Giving up full time work has been far more traumatic than I ever imagined. All the sensible pre-planning did not prepare me for the reality of what it would be like to wake up in the morning without a job to attend.
I have been fortunate to have a career working for voluntary organisations that have all had a moral purpose. I have missed working with a close team of colleagues who laughed at their boss’s jokes, and I still long for the adrenaline of having problems to solve and mountains to climb.
The invitations to lunch and drinks receptions have completely dried up, with the honourable exception of Wade Financial. The torrent of emails have reduced to a mere trickle, and my empty inbox conveys the message, “it looks like you’re done”. I really am yesterday’s man.
I feel compelled to get up early as ‘normal’ and set off for the early bird club at the swimming pool. I return home once my wife has left for work to read the morning papers over a long, drawn out breakfast.
There has been no shortage of good advice on how to spend my time. Well meaning suggestions have included joining the U3A, compiling the family genealogy, training for the Great North Run and joining the silver surfers on Tynemouth Beach. These are all good ideas, but none of them have appealed to me.
Ian Little insists I draw up a ‘bucket list’ and spend my pension enjoying myself. A former colleague tells me of an ambition to visit every country in the world before he dies. I will visit the relatives in Australia, but have no such aspiration to sit on endless sunny beaches.
I have enjoyed a more solitary life. I am fitter, have lost weight, practiced meditation and read voraciously. I discovered the mobile library stops right outside my house. I have enjoyed catching up with old friends and distant family members whom I have neglected.
But I have struggled to use to the R word, and always say that I am a part-time consultant. My worst moment was popping into Waitrose on a Thursday morning to find well-dressed elderly couples in each aisle, giving every impression that the weekly shop was the highlight of the week.
And my best moment? Listening to Bruce Kent, once leader of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and exactly twenty years older than me, still lecturing with the same passion. “We grow old by deserting our ideals,” the American poet Samuel Ullman once said.
So, nine months on, how would I advise anyone about to receive their last pay packet and be presented with a gold watch?
- You may be looking forward to laying down the chains of office work, but be prepared for a huge loss of self esteem and purpose in life when you give up work.
- Give yourself time to find a new and slower rhythm of life and structure of day. It won’t happen overnight.
- Talk to those helpful people at Wade Financial about how to spend your pension, and give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. I have managed the occasional day watching cricket.
- Find a consuming passion and indulge it. And remember, to paraphrase John Denver, retirement really is the rest of your life.
George Hepburn was the founding Chief Executive of Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland (1988 – 2009) and Warden of Shepherds Dene Retreat House (2009 – 2013). He is now part-time Proprietor of Bewick House Enterprises (www.bewickhouse.com) advising voluntary organisations and charitable trusts.
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