One of the encouraging things about blogging – when you’re not telling yourself that everything you write is actually a waste of time – is the positive feedback and interesting views you get from the Comments. When I stopped blogging, that’s what I missed. These days I spend more time reading comments on other websites too, including on the BBC News website (when they allow them) or on the online versions of the newspapers. That’s where the interesting opinions are.
My blog tends to divide opinion between those who love and embrace retirement wholeheartedly (or think they will) and don’t miss work at all and those, like me, who find themselves pining for some elements of the working life. As I read through some of the feedback recently, I found myself asking the question “Would I go back to work if an attractive proposition came along?” and I honestly felt that I might.
Okay, so what? It’s no big deal and it’s not a sin to miss working, I don’t suppose. But, on the other hand, going back to work, for me, this time round would seem much more like a really wasted opportunity. When I decided to “commit myself to retirement” last March, the biggest question I was trying to force myself to answer was “If not now, when?” I was well aware of the cliche that nobody ever lay on their deathbed ruefully exclaiming “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”, but cliches are cliches because they have a fundamental truth to them. I was also aware that the title of my blog could be rearranged to reflect my mental priorities as I moved through the decades. In my twenties and thirties the focus and title would have been “Sex, Money, Health, Death”. In the forties, it felt more like “Money, Sex, Health, Death”. In my fifties, it began to shape up as “Health, Sex, Death, Money”, and my sixties seems to be heading more toward “Health, Death, Sex, Money”. Eventually, if I reach my nineties it might well be Death, Health, Money, Sex. Such is the ageing process.
It didn’t help – or maybe it did – that last March I’d been spending time at the local hospital being checked out for something that I’d reported as chest pains, or at the least, what to me felt like severe heartburn. To be fair to the NHS, they put me through some rigorous testing and fortunately couldn’t find anything seriously wrong. But, as you lie under the MRI scanner, it cannot help but strike you that your days of taking health for granted are under threat. Could you imagine dropping dead at your desk in the office after being bollocked by some jumped up “senior manager” because your Powerpoint presentation was in the wrong font? Is that what life’s about? Aged 57, and taking advice from doctors and nurses who seem to look younger than your own kid, well, it makes you think. Or it made me think it was at least time to stop and smell the flowers, especially given I was in the fortunate position to be able to do so.
One of the luxuries of being retired is having the opportunity to stay healthy in a way that doesn’t feel like a grind. When I went back to a desk the last time I couldn’t believe the physical toll it took on me. I went from averaging 10,000 steps a day (without trying) to averaging 3,000. After sitting in front of a screen for eight hours, my body ached, I’d no notion of reading anything and the thought of heading to the gym was about as welcome as a dose of Covid. Working (or at least white collar, middle management working) is bad for your health. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m not actively seeking employment right now. I tend to think of fitness now in the way I once used to think about investing, namely “This will do me good further down the line”. Most days, I see it a bit like shaving – I don’t like doing it, particularly, but I feel so much fresher after it and it sets me up for the next few hours with a positive mindset.
For any readers who are struggling to take up some sort of fitness activity, I’d quote one of my favourite Chinese proverbs – “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Excluding the financial side of retirement, and maybe even including it, being fit in my old age is currently my absolute priority. No doubt I’ll be blogging in future about habits, routines and structure, in terms of what works for me and what doesn’t, but the habit of exercise is one I find difficult to argue with.