I spoke at the Rotary Club of Bristol on Monday, where my intended topic was “Retirement planning: it’s not about the money.” I already knew that many Rotarians are already retired but, when I arrived, the affable Speaker’s Friend, John Bedford, told me that retirees were in fact in the vast majority in this particular Club, so the intended topic was a little too late for most of them.
I thus immediately dropped the word “planning” from my topic; moreover I asked the assembled members (a healthy turnout) to indulge me by being guinea-pigs, i.e. a test audience for my plans to write a series of articles, and maybe a book, on the topic. They seemed happy to do that; however my “memo to self”, à la Bridget Jones, is to note that lunchtime Rotary clubs tend to attract retired members, whereas Rotarians still working tend to favour breakfast and evening clubs, provided there is a choice. In Bristol there is indeed such a choice, as there are nine clubs already, with another one about to start.
I prefaced my remarks by quoting the Canadian retirement coach who told me: “in my experience, the people who are happiest in retirement are not the ones with the most money. They are the ones with a plan.”
What kind of plan? A plan that deals with how to spend all that time.
I had had a plan of sorts since my forties – that plan started from the viewpoint of never wanting to retire totally. Noel Coward said “Work is more fun than fun”; at the very least, a balance between work and fun seemed to me a desirable element of a happy life and one that should not be discarded at age 65. I also knew that going from 100% employment to zero overnight can, and does, kill many people. Of course the work / fun balance can shift as one gets older but it should still be there, I decided. As for what is meant by “work” in this context, that’s the interesting question.
In 2002 women then aged 65 could expect to live to the age of 84: for men it was 81. (ONS) Naturally this was a UK average; the figures increase markedly for those who are well educated and / or live in a good environment. So retirement lasts about 20 years on average but most people spend more time planning for a summer holiday than they do for these 20 years.
In the normal course of events, 250,000 people retire in the UK every year. To this figure should be added the increasing numbers who, in today’s economic climate, face involuntary retirement either through being persuaded to take early retirement or facing redundancy and then finding it impossible to get another job.
What should the plan entail? In a research project called “Retire 200”, 100 men and 100 women, all retired or soon-to-retire, were interviewed at length about their experiences and expectations. Here’s their consensus as to the elements of a happy retirement.
1. Being able to choose when to retire. (not a given these days)
2. To retire early enough: they recommended not above 55.
3. Financial independence – whatever that means for you.
4. “Purposeful” (sic) activities for at least 5 hours per week. Most retired Rotarians would probably laugh at such a small number.
5. Someone to rely on for emotional support.
6. Proactive health management.
7. Having a plan covering both the financial and lifestyle aspects.
8. Having received pre-retirement advice and education.
The armoury of many life coaches contains a set of questions called “Five Minutes that could Change your Life”, coined by US author Brian Tracy. The first question is “if you won a million on the lottery (or 10 million or whatever figure represents total financial independence for you) how would it change your life? Where would you live, what would you do, with whom, etc?” The power of this question is that it reveals the things that are important to you, or would be if financial constraints were removed, even mentally. However, many of those things that are important do not depend on millions to get started.
An accompanying question is “if you discovered that you would live only 6 months more – in perfect health – how would you spend that time?” Both questions are effective ways to challenge what are our priorities; or values, if you like.
According to Charles Handy, the tendency for jobs in organisations to go to younger people – ageism cannot be rooted out by legislation – should not be a source of complaint; where else are they to get their experience? Our response as we grow older should be to develop a “portfolio” of skills and talents that we can provide to a variety of “clients”. Some of those activities may be rewarded financially, some just by satisfaction, but we should not distinguish between paid and unpaid activities. It’s all work, says Handy.
Considering this concept, (“it’s all work”) a friend of mine says she would never call gardening “work”. Why not? Because she loves it. But who says you have to hate your work? Or because it’s not paid? The distinction is unnecessary, as Handy might say. After all, an unpaid labour of love might be developed into a paid activity, if so desired. “It’s all work”.
I concluded by saying that I had traded a business card describing myself in my former role as a managing director in the chemical industry for one that now reads “actor & voice-over; author; radio presenter; speaker” and considered myself a most fortunate person.
John Bedford discharged his duties as Speaker’s Friend by proposing a most charming vote of thanks. Even if it’s his custom to compliment all speakers as a matter of course, it was encouraging to hear him conclude, “You should write the book.”
Feedback on this post would be welcomed. If you are a retiree or are in the process of planning your retirement, do you have any commnets on any of the above?