Retire – to what?

I want to start this piece by thanking Yorkshire Water’s pension scheme and HM Government for creating the conditions that allow me to write the post. Read on…

For many years I have spoken with people looking forward to retiring and for many years I have wondered what the word meant and whether or not I should succumb to thealleged temptations thereof

The first question I have tended to ask those looking forward to retiring is “retiring to what?”. They tend to know what they are retiring from, but the “to what” question is often more challenging. After all, there do seem to be a lot of people in jobs they don’t actively enjoy and I can hardly blame them for wanting to escape – but to what? The question often stumps my clients.

And now it may be stumping me.

Well, for some time friends and colleagues have been asking me if I am retired yet or when I am going to do so – and I have always replied along the lines of “It depends on what you mean by retirement”. After all, I am 66 and drawing both company and state pensions!

One definition of ‘retirement’ that I have used, and the one that seems to make the most sense to me, is the cessation of paid work – the ‘paid’ being important, because digging the garden is work, cooking is work, blogging is work… – and that’s the challenge that I face now. For the first time since I left my employment with Yorkshire Water 17 years ago I have no paid work in my diary. Moreover, I am not very motivated to do much about that. I’m happy to consider anything that comes my way, especially if it is short-term (coaching, training interventions – end of advert), but as we can get by (OK, a bit more than just get by) on my pensions there is not a huge financial incentive.

But the word ‘retirement’ brings baggage with it, as indeed does any word.

There is a folk myth that ‘back in the day’, when ‘men were men’ and physically wore themselves out doing manual labour for 50 years, the average life expectancy after retirement at 65 was around 2 years. (Actually I can’t find much evidence for this, back in the days when the state pension was first introduced  – the first pensions were  paid on 1 January 1909 to around 500,000 people aged 70 or more at the time only one in four people reached the age of 70 and life expectancy at that age was about 9 years.) Current life expectancy at age 65 is ca. 19 years. Now whether this myth is true or not, I can understand that as a piece of baggage it might inhibit some people from making that  jump to retired status – irrational yes but we are not rational beings.

So what other baggage might the word bring with it?

  • Feet up in front of the fire, slippers on, pipe lit, glass of whisky in hand, telly blaring out Eastenders…
  • or perhaps endless days on the golf course, watching cricket (neither a lot of cop in the winter unless you can afford to migrate to sunnier climes for 10 months of the year)…
  • or merrily frittering the day away babysitting those grandchildren who are the offspring of the children you spent so long encouraging to leave home…
  • or (over?) involving yourself in the Parish Council and getting frustrated with its inability to actually make any changes…
  • or ????

My point is that you are going to be ‘doing’ this retirement thing for, typically, 20 years so it might be worth giving the subject of how you spend those 20 years a bit of forethought. No employer is going to drive your day for you with this project and that, it’s up to you and me to find our own way to enjoy ourselves – for what is the point if we are not enjoying ourselves. I have a sign on our fridge that seems relevant here

“I do not intend to creep quietly through life only to arrive safely at death”

So my question to you, and to myself, is “What are you going to do that fills your soul, that you enjoy, that you will get out of bed for, that you will happily spout on about to your friends, that is your passion?”


8 responses to “Retire – to what?

  1. Hi Geoff
    Well as you know I love cooking painting,walking my dog shopping and lunching with my girlfriends. My passion is now art!
    But you already,love cooking,gardening,eating our blogging,travel,sailing, and I don’t know what else,maybe become a trusted house sitter oh no you are already one!!

  2. Hi Geoff. From your post it seems you are well. I’m really pleased to hear that! As for retirement, when you really stop paid employ, might I suggest. There are many many charities out there who can benefit from you are massive experience and would welcome your input. Find one which matches your values and go for it. Very rewarding and as you’re only 66, loads of time to work with them.

    • Hi Paul, I have been a Trustee (and recently Chairman) of The Aire Rivers Trust for a year or two now!
      Charities, of which ART is one, are interesting beasts. The bigger ones get very ‘corporate’ whilst the smaller ones can struggle to adopt the disciplines necessary for success. Cameron promoted “The Big Society” and in principle I have nothing against that but the problem is that it has aggravated the existing challenges of finding funding for charities and I am reluctant to ‘work’ in yet another organisation with inadequate funding.

      • Don’t overthink it Geoff. Even inefficient ones are doing great works. Also don’t think about it from a trustee/administrative perspective, your professional skills could prove invaluable. I’m going to climb mountains shortly but I’ll be in touch to catch up when I get back. Would be good to chew the fat!

  3. Hello Geoff
    I stopped work in Nov 2010 having enjoyed three careers (i) bank manager (ii) human resources manager & (iii) funeral director. I’d tried to make the most of Equal Opps, am well qualified in each sphere, but was sickened by the prevalent bullying culture in organisations today.
    I was 53 1/2 when I stopped work; was already in receipt of my small Local Gov’t pension to meet utility payments and Council Tax; and decided I had saved for a rainy day and this was it. My Mum also helped me financially bless her. I then took my NatWest pension when I was 55 – and it means I now have an income that is about £2K below the national average.
    That’s the bad bit!
    I am very happy and busier than I ever was at work. I started off with volunteer roles with my local Church; my local Grassington Hub; with Grassington Festival and with The Dickensian celebrations at Christmas.
    The sum of those different roles, and numerous other bits & piece I was asked to do, meant that I was fully involved in the local community, made lots of new friends, and had a purpose to my life as I was using transferable skills. Volunteer work is much different to employment as you can just walk away when/if you’ve had enough and it no longer suits you.
    I have left the majority of those roles now and my life consists of the following:
    Part-time (min wage) work at a local school as an Exam Invigilator;
    I’ve started watercolour painting and will sell original C’mas cards this year
    – – – (sales pitch over!)
    I’m learning to play the piano
    I go out for long walks with friends & their dogs
    I’m a Member of our local Pantomime (Grassington Pantoloons) group
    I’m an acting Member of Grassington Players & am their Minutes Secretary – we’re in rehearsal for Mr Bennet’s Bride at present – the prequel to Pride & Prejudice – and our UK premier will play on Oct 19, 20 & 21, 2017
    I do Ladies Who Lunch dates with good friends
    I look after our home & support David, my husband
    I visit my dear Mum who is now sadly in Threshfield Court Care Home.
    I read books & do puzzles and jigsaws
    I help people when I can e.g. lifts to hospital etc
    The long & short is I never have a dull day; never miss work; and thoroughly enjoy doing my own thing and pleasing myself and others.

    • What a wonderful tale Pam, it’s good that a few people are already sharing their stories with me and the world.

  4. I’m approaching 80 now Geoff and still working (if you can call 2 hours a day working). But you might like to consider 2 hours a day as being pretty damned good .. I do! It’s enough to make you get up in the morning, and to feel useful, and yet give you ample time to fill the rest of your day with gardening, walking, cycling, reading, thinking, and (dare I say) some housework! Go for it, and good luck!

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