Tuesday, 18 November 2008

'Harvest Time .....?'

My Dad left school and started work at 14, seemed to have very few holidays as far as I could see and worked until one week before he died of lung cancer at 59! Watching that happen had a lot to do with my attitude to work and retirement - I was always clear 'I work to live, I do not live to work.' I was lucky and still am (touch wood!). I had a very privileged life, really loved the work I did, the great colleagues I worked with and the times we shared, the clients who gave us great opportunities to make a difference. So, a great working life, but all the time a strong ambition to get to retirement - the time of life that Jon O'Donohue the Irish poet/philospher called 'harvest time' -where we have the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of our labours. In retirement I love the idea that most of one's time is 'chosen' - there need be no deadlines or 'three line whips' if one does not wish them. Within one's resources, there is time to design much the kind of 'portfolio life' one has always wanted, combining activities and experiences that tended to be squeezed out by working-life. What is important I have found is that;
  • one prepares ahead and doesn't come to a 'full stop' but rather a 'tailing-off' of full-time work and a 'moving-on' to a new, thought-out pattern of life;
  • it is a mistake to think of retirement as 'doing nothing', as simply a chance to 'do all that list of jobs one never got round to', a chance to be on 'permanent holiday', a chance to be with one's partner 'all of the time' (not many relationships can survive that!) unless of course any of those 'works for you'!;
  • one needs to be clear about one's 'needs' that were met in full-time work. Working with people who had lost their jobs made it clear to me and them that they were losing more than income. They were losing they said, 'a purpose', a 'place to go every day', a reason to get out of bed', 'status and respect in the eyes of the family and the community'', 'identity', a 'chance to use their skills', a 'chance to go on learning', 'contact with colleagues and customers', 'challenge and support', a chance to 'make a contribution' and 'experience fulfillment', 'motivation';
  • our full-time working life has been a major way of us having a whole range of important 'needs' met. Typically, we will have put the requirement to meet all those needs into the 'one basket' of our job;
  • our full-time work may disappear but 'our needs' do not disappear with it. The challenge is to find new ways to have our important needs met;
  • the challenge in retirement is to design a 'portfolio life' that combines a range of activities, involvements and options that do meet our own unique pattern of needs.

I am fortunate enough to know an appreciable number of people who have done just that, who love retirement, who 'wonder how they ever found time to work' (cliched but true for many) and who are vastly enjoying their 'harvest time'. In future postings on this blog I would like to share some of my observations on what they do that makes it work for them. I would also greatly welcome any contributions from any source on 'making retirement work' that we might pool and share for the benefit of each other!

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