Look forward to a successful life after full time work

What do you think of when you when you think of the word “retirement?” Is it a concept more about something coming to an end than a new beginning? You down tools, cease to contribute, rest, perhaps recover. Maybe it’s just a general term to denote that phase of life which happens between finishing your career and not living any more.

The “age of retirement” has been a moveable feast since it was first attached to a state-funded retirement pension. Here’s a quick history if you’re interested. And whilst it’s worth remembering you can retire any time you think you can afford to, you might want to check out when you can draw your basic State Pension.

What do other people think about “retirement?”

I recently did a taster coaching session for people who either had recently retired or were in the early stages of thinking about it. Although the group was small, it reflected a wide range of experiences common to people going through the retirement transition.

A huge issue was the loss of identity when leaving work. Once you’ve retired, a difficult question to answer is “what do you do?” To a large extent we are, in our society, defined by what we do – it’s a neat rule of thumb by which we tend to compare each other’s value. What you do can be a measure of what you contribute, and let’s face it, we all want to feel valuable.

A couple of insights were helpful here. You can always change the question a little from what you do, to what you are doing. In life after work there are a variety of activities – our doings – that we apply ourselves to. We become more difficult to define and can celebrate the delightful ambiguity of a life where we don’t have to feel the need to fit into a specific box. It’s a time of life when you have a bit more freedom to define yourself. Enjoy the freedom!

It was also helpful to think of life after work as drawing down on the relaxation time we’ve been earning all our working lives. Here a comparison may help. Your pension is deferred earnings. Instead of spending your hard-earned cash the minute you got it, you saved up a proportion of it for the future and now, as a retiree, you get to spend it. Try thinking of relaxation time in the same way. I would hazard a guess that you put more hours into your working life than you actually got paid for. Enjoy a bit of pay back time. After all, you’ve earned it!

Cliff edge or gentle staircase

Another theme we explored was the process of retiring. A widespread 20th Century view of retirement was that it was a sudden event that happened over a weekend. On Friday you are an employee with a job title, status and salary, and on Monday you’re – well who are you? The shift from work to retirement can be something of a shock. Increasingly, both employees and employers are seeing the value of making the retirement journey more of a process, a steady and purposeful walk down the stairs rather than leaping off a cliff. As we get older, many of us want to keep working, just not at the same pace and to the same pressures as when we were younger. Reducing hours or taking on a less demanding role can smooth the way into retirement.

In fact, “retirement” as a one-off event may, as one ex-Government Minister I worked for once remarked, end up being a “20th century concept.” We need to start thinking much earlier in our working lives about life after full-time work and re-balance our lives to take account of the changes that this life phase brings.

Coaching in action

What comes to your mind when you think about retirement? Why not take a moment to consider what your expectations of retirement are and where they came from. Imagine yourself in your life after full time work. What will you be doing? What do you need to be doing now, to enable you to be doing those things in the future?

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