Two things over the weekend caused me to think about retirement. The first was an opinion piece by the excellent Luke Johnson in The Sunday Times, who always writes well about business and finance. This week he was having a swing about how retirement is bad for your health and how anyone over fifty would be nuts to put their feet up. What they should be doing instead, he advocates, is thinking about a second career phase, or relaunching themselves in an entrepreneurial role that will see them through the next twenty or even thirty years. What’s the alternative, he asks? Stagnation and death? (I’ve reprinted it here).
The second was the movie “The Martian” where one of the challenges that is poised over space travel to Mars is the actual amount of time it takes to get there. I think a one way journey was something like a year, and one of the biggest challenges (I thought) would be to keep the astronauts occupied over that time. Sure, there’d be a gym on the spacecraft, and books, videos, a canteen…..but I’m sure NASA would ensure that there would also be plenty of work to do. Otherwise the astronauts would completely stagnate, physically and mentally. The best way to guard against this would be to make them work. They can then fit (and would be motivated to fit) leisure activities around their work, such as reading, watching videos, having a coffee with their fellow travellers….
I often reflect on the non-financial benefits of work and how leisure time is so much more appreciated when thrown into relief against the backdrop of a working day or week. When you’ve all day and every day to pursue what you once would have classed as your own leisure activities, they become your norm. I wouldn’t say they become less enjoyable or fulfilling, but they do lose some of the shine they once had. That twenty mile bike ride that I used to take early on a Saturday morning that cleared my head and so unwound me from the working week, well, I can do that every day now. And it’s not the same. (I’m worried that it if I did do it every day, it might begin to feel like work!)
I’ve written before about the challenges of doing nothing all day and having all day to do it, which must stick in the craw of people stuck in jobs they don’t like. Of course, the solution for me is to go back to being employed. In the time I’ve had off, I’ve considered quite a few options to enable this, including setting up my own business, franchising, voluntary work, going part time and returning to industry I came from. To name but a few. I could probably write a blog entry on each of these options and what I’ve discovered in trying to pursue them, and I probably will at some point. One thing is for sure though, it can be quite irritating reading opinions such as Luke Johnson’s who insinuate that you just wake up one day and say, “Well that’s me, I’m bored with this retirement lark, I think I’ll now become an entrepreneur.” If only it was that simple! One of the biggest challenges of the lot is the fact that you might not HAVE to do it – I feel that the biggest thing that prevented me from throwing myself into setting up my own business was trying to work out what my objective for doing so actually was. If not the money. And, actually, it still IS the money because if the business is going to be something significant then you’re probably going to have to risk some capital. Yes, it’s rather annoying to congratulate yourself on the one hand for saving enough so that you don’t have to work for money, only to find that the risk of losing some of that money might prevent you from doing some work! When Luke Johnson talks about being an entrepreneur and “building something worthwhile”, I don’t think he’s thinking about setting up a dog walking business. If you want to “build something worthwhile” you’re probably going to have to put some skin in the game.
When I left work, I was given access to an employment consultant, or development coach, to help me work out what I wanted to do next. In our initial interview, when I outlined my personal situation to her, she frowned, bit her lip and said, “The most challenging candidates I have to deal with are those that have decided they don’t want or need to work for money any more.” I hadn’t realised that this was how I was coming across, but my Early Retirement Dreams had pretty much brought me to the point that I was in that position. I really hadn’t given much thought to “What’s next?” other than “To enjoy myself”. Fair enough, but I do agree with a lot of what Luke Johnson is saying – you can get a lot of enjoyment from work, providing you’re still up for the challenge. The initial challenge, however, is deciding what that enjoyable work is going to be!