Why you shouldn’t retire

As well as to ‘cease working’,  ‘retire’ also means to withdraw from a race, a room or company, with all the connotations that has for pulling back from action, people and engagement.

“Redeployment and reinvestment” would be a better description of what we need to do.

If we take 65 as the current age at which many companies, countries and super schemes determine that people should consider stopping work, downsizing their commitments and planning on living off their savings and pensions (although that is being incrementally shifted back by many governments wanting to postpone their pension payments), then based on WHO statistics, we can say that most people in the first world have a life expectancy of another 15-20 years.

So you’ve got another 15-20 years of living. What are you going to do with it? If you were to ask yourself that question at the age of 25, 35 or 45 – you would have a range of hopes, ambitions, desires and targets you wanted to achieve.

At 65 it should be no different. Ok, you’ve worked hard for many years and feel you deserve a break. But arguably you worked hard to get through 10 -15 years of education by the time you were 18 or 21; or by 35 or 45 you’d worked hard at advancing your career or business, bringing up a family or paying off a mortgage (or all the above!). But you didn’t stop and say, ‘that’s it’, I’m sitting back, playing golf and relaxing for the next ten to twenty years.

It’s true that for all of us decline is inevitable, the body is wearing out. We may not have the same levels of energy and drive at 65 as we had at 35, 45 or 55. But then, wasn’t that true of 25 as well? Think of the bubbling, bursting, effervescent, irrepressible energy that children have. It’s a commonplace that we are envious of their enthusiasm and non-stop energy, even in our twenties. But that doesn’t stop us engaging with life, having ambition and drive to do new things. Life is always changing and we have the capability and capacity to adapt and change as well.

Let’s assume you have another 15 years of life left at 65 – that’s nearly 19% of your entire life span. If you live for another 20 years – then that’s more than 23% of your life still to live.

That’s a heck of a lot of living. Of course, there are health and fitness factors – you may want to reduce stress levels, wind back; you may feel it’s time to let someone younger take on your role at work. All perfectly valid, but it still doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t plan effectively for the next ‘chapter’ of your life.

That’s what I like to call the next stage of my life – a chapter. I can divide my life into several chapters so far – all of them have been stimulating, rewarding and different, and I want the next chapter of my life to be an adventure that is just as rewarding and hopefully, different.

I don’t want to drift into retirement, I don’t want to just sit around waiting for grandchildren or to potter in the garden, play golf or go fishing. Some of those things are likely to be a part of my life – but they are not the goal or the driving force. By themselves, they won’t fill the next chapter of my life.

For that I need a plan. And the great thing about approaching 65 is that you have the wisdom and experience to know that planning whatever you do is absolutely key to success.

Of course plans don’t just spring out of thin air. They need to start as seeds that take root and grow. They need to evolve. But that won’t happen unless you prepare the ground first.

Preparing the mind for an idea or plan means reflection – giving yourself the time and mental space to step back from the immediate demands and pressures of life, to add perspective, to ponder wider questions and possibilities.

One of the downsides of a busy, overcommitted, multi-tasking life is no time to reflect. I see so many people walking, running or on their way to work with an ipod or smart phone plugged into their ears.

How can you free your mind to contemplate, to be open to the subconscious, to sift through life’s possibilities if your brain is distracted with music, podcasts, phone or internet conversations? It’s as if we’re afraid to think – that we’re wasting time if we’re not digitally engaged, or not being entertained.

In today’s world we often confuse action with meaning. Action can give your life purpose but if it’s action without purpose or direction, then it can be ‘busy-ness’ masquerading as meaningfulness. We rarely give enough time, weight or significance to reflecting on our lives, who we are, how we got to be where we are and most importantly where we want to go.

Coming up to 65, it’s critical that we create the time to reflect on what we’ve done, consider what we’d like to do and more importantly, to contemplate the possibilities of what we might do.

One of life’s dangers is allowing the past to determine the future. “I’ve never done that before”, “that’s not me”, “I’m not sure I can do that”, “I’d be bound to fail”, “I can’t afford that”, “I couldn’t leave my children/parents/commitments/pets”, are some of the obstacles we put in our own way. Mostly they reflect a fear of the unknown, of stepping away from the world we know and which we believe defines us.

One way to make the unknown less fearsome is to have a plan. A plan gives concrete shape and substance to an idea or feeling. A plan has structure. The hard part is transforming that idea or feeling into a plan. That’s why you need to make time for reflection…and discussion. You may plant a number of seeds in your mental garden – to see how they grow. As they take shape, you’ll be able to assess them, find out if they appeal, discuss them with your partner and bounce them off other people. Some ideas will be more appealing than others, some will feel more ‘right’, some will fit better with both you and your partner – while others will wither away and be discarded. 

That eventually brings you to the critical point when you make a decision. That’s the moment when you ‘walk through the door’; it’s undoubtedly the toughest moment of all, the point at which you wonder if this really is the right thing to do.

At that point, if you’re wavering – ask yourself this simple question. What’s the worst that could happen? The answer almost invariably is – nothing terrible.

Once you’ve decided on a plan, then the rest is ‘logistics’. It’s like making a decision on where to go for a holiday. You can consider and debate about what you can afford, what kind of holiday you want, where you’d like to go, but once you’ve decided that you will go the rest is logistics.

Logistics are concrete – real things: data, facts that we can digest, break down, assess and manage. That’s much easier to deal with than the floating, ephemeral, invisible fears and emotions that pop up like ghosts in our minds. Those are much harder to manage and control. That’s why making a decision and establishing a plan is crucial – it lays the ghosts to rest, or at least puts them in a box and diminishes their disruptive and self-doubting influence.

Post Script:

I originally wrote this back in April 2015 in my 65th year. Since then I left my job, we sold the house, moved to our holiday home and went on a fantastic three and a half month trip to Australia and Europe. What a great adventure it’s been. There have challenges, problems to solve, hurdles to overcome – but that’s life. That’s what we do. Now we’re exploring the next chapter of our lives and already new opportunities are opening up and making life interesting. Here’s to it staying that way for many years to come.



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