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Anne’s ‘20 insightful tips for a satisfying retirement’

Many years ago, when I was still working full-time, I finally got around to attending a CSS seminar.

“Many years ago, when I was still working full-time, I finally got around to attending a CSS seminar.  As usual, I was very busy, and I remember feeling guilty about taking time out of the office, even though I would be making it up later.   The first ‘slide’ in the presentation was an image of a beach umbrella, with the catchy slogan, ‘Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension’. 

It was over 10 years later before I was in fact in the fortunate position of being in receipt of a CSS pension; but that beach umbrella was very enticing, and from that time onwards, whilst I found my professional life fulfilling and rewarding, nevertheless every now and then I found myself thinking about “the third Act” and the freedom that it offered”.

Anne Kieni

20 Tips for a Satisfying Retirement

  1. Retirement is as individual as you are.  There is no absolutely ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to spend your retirement.  Retirement is what you make of it. 
  2. If you are in the fortunate position of being able to do this, have a ‘transition to retirement’, whether this takes the form of working part-time or taking some leave before you actually retire, to give yourself a taste of what it feels like to be ‘not working full-time’, or not working at all, from both an objective and a subjective point of view, and to start to think about issues of ‘letting go’.  You may have ambivalent feelings about this.
  3. A satisfying retirement is a worthwhile goal. Think of it as The Retirement Project.  Think about what you want to achieve in retirement and how you are going to do it – ideally, think about it both before and after you retire.  This will include sensible financial planning and living within your means, but don’t allow finances to overwhelm you, and don’t let worrying about money cloud the pleasures of your retirement years.  (This is the whole point of the CSS pension.)  Money is important, but not nearly as important in the long term as mental and physical health.
  4. Sit down and make a ‘To Do’ list of projects of various types, large and small, short and long term, ready to refer to, should you become bored or unfocused.  If you’re not coping with the minutiae, just do a daily list and tick things off (just like you did at work?).
  5. Be prepared to revise your ideas and your list or lists, as you progress through retirement, especially in the first couple of years; and be generous with the time-frames you set yourself for accomplishing goals.  Time can be an expanding commodity at this stage of the game.  You don’t need to rush any more.  What doesn’t get done today can be done tomorrow.  If the sun is shining, take yourself into the garden for a potter, or go for a walk.
  6. Be self-aware.  Know your personality type.  I’m not talking about full-blown psychological profiling here, but simply being conscious of whether you tend towards being ‘introverted’ or ‘extroverted’; know your comfort zone (Work will have given you a reasonable insight into this).  This will dictate, in general terms, the shaping of the project list and the finding of the balance of activity and contemplation that suits you as an individual.  If you are naturally introspective and your idea of relaxation is spending time alone reading a book or watching a film, don’t schedule too many group activities in a given week, or you will find yourself becoming frazzled and exhausted. 
  7. On the other hand, if you don’t particularly enjoy your own company and are happiest when in the society of others, and especially if work was a major part of your social network, make arrangements (preferably before you leave) to catch up with your work friends for lunch on a regular basis, e.g. once a month.  (If you are really fortunate, as I was, you will already have an established Friday Lunch Group which you can simply continue to attend.)  This will give you a sense of keeping in touch and ease you through the initial period of dislocation; it might feel a bit strange at first, listening to the office gossip as an ‘emeritus’ member of the group, but gradually you will become more comfortable with your new ‘status’ and so will they.  Remember that eventually, you will all be retired, and hopefully still lunching together.  (Conversely, if you attend a few lunches and find that you no longer have enough in common with your former colleagues, simply bow out gracefully.  By then you may have another commitment on a Friday.)  Some friendships outlast the office; some don’t.  Friends whom you originally met at work but who have themselves since moved on to other jobs etc will also be a helpful reminder that it is easy enough to keep in contact when there is a genuine mutual bond.
  8. Aim for a balance between structured and unstructured time, particularly if you have been accustomed to being very busy and working to tight deadlines.  It may take you a while to find the balance that suits you; be prepared to adjust gradually, by trial and error, particularly in the first twelve months. (At one stage, I was attempting to learn two languages and with my other commitments, ended up with three evening classes and two lots of homework a week – which was a bit much.)
  9. Enjoy your earned leisure, revel in moments of idleness and the luxury of being able to be a dilettante.
  10. Depending on your qualifications, interests and circumstances, that balance may include paid work, consulting or part-time; or unpaid work as a volunteer for a charity or a community organisation such as U3A, animal welfare or humanitarian groups, or even on a Board, all of which can be immensely satisfying.  Maximise your opportunities, but don’t feel that you ‘have’ to do anything.
  11. Travel.  The world is your oyster.  You don’t have to apply for Rec Leave or even Long Service Leave any more.  There is a travel destination for everyone, regardless of budget, and travel really does broaden the mind and keep you young (cerebrally), whether it’s a case of “Paris is always a good idea” or “Lakes Entrance is lovely at this time of year.”  Don’t forget that even if you are too young now, you will eventually be old enough for your one free (Victorian) train trip a year!  Friends of ours who have reached that age make sure that they use this opportunity to the utmost every twelve months and are working their way around the regional galleries.
  12. Work may have satisfied one aspect of your personality, but there are other aspects clamouring to be allowed an airing if you take the time to listen.  If you have always wanted to embark on a creative project, purely for your own pleasure, e.g. writing a novel or a memoir, pottery or patchwork or cooking or painting classes, NOW is the time to start.  Time is yours, but not unending time.
  13. When you lived in ‘The World of Work’, you were subject to externally imposed deadlines.  Now that you are free of those, don’t create needless stress for yourself by simply substituting internally imposed deadlines.
  14. Committees.  A word about them.  If you are the type of person who feels the need to organise, by all means become the Secretary of your bowling club or the President of your local University of the 3rd Age (U3A) branch, now that you have the time.  But human dynamics don’t change regardless of the setting: bullies, narcissists, work-horses and show-ponies are to be found on committees and in meetings everywhere.  Volunteer work can be just as stressful as any other workplace - don’t fall into the trap (as a very efficient cousin of mine did) of becoming overwhelmed by taking on too much,  or of being frustrated or made anxious by internal politics.  Remember, if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not being paid, just walk away.  Life is too short.
  15. Make sure that you address the mind/body balance too – aim for a combination of exercise and intellectual pursuits, e.g. play sports, old or new – tennis, golf, bowls; go for regular walks in the park or join a walking club; yoga, aerobics, Pilates etc; reading, learning a language, sudokus, crosswords, chess etc;  join a Book Club; if finances and stamina permit, even return to university to study something completely different, without the pressure of needing to find a job at the end of your degree.  If you can’t think of anything that piques your interest but feel that you need to add a new pursuit to your retirement mix, join U3A or ask your local council or get a CAE catalogue and start browsing…
  16. Freedom shouldn’t be squandered, but many people find the much-vaunted freedom of retirement a bit daunting, at least initially.  Especially if their sense of worth and self-image has been inextricably connected to work.  If that is how you are feeling, you need to ‘move on’.  Remind yourself that this is a natural progression (consider the alternative).  Look at retirement as a calm plateau stretching invitingly before you.  This is where the bit about lists, and structured and unstructured time comes in.  Plan; reflect; revise your plan as necessary.
  17. If contemplating  two decades of retirement or more is a frightening prospect, set yourself some markers along the way – projects for the next 2 years, for the next 5 years etc, and as you reach each marker, plan the next stage. 
  18. Or don’t plan at all, let things happen in an ad hoc way and just “go with the flow”. This is particularly useful at the beginning of retirement, while you are easing yourself into a new mode of living.  Life tends to sort itself out in the end anyway.  Embrace opportunities as they arise – mid-week lunches with friends, films, plays, art exhibitions, trips, you can do it all now that you don’t have to go to the office.
  19. Most importantly, enjoy yourself.  You will inevitably hear and read negative comments and stereotyping, including ageism, in relation to retirement and retired persons.  Some of this will result from unacknowledged envy.   Be positive. Congratulate yourself (quietly) on having made it this far.
  20. Many of us have friends or colleagues who died before they reached retirement; be grateful.

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