With time on my hands in “early retirement” I find myself wondering if I’m the type of person suited to the lifestyle? Would it be different for someone who not only relishes their own company, but is the type who likes to write lists for the day and then tick the boxes as they achieve the goals? The type who tidy the kitchen and shiver with satisfaction when forks, knives and spoons are all neatly laid in their proper places in the cutlery rack? In other words, is retirement better for the introverts as it gives more control over living your life, allowing you to structure it the way you want to?
The problem is, I feel, retirement offers not much in the way of structure, unless “get up, read the paper and have a biscuit” can be classed as a daily framework. Not that this bothers me, as I think I’m a bit more of an extrovert. By that I mean that I tend to construct my world through interactions with other people, which necessarily means that you’re a bit less bothered about being in control of your environment. (I’m using the more technical definitions of introvert and extrovert here. Not “introvert” which people tend to picture as “shy loner with possible psychopath tendencies and a gun” or “extrovert”, as in “bigmouth life and soul of any party who goes home to cry alone”.)
The challenge for the extrovert in retirement is keeping the social network going. Sometimes, when my wife leaves for work and I’m left in the empty house, I do sense that feeling of almost fading away from the real world. This can be resolved by doing something like going to the gym and saying hello to a couple of the regulars (the extrovert ones; the introverts are thrashing themselves to their predefined goal on the treadmill or exercise bike with their iPods on. You don’t even get a glance from them.)
For those of us in longer term relationships, retirement can throw your introvert and extrovert tendencies into relief, because an extrovert tends to pair up with someone a bit more introverted and vice versa. Thus I heard a female friend (introvert) telling of the sheer horror of coming home from work to find her newly retired husband (extrovert) standing at the front door, desperate to see her and have a chat. He’d then follow her from room to room, asking about her day, while all she wanted to do was sit in her favourite chair in peace and quiet to enjoy her cup of tea and read of the paper. As she once could do when he was at work.
Fortunately we all have a bit of both tendencies inside ourselves, so retirement presents the opportunity to work on your “deficiencies”. I think I am getting better at constructing “to do” lists and ticking them off, enjoying my own company and writing more, which is an introspective, singular activity. I’m sure my other half will join more clubs and encourage more friends round when she decides to retire, because she’s a bit more of an introvert.
Years ago I was really interested in this subject, about how your personality type filters how you see the world and how you interact with it. I read a lot by the author and clinical psychologist Dorothy Rowe, who is mostly concerned with the treatment of anxiety and depression – a must for anyone following Scottish football – but has a fascinating view on how humans “construct life and death“. It’s a long time since I read her books, but I remember they were really well written and definitely altered my way of seeing the world. (Scanning Amazon I see she’s written a book on growing old too, which might be relevant to retirement, but I haven’t read that one.)
So next time you’re visiting the local library look Dorothy up. I’m sure one or two of her books will be on the shelves.