Somewhere between the age of 25 and 45, when we are at the peak of our involvement in career matters and competing for the next position up the greasy pole of corporate life, we go through phases of longing for the day when we can retire so we can ‘do our own thing’.  These feelings are particularly vivid and strong when we are going through tough times at work and we are overwhelmed with responsibilities, without sufficient time to relax, take vacations, spend time with the children, writing that book we always promised ourselves we would, on and on the list of things we yearn to do.

As we approach our fifties and sixties, when career aspirations have largely been fulfilled or dashed, we begin to prepare for the day when we are given our retirement lunchtime party and sent on our way.  We make plans, size down our houses, make financial arrangements; we effectively start our countdown.  Some of us though, health permitting, get a second wind and we start to look for ways to delay retirement for a year, two, five or even more.  This could be for financial reasons, but not always.

In my case, I vowed to only stop working when either I am physically/mentally unable to do so or when the entire world out there conspires to prevent me from working.

Why? You may ask.  Well, I will not cite finance, ambition, need to leave a legacy behind and all the usual reasons.  Nor will I say because I have so much more to offer this world; after all, I do not do anything like saving lives on daily basis, a game changer or critical to humanity’s survival.  My three reasons are partly realistic and partly phobic, they are:

  1. Substituting what we are good at with what we are not. Here we are, we have spent a lifetime honing specific skills such as plumbing, book keeping, brain surgery, tailoring, etc. and we swap them for playing golf, painting, rearing rabbits, brewing beer and so on, only to find we absolutely suck at these new skills and we do not derive a fraction of the satisfaction we used to in the old days when we were at the peak of our profession.  Our golf handicap is 3-digit, our paintings are just awful, the rabbits we bought were sexually incompatible, and the beer we brewed is undrinkable, even by ourselves.  Frustration sets in and we are in fact considerably more miserable than we were when holding full-time jobs.
  2. Mental and physical wellbeing: I have noticed several people who one day are extremely sharp and effective and then within weeks of retiring, they deteriorate quickly and alarmingly.  They even begin to neglect their appearance and subjugate themselves to their eventual fate.  It struck me as both shocking and sad to witness the disconnect between the person before and the person after retirement.  I do not want to occupy my time aimlessly walking round shopping malls in a toweling green Dayglow tracksuit and brown moccasin slip-on shoes, carrying two plastic bags with who knows what in them.
  3. Losing what we treasure: so often we hear people say: “I can’t wait to retire so I can spend more time with my family”. We retire only to find that after the initial excitement of perhaps two weeks, our spouses and children do not wish to spend the equivalent amount of time with us; they are at different stages of their lives/careers and are out of sync with us retirees.  They don’t have time to take tips on the quickest way around the latest roadworks; listen to a long summary of a daytime TV show; go through the 27 family photo albums we have just sorted, or discuss the finer points of how to cook sausages without bursting the skin.  All these topics are interesting to a working person for about 2.5 seconds.

As I reach the twilight of my career, no matter how average I am at my current profession, I have spent over 40 years getting to those dizzy heights of mediocrity for me to abandon it all and find something I truly suck at for the rest of my living days.

So, my elegant combo of green Dayglow tracksuit and brown moccasin slip-on shoes can wait in the closet for a while longer.  And in case you are wondering, the secret to cooking sausages without bursting the skin is to prick them with a fork beforehand.

Back to work.