just about OK

A retirement blog that starts with – ask any elite sportsperson, or non-elite for that matter, about the whys and wherefores of their performance and you won’t get far without the word confidence coming into the discussion. Asked why their achievements have gone up a level or why they are playing well when before they were struggling and more often than not they will reply that their confidence has improved. Quite often they are unable to explain exactly why this has happened or why it ‘went’ in the first place. Beyond the blindingly obvious when you’re playing well you feel confident. Confidence it is agreed is vital to any level of performance but beyond that it remains something of an enigma. It may be the same in retirement.

In the spirit of moving from the micro to the macro in these blogs, by which I mean starting with my own experience and attempting to generalise to retirement issues generally, this consideration of the role of confidence in retirement, started with my keyboard playing. As is usually the case when I get back from my Monday night session, Mrs Summerhouse asked me how I’d got on and I replied it had gone quite well. No sense going overboard about it. She asked why and, in the spirit of many before me, I shrugged and said something like, I’m feeling more confident. That’s the micro.

The macro was me wondering just how much of an issue keeping one’s confidence was for the retired person. Do we lose some of our confidence as we get older and specifically when we retire? I think I can safely say that there are areas of my life where I am less confident than I used to be. I’m less confident specifically when driving and also ‘physically’ (simple things like walking around). I even feel less confident when speaking, not an area typically difficult for me. I find I need to think more carefully before speaking and finding the right words, then using them is more of a struggle. I make more use of malapropisms these days. Of course the question is whether this is a product of getting older generally or being retired specifically.

I think the answer is inevitably the first but with a strong element of the latter, at least in my case. But that’s not much of an answer to the bigger problem – what can a retired person do about this lessening of confidence? What about starting with this ‘how to be confident’ quote from Mrs Golda Meir. Bits of it I like. The full quote is:

“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”

I’m not usually a big fan of this type of exhortation, typically found on posters with a fuzzy photo of a sunset over the water. But when I decided I would write a blog about being confident in retirement I looked through many, (and there are hundreds of them), quotes, affirmations, call them what you will. Most of them I thought were either self-evident, bland or outright sickening but there were things about the above quote I liked. Same with the poster image above which I thought was just about OK.

I liked the idea of ‘create the kind of self you will be happy with’. Given I’ve written, on a number of occasions in these blogs, about using retirement as an opportunity to create a new identity, one that you like, then confidence is likely to be increased, if you like, and respect even, your new identity. I’m a writer, was my version of this. I thought, and still think, that describing myself simply as a retired person wasn’t going to help my self-esteem / self-image. And of course a blog about confidence was never going to be written without reference to these aspects of our well-being.

Second, I liked the idea of ‘fanning the tiny inner sparks of possibility’. Small steps to success is practically a mantra (in a good way) for most psychologists and ex-psychologists as well. So working on what you want to be as a retired person, a bit at a time, makes a lot of sense to me. It may not happen overnight but just because you’re getting on a bit doesn’t mean you can’t take your time getting to where you want to be. I might even say something about valuing the process as opposed to the end product but I won’t.

One area that’s not included in the above quote, and another from my psychology days, is what is often called self-talk, i.e. what you say to yourself about your achievements, failures, challenges etc., life in general in fact. Of course getting positive feedback from other people is a great way to boost your confidence but the problem is you can’t always get it when you need it, like my jazz group, I need it but it isn’t the ‘done thing’ to give it. So in the absence of external feedback you have to fill in with the internal version. So self-talk is vital in developing and maintaining a person’s confidence.

For example, when Mrs SH asked me how the jazz had gone, I chose my words carefully. I said it was hard but, I added, I needed to remember how far I’d come in the last couple of years. You’ve come a long way, I said to myself. Seeing my performance as relative to where I’d come from rather than against some set standard, helps maintain my confidence levels, those that are required to keep me going back each week and protect my self-esteem.

So to sum up this blog, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that having confidence in retirement is vital to our sense of well-being and achieving a fulfilling retirement. Without a fair degree of confidence in the ‘shape’ of our retirement, we’re unlikely to achieve either of the above. However, how you become confident if you’re not, is a little more obscure. So that’s just a little advice if you want it.

I know I’ve barely scratched the surface here of what makes a difference to a retired person’s level of confidence. You might want to ask yourself just how confident am I as a retired person and where does that confidence (or lack of it) come from? How do I understand my confidence levels in this period of my life?

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