Reflections on Retirement

(Story shared by a CSS Member who would prefer to remain anonymous)

09 May 2018

I had no contact with recent retirees before I myself retired and had no access to publications on the topic. Nor did I have a period of transition into retirement, in fact I looked to retirement with great trepidation. But eventually I had to make the decision to retire at age 65, on health grounds, after a working life of 37 years.

Having elected to take a maximum pension and a reduced lump sum, I spent the first three years of retirement building up substantial savings to augment the lump sum payment and to provide funds for bills and emergencies.

An unexpected bonus in retirement is the improvement in relations with my spouse, so that we have at long last attained a hard won domestic harmony. There is always some project or other to be busy with, which prevents us getting in each other's way. We can conduct intelligent conversations that do not turn into heated arguments. Retirement has enabled the resolution of the work life balance equation that bedevilled personal relations on the home front for years during my working life. It presents opportunities to make amends for my skewing priorities to the workplace in those years. Thus, there has been a longitudinal balance of work and life, rather than the lateral balance more commonly understood in the work/life balance concept for people in the workforce.

Activities in past periods of annual leave were drawn on as useful templates for what I proposed to do in my retirement years. I had made no exalted plans for overseas or domestic travel, or downsizing the family home, or relocating to the coast. I was determined to eschew all the retiree stereotypes, e.g. golf, lawn bowls, preferring to set the bar pretty low for the type of activities I wanted to take up. These included: going on long walks, home maintenance, gardening and reading. I have maintained for many years a virtual home library and in retirement I am able to read books cover-to-cover, unlike the snippets I used to read during my working life. My attention span has accordingly expanded quite markedly.

As a corollary to this, and with more direct and positive impacts on several areas of my retirement life, the short fuse I had in my working life in the digital office, has given way to a markedly longer fuse. The obvious benefits of this are in interpersonal relationships and in a safer style of driving. 

As a former public servant, I found it useful to apply to my retirement planning some of the conceptual skills acquired during my working life. I therefore organised a dedicated folder for a retirement strategy addressing every conceivable aspect of my life following retirement, with action plans and timelines covering each aspect. This has provided me with a very useful baseline for the future. For good measure I also drew up some retirement protocols and retirement values.  I maintain a separate folder for detailed financial planning.

With children off our hands, our small house is now just about the right size for two people: it was always a crowded house when the children were living at home. The gardens maintenance is constant but presents no problems at this stage. We cherish our house and its quarter acre block, in which we have invested 40 years of history, not to mention blood, sweat and tears.

One of the unmistakeable life lessons of retirement is that your anima plays a more prominent role than your persona, which always came to the fore in your working life, as a matter of survival in the competitive office environment, in which Alpha Males ruled the roost. The consequence of this reversal is that you become more and more in tune with your inner voice. There is an enhanced capacity for reflection on all manner of topics and an increased acuteness of perception generally. In practical terms you become inner directed rather than other directed.

While retirement should be a time of fulfilling activity and renewed personal relationships, it is ultimately a journey and should be approached with a realistic awareness of the inevitability of declining years, albeit not the rapid decline for retirees of previous eras. There are a couple of paradoxes in retirement: you find you have more free time to attend to various matters, but you are aware that your time is always going to be finite, you don't really know how long the quality time is going to last before medical conditions intrude.  Related to this paradox, whereas in retirement you can make constant efforts to replace worn out items or make large and small household improvements, you yourself are in an inevitable process of long term decline that you cannot reverse. The interaction of these two opposing trends may be called, 'the retirement churn'.

The best thing about retirement is that you are free to set your own agenda and structure your time. It is a huge relief to be free of the tyranny of the electronic office and its daily rhythm of tight deadlines. You cease having to dance to your manager's tune and your organisation's ever-changing priorities. You relish the freedom to use your home laptop for doing your own thing and catching up with relatives. Your screen time is yours to manage. You are also off the treadmill of daily commuting to and from the office.

For a happy retirement to unfold, I believe you are obliged to plan ahead, in retirement, if not before you separate from the workforce. The good times and satisfactions don't just fall into your lap. That is, you're not necessarily happy simply by virtue of having retired. Former public servants hold some aces, in that they are trained to structure their time, perform cognitive work, and exercise personal discipline. Such skills easily transfer to the retirement life, they need not be left behind at the office. Application of such skills will ensure that retirement is much, much more than a falling into nothingness.

In your APS career you will have become adept at seeking advancement througt merit selection promotion exercises. In retirement you may be surprised at the extent to which you will be expected to earn your stripes anew in the home environment, often many times over. To be accorded recognition in retirement is by no means an automatic entitlement.

The APS concept of continuous improvement translates easily to the home environment in retirement, where you will constantly be motivated to find better ways of doing things both large and small scale.

Exposure to OH&S policies during your APS employment may be used in your retirement to give you a lead into framing your own preventative measures for coping as a senior with hazards that might be present in the home environment.

Interpersonal relationship skills finely honed over an APS career can be applied beneficially in retirement in a wide range of situations, not least in dealing with you immediate family.

In a nutshell, as you walk out the door on your last day of APS employment, your employer may well express regret at losing your expertise. For your part, you should appreciate that you are the recipient of a virtual toolbox of generic APS skills and know-how that will stand you in good stead in a range of applications in your retirement years. Bringing all this home is, in a way, a reversal of the process of your bringing education and training into the APS workplace at the beginning of your career.

Some other tips for a happy retirement:

  • don't look back, embrace the future and all its possibilities;
  • ensure you have regular consultations with your GP and dentist, you are after all interested in living longer;
  • keep your mind engaged by intellectual challenges;
  • keep physically active while you're attractive;
  • maintain your driving skills;
  • run a recent model car;
  • develop interests in hobbies, either new or established;
  • develop a savings ethic early in retirement;
  • maintain relationships with relatives;
  • have your mortgage paid off well before retirement;
  • try to have all your household appliances in near new condition, if clapped out replace them;
  • declutter your household, don't wait for your kids to do it for you;
  • the APS practice of rapid turnaround email exchanges translates in retirement to enhanced quality of email communication with relatives;
  • the process of becoming 'office trained' in the APS facilitates becoming 'house trained' in retirement;
  • the way the APS trains people to deal rationally with emerging crises proves a very useful skill in handling crises that inevitably arise in retirement.  

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