JANE: Alan! Alan! If I can drag you out from under your beach umbrella and get the beer mug out of your hand, I was hoping to ask what you plan to do with all the free time you’ve acquired in your retirement.
ALAN: Now there’s a lot of assumptions built in to that question. I promise I will answer it, but there are several tangents I’d like to explore first, if I may?
JANE: Go for it!
ALAN: Firstly, it’s the middle of winter here. So if I really was sitting outside under a beach umbrella, the chances are very good that the beer in my mug would freeze solid and I’d have to drink it with a hammer and chisel.
JANE: Is the temperature really that cold?
ALAN: It has been very cold – but it is actually starting to warm up a little now. Last night was the first night in forever that we didn’t have the electric blankets turned on. And now that we are well past the solstice, I’m greatly looking forward to the start of the asparagus season in a month or so. Yummy!
JANE: I am not quite to envying you the asparagus, since my garden is going strong and we’re finally getting tomatoes. We lost a lot of tomato plants early in the season, but the ones we planted later are finally showing ripe fruit.
But we were talking about retirement…
ALAN: Yes, we were. You know it’s amazing how many people have asked me what I’m going to do with all that spare time. Many of them ask with a look of horror on their faces. It’s almost as though they themselves have no idea of how they’d cope if they didn’t have a job to go to. It seems like work is the only thing in their lives and they regard the thought of retirement with fear and trepidation…
JANE: Sadly, that’s true, especially for men. So many men define themselves by their jobs. I know Jim thinks of himself as an archeologist. He plans to continue doing archeology even after he retires. Not all professions provide that opportunity, so when the professional affiliation is gone, there is a real identity crisis. Some people avoid that by dodging retirement.
ALAN: That’s exactly what happened to my grandfather. He simply refused to retire and just kept going in to work day after day after day. Eventually the powers that be forced him out – I’m not sure of the exact circumstances, but in his early seventies he was finally persuaded to retire. Once that happened, he was completely lost. He had nothing to do. He just sat in a chair feeling bored and waiting to die. And, in a few short months, that’s exactly what he did. I was about 18 at the time and I found the whole thing quite scary. I felt it was an object lesson and I certainly didn’t want it to happen to me.
JANE: Absolutely! My life provided me with a striking example of why retirement is something to be treasured, not avoided. My father was a lawyer at the Justice Department, doing work with lands and natural resources. He was offered the chance of early retirement and took it. Then he went and worked in the same field for a private firm for a few years. At last, he completely retired. He travelled, both domestically and oversea, and had some adventures…
That choice made it a tiny bit easier for us when Dad was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and died comparatively young. At least he hadn’t gone straight from working to dying.
ALAN: So we both have examples from our own lives. Hopefully we’ve both learned the lessons those examples teach.
A fear of retirement is an attitude of mind that is very common. I think it ties in quite closely with the everyday fear of losing your job because of circumstances beyond your control. Certainly it doesn’t help that in these hard economic times a lot of people are really under a lot of pressure to work over and above their normal duties. Some people put in a lot of overtime, and even when they aren’t physically present in the office, they still read and respond to emails and write reports. Work demands so much of some people that they don’t actually have time for any other interests! So if and when retirement or job loss comes, their lives are quite empty. That too I find very sad.
JANE: I thought that was mostly an American (as in resident of the United States) problem! I am very un-American that way. I avoid e-mail on the weekend. Even when I do check my e-mail on the weekend – as sometimes is necessary – I give myself permission not to reply to anything related to work. It’s the only way to stay sane. Otherwise, especially being self-employed as I am, it would be too easy to feel “on the clock” all the time.
ALAN: No – I think it’s probably a worldwide phenomenon. A friend of mine is literally on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He has a company-supplied cell phone which he is not allowed to turn off. Personally, I would never accept a job which had conditions like that attached to it. But some people, particularly those who live to work (rather than people like me who work to live) seem to have no problem with it.
JANE: But you don’t have to worry about that now that you are retired. So tell me, what are you planning to do with your new leisure time?
ALAN: Well, in the short term, we are planning on moving to a warmer and prettier area of the country. That means that we have to get our house into a state where we can realistically put it on the market. As a first step we are having it painted and even as I write this, Jimmy the Painter is outside slapping paint around. I am also moving some of our clutter into storage and (taking a deep breath) I am starting to dive into the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in selling a house and buying another one.
JANE: My sister is also in the process of moving. It sounds as if you and she are doing the same sort of jobs on either side of the globe. I wonder if that’s a sort of harmony…
ALAN: It helps to keep the globe in balance. If your sister wasn’t moving, it might cause the world to wobble, and that would never do.
JANE: I’ll tell her! But that’s just the short term. What happens after you move?
ALAN: I’ll reveal all next time!