11 February 2013

The retiring type?

It's nearly two years since I retired. What images does retirement conjure up for you? Shuffling around in slippers, trying to pass the time, or jetting about madly, intent on spending the kids' inheritance? Or something in between? Retirement is understood to be a removal from paid employment, due to age. I do wonder, though, what happens to people (usually women) who do unpaid work within the home. Can they expect to retire, too?

I was lucky (yes, lucky) to have had a 36-year  career working in a large academic library. Started by typing out catalogue cards on a sit-up-and-beg Imperial typewriter, using my subject specialist knowledge to build collections and instruct students in the dark arts of library use. Ended up responsible for overall acquisitions strategy, grappling with electronic licences, e-book platforms, consortial purchasing....Just writing that last sentence made me blink a bit. I had a fulfilling and demanding career but, my word, it all seems astonishingly distant, as if it all happened to someone else.

My retirement was of the "cliff edge" variety: at work as normal one day, then retired the next. My institution had kindly laid on a pre-retirement course, which was helpful in pulling together some practical and financial aspects. I particularly enjoyed the day-long segment presented by a retired police Detective Inspector,who had cannily carved out a second career for herself as a freelance retirement coach. She was very personable, but certainly knew how to command a room. Lots of her advice could, I suppose, be classed as blindingly obvious, but it was winningly packaged and presented. She dealt well with the touchy subject of a perceived loss of status and the social side of employment. She described, tongue-in-cheek, her own last day as a police officer, and how she was disappointed that her boss didn't grab hold of her ankles as she left, so that she'd drag him across the office while he shouted "No, don't leave, we can't cope without you!" (Knowing the 'police family' as I do, I rather suspect she got a rousing send-off, where drink was taken...)

She also told us that she frequently encountered the plaintive remark of the soon-to-be retired that they hated the thought of leaving behind all their friends. She challenged that notion by reminding us not to confuse genuine friendship with that based solely on collegiality and shared tasks. Her best piece of advice was to allow ourselves plenty of time to 'decompress' from the world of employment - at least six months, possibly longer.

Well, two years down the line, what is my take on the predicted loss of status and friends? Has it really been negative? Absolutely not, but our coach certainly had a point. It's rather shocking to realise how much we rely on an occupation to say who we are, at least in a short-hand way. I am now a retired librarian (and my Twitter name certainly bears that out) but that hardly describes me comprehensively. But as far as officialdom is concerned, once you cease being economically active, you don't seem to count for much any more.

And friends? Ah, that's a tad more complex. Our coach was correct - I had lots of congenial colleagues, but once you're out of the daily swing of things, you lose the commonality which bound you together. And it helps, oddly enough, to make a clean break. Far from looking back, I'm delighting in looking around me, and looking ahead, too. (Oh, and by the way, the friends I still have from work are definitely genuine!)

I reckon I'm now through my rather prolonged 'decompression.' Got off to a false start, since the first eighteen months or so were filled with gruelling house improvement projects. A chance to use those "transferable skills" hard-won as a manager. And long enough to know that I don't want to do that sort of stuff again.

Which begs the question.....Just what am I doing?

I am liberated from my previous relentless schedule of meetings, papers, strategic plans, long hours. So I have no intention of simply substituting another inflexible framework, of always doing certain activities on specified days and times. Eventually, I may come round to a relaxed version of that (and include voluntary work,) but for now, I am really enjoying the freedom of doing what I feel like, when I want to. Modified, of course, by loving consideration for my OH!* And most definitely shaped by my determination not to waste a minute. Time (and how quickly it hurtles past) is so precious. Funny how it takes until you are well on in years before you really realise that. It's so easy, when young, to luxuriate in the notion of having all the time in the world to do what you want to...

What do I enjoy most? Lots of simple things: the joy of being able to make a cup of tea and go out into the garden, and sit a while, read the paper and just be. The serendipity of hearing a radio programme I might have overlooked. The relief of being able to adjust heating and ventilation - after years in stuffy and/or freezing offices! Most of all, the mental space to read and to start to think creatively again, to write, to let ideas unfurl. That latter activity is the most important, and the most difficult after so many years of repressing creativity. I want to be bold enough to be who I really am, before it's too late.....

Well, this was a long post, to try to set the scene. More musings to follow.

(* Do have a look at OH's excellent blog: http://debsramsdale.blogspot.co.uk)

16 January 2013


Well, I've come rather late to the blogging party, but you all seem to be having a lot of fun, so I reckon it's time I joined in, too.

I shall be looking through various windows: actual ones, from our home to the garden, and figuratively. I expect to be looking at the world through the eyes of writers I admire, and back into my own life to date. Probably best just to go with the flow....