For some of us the words retirement and worry are close relatives, almost the same person in fact. When we lived in New Zealand in the mid 90s there was a film called ‘Once there were Warriors’. A very serious and disturbing film about abuse in a Maori family. Without wishing to belittle this film we renamed it ‘Once there were Worriers’. At this time in our lives we uprooted, children and all, to live in New Zealand (check out my forth coming ebook about this period in our lives). I, rightly I suppose, worried then about what I was doing and it’s possible I’m worrying even more now. After all I didn’t have to retire, I chose to. In a sense I have now gone to another foreign place – retirement land.
This place has all the worries of our earlier life in New Zealand – finances, self esteem, social status or mana as Maori call it – and has a few more for good measure – what the hell am I going to do before I die? Call it worrying about your health if that sounds better. Well not much. Those thrice nightly trips to the bathroom, must be prostate cancer but I’ve had that checked. PSA tests which doctors don’t like to do because the test gives quite a few false positives and false negatives – in simple terms it tells you you’ve got it when you haven’t and haven’t got it when you have. Nothing to worry about there then. And, as a final bonus, now we also have elderly parents to worry about. I’ll return to this in a moment.
So what to do? I intend to write a blog about anxiety as opposed to worry, the former being simply a version of the latter in my view but that’s for another time. So what to do with your worry? Let’s start with that tired old cliché – mind over matter and it’s more humorous cousin – if you don’t mind it don’t matter. The joke, if that’s what it is, is that this really is one powerful antidote to worry.
Let me call upon greater minds than mine to back this up. Winston Churchill said ‘When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened’.
Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian writes about Jiddu Krishnamurti, acclaimed by his followers as ‘the new world teacher, the messiah who’d save humankind’. Burkeman tells the story of when Krishnamurti offers to tell his followers what his secret (presumably of a happy life) is. Reportedly he leans forward and says in ‘a soft almost shy voice’ “You see I don’t mind what happens.” Burkeman picks up his theme and says, in his view, the trick is ‘if you didn’t mind what happened, then you’d never have any problems’ (or worries in this context).
The remainder of the article is about the difference between acceptance (good) and resignation (bad). A very fine line, I would have thought, and like all fine lines almost impossible to hit.
Back to elderly parents. At a more prosaic level my mother’s philosophy of life has been always think the worst then you can only be pleasantly surprised. An approach to life she has exploited to the full as you will know if you’ve read my blogs on the subject. My wife on the other hand is one of life’s supreme, live-in-the-moment, Buddhist optimists. It’s not easy being trapped between these two extremes and I worry about it.
I will say this, and it’s back to Krishnamurti here, if you let stuff wash over you – like my mother’s completely contradictory utterances – I never see anybody as opposed to I’m fed up with people coming round – if you let it wash over you, it certainly helps. As a wise colleague of mine once said – be a sieve not a jug. That is my succinct piece of ‘advice’ to retirees who worry. Sieve not jug, see, simple.
I like Philip French, retired film critic for The Guardian who said that his current interests were retirement and death. Sounds suitably laid back or as the Aussies say, ‘no worries, mate’.
So retirement – worry? well only if you let it be so.