Monday, 1 October 2012

Your Perfect Retirement Picture

Bertrand Russell said that “To be able to fill leisure time intelligently is the last product of civilisation.” Lots of retirement books stress the importance of visualising the next phase of your life as a blank canvas with a palette of paints representing your various leisure activities, interests and commitments. I wouldn’t necessarily advise this, because it isn’t really like this at all.

You should, of course, already have some idea about your plans and your likes and dislikes. But you also shouldn’t be afraid to try new things that are out of your immediate comfort zone. 

Another way to think of your future is as a sliding tile puzzle and the end-picture as your perfect retirement. Half of the tiles are already filled with your current activities and the other half are like blank scrabble tiles. These ‘wild’ tiles, so to speak, can be filled in and moved around once you’ve begun to throw yourself into new things and find out what works for you.

It may be that your perfect picture is always shifting. That’s great. Many people find frequent change in retirement liberating after years of set routine. This new time gives you the freedom and autonomy to be spontaneous. 

If you feel like lying in when you wake up in the morning, you can. If you want to lounge around the house smoking cigars in nothing but a dragon-print kimono for a week, then I might question your taste in home casual-wear, but it’s still absolutely your call. 

What you do need to do is try to deal with the often unavoidable element of guilt that comes with your newfound liberty. Keep letting yourself know that you deserve this time, even if you have to say it out loud to yourself in the mirror!

I asked 30 retirees to try a quick word association exercise, writing down the words “work” and “leisure” in two columns and writing down their associations with each. The results revealed a surprising crossover. Words like “achievement,” “teamwork,” “responsibility,” “reward,” and “goals” appeared in both, as these are all integral to our feeling happy in whatever we are doing.

Whether it’s for work or leisure, the majority of people want to do whatever they’re doing well. However, years of nine to fiving has impressed upon us the idea that we’re somehow being lazy or unproductive if we’re not at a computer in a grey office building, drinking very bad coffee.

Activities in retirement that effectively satisfy the positive aspects of work (you know, the bits we actually miss) are the ones that will keep us fulfilled in the long term. So you may find that sleeping in and roaming around in a dressing gown can only provide relief for so long. Retirement is still a time for achievement. Though if you manage to truly relax during these activities despite the post-work guilt, you can definitely put this down as a win!

What you need is a healthy mix of interests. They can be easy or challenging; tried and tested or new and exciting. Just remember the words of John Lennon: “Time you enjoyed wasting was not wasted.” 

Next week I’ll be not-so-tentatively broaching the subject of “Sex: The Grey Taboo.”