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(Emily Flake for the Globe and Mail)
(Emily Flake for the Globe and Mail)

Pension plans: Should I stay or should I go? Add to ...

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

My B.C. college pension plan has been overhauled, and now there’s a date – Dec. 31, 2015 – for before and after. Before, one can retire early, without penalty, at age 60. After, the retirement age jumps to 65.

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It’s enough to turn one’s hair retirement-white from shock.

I’ve always planned on early retirement: If not Freedom 55 (the age I am now), then perhaps Freedom 60 or even Freedom 59.

I have been teaching since my early 20s, a long time, an even longer number of meetings attended and essays marked.

When the Canada Pension Plan announced the shift from 60 to 62 to become eligible for an early pension, my public pension plan, canny beast, must have pricked up its ears.

I can understand a change from 60 to 62, but 65?

The spin is that people are living longer, working longer, and that, for people in my pension plan and elsewhere, the average age for retirement is 62. Unlike the Old Mess in Robertson Davies’s delightful novel Leaven of Malice, I have no desire to drop in harness. Freedom 85 is not for me.

Seeing the date for before and after fills me with dread, as if I am viewing the date of my death.

My friend Susan finds a website that calculates estimated death dates. Hers is 94, and mine is 97. Though I’m heartened by the result, the thinness of the site’s questions gives me pause. Is my carrot consumption really that important? And shouldn’t the intensity of my morning schlog (hardly a jog, much less a run) be considered along with its duration?

Still, if my death date is remotely accurate, retirement might be in 40-ish years, maybe longer than I will have spent in the work force.

I will be barely 57 when the new formula comes into effect. Trying to be proactive, I come up with seven pages of things I would like to do in retirement. My husband Scott, who doesn’t even want to think about retiring, notes that some items sound suspiciously like work. He says if I want to continue working, I might as well keep my present job, irrespective of any “pension adjustment.”

I have always said that I love teaching so much that I’d do it for free, and now it seems it might even cost me. Scott says that I can afford to keep teaching and should retire on my own terms. Afford to keep working? Isn’t that, if not plain moronic, at least oxymoronic?

Panicked and bereft at the thought of being forced into a too-early retirement, I attend a pension seminar and find out that circumstances are not the black-or-white that I’d feared. D’oh! Yes, a new formula is coming, but both formulae will be applied when one retires, so I don’t have to think of leaving at 57 or staying until 62 to incur the same penalty for early retirement. (Now, one can retire at age 55, but the pension is reduced. Fifty-five becomes 60 and 60 becomes 65.)

Relief courses through me. The mass exodus of employees at the end of 2015 is a figment of my imagination.

Still, the threat unnerves me enough to make me scan several books about retirement. Without dependents and with a gainfully employed spouse, I am lucky enough to have my finances in order, but I see that I am miles away from emotional readiness. Many of my values, my sense of identity and self-worth, even my friendships, are tied to my job.

After the seminar, I hole up in my crammed college office, paper piles teetering, backlit by the computer screen. It is late on a Friday afternoon, I am the only one in the division, and I have no desire to be any other place. (If only a student would drop by.)

Last year, when my institution cut (well, it said “suspended” and now says “discontinued”) several programs including Studio Art, Computing Science and Textiles, I realized that retirement might not happen on my own terms.

A childhood friend, laid off twice in her 50s from government jobs, is contemplating a second career. Both of my brothers-in-law were forced into retirement at 55. All around me, bits of the world as I know it are being dismantled, discontinued.

The present toxicity of my workplace, in which logic has buried its head, might make early retirement seem a desirable option. But will my junior colleagues be able to tolerate the poison until they are 65? Demoralize their way to decrepitude – I mean retirement?

Paradoxically, now that I don’t have to retire as early as I’d feared, I may just do that – if the choice rests with me. As Forrest Gump would say, life is like a box of chocolates. Since the movie was released, we know even more about their antioxidant and health benefits.

Thankfully, I don’t have to decide the what and the when any time soon. Numbers must be crunched under pension calculators yet to be created: “+” I love teaching, “0” can beat sparking those light bulbs in students’ eyes.

Perhaps I’ll even be in the mini-exodus of 2015, as long as I won’t be wringing my hands, looking back longingly at my former workplace, turning into a pillar of salt crafted from my tears.

Crystal Hurdle lives in North Vancouver.

 

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