Guest blog by Celia Dodd, author of ‘Not Fade Away: How to thrive in retirement’
Earlier this year I published Not Fade Away, How to thrive in retirement. Based on dozens of interviews with people who have successfully made the transition to have a fulfilling life – and those who have struggled. I also talked widely with experts around the subject.
So when I heard about the Next-Up conference mixing up the generations and challenging us to learn about technology – I couldn’t resist attending. So many themes from the day resonated with my own findings and take on ‘unretirement’.
Here I want to share some of the key points from my research and book – how not to fade away. And some insights from the Next-Up conference.
One of my key observations is that it is so tempting to rush into things when you first leave full time working life – or ‘retirement’, to seize on the first reasonable offer for fear that another might not come along. It’s all too common to take on too many commitments and to feel constantly dissatisfied because there just aren’t enough hours in the week to do justice to any of them. Being busy is fine if it’s fulfilling – feeling fulfilled is energising. But it’s not so great if you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing.
That’s why it’s so important to take a step back before making any major decisions about the next direction, to reflect deeply on how you want to spend precious time, and what you really care about. This was a recurring theme at the conference.. ‘Take time to understand yourself and what gets you out of bed in the morning,’ one of the speakers, Jane Hustwit of York CVS, said. This echoed many conversations I had when researching my book about retirement.
It’s worth bearing in mind that what makes this stage of life so liberating is that people finally have the freedom to follow their passions, perhaps for the first time ever. But that’s only possible if they first put some effort into working out what those passions are. That can take time and some deep soul-searching.
It involves holding core values up to the light and reflecting on which activities create ‘Flow’, that magical sense of being lost in the moment. It’s important to question assumptions – not only about what really matters to you, which may well have changed over the years, but also about how retired people ‘should’ spend their time. Not everyone wants to volunteer or give up work completely - or even, dare I say it, look after the grandchildren full-time. What matters now is finding things that make you leap out of bed in the morning with real joy.
Taking time out is not as passive as it might sound, although it can be a lot of fun. There are many different ways to approach it. A natural first step is a holiday. Removal from daily routines offers a fresh perspective and a breathing space. A retreat takes this on to another level, and there are different kinds to suit different tastes. One former civil servant I interviewed found a week-long retreat crystallized her thoughts on what mattered more to her: meaning or money. Meanwhile ordinary daily tools, like going for a run or a swim, offer valuable thinking time and space, while yoga or meditation help clear the mind.
It suits some people to take a well-earned break immediately after leaving corporate life before they start thinking seriously about what happens next. But doing nothing in particular for too long can be a slippery slope, and it’s helpful to set a time limit; otherwise confidence can rapidly ebb away. Before long you find yourself saying rather wistfully ‘I used to be a ……’ when people ask what you do.
What often works better is to take on at least one regular commitment while making a plan. And this was a point made firmly by Victoria Tomlinson, founder of Next-Up who believes you need something ‘current’ to say you are doing – however small – that means you can say ‘I AM doing’ rather than used to be and still feel confident and active when meeting people.
This resonated with what I found. It could be anything: a course, volunteering, a part-time job. What matters is getting out there, building new social networks, learning new skills. Feeling that you’re still a player in the wider world is the best way to maintain the confidence needed to move into a new direction.
Because ultimately a breathing space only produces results with a proactive approach. The search for answers to important questions about meaning and purpose requires practical investigation of all the different options. It demands clear-headed assessments. For example, if you hope to move into a different field of work, it’s vital to be realistic about which skills are transferable, and which need developing. It can be helpful to think through the aspects of work you really enjoyed, and what you disliked. Looking back at activities you enjoyed in the past, even as a child, as well as career paths untravelled, can also be highly illuminating.
One of the most exciting things about retirement now is the wealth of new opportunities on offer. The downside is that so much choice can feel overwhelming at times. So it makes sense to build up networks of support: people you can call on if you feel a bit lost. That might be a friend who can be relied on to be objective as well as kind, or a mentor – perhaps someone who is further along the ‘unretirement’ path. Executive coaching can offer an objective eye, which is invaluable if - like me - you’re prone to procrastination. Finally, for tailored individual support – and inspiration - you need look no further than Next-Up.
Celia Dodd is an author and journalist with 30 years’ experience of writing about family, relationships, health and education in national publications, including The Times, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Radio Times. Her previous book was The Empty Nest: how to survive and stay close to your adult child