When I was a child, my enduring impression of retirement was one of paralysing boredom. I saw ancient wrinkled creatures who, having earned their retirement through years of hard graft, simply had no idea what to do with the time now available to them. Their daily habits, forged through years of employment-based routine, could not adapt to the wide-open vistas of retirement. Having lived with days filled to the brim by the needs of others, they did not know what to do with the long days available for their own pleasure.
And it was often no better for spouses. Used to their husbands leaving for work at 8:30 and returning at 5:30, the forlorn figure in the living room, sighing over a cup of tea and a crossword puzzle, was equally alien. The conversation over dinner time “how was your day?” was replaced by nothing. All the little rhythms of life in employment were replaced by the slow tick tock of the engraved carriage clock on the mantelpiece, and its solemn chiming reminder of the years that sped by in a flash in employment and the hours that will not budge in retirement.
It’s no wonder that retirement kills. Men and women who have spent their lives at a desk, bedside, factory, office, field or barn are ill-equipped to deal with the life devoted to themselves. It’s the same with prisoners, so imprinted with the life and rhythms of incarceration that they are unable to understand their liberty.
For men, and I think it’s primarily men, a job is a defining feature and a reason why unemployment casts such a long shadow. Men without employment struggle with their identity. A man who has been a bank manager for instance finds the loss of status hard to stomach. A surgeon, used to barking orders, cannot easily live when life no longer listens.
Retirement, in many ways, is unemployment painted larger. Unemployment tells you that you no longer have a job. Retirement tells you that you will never again have a job. But worst of all, for men who thrive on the status that their position afforded, is the knowledge that one is no longer needed. That one is replaceable.
Retirement then is not easy. Many companies recognise this and invite employees approaching retirement to attend classes that will help them prepare for this major life change. And they are well to do so.
Me, I’ve been retired for two weeks now and already I can sense the pace of life changing. Activities, rather than being abbreviated by time now expand to fill time. The rhythm of life is different. I hear the birds in the bushes, I notice when flowers bloom. The coffee smells better and the orange juice is sweeter. Yet nothing in actual fact has changed, merely my appreciation of it.
I have a theory about how to survive retirement. It’s probably not original. But it is simple.
You need hobbies. Specifically, you need two hobbies – one indoor and the other outdoor. And no, doing the crossword does not count. Before you all write in to complain, remember this is my theory.
An indoor hobby will sustain you in autumn and winter and in the evenings while an outdoor hobby is perfect for spring and summer. Of course two hobbies is merely the minimum. Three, four or 24 is fine as well. But two seem to balance each other.
I have no science to back this up nor reading to support its scholarship. And of course there are exceptions to this rule. There are plenty for instance who intend that golf is the route to all human happiness in retirement. I tend to side with Mark Twain on this one.
My theory clearly needs research. Painstaking research over many years. And I would like to assure readers that I’m prepared to dedicate myself to this task for as long as I’m able. I’m prepared to stay retired and to enjoy myself. Yes, I will push myself that extra mile. All in the name of science you understand.