What they don’t tell you about retirement

A few thoughts for new retirees from someone who has been there and done that recently enough to recall some unexpected challenges and rewards…

Relevance deprivation

Your job is a very large part of your identity. For years, a key step in getting to know people has been asking each other, “What do you do for a living?” and the answer was often, “I am a [teacher chippie engineer gardener].”

Note the “I am.”

Now, it’s “I used to be,” or “I am retired,” which, at some deep level, mean “I don’t have an identity,” or “I am a generic older person with no particular skills or qualifications.”

And that loss of identity extends to what used to be the working week. For five days a week, for forty years, you worked with colleagues and dealt with the public as a [gardener teacher chippie engineer] but now you’re only a member of the public – a generic older person, in fact. There’s a loss of respect there, too, if you retired from any position of authority.

One valid response is to define yourself in terms of what you do, not what you are: “I do a lot of photography,” or, “I play a lot of golf,” etc.

A whole new economic(al) life

Heaps of money but no income: If you’re lucky enough to have retired with a lump of super, living on it after years of living on your wage is weird. You have all this money but no idea what unavoidable costs may be coming your way in the future, and no idea how long that future will be. So how can you budget? Take a wild guess??

Being paid to do nothing: If you retired from a job that wasn’t very well paid and went straight on to the pension, you may find your disposable income went up! The pension isn’t huge, but you don’t pay any tax and you get lots of discounts and freebies. Nice!

Old people

At work, you were one of the older staff members but you worked with people of all ages down to the youngest – school leavers, trainees, newly qualified nurses, etc. Now, you’re excluded from that world and you are one of the youngest in your new world. It’s a world of old people – ten, fifteen, twenty years older than yourself.

And their preoccupations are, increasingly, their (declining) health and their grandkids (if any) or pets (ditto). Current affairs? Politics? Not so much, and often backward-looking. You may find yourself actively looking out for situations where you spend time with younger people – even to the extent of going back to work for a day or two each week.

After a while it becomes clear that retirees’ quality of life depends more on their health and outlook than on their age. Some of the youngest are so unfit they can’t do much, but some who are well into their eighties are still playing competitive sport. And some in their sixties haven’t had a new idea in forty years while some in their eighties are still engaged and creative. There are lessons there.

Learning can never stop

Okay, so you’ve retired, so you can sit back and relax because you know everything you need to know to function in society. You’ve done okay in the past, haven’t you?

Sorry, but there’s no rest from needing to learn. Society keeps changing, and if you don’t keep up you will be old and helpless.

It happened to an earlier generation of retirees in relation to computers and the internet: never had them, never needed them, then couldn’t function independently because society demanded them. With the next generation, it was (will be?) smartphones. What will be next? ’Smart homes’ and the Internet of Things? AI avatars?

With all that…

Getting old is a privilege denied to many in this world, and it is far better than the only known alternative.

Year-round holidays are a privilege denied to almost everyone in this world, and we should enjoy them. Most of us do. Chatting around a campfire in White Mountains  last year, one of us summed up retirement perfectly: “Best job I’ve ever had!”

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