A former director within the education sector, Richard Firth is now a successful consultant and charity trustee. Here, he shares his experiences of 'unretirement'.
Q When did you first think of ‘retirement’?
A Can I say first off, I don’t think that way. I hate the thought of calling myself ‘retired’. I don’t feel retired – even if I am partly now living off my pension.
Q What do you hate about the word ‘retirement’?
A Well it feels as if I’m not professional any more. I can’t bear it. It sounds as if you are watching afternoon TV. That is a disaster in my mind.
Q So, avoiding the R word, how did you plan your life when leaving full time work?!
A I had been working in Dubai for four years or so. I’ve spent my life heading up and turning around educational organisations that focus on vocational training and qualifications. My contract in Dubai was on a six-month rolling basis and the company was reviewing its operations in this field, so I was expecting it to come to an end. At that point I decided I’d had it with 60/70 hour weeks, commuting and all the rest. I’d done it.
I felt fine about this. I was fairly confident that with my contacts and my experience, I would find work back here.
Back in the UK, I decided to start a consulting business. I didn’t mean to find another full-time role but as I started to plan for the consultancy, a headhunter called me. I said I wasn’t interested in any more full-time work but then they said it was turnaround, education – and in Harrogate where I was living. I was determined to avoid long hours and commuting, but this ticked a lot of boxes so I said yes. My commute was walking across a park. I did the job for three years, sorting out a reorganisation. It was fine, but hard and I am now absolutely certain that I don’t want full-time again and such long hours.
Q You have been a consultant for over a year now. How is this working and how did you make it work?
A The consultancy jobs I have had have been just perfect. I’ve had regular jobs, one after the other with a few gaps. I get the work through my networks – I mainly go and see people rather than using email or phone for this. Discussions over lunch or coffee tend to lead to work. Sometimes it takes a while to convert – I have three ongoing conversations at the moment; they may all come in or none.
I’m not so desperate for work that I would go and tread the streets to make new contacts and find it – if work from my current contacts dries up, so be it. I’d be happy then to say ‘I’m retired’. I think.
I’ve pitched my rates at what I think is an ‘easy buy’ for my clients. I probably could have gone out and charged more of a proper consultancy rate - £1k a day or more – but I prefer to have the work. The projects have been interesting and the rates are fine.
Q Why are you not ready to retire yet?
A I need a focus. I want to go to bed at night and know that in the morning I have something useful to get up for. I want someone to need me and my skills. It feels such a waste if I can’t give my experience to help someone. It’s about professional worth, using my brain and feeling needed.
Q Have you ever felt … a bit depressed or low over the changes in your life?
A Yes and no. The idea of retirement depresses me because it would be saying no-one wants my skills. But so far I have managed to dodge that so it’s been fine.
Q You have become a charity trustee – did you actively look for this?
A Yes, at the moment I haven’t got any paid projects on so this is about using my skills to help others. I registered with a site for charity trustees and three months later, I have just had a role confirmed. I looked at quite a few but a number were further away than I wanted to travel. This role is about education and they are thinking of accrediting their courses – it’s right up my street. I am really looking forward to being involved.
Q Are your friends and peers retired or also looking for other things?
All my close friends are fully retired – actually they can’t understand why I am not. One loves DIY, another is writing, another admits he is just lazy!
For me, I loved the workplace and the networking and socialising attached to the workplace. I’m not ready to give that up. I enjoy the company of younger people, the spark that comes from learning something new still and feeling current and relevant. That is all really important to me.