we moved to Bratislava, I tucked the orange card safely into my journal.

For years, I didn’t share the existence of the index card with anyone – not even Pat. It wasn’t necessarily a secret, but it seemed silly – an implication that I sat in a bar tossing back scotch on the rocks and wiping tears from my cheeks as I scribbled frantically through another line. It’s never been like that. Simply put, my job has always been just that, a job. For me, it pays the bills. I’ve always had a bucket of interests and too little time to pursue them. The orange card focused two days each year on a reflection of the past and an anticipation of the future. I admit, some years it did remind me to just hang on.

One day, our neighbor announced his retirement. I mentioned my own retirement milestones – not quite fessing up to the index card. “Julie” he counseled, “Be careful. When you start to count down, work becomes very difficult.” (Oops, I thought, too late for that). A girlfriend advised “Please, don’t wish away your life.” Great advice, but also a bit too late. Somehow, I imagined racing through my career and then pausing time. But years are like tissues, or any other disposable item, you pluck them off carelessly, use them up, and toss them away. Only when you realize the supply is nearly depleted do you start to conserve.

In 2013, I crossed off the most important of all milestones, my 30th service anniversary. In our personnel lexicon I am now ‘fully retirement eligible’. Actually, only one milestone remains (created before the Affordable Healthcare Act): Taylor turns 23. At the time I wrote that goal, 23 was the age when she must leave my health insurance policy. The act raised the age to 26, but it’s too late to amend the card now.

I did not anticipate the stress associated with this most blissfully anticipated event. Beyond the financial considerations of a paycheck ending, and let’s face it, few people are ever completely comfortable with that – retirement fundamentally changes my life in a “no going back” sort of way. Unlike many life events where age or circumstances force a change, this particular choice is mine to make (at least it is for the moment). Deferral is the easy way out, yet it does not change everything the card has stood for. I still have as many things to do as ever and even less time.

The precise last milestone is: “Taylor 23 (latest)”. Today, Taylor – our baby – turns 22. This month I wrote my final tuition check after 17 years of nearly continuous payments. As I sit at my desk typing this blog, my hearts thumps a bit too hard. The orange card I hold is shaking imperceptibly. I hide my stress well. Forcibly I share my retirement plans with more and more people. My words play the role of a sky diving instructor who throws you out the airplane door. Would anyone ever jump without that push? The more people I tell, the more I force the inevitability of the event – the jump. I just never anticipated when I wrote my bright orange card, that the end would feel so very scary.


Taylor Callahan Petra Jordan

Happy Birthday Taylor!

Categories: How To

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7 replies

  1. YOU, my friend, are totally amazing and we are kindred spirits and didn’t even know it. WHY didn’t we know each other well when we were 20 years younger? Hope to see you this summer….I’m jumping out of the plane over Provence!

  2. 22 years ago today
    you called me to tell me you had a daughter. I remember that day so well and all that you said that made my laugh like a school girl. I actually tell those Julie stories at least once a year since that day! Julie, your retirement will be a joyous time. You are so far from boring that you will do a zillion different things that dull people like me don’t even think of — go for it, girl, the world awaits your adventures.

    • So sweet Pam… And I remember you dropped a pile of baby name books off because Pat used that day to tell me he didn’t really like the name I picked…. He thought there was a 50% chance he wouldn’t have to tell me!

      I am not gone yet… One more year in Hungary and I jump!


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