Golden Years

I often refer to myself as having “retired early” but, if I’m honest, my age isn’t really living up to the concept as envisioned by the FIRE community. I was fifty two when I “retired” through circumstances that were forced upon me by my company at the time – effectively I was made redundant. At this point I realised I probably didn’t have to go back to work if I didn’t want to, largely due to the combination of a severance payment, my many years of saving and investing and the fact that I could cash my first pension at fifty five. I had to cover three year’s worth of living expenses, but I felt that I could do this providing I could get my head around the concept of starting early on a “deaccumulation” of my own funds. Or, in other words, starting to spend the money that I’d previously saved.

But, aged fifty two,  was that really “early” retirement? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people could cash in their pensions at fifty, so by that yardstick I wasn’t an early retiree at all. Compared to the state pension age of sixty seven I was well ahead of the game, but by other measures what I had achieved could be placed in a different perspective. In some areas of the West of Scotland, for example, which is where I was born and brought up, life expectancy for men can be fifty four. You don’t even want to begin thinking about your life span on those terms, but once you’re over fifty questions over just how long you could and should expect to enjoy your pension start to recur in your mind with increasing regularity.

Once you’re in your fifties, you are stuck between the forked stick of realism and denial. You’re in your fifth decade. If that’s middle aged, then it’s at the far end of the scale. On the other hand, psychologically, you just can’t accept the fact that the years have gone by. You’ll swear blind that you  just don’t feel any different than you did thirty years ago and thus,by extension, you must easily have another thirty years left on this mortal coil.

It’s funny how your perceptions and preconceptions about age change over the years. I distinctly remember being eighteen and seeing a poster in a disco advertising an “Over Twenty-Fives” night. I was disgusted that such elderly swingers were even allowed out. I was fed up of the oldies (people in their forties, like my parents) telling me that the years would flash past in the blink of an eye when I spent languid days at Uni or torpid hours working in bars over the summer holidays. I’d no idea that those oldies were actually understating the case.

Everyone over forty will recognise the years speeding by and it only accelerates from there. Recently, the biggest shock for me on hearing David Bowie had died was the realisation that the album “Let’s Dance” was released over thirty years ago. Thirty years! If I apply that time frame in reverse from my birth date of 1963, I’m back in the Weimar Republic, witnessing the rise of Hitler and only four years out of the Great Depression. How scary is that?

There’s no doubt now that fifty is the watershed age that forty was for our parents. For our generation, fifty is when “life begins”, but even that is up for debate. I would admit that thirty is relatively young, forty is early middle age and fifty, well, for me it was just another birthday. I certainly didn’t feel all that different from when I turned forty, although I had to acknowledge that my thirtieth birthday was beginning to seem quite a long time ago. My body isn’t quite in the same state of denial, unfortunately, and it is now quite annoying (and frankly perturbing) to find how difficult it is getting down the stairs first thing in the morning. This is despite the fact that according to many measures I’m pretty fit “for a man of my age”.

I may not yet be singing the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and perhaps my “early retirement” wasn’t quite as “early” as it could have been. Fair enough, I’m more than comfortable with that and recognise that I’m in a massively privileged position to even have the debate with myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable with how the years are speeding by though,  and how impossible it seems to slow them down. All I can do is accept this fact of life and know that I’m not alone in experiencing it – as evidenced by this series of photographs in Reflections on the Past that say much more in pictures than anything that I can put into words.


17 thoughts on “Golden Years

  1. Ah, but it’s middle aged for your *adult* life – I’m of the view that all the work done in childhood, you know, getting control of the physical body and getting some idea of the Self versus the Other is necessary but not hugely significant in individuation because everyone has to do it, we are all much more alike at 21 that we are at 50 😉

    And there needs to be a tip of the hat to the stupendous advances in medical technology, to central heating and to the much less tough physical aspects of most people’s work nowadays. Adults of 40 when I was a child were physically decrepit compared some 60-year olds now, particularly the guys – arthritis and rheumatism were rife as well as joint problems, heck apart from my mother I don’t know of anyone with arthritis or rheumatism. Bronchitis was commonplace, probably the widespread smoking didn’t help.

    At least the mental dissipation and transient gratification that seems worse now you can avoid, whereas the physical toll seemed unavoidable, the damp and the freezing conditions in winter just seemed to do it in for people.

    52 is early retirement for the modern world where people live longer – life expectancy was so much lower in the past. True, it’s not early retirement for the finance and IT crowd, but then argualbly they often don’t have the option of working into their fifties – if they look round their office and fewer than 10% of their coworkers are over 50 that’s telling something about when they will be likely to leave that industry.

    It’s entirely right and proper that the younger you didn’t listen to the old gits at the time. You shouldn’t put an old head on young shoulders, and if the younger folk didn’t believe they had endless time, were invincible and could live forever they wouldn’t take the risks that advance human progress!


    • I have quite a few friends who are “working men” – joiners, plumbers, slaters. The thought of working until 67 fills them with absolute dread, mainly because they can’t see an alternative. I tend to keep quiet when they start discussing retirement and pensions.


  2. Good thoughts – very relevant to me as I just turned 50 two weeks ago and am adjusting to this new big number. Regarding how early is early retirement, in the USA I did some analysis that show that less than 5% of people retire at 50, about 10% or retire at 55, and the average age of retirement is 62. So, I would definitely say that 52 years old is on the early side. I retired early on 4/1 and felt awfully young when I walkedin the retired men’s club at our church. Some people had canes to help them walk, and I felt quite out of place at first. Enjoy your relative youth and make the most of each day, I say!


  3. Retirement was up until very recently what happened when you were literally unable to work any more

    By accident in the 1980s this new notion arrived in the western world that people should have decades of active leisure after retiring due to defined benefit pension schemes and rising life expectancy

    Now the defined benefit schemes are largely closed to future accruals


  4. “Once you’re in your fifties, you are stuck between the forked stick of realism and denial. You’re in your fifth decade.”

    Hate to rub it in – but it is your 6th decade. As for me, I embarked on my 7th decade last October and took ‘early retirement’ at 60 – ‘early’ in the sense that most colleagues were surprised at me decamping while I could quite easily potter along 67.


  5. ‘Once you’re in your fifties, you are stuck between the forked stick of realism and denial. You’re in your fifth decade.’

    Nope – worse than that. It’s actually your sixth decade. Do keep up.


  6. Love the link to the photos Jim. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m 35 next month, half way to the big four O! It is scary how quickly time seems to pass in a way but then how can you really perceive say your whole life looking back on it in the few seconds you might think about it as a whole. You just can’t! I do find time perception on a more local scale very interesting though and there are obvious examples of where time perception is slowed down, for example you can have a dream that feels like it lasted a week when it was probably only 5 minutes. I know you’re not conscious but still the fact remains that the flow of time can be very subjective between individuals and what is actually happening around you.

    Enjoy your golden years 😉


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