If you are lucky and live a fairly healthy life you should enjoy a period of retirement between finishing work outside the home and dying. Governments are constantly reminding us to make proper provision so that we can enjoy this period of rest and relaxation but there is not much written about how to prepare mentally or emotionally. Personally I spent the last few years of my working life dreaming of the time when I could do nothing because my life was so full-on but I was also aware of anecdotes about people who couldn’t cope with idleness or boredom. A survey in 2015 reported that 48% of retirees were happier than they thought they’d be but it didn’t report whether this meant it was just not as dreadful as they’d anticipated! People don’t always respond the way they think that they will. My father was a true workaholic who was dreading retiring and hung on until he was 67 before giving up work. We all thought he’d fade away but he took to it like a duck to water – in fact he remarked that he could now understand why the unemployed found it difficult to go back to work.
I recently went on holiday with three friends who, like me, are in their sixties and retired. During the holiday we fell into a discussion about our respective retirements and whether we were managing it well. We are all single women and I’m the only one who has had a child who is now grown up and flown the nest. What is really interesting is I think that we are quite typical of single retired professional women.
Rose is retired from the Civil Service and relatively wealthy. Having spent the first two years of her retirement as a consultant, she now does high level voluntary work, owns a second home in France, plays bridge and travels extensively. She is a busy person and is happy in her retirement. With her parents having died some years ago she has no real family demands on her time.
Liz is also a wealthy pensioner having retired five years ago. She has both elderly parents living across the other side of the country and she pays regular visits whilst resisting any further liability for them: she will not go to live with them or have either of them to live with her. In our discussions she declared “I think I’m making a poor job of retirement.” She still does minimum wage sessional work of the most menial type (shop work, sorting the mail) despite not needing the money – she admits that she misses the routine and structure of employment. She will not consider voluntary work, has no real hobbies other than travelling and regularly complains how bored she is.
Laurie retired three years ago and recently moved into a smaller house where her main project is to “sort out the garden”. She spends Thursday to Sunday with her elderly mother who lives 60 miles away. She does not volunteer and describes her daily routine at home as taking the two mile walk into her nearest town to buy groceries and a newspaper as she feels she needs the exercise. Whilst there she often stops for coffee with friends.
Although I’m the youngest I retired first eight years ago at the age of just fifty-three. For personal reasons I left my job as the CEO of a charity and decided to take a break for a year – at the time I didn’t know that this would effectively be the end of my professional career. I did a little consultancy work and then decided to do some supply work as and when I felt like it. I have never been strongly motivated by money and realised that I preferred to tighten my belt rather than return to full-time work. Two years ago I gave up working entirely – my life was too busy to fit it in! I have two dogs; I design and make stained glass panels; I belong to a book club; I am a death doula as well as running a Death Cafe; I have several friends who have reduced their hours or retired and consequently I have many social engagements that fill my days. I have also been able to become more involved in politics and the local community. When people ask me if I get bored, I reply “Less often than I got bored at work”.
Talking together with my friends we realised that 50% of us were making a good job out of our retirement, 25% had yet to start as caring for elderly relatives had taken the place of work and 25% was definitely not getting the hang of it. I suspect that this reflects the wider population. We fill our time with volunteering, gardening, diy, hobbies, travelling and hanging out with other retirees – again fairly typical I would think. Two of us had a gradual reduction in working in terms of levels of responsibilities as well number of hours worked and I wonder if this is why we’re better adjusted? We had time to plan ahead whilst weaning ourselves off the advantages of work: status, identity, structure, social contact and salary. When you look at this list of advantages it’s clear that only one of the advantages of working is financial and it is the other four that you have to plan for if you want to be happy in your retirement. Don’t let this period of your life feels like you’re sitting in God’s waiting room – given that the average person will live another 18-20 years at the age of sixty-five, you could be there a lot longer than you think.