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retirement

Shayne Smith left full-time work five years ago.Handout

In Tales from the Golden Age, retirees talk about their spending, savings and whether life after work is what they expected.

Shayne Smith, 57, Pasadena, Calif.

I left full-time work five years ago, a little ahead of plan.

The decision came on the night of my 52nd birthday – a birthday I share with my wife of almost 33 years. We were both attending the CBC’s live broadcast of The Tragically Hip’s last concert at a gathering of Canadians in Los Angeles. The realization that life is too short came as the tears streamed down my face listening to Gord Downie sing Fiddler’s Green. I retired six months later.

Most of my career was spent in Toronto. My family is Canadian, but we moved to Pasadena so I could work at the corporate headquarters of a global environmental and engineering consulting firm that acquired the Canadian, employee-owned firm where I had served as chief executive officer. The sale of my shares provided the means for an earlier departure from the work force eight years later.

The decision to retire was easy. I wanted to leave at the top of my game and had just come off one of my best years, winning new business for the company.

Retiring itself was more difficult – even a little scary. It meant I would suddenly no longer be a leader of something. Who would I be without that kind of role?

By far the most challenging aspect of retirement was on the home front. Although I had been the CEO at work, there was another CEO at home, my wife, who set aside her career as a nurse years earlier to focus on raising our son and to support my career. Now I was in her office, all day, with my opinions and unhelpful suggestions. I feel good about where we’re at now (you might want to ask her), but it took a few realizations on my part, including that we didn’t make a big deal when she “retired” from her career.

Mr. Smith, pictured with his wife, Pam Girard, who he says 'deserves equal credit for our success!'Handout

Since I left work and through the pandemic lockdowns, my wife and I have been able to let each other have space to do what we want while still spending the majority of our time together. I’m also glad I was around more in the years before my son moved to Boston to attend university.

I’ve kept myself busy through activities like travel, sports (mostly tennis and a lot of walking), an enhanced social life (I’m now the organizer of many activities) and a new hobby playing the electric guitar. I’ve wanted to play the guitar since high school but never really found the time. I started taking lessons in 2018. I’m still not very good, but I’m a legend in my own mind!

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I can’t believe how wrapped up I was in work. This whole cloak of self-importance just dropped away. I do a small amount of paid and pro-bono consulting work but I have no plans to return to the work force. I love this phase of my life, which will hopefully last at least as long as my 30-year professional career.

As told to Brenda Bouw

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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