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.