A few years ago now, Charles Handy wrote a book called ‘The Empty Raincoat’. I was hugely impressed by it and couldn’t wait to retire at 50 and start a new life. Hmm. Handy used the term the third age to denote what was usually called retirement. He wrote that the third age “will be for many the longest phase in their life (first is education, second is work) but paradoxically the one for which they are least prepared”. The third age, he wrote, is not a synonym for retirement but the time for a second life.I didn’t retire at 50, not at all and even at 65 I find myself not prepared, as Handy predicted, for my third age. To give a hint of my dilemma I’ve constructed this blog.
The one aspect I haven’t written about retirement so far is work. Well, numb nuts, why would you write about work when you’re retired? Now I know what I’m about to say isn’t new but, I’ll say it anyway. It is that when I retired I worried greatly about whether I would miss work. I’ve written elsewhere about the sense of identity that’s tied up with work. Such was the case with me. I thought it was more than possible that my self-image, self-esteem, call it what you will, would be damaged, perhaps, beyond repair, if I didn’t have a career.
But here’s the strange thing, it was almost as if I committed professional suicide before I retired. Strange way to preserve self-esteem, you might think, but, I think, that’s exactly why some people kill themseIves; but that’s another blog. I pressed the self-destruct button without even really knowing I was doing it. Or did I? Three times, that’s beyond chance. And, the thing was, I didn’t really want to. I wanted, in many ways, to keep my options open. That’s what I’ve always done. That was my mantra to my kids, education – it’s all about options, children. When I went to work abroad, for example, I made sure that I’d kept my job open, in some way, at home and that’s what I intended to do here. Options! Keep your options open. That’s what I had always done. I’d even renewed my professional certification at some cost for the next two years. So I must have had some intention of carrying on working.
The problem I had was that I regarded this mind set, so sensible in the past, as a form of cowardice now. Strong, brutal even, word, cowardice, I guess, but that’s what I told myself. Here I was on the brink of a whole new life, limitless possibilities and I was too afraid to grasp it with any hand. A whole blank page; of course it’s hard to grasp a blank. But, cowardice, sheer cowardice. So I committed professional suicide, sort of, instead.
The first time was with my, then current, employer. There was work to be done in the Local Authority. I could have ‘curried favour’. Carried on. Would it kill you to be nice? Well, yes, actually. Far from being pleasant I was positively rude to my then boss. Her final words to me, via email, were ‘don’t speak to me like that’. To hell with you then I thought. Don’t ask me to do things I don’t want to do. How dare you. The job would have been in Scarborough, ah, you say, I can see why you ruled yourself out but, thing is, I like Scarborough as a place to work! Hmm.
The second time, not happy with having only terminally wounded myself, was a much more serious, it was an attractive proposition – working for a Teaching School, ‘training’ training teachers on the subject of behaviour management. Right up my street I thought. But, wrong street apparently, this was the street one over, that runs parallel to the one I want. Must have been, because I took umbrage to the fact that they didn’t contact me quickly enough. Don’t you know who you’re dealing with! I kicked them into touch. Hmm.
Then, to complete the hat trick, and this is a little bit bizarre, in a fit of mild panic at having burnt two bridges in the space of a couple of weeks I contacted one of my previous employers and said I was available for locum work – I said I had my registration up to date and scrubbed up quite well despite advancing years. It was close to sycophantic. The response I received was OK, but not OK enough for me. I needed something akin to, OMG we’d love to have you back, as opposed to, we’ll keep you in mind. So I kicked this option into touch as well.
So there we have it. Three possible opportunities to carry on working, to retain my self-esteem, to carry on being the man I used to be, all thrown away. Careless or subconsciously brave? Well, I still don’t know which.
I’m just two months into retirement. Do I miss work? Buggered if I know. I look for clues in others in how they’re dealing with life without work. Any retired person I meet this is the question I ask them – do you miss it? What? they say. There’s a clue in that response (psychologists acquire the habit of asking ambiguous, ‘open’ questions, just to see what the person has to say). Work, I say, work. I don’t know whether they daren’t say, even to themselves, that they do, but to a man or woman they all say, no. Miss it, are you crazy?
Well, as you ask, yes, I most probably am, but that’s what retirement has done to me. After 40 plus years of working it’s made me wonder about work. Never done that, in quite the same way, before. I’ll keep you informed of my progress on this voyage they call retirement, but I can say with confidence I am nowhere near prepared as I thought I was.