People don’t neatly fit into categories, human existence is too messy for that but sometimes, in order to discuss a topic, it is necessary to shovel people, maybe a little unwillingly, into a group, a category, a ‘type’. So it is with being a retired person. Yes, I know you may complain none of these categories accurately reflect your situation as a retired person, but which one or combination is closest to how you see yourself in your retirement? It’s quite helpful to have some sense of your ‘type’, it makes it easier to make some of your day to day decisions. Others may see you differently of course and that may be an area for discussion with friends and family but that’s for another day.
Having researched this area carefully (i.e. chatted to a few people in the pub) it seems to me that there are 3 main types of retiree – those that ‘will never retire’, in their own heads at least; those that ‘can’t wait to retire and just relax’ and those who see opportunity in retirement to do something different. Of course, as is usually the case with human beings, it’s not quite that simple, there are a few sub-categories.
So, first up in category 1, is the person who doesn’t call themselves a retired person, who hates the label retiree and doesn’t, in their own mind, retire at all. They pretend that they’re still a member of the human race as defined as somebody who works for a living, even though they don’t. Or they actually do carry on working as long as they possibly can until their poor arthritic fingers are prised from sinking hull of their long dead career, particularly so since recent changes in the retirement law mean that people can’t be compelled to retire at 65. This group of people often take another job, if they are forced to retire, perhaps working in B&Q as the type of employee reportedly so valued by big supermarkets. And nothing wrong with that.
There are two sub categories here a) the person who keeps working out of necessity because financially they need the money and b) the person whose self-esteem or self-image is so tied to their work that they cannot imagine any other form of existence that would give them the same sense of pleasure or security. Retirement can be a miserable business for them.
This blog is not about the former group of people. They have little or no choice in the matter. The latter group often engage in some form of charity work. They don’t get paid of course but they retain the sense of being a useful member of society and nothing wrong with that either.
Then, in category 2, there is the person who never did define themselves as a person by their work or career. I seem to have quite a few friends and acquaintances like this, teachers who could not wait to retire because they didn’t like their job very much, at least towards the end of it. Or, maybe, a person who had a mundane, repetitive job who ‘made their life’ outside of their job perhaps through their hobbies or family. They have little or no difficulty in moving on. On the face of it this type of person is best suited to retirement but there is a catch even here, especially here. I have one friend and his partner who pretty much put their life on hold until they retired. When we retire we will do x, y and z, until that time we will be quite miserable but better times are coming. And the catch is – better times do not necessarily come, a person’s expectations of retirement – how marvellous it will be when we can do what we choose – are often so great as to be unfulfillable. Such is the case with my friend.
Finally, and it will be no surprise when I say this, is the category that I most aspire to if not always achieve, there is the retired person who sees retirement as a land of opportunity. A chance to do something different, even be somebody different. I enjoyed what I did but now it’s time to move on, to do something else. Sometimes, like with me and as described in my blog on Solutions Focused Therapy, babies and bathwater are retained. Not everything has to be new, just enough ‘difference’ to give a person a sense of momentum, a sense of on-going learning and development. So, yes, this is the kind of retiree I aspire to be. This blog is one manifestation of this mind set.
And finally, 3 caveats.
To some extent how you view yourself in retirement will depend on your life values. For me it has always been important that my working life or life in general should have variety, not mad ‘no holds barred’, ‘all bets are off’ variety in which a life has no structure, no certainty. That, for me, would be too stressful but, that said, I always needed variety, hence changes in job, time spent abroad, different projects on the go. And so retirement for me is simply an opportunity to try something different, hopefully with the financial safety net of my pension, although if you’ve read my blog on our financial situations you will know that this remains an aspiration rather than an actuality.
Are these groups gender biased? No I think not, if a woman had a career or a job they enjoyed before they retired then they suffer all the pain and heartache enjoyed or rather endured by many men who retire. Maybe the empty nest situation gives them a little practice in the being adaptable area, but the challenges are often the same for both men and women. And of course if a man retires when the woman has been at home or vice versa, then a whole different set of challenges arise but this is not the topic of this blog.
Of course sometimes you don’t want anything to be different but the job itself changes, as was the case with Mrs Summerhouse. She found her job becoming so intolerable she was glad to get out. In which case adopting a ‘well, I might as well get on with something else’ mind set is easier. Incidentally while she gave up her teaching in an FE college with special needs students, she retained her yoga class which she still very much enjoys. An example of retaining the good bits, carrying them forward and maybe even adapting them a little for the brand new Third Age, this a term used by Charles Handy in his book The Empty Raincoat and a term that speaks of optimism and new beginnings.
These are my categories, my attempt at making sense of the, sometimes quite baffling, world of retirement. You may not, of course, agree, in which case you might want to ask yourself if not this, then what? How do you make sense of your retirement years. Probably I’m making it too complicated I usually do, maybe it’s a case of stop thinking and just do it. But that’s not my style.