What does retirement actually mean, and why do I want to retire before I need to?
Retirement is a life-changing event. It means giving up a daily routine of some 30-40 years and doing, well, what instead? And that’s the big question I’ll discuss below. It means quitting an occupation that hopefully is “useful” or “productive,” not only to ourselves but to the community, whether it be economically, socially, environmentally, politically, or whatever. It means leaving colleagues that we’ve worked with for years, some of whom we might not miss, but most of whom we will. It means relinquishing a salary for a pension, with all the connotations associated with that term, and principally old age.
And why would I want to retire? Well, in my case there’s the fatigue factor, doing the same job for years. Maybe because of that, there’s a desire to try something new or different, and to do that while I'm still young enough to have the energy to initiate a change.
I look around me and see people who’ve retired, some of them older, some younger. Most seem happy with the decision, but I know it’s a very individual feeling and that some people find themselves at a loose end and miss the secure structure of the workplace. Among the satisfied ones, I see some in the sports center, sometimes spending 5-6 hours there. They begin with a calisthenics class, then proceed to the gym, and finally take a swim in the pool. They socialize between activities, relaxing in the sun or sitting in the cafeteria. And by the time they return home, much of the day has passed and they get on with the daily tasks that we workers also have to do. Several may spend hours on the golf course, sometimes combining this with other sporting activities. All these are the keep-fit retirees, the ones who invest their time in trying to maintain their health.
Then, there are the ones who set out to see the world, the indefatigable travelers. The minute they return from a trip they begin planning the next one. I rather fancy that type of retirement, but there’s a serious drawback – I can’t afford it. However, making some overseas trips is certainly an option, in moderation.
Some retirees decide to enrich their minds by attending classes and lectures on various subjects. They may even decide to study for a degree or for a further degree. Very commendable, but there are few lecturers who are charismatic enough to hold my attention for more than a few minutes, even if the subject interests me. I can research it myself.
Another popular activity is volunteering – environmental groups, disadvantaged children, sick people, the elderly, illiterates, animals, the homeless… you name it. But who spends all their retirement volunteering? Most do it for a few hours a week at the most.
Grandparenting is also a form of volunteering, although at present that is irrelevant to me. Depending on the grandparent and the needs of their offspring, it can also occupy a lot of time. Some are prepared to devote themselves to the task, while others prefer to limit it.
Some retirees I know are happy to sit at home with their books, movies and computers, living in their own virtual world. I envy that type but am not like them. Perhaps I could emulate them in part, at least the computer and books part, but I need wider horizons.
Most people would agree that those considering retirement should have a plan in mind before making the decision. In my case, I could do some free-lance work, or possibly get a part-time job that uses my skills but is far from the subject-matter I’m used to dealing with. I might volunteer for a worthy cause for a few hours a week. I could do some traveling with my also retired husband. I would write and continue maintaining and developing this site. And then, there’s sport (in my case swimming), which I could enjoy in a much more relaxed way than when I was working. As long as I have a weekly or monthly schedule, I could probably live with that and even, well, be happy?
So, my ideal recipe for my own retirement is a combination of work, volunteering, travel, computer and books. I wonder now whether I’ll take the fatal decision to retire, whether the plan will succeed and whether I’ll be better off. Or will I miss the tedium of my present job?