The baby boomer generation has been impacting on society for over six decades, on education, employment, health, housing, recreation, transportation, travel, and more. But now, the topic of particular importance to us is retirement.
I ceased regular paid work at the end of March 2014, aged 64 and a half. My choice would have been to work a bit longer, but as it turned out the choice wasn’t mine to make, a not uncommon experience for our demographic.
As the range of activities I took on expanded, I made contact with other retirees who were at various stages of this life-changing experience. Clearly some were making far more productive and satisfying use of their retirement than others. It occurred to me that many of us entering retirement, or already in it, could do with a bit of guidance on how to handle this new phase in our lives.
I formed the view that for a lot of people, although by no means all, the subject needed to be approached in a positive, pro-active manner; in fact, actually tackled as a kind of life project. Hence my use of that very word in the title, Tackling Retirement.
I use this word to help establish the kind of mindset I believe many people need to create a successful retirement. This can be an elusive goal, particularly if we have no clear idea of what we want to do, or the kind of lifestyle we want to lead, as a non-working person.
Whilst many of us will have had cause to contemplate our anticipated financial needs in the future, it isn’t uncommon for us to have little more than vague thoughts about what life would actually be like when work stops.
and social-minded people.
For them, the prospect of more time for these pursuits can be appealing, from the outset giving structure in their new work-free lives. Also, some are fortunate to find suitable part-time work.
Yet even these retirees, with activities already in place to add to, may be surprised at how much free time they really do have. All the more then, the concern for people who retire with little or no plan in place, to fill each day.
The difference between a working life and retirement can be substantial. With work, life is structured, undertaken within a clear and familiar framework. Generally the hours and location are set and understood, the days passing with little variation. We might at times find this routine tiresome, but it does anchor our lives, providing comfort, structure and certainty. This all disappears when we retire.
Furthermore, for many people, work provides the basis of their self-esteem, their sense of identity. They rely on their job to define themselves as a person. Take away work, and a significant foundation of their life is removed.
This is why, for many of us, pending retirement needs to be approached pro-actively, and not be allowed to creep up and suddenly become a reality, with barely a conscious thought.
The point is: if retirement is begun without a plan, without any positive steps to give it structure and substance, or to expand on existing non-work activities, it might turn out to be largely unstructured, unstimulating and uninteresting. The effect on our level of happiness and satisfaction with life, and quite possibly on those around us, can be substantial.
In my view a successful retirement comprises three lifestyle components:
A. Firstly, financial security
The key considerations here are: a) having sufficient income, for necessities and luxuries you’re used to; b) living in a comfortable, fully paid-off home & having a car suitable for your needs; and c) having some financial buffer, if anything major and unexpected arises, such as the need for a new bathroom or kitchen, or accepting an offer to accompany friends on an overseas trip. Entering retirement with financial security is very important, and a long-term approach to preparing for this, from a much younger age, is far preferable.
Secondly, physical health
Primarily, this involves exercise and physical activity, which might be organised sport, or self-motivated sport/recreation.
As with being in a sound financial position, being in good physical health is at least partially dependent on having had a long-term approach to your health and well-being. Setting in place good health and exercise habits from early on, like starting saving early, is the best approach.
There is a vast array of possibilities, but tennis, golf, swimming, cycling, walking and lawn bowls come to mind. A gym membership can also be enjoyed, especially if time in the pool and sauna follow an exercise routine.
Being part of a team or group, such as a tennis or lawn bowls club, a walking or cycling group, provides a degree of discipline that some people might not be able to maintain on their own. The social component also has its appeal. Maintaining sensible eating and exercise habits is the best way of setting up a retirement that enjoys good health, and it is never too late to start. The other essential aspect of physical well-being is regular medical check-ups.
My third component of a happy and successful retirement is mental health.
This is the section I focus on most, as in my view, mental health is the aspect of our lives at and into retirement that can easily be overlooked and not catered to. Consequently, it warrants a more considered approach. I have broken it into two categories: i) intellectual stimulation, plus ii) social engagement and interaction
Not every job is intellectually demanding, but even quite mundane tasks require the use of some brain power. This mental activity ceases when work finishes, so substitute reasons for using our brains need to be found and engaged in.
Similarly the social aspect – although we often can’t choose who we work with, mostly we can get along with our colleagues. Many workplaces are friendly and convivial, with an enjoyable social component. This also all evaporates upon retirement, and needs to be found elsewhere.
At this point I’ll briefly digress to touch on two separate, but related topics. The first is reclusiveness, as there is a tendency for older people to become reclusive, by a deliberate tree or sea change; through laziness and lack of motivation; or simply through a preference to avoid people.
Yet it is proven that older people with an active social life and established social network, live longer, and are happier.
The second other topic is regrets in life, because clearly they too can impact on our state of mind. Probably everyone of retiring age has regrets, about unachieved career goals, financial or relationship failings, or travel not pursued. Now is the time to accept that what has happened in the past, has happened, and it is unlikely the situation can be retrieved.
This sense of acceptance, difficult as it might be, must be tempered by the realisation that at the time the incident occurred, or didn’t occur, there must have been reasons for that. Also, we were different people back then. Looking back at the younger you often isn’t fair on that earlier version. Perhaps you need to cut him or her a bit of slack.
Retirement is the time to let go of regrets that can never be retrieved. On the other hand, regrets that can yet be fulfilled, such as that European river cruise, are a different matter, as now is the time to get on and act them out.
Now – returning to the theme of planning and preparing for mental health in retirement.
To put it simply: for many people facing retirement, steps need to be taken to find alternative sources of intellectual stimulation and social interaction; to undertake substitute activities that can meet these twin needs. And, it is preferable this be done some time before retirement. In fact I would encourage anyone in their forties and fifties who has no recognisable hobby or interest, to find one and get involved in it. We want to be putting in place at least one, if not a range of activities, that match and reflect our interests. I am talking here about thinking of the needs of our brains, to keep them active, engaged and energised.
To reiterate: the crux of my argument is that as retirement closes in, for many of us a pro-active approach needs to be taken in selecting activities to enrich our lives; to take the initiative ourselves in planning a retirement life – activities we can enjoy and derive pleasure from, activities that will give us the mental stimulation, and social contact that often ceases upon retirement.
And I do want to emphasise the two parts of this: both the mental stimulation received from activities, and the opportunities for social interaction and connectedness that derive from them. We shouldn’t expect these sorts of things to magically fall into our lap; rather, we will need to actively seek them out. This might require serious and lengthy consideration, with research into what we believe will be appropriate activities to undertake. Yet it need not in any way be an overwhelming or daunting task; on the contrary, a process that will be enjoyed.
Take it as an opportunity to reflect on your life, to think back over things you’ve done through the years. And picking up on a previous point: when contemplating what these activities can be, think both of your body and your mind, to cater to both intellectual and social needs, as well as physical needs.
One further point though: having presented this proposition to you, I do not want to sound alarmist, as if retirement living will be miserable unless the approach I’m outlining is undertaken. Everyone has different intellectual needs, and can achieve happiness and fulfilment in different ways. The blueprint for how to approach retirement that I’m outlining here is what seems appropriate to me, based on my own experience and observations of others. There is no one-size fits all with this.
Now, speaking of activities we might consider undertaking in retirement, the list of possibilities is endless. As I said earlier, a logical first choice is to continue with, or further develop, any hobby or interest you currently pursue. Otherwise, think back over what has interested you in the past, or an old hobby since dropped through lack of time. Also, interests newly developed in later years can be further delved into.
A few examples come to mind: . attending public lectures . . undertaking a course, or series of courses . joining a genealogical society and tracing the family history, a popular pastime at this age . teaching English to migrants . using your hands to make things: pottery, embroidery, painting, furniture, jam . undertaking a creative writing course . . reviving an abandoned interest in coin or stamp collecting, given renewed impetus by joining a numismatic or philately club; even better, by becoming an office bearer of the club, and helping to run it . active membership of a community organisation, such as a Rotary or Lions Club . volunteering, which opens up a vast range of opportunities;
As already noted, part-time work, of a consulting or freelance nature, might be undertaken if available, and continued involvement in a professional body can help maintain long-standing connections. Think of what you like to do, the things you like to think and learn about, immerse yourself in, for an hour or so a week, or a few hours every day of the week.
One further point: in the activities chosen, there is no need to be just a passive observer. Consider how you can actively contribute as a participant, or in a leadership capacity; how you can add value to the lives of others as well as yourself. For example, if you join an historical society, consider adding to this by becoming a guide at a museum.
Now, returning to the topic: this whole process, of seeking out possible activities to become involved in, can be approached in a considered and organised manner. But also it is an evolving process. The more you do things, and have an open mind to other opportunities, the more they will come along, which you can pick and choose, or try out for a short while before deciding.
So, going back to my very first paragraph, you can see that I deliberately chose the word ‘tackling’ in the title of this session, because it conveys the sense of action, in fact pro-action, of taking the initiative, to develop a plan of action for retirement living.
[Pause] – Interestingly though, there is a counter view on all this: that retirement is the time of our lives when in fact it is OK to not be too busy, to maintain a lifestyle that is unhurried, unfussed and uncluttered.
For those who feel satisfied with a quiet life in retirement, I would say no problem at all – so long as they really do feel satisfied and fulfilled by largely pottering around, perhaps filling in their time by reading, and pursuing a hobby they enjoy. Nevertheless, I would still consider some extent of social connection of importance for happiness and soundness of mind.
Before finishing, there are three more retirement-related topics I want to touch on, firstly:
Relationships and retirement
For people in a relationship, where a mutual understanding of a largely shared life in retirement exists, the choice of activities might be simple and obvious – basically any activity each person enjoys. If a life shared is mutually desired, great, go for it.
On the contrary, if one partner, either still or not working, has no stated desire or intention to make changes to their lifestyle to fit in with the new or prospective retiree, this wish must be respected and acceded to.
My next additional point is grandchildren
I don’t have any, but what I have observed is mixed. It’s obvious that, either willingly or grudgingly, a notable proportion of retirees spend periods of time most weeks with grandchildren, primarily as child minders. Some might want this, yet some certainly don’t.
I believe there’s a need for grandparents to be quite firm with their children, to clearly enunciate the amount of time they are happily and comfortably prepared to spend as family child minders. Retired grandparents shouldn’t have cause to feel obliged to take on regular and onerous grand-child minding duties. They should stick-up for themselves in all discussions with their children on this subject.
My third additional topic I call, the freedom to choose
Retirement can and should be a stage in our lives that conveys a sense of liberation, when we have significant freedom, and more time, to choose what we do, and with whom. Given an adequate degree of financial backing and good health, imagination need be the only limitation on what we end up doing.
Our old boundaries and restrictions need no longer apply. We can be free to project ourselves as any kind of person, with any range of abilities we want and are able to project. Sure we have the scope to spend more time with existing friends, but now also is the time to meet new people in different environments, where we don’t have to follow set patterns of our previous life.
Retirement is the time to tackle new endeavours, place ourselves in new situations, in the company of people not known to us. It can be the time for new challenges, new ways of testing and extending us, new opportunities to develop skills and interests. Now outside of our usual work environment, where certain norms of behaviour need to be conformed with, we can be less constrained, more adventurous.
Now is the time to actively seek out these new activities and fresh opportunities, to grasp any number of the myriad things we retirees are capable of doing. Things that will not only enrich our lives, and enhance our social connectedness, but will add to the lives of those we come into contact with, regularly, or even just once
© Copyright 2018 SJ Peterson