This very week I celebrate my tenth anniversary of packing-up work and dedicating my time left on this planet to the selfish, hedonistic pursuit of self-indulgence, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now, as I pinch myself every morning, I fully get that I was both lucky and financially stable enough to do so but there’s no doubting that retirement (even though I don’t quite regard what I did as such as I still choose to dabble in work related things) has changed beyond any recognition since our parents’ and grandparents’ days. Yes, there’s greater uncertainty but also more choice about when, where and how to do so. At one extreme, it’s seen as counting out your final illness-filled days in coffee spoons & bed-pans and, at the other, it’s escaping to the country and living the Aga-saga dream in a uniquely grand-designed inglenook fireplace. No wonder many dread the R-word and here’s some heartfelt advice.
Yes, you’re older but hopefully wiser and realise it’s as much about changing as ageing. Throughout our lives we all transition from one state to the next: infant to child, child to teenager, from pupil to worker, employee to manager, perhaps from single to married and from young, carefree & footloose-free to put-upon parent, and so on. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and we grow both more resilient and experienced with these transitions. Retirement is simply the next phase and looking back on how much your life has changed in the past twenty or thirty years should provide a great insight into the possibilities ahead.
The relationship between financial independence and a contented retirement is both obvious and undeniable but don’t fixate on the cash. No-one will enjoy retirement if they can’t afford the basics but this again applies to all of life’s stages and you’ll be amazed at how true the age-old economic adage that ‘expenditure rises to meet income’ is. Financial planning is essential but remember that you’re no longer bringing home the bacon and there’s a bigger context to take into account.
In today’s fully-connected, hamster-wheel-esque, success-at-all-costs society it’s unsurprising that retirement is often seen as something of an organisational cop-out or a failure to keep yourself, as modern-day parlance would have it, ‘relevant’. However, it’s a mistake to believe you have to be gainfully employed to be productive or fulfilled, and if your sense of achievement and identity is determined only by your latest 360 degree review then a good hard look at yourself is well overdue! Furthermore, it’s liberating to realise you don’t need to work yourself into the ground in order to afford this year’s Range Rover and keep-up with the Jones’s. For the record, I’m very happy with my fifteen year old VW Golf and one of the best things about calling time on dancing the corporate waltz is having to work out what really matters and where the deeply-held convictions and priorities lie.
The first thing I did ten years ago was book myself swimming lessons and sign-up for a race that involved somehow dragging my land-lubber’s lardy a*se across Scotland’s Loch Tay. Best thing I ever did and it subsequently led to such long-distance escapades as cycling Land’s End to John O’Groats, completing the Ironman, devising a 24 hour coast to coast triathlon and chasing the Tour de France way too far and for way too long. Yeah, we all eventually decline, mentally and physically, but the more effort you put into your fitness and wellbeing the more it’ll pay you back in spades. I do these things because I’m still able to do them and long may it continue.
That’s not to say you have to do everything to within an inch of your life. With more time on your hands I believe it’s important to think about taking-up the inevitable new hobby or pastime, but perhaps not with the same gusto, or ambition, as in your flowering youth. By all means, take to pounding the pavement but don’t think that you’re the next Mo Farah, slap some paint around with a fine brush but leave gallery commissions to the experts, and extreme-knitting is the reserve of those pre-disposed to heights and strong rubber bungees. There is a pure, childlike delight in learning something new, especially without the burden of expectation or self-judgement: just do it for the pleasure and the fun.
One word of warning however is that your social circles are very likely to change and those with few outside interests, or an inability to adapt to new circumstances, are potentially vulnerable to anxiety about the future. Ironically, it turns out that workaholics, and I considered myself one for over twenty years, are the most likely to love having the time on their hands to explore the adventure whilst keeping body & soul in relatively fine fettle. The other caution is that you will, at times, be bored. Consider these as a lull before the storm and, again, as part and parcel of the transition, use them to get your breath back and ultimately to spur you back into action, sharpish. Personally, I suspect many of us were as equally bored at work, but at least now it won’t be too long before something new, interesting and fun this way comes.
And, in any event, the key is to enjoy the life you have and not to mourn the one you haven’t. I’ve been as guilty of the next man of not realising when I’ve had it good and becoming so maudlin over it that I’ve forgotten to simply have a cracking time. If nothing else, put a smile on your face and hold your head high as it keeps people guessing what on earth you’re getting up to!
NB Here’s a response from one of the readers, Peter from Ascot:
“I well remember you asking me, having just retired at 53, what I thought about it. My reply was that it is a very, very personal decision that only you can make, having said that it was the best thing that I ever did.
You are so right about mentality and attitude being the thing, if you want to do it then you can, almost irrespective of finances. I have bored many of you about my father in law, who is 87, and has only his state pension to live on. He rarely spends more than 10 weeks a year in the UK and has just returned from a 13 week trip to Latvia, Lithuania, Spain and Portugal. He travels by bus and stays in youth hostels, known all over Europe as Papa Brian he is the perfect example of what you can do with the right attitude and a love of life, I only hope I’ve got his zest at 85+.
Retirement is not a sentence, it’s an opportunity to write a whole new chapter!”