Filling the Void

For decades retirement was something people looked forward to, relished even. Perhaps many still do, for those that do, what is the real reason of wanting to retire? Often the real reason many cannot wait to retire is because they hate the job they have or have been doing it too long.

The desire to retire is frequently fuel led by dreams of beautiful land and seascapes, sunny days spent walking hand in hand with our partner feeling soft white sand beneath our feet. Or an adventure filled trip hiking in a remote location.

These are all great things to aspire to and look forward to, but they are hardly sustainable ways of filling the void that retirement can bring.

It is a sad fact that the risk of suffering from depression increases when we retire. Leaving our workplace or calling time on a long cherished career is a wrench, gone are the social interactions with colleagues, clients, or customers.

On the upside the hard slog of the commute is gone, but so too are company away days, business gatherings and conferences, even where we may continue to attend professional body or society gatherings it does not take long to feel left behind by the progress of former colleagues, a situation set to get worse as the exponential pace in technology could mean you lose touch with changes within a matter of months. It is all too easy to feel left out as you struggle to remain up to date with former colleagues so they start to ignore you, or maybe begin to patronise as they feel sorry for the person who might once have been their boss or mentor.

This may seem an overly negative way of viewing the future and of course it is not a future that applies to everyone. Boredom at having nothing meaningful to do or the frustration of constantly seeking “the right thing” can become just as wearing on the mind and body. Surely this is not a prospect you should aspire to?

Retirement is an appalling word, conjuring up as it does the end of something, the dismantling of a retired ship after it is sent to the breakers yard. Life is no longer, if it ever really was, a series of neat convenient stages; no life is a continuum from birth trough ageing to death.

Life is a wonderful thing, something we relish as children, everyday excitement and the discovery of new things, the lack of fear as we take our first steps, ride a bicycle and much more besides. Maybe it is the memory of this that leads so many to be excited about being grandparents, a momentary chance to relapse and partially relive their childhood?

Sadly convention, our education system and the way our adult lives are governed soon knocks the edge of this childhood enthusiasm.

For some thankfully the enthusiasm remains, often channel led into things we can rely on to provide excitement or thrills.

Architects and engineers creating new ideas and plans for buildings and objects, space geeks planning a new life on Mars or scientists seeking to cure every disease to enable all the peoples of the world to be fed and housed. Thanks to the dreams and enthusiasm of these people we can find adulthood provides a wonderful space in time in which to live our lives, marry, have a family or create and give to others. So many things we can each contribute. Why stop?

We think nothing of a sports star moving on to a new career after the heady days glory, or the majority of journeyman professional sports people who make it possible for the stars to shine. We hear and read of the challenges of reinvention these people face before they settle into their new life. We read of the tragedies that befall those unable to cope with the loss of their former life who seek alternative excitement from things like alcohol and drugs and we bear witness to their desperate decline played out on the front pages of newspaper or social media.

One thing that often separates those who make a successful transition and those that struggle, is the extent to which they planned for and thought about the inevitable day when they could no longer compete in their beloved sport.

Thinking about what’s next and how to do live your new life is not an admission of failure in your present life nor is it necessarily hastening the day when you must move on from a loved role or career, it’s just plain common sense.

Television shows bombard us with images of a grand later life, filling screen time with endless programs about people seeking a retirement home in the sun, or financial institutions promoting the need to have the money to be able to live in retirement. We are sold a Hollywood story of “happy ever after”. It is of course possible to be happy ever after and indeed isn’t that an admirable thing? What the messages miss or choose to avoid acknowledging is that happiness takes work, input and effort. All of which involves setback and frustration, it is the down days which are the very thing that make the good days so rich, fulfilling and inspiring.

Anything worthwhile requires effort. Worthwhile needs to be seen in context, it does not necessarily mean creating a new wonder drug or some other major global breakthrough, although it you aspire to go for it, what worthwhile means is its worth to you.

If you have never cooked before and you choose to tackle a Beef Wellington the odds are you will make a mess of your first effort and potentially many more thereafter. Getting the pastry right, the beef cooked just so and making sure the filling doesn’t leak from the bottom is not easy. However, when through practice the perfect Wellington emerges from the oven what then, how does that make you feel? The same is true of so many things, it could be as meaningless (in terms of the impact beyond your own mind) as mowing the lawn with perfectly straight lines resembling the centre court at Wimbledon the day before the tournament begins. Frankly who cares what it is, so long as it is what you want, so long as it is something you decided to do and set out to do it and do it to the best of your ability. In those moments it matters a lot, it matters because of the way it makes you feel.

Planning your future carefully is not only key to making later life more enjoyable it can also help maintain your health for as long as possible. Finding purpose in life is crucial, you might find that this needs to change, just as it has done throughout your life. Retirement planning is not just about money.

Retiring without money can be grim, but retiring with only money is dim. Success in later life has less to do with money per se than at any other time of life. Making smart financial decisions is always easier if you have clarity about what you want to do and when you want to do it.

What are your plans?