It occurred to me the other day that our retirement life has absolutely no structure, no discernible, ‘go to’ routines. After 40 odd years of having a ‘working life structure’ to our lives it’s no wonder that this retirement business is all seeming a bit twilight zone like. I’ve been reading this book called The Joy of Retirement by David Borchard and Patricia Donohue. It’s OK but not as good as the Amazon reviews suggest, but OK. I like this sentence, “You owe it to your future self to reinvent your life in a way that will provide the future you with a sense of joy, accomplishment and fulfilment.” Sounds good but when all predictability goes out the window in your search for those desirable states, made even more difficult when you had a working life that largely provided those things anyway, it can be tricky.
So, we have no predictability on a daily basis or weekly basis, come to that. Yes, we walk the pups twice a day when we’re in Leeds but not if we’re up at the barn (where they can run round to their little hearts delight), we don’t walk at exactly the same time each day and we don’t walk them in the same places and this is our most predictable aspect of our lives. We don’t generally spend more than a few days in the same house. The times we get up and go to bed vary, we might read, we might watch TV in bed or we might go to sleep. Each night we have this little adventure about how we will finish off the day. Breakfast varies, other meals vary and may be non-existent and what we do each day varies. Sometimes we have no idea when we wake up what we will do that day. You get the picture.
Now for some people this may sound like retirement heaven, although those two words sit uneasily side by side. But the problem, for me at least, in my search for retirement perfection is that, although the things we do are fine, enjoyable even, the fact that they happen at random, without any kind of, say weekly, timetable, and this is going to sound weird I know, somehow undermines their value, their appropriate seriousness. It can also mean a person can be pushed and pulled by the tides of an unplanned life. Yes, you say but positively reframe this and it becomes being flexible with your life, open to all new experiences.
OK, fair point, but it can also mean you spend, on impulse, 3 hours on-line not bidding at an auction. Let me explain. I wrote a while ago about having attended a guitar auction. Not only did I end up spending quite a bit more money than I might have liked – no plan, no strategy, pushed and pulled by momentary impulse you see. But worse that this now the auction house has me on its email list and they send me notifications of up coming events. One such was an auction of toys – trains, Dinky and Corgi toys, Meccano sets etc, 352 lots in total(see right for catalogue). Many of these ‘toys’ were those I had owned as a child. I wish I had taken more care of them as they are now highly valuable. Investing in guitars is a mistake, most of the guitars went for less than their estimates, these ‘toys’ were going for two or three times the highest end of the estimate, sometimes even more. It was addictive ‘viewing’, that’s viewing in inverted commas because, although the site promised a live video link a bit like Skype I suppose, there was no picture just the sound of the auctioneer rattling through the lots and an explosion of sound every time the hammer went down. People were certainly bidding and buying on the internet but not me, the prices to replace toys I had all those years ago was prohibitive. I might be tossed and turned by the forces of fate but I’m not entirely stupid. But then again if a person spends 3 hours looking at their laptop and not buying a single item, you might well make the argument that that person is very stupid indeed.
And I tell you all this because it would seem to be an excellent example of how people (retired people?) without a plan are led astray. Yes, it’s a worry. And I do worry, as you know, about what retirement life should be like. Hence this rather pathetic blog about not having any structure in my life. But then I read this review of a book ‘Worrying: a literary and cultural history’ by Francis Gorman. The review was by Peter Conrad in last weekend’s Observer. I can’t say whether the following is from the book or simply the critic’s own view of things because I haven’t actually read the book. I don’t need a book to tell me about worrying. But then I liked the following quote – “We worry because we no longer believe in the gods who used to control our destinies; responsible for ourselves, we are obliged to make existential choices that ought to propel us ahead but more often leave us feeling dejected, disappointed and wondering what we did wrong.”
So there we have it, with a lack of structure, predictability, instruction from the gods, in a world where we are thrown back on our own choices and, as far as I can see, there is no life situation for many of us more open to making our own choices than retirement, it is no great wonder that a high degree of (to quote the quote), dejection, disappointment and wondering what we did wrong, should be a continuing theme running through our retirement years. All I’m saying is that this retirement business is tough to take on especially when you have spent the previous 40 plus years wallowing in a world of routines and structures and then suddenly you’re thrown into a world which consists of, shall I watch an on-line auction for three hours or shall I just go back to bed? What do you mean I’m a miserable old git? I’m only just 67, in the prime of my misery. For those of you with a sensitive disposition, don’t worry! I don’t really mean all of this, retirement is great, honest.