After becoming financially independent a few years ago, I chose to “downshift” from full-time work as a college professor to teach part-time and (mostly) online. I continue to work with students because it’s my passion. But I also plan to maximize my pension by reaching a 30-year service milestone before I retire at 55.
But I don’t have to get up and go to work every day. I can pick and choose the jobs I enjoy. And that’s priceless.
I know that taking a variety of jobs has made me a better person. And it’s also helped me meet a lot of new people.
The connections I’ve made have opened the door to many opportunities.
Let’s take a look at how I moved from a traditional path to retirement to designing a more flexible lifestyle because of growing my net worth and my personal and professional network.
The Traditional Route
I started teaching in New York State in 1989. I was 22 and had just finished my Master’s Degree when I landed my dream job. On my first day of teaching, I became a member of Tier 4 of the NYS Teachers Retirement System.
Without significant penalties to their pensions, Tier 4 members are required to have 30 years of service to retire at 55. Working past 55 is certainly an option, but you can’t retire before age 55 in my tier.
The traditional plan for most teachers was to work in a district for 30+ years and then retire. And that was my plan too – until I reached financial independence.
I was building wealth over the years without even focusing on it. I contributed to a 403b, bought my first rental property at 26, and went back to school to advance in my career. Along the way, I “side hustled” by coaching and officiating swim meets. And I didn’t race to keep up with the Joneses.
While the traditional route to retirement was my plan, reaching financial independence let me try new things and take more risks.
Crafting a New Path To Retirement
I didn’t realize it at the time, but long before I stopped working full-time – I was designing my new semi-retirement lifestyle.
When I moved from being a school administrator to a college professor, I met a woman who later gave us a tour of a city in Florida. We totally fell in love with the area. We ended up buying a condo for retirement at the bottom of the real estate market in 2012.
In my professor position, I also met people in local school districts and took on a new side hustle – teaching online through a school collaborative. This job provided the experience I needed to start building a part-time and location-independent future, while still earning credit in the retirement system.
My first online teaching position helped me land a job with another school collaborative who needed online instructors. While these are both very part-time positions (a few hours a week) and don’t pay much, they totally align with my goals and interests.
They are my pre-retirement dream jobs! I still get to work with students, earn retirement system credit, and I can do it from anywhere.
More Opportunities As Time Goes On
Keeping an open mind and saying yes to these new jobs brought more opportunities than I could have imagined.
With some online high school teaching experience, I was able to get an adjunct position teaching at a university in another state. I didn’t earn retirement system credit, but it gave me online teaching experience at the college level. I thought this might give me even more options in the future – and I was right.
I’ve also done some short-term substitute teaching jobs in schools covering maternity leaves for science teachers. I didn’t need those jobs – but I know how hard it is to find substitute teachers.
In my last substitute position, I got to know a woman who is the Provost for a college in the State University system in New York. After sharing more about myself and my experiences, she said I would be a great fit for their online program and told me to apply.
Last week, I started an online adjunct position at that college. And this time, it counts toward retirement system credit.
Each conversation I’ve had and each opportunity I’ve taken has paid off. I’ve learned what I like to do and what to give up. Financial independence allows me to make choices to craft the future I want.
The Path Is Almost Complete
While it may seem a bit confusing and some people might think all of this work isn’t necessary when you reach financial independence, it’s the path I’m most comfortable with. And that’s what matters.
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I wasn’t willing to quit teaching altogether and lose $14K/year on my pension for the rest of my life (yes, it is a significant penalty!) So I chose to design a lifestyle allowing me to do what I love a few hours each week from anywhere in the world. And it’s a path I’ll follow for at least the next three years until I can “officially” retire.
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so working just a few hours a week has also given me time to start a small business. After writing on my own blog for over two years, I co-founded this website and the award-winning personal finance site Women Who Money with Amy Blacklock from Life Zemplified.
With a mission of helping women take control of their finances and “do money” as a part of their everyday life, I’ve found a purpose to mix with my passion for teaching.
And more doors open every single day.
Just remember, you don’t have to give up everything to make progress toward your goals. I’m in my 50’s and none of this happened overnight. It’s a work in progress. I still work hard and make plenty of mistakes – but I try to learn from them and keep moving forward.
No matter where you are on the road to financial independence, know that it’s worth your effort.