Dreaming the Dream

I was listening to Radio 4 on a drive home the other day, to the somewhat mysteriously titled “You and Yours”, and an episode entitled “Dreaming the Dream in the Third Age”. Ostensibly this was about people who had made life changes for their retirement and how those changes had come about, but what piqued my interest was some research that was discussed about which type of people fared best in retirement. Basically, it boiled down to two simple things. The first was that if you tended to lead a full and vibrant life before your retirement, with plenty of varied interests and pastimes that lay outside of family and work, you were likely to continue with these and add more in. If you’d let work and family life dominate and take up the hours in your life, you’d find a pretty big hole to fill in retirement. Secondly, the more planning you did for retirement, and all the related aspects of it – social, financial, health, relationships etc. – the more likely you were to enjoy it.

I found myself nodding in much agreement to these points. My bout of “early retirement” was forced on me when I found myself out of work. As it turned out, I was almost fully prepared for this financially and totally unprepared for it on almost every other measure. Firstly, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, my life before retirement had been pretty much dominated by work and family. When I wasn’t with one, I was with the other. I did try and fit in some “me time” around this – I tried to play golf once a week and I made an effort to visit the pub with friends for a few hours early doors on a Friday evening – but other events tended to involve either work or the family. I’m not about to give myself a hard time over this because I think that this is normality for a majority of people and, if you’re lucky enough to have a family, it’s worth devoting as much time as you need to keeping it a happy, functioning unit.

On the other hand, I’ve found that it’s a real challenge not to think that everyone else has masses going on in their lives compared to your own rather boring and staid “work and family” existence. “Every man should have a hobby” said Rod Stewart as he headed off to work on his train set – or another blonde – and all I can say is that’s easy for him to say. If I’m critical of myself, in my almost thirty years of working, a hobby was the one thing I felt I didn’t develop. I suppose I could point to golf, or reading, or cooking, or keeping fit, but these aren’t hobbies in the true sense of the word, or how I imagine a hobby to be. A hobby should be, I think, an interest that sits outside of these more regular pastimes I’ve just mentioned. It should be something like repairing old watches, restoring a classic car, building replica furniture, refurbishing classic computers and so on.

When I had what turned out to be my year out, people often suggested that I should look into finding such an interest – as if I wasn’t wracking my own brain trying to do so! I dearly wanted to think of something I could “get into” and grew frustrated that I couldn’t.  It was almost as if everyone, including myself,  felt that all I needed to do was sit down, think hard, and suddenly I’d discover the thing that really interested me that had been eluding me during all these years I spent in work. Aha, photography! Aha, community theatre! Aha, crochet! Aha, ten pin bowling! Aha, gardening! But I found that it’s just not as simple as that. You can spend hours in the garden – and I did – and still hate as much as you did when you spent five minutes in it.

In the end, I went back to work to help fill the hours, once I finally admitted to myself that, in a way, work had been my hobby and I missed it. These days I don’t dream about full time retirement, I dream about working a four or a three day week. Or, even better, finding something that leaves my mornings free and gives me something constructive to do in the afternoons and early evenings. The next stage is for me to come up with a plan that will turn that dream into something more concrete. But I won’t kid myself, as I used to do in my previous working days, that this is going to be easy. It’s going to require some mental hard work, application and, above all, taking action against a plan (which is unfortunate because it’s the planning bit I think I like best!) But I think I can say that I know from experience how much of a challenge retirement can be if you haven’t a plan to fill the hours, while telling  yourself that you’ll have time to work on that when you get there. My advice – in line with “You and Yours” – is to start working on it long before then.

15 thoughts on “Dreaming the Dream

  1. My father had no proper hobbies, just watching sport on the tv, gardening, reading and crosswords. He had no interests outside the house or friends he’d meet up with. He had no problem letting those pottering activities expand to fill 30 happy years of retirement. My brother is similar, and I think he only works for the money. I think you are projecting your own restlessness on others.You are driven to write a blog, you are driven to return to work, but not everyone feels that pressure.

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    • You’re right John, but my view is that people who achieve FIRE are some of the worst suited for retirement because they’re objective orientated. They like having goals and targets, and that drive makes them restless. After all, we could all have left school and signed on the dole for life, but that would have limited our other ambitions, wouldn’t it?

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  2. Some interesting ideas there.

    Many people chasing early retirement forgo a lot of living on the journey to get there. They figure they will have all the time in the world if only they can hit whatever arbitrary magic net worth or passive cash flow number they have convinced themselves will be “enough”.

    When they reach that point they often realise much of what they wanted to do with their time after retirement (or down shifting, or whatever), they could have been doing all along in some form. In doing so it would likely have made their journey much more enjoyable even if it extended the duration a bit.

    It appears you are describing something similar here, get living now to avoid the void when our excuses such as work and family obligations are no longer present to hide behind.

    Your new job may be helping fill in the days and save you from too much of your own company, but the question is whether you are any happier now than you were in your previous job or during your retirement? Are you more fulfilled now, or just relieved to not be in your previously unenjoyable situation?

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    • Am I happier being back at work? Yes, a lot of the time – but not all of it. Am I happier in my new job versus my old one – definitely, until I look at the difference between the two pay cheques! Then I’m not quite so happy. I can say without doubt that some of my most difficult days were when I was retired, but I haven’t quite worked out why! It was something to do with feeling I shouldn’t be in that position and that I still wanted to contribute to something outside of myself.

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  3. Good insights! Early retirement and our only son leaving for college (work & family gaps) certainly required some sudden lifestyle change adjustments, but my coping has gone pretty well. While my life did revolve a lot around work and family, I was also very well prepared for what FIRE brought. I’m coming up on one year now and still haven’t gotten after all of the things I’m looking forward to.

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    • I do feel I didn’t prepare mentally for giving up work, and therefore I was never comfortable with it. Losing my job was also a bit of shock, regardless of the fact that financially I was in a good position when it happened. I’d been working as part of a team for almost thirty years, and I enjoyed most of them. I just wasn’t ready for that rug to be pulled.

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  4. Your post resonates with me. I think we had somewhat parallel paths, I too retired early (Age 53) after being laid off, financially prepared (perhaps not as much as I ideally wanted, but then who actually retires with their ideal financial situation.). I keep fit (Attend gym daily), golf, play football, ski, but in the first year struggled with some periods (afternoons) of boredom (particularly in winter). For me it took time to fill out my hobbies. I am now 3.5 years post layoff (Have not applied or looked for a job for 3 years) and am really fulfilling the hours and enjoying the days. The (winter) hobby I picked up (microscopy) was related to what I did (on and off) during my career funny enough (or perhaps not).

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    • Hi Gary, Yes, we do sound as if we faced similar circumstances. One of things I never did was allow myself to savour retirement, I was always looking for what to do next. I was always, I think, plotting to get back into some sort of paid work. I never really let go of it and therefore maybe never allowed myself to fully enjoy retirement.

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    • I think some people have minds that are not suited to an all encompassing hobby. I’m planning to retire around 55, three years time ( though I’m fairly sure I could do it now), and am looking forward to the multiple hobbies I can do, which I just do not have time for now. I’m not engrossed by any single one, but enjoy them all at some point.

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      • Yup, and I am hard on myself. I have no hobbies. Apart from blogging. And keeping fit. Reading non-fiction. Cooking. Ensuring I walk 10,000 steps a day. Cycling in the summer. Helping out at the local Youth Club with their website. Is going to the pub a hobby?

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  5. This is one of the more hopeful posts I’ve seen on this topic. Others seem to suggest that there is no happiness difference between the working and retired, and I like the idea that things diverge based on people’s working lives and personalities (and see how this could easily mean that the average doesn’t move).

    I’d like to understand how much of the difference between the planners and non-planners was due to them being able to choose the time of their retirement. When I had planned time between jobs (ie I had chosen a start date in a couple of months’ time) I had a great time off work. When I was unexpectedly unemployed or underemployed (sick, hours cut, etc) I enjoyed it a whole lot less.

    It might be instructive to ask working people what their ideal weekend is and what their last weekend was. The gap between these might point to the realities of retirement.

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    • I do often wonder how I’d have fared if I’d chosen early retirement as opposed to having it thrust upon me? Perhaps I felt that work was still “unfinished business” that I wasn’t done with yet? I was prepared in some ways never to work again, but after a while that just began to feel like a silly idea. I liked my job, after all. What was so bad about admitting that?

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      • Not quite the same thing, but I’ve felt that conflict about past relationships. Like, I wasn’t that into you, I can see that we weren’t right together, but I’m not okay that you’ve left/dumped/sacked me.

        Unfinished business is a useful way to describe it, and maybe naming the feeling is a good enough start.

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  6. My early retirement (now 2 weeks old) was by my instigation and schedule but creates a conundrum; I left after transitioning a a part of a corporate takeover primarily because decision-making and strategical authority would inevitably be diminished in a much larger and longer established organisation. But now I`m over the cliff edge as decisions effect only myself and don’t require persuasion, tactics and perseverance (not that I was ever Machiavelli). I’m trying to figure out how square the opportunities to indulge myself on stuff I could never make time for and the loss of the satisfaction of (addiction to ?) of solutions and pushing ideas, and dare I say the feeling of being good at what I did. I won’t allow the answer to be a full-time yoke.

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