Posts Tagged: Retirement

Recognition

Recognition 4After the retirement party, the applause and the handshakes, Jenny was left with the ticking clock at 10 am on weekday mornings and an unexpected feeling of envy at the world rushing around to get to work.
Jenny felt she had joined an amorphous mass of pensioners, sidelined by the rest of the world and condemned to be deprived of any recognition for everything she had achieved. She was suffering from one of the side-effects of retirement : loss of validation.
Validation from others feels good. It starts with the need for our parents’ reassurance and approval. Throughout life we identify ourselves as, for example, parents and/or with our professions, so that when retirement arrives and we have none of these roles, it is hardly surprising many of us are left with a feeling we are nobody at all. “The day after I retired my access card to the building expired,” said Ronald who had got to the top of an international institution. “Security wouldn’t let me in to collect some things. I’d crossed that threshold for 35 years and suddenly I was a persona non grata.”
Recognition 2Recognition works in two ways – people at work recognising who you are (your name and your personality) and the acknowledgment we receive from the contribution we make to a company, institution or service. Virtually everyone dreams of being applauded, and finding oneself in a new role where applause is highly unlikely is tough. Work provides structure, identity and a feeling of camaraderie, an “us-against-the-world” culture. With this gone, we are left with the feeling of having fallen off a tower that took many years to climb and from where we used to be able to see the way ahead.
“We had a seminar for those about to retire in our company, a big multinational,” said Arnold, “and on the first day this woman comes in and says we shouldn’t worry because they had a long list of reputable retirement homes the company recommended. On the second day I grudgingly admitted I had gone home the previous night feeling a bit depressed. I soon found out everyone had felt the same.”
Recognition 5Retirement is the great leveller, since there is nothing to distinguish us from those who have done jobs with less status (in our opinion) than ours. We may find ourselves rubbing shoulders with people who we secretly sneered at before and would never have dreamed of associating with. It is worse when we find they are mightily unimpressed with our past careers, and may even never have heard of the job we used to do. Younger people still working no longer have to show deference either, and we have no claim on their admiration. Retirement may be the first time in our lives when no one recognises our achievements, and no one cares if we learn a new skill. “I thought of learning Italian,” said Samantha, a former banker, “but then thought, well what’s the point? I’m not going to need to put it on my CV”.
Older people droning on about their past glories may have irritated us in the past, and now we realise what they were about. The ego needs to prove we still are somebody. This is why it is so dangerous to hook our self-esteem exclusively to our job and yet most men and an increasing number of women do just this. It is important to separate who we are from what we do early on, to develop an inner life and natural confidence and to value ourselves more for the way we live our lives than for what we do at work. Work is at its most basic simply a means of earning a living. Would we have worked all those hours, and all those years for free?
Recognition 3Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. Retirement is a moment when many of these needs are suddenly – often very suddenly – undermined and threatened. But if we examine the top of the pyramid, it is obvious that retirement offers the greatest opportunity for self-actualisation.
The people who we feel no longer recognise us after retirement will one day face the same issues. Retirement is the time when we really can offer our skills and wisdom for free. It is a wonderful time for self-exploration. More than anything, it is the time to recognise ourselves at last.

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Retirement is for teenagers

A father said his teenage son took an aptitude test and was found to be well suited to retirement. Teenagers may be behaving normally when they sleep till noon and spend the rest of the day recumbent in front of the TV surrounded by junk food. For adolescents such behaviour does little harm as long as there is a responsible adult throwing a tantrum in the background about doing something with their lives. The tantrum will be white noise to the teenager for a while, but eventually the threat of being thrown onto the street will have the desired effect and the teenager will begin to move. Leg by leg.Retirement 3

But when you are newly retired, who plays the role of the responsible adult? If you google “retirement”, chances are you will find lists of things retired people do : gardening, volunteering, clipping grocery coupons, shopping, travelling, DIY, babysitting. Boring things. Retirement now represents 25% of our life on average and possibly much, much more, and yet after fifty it looms as the next major life “goal”, a fact which is largely culturally imposed, since the State dictates that at 65 we stop working and start travelling and playing golf.

We need to ask ourselves whether retirement is going to live up to our expectations. Asked what he missed most about working, a newly retired man quipped, “My weekends”. It gets to you when every day is Saturday. Work provides social support that we rarely appreciate when juggling a family and earning a living, and also provides for our basic needs in a way a pension sometimes does not. When we work we get:

·         Physiological perks – food, water, shelter. These benefits can be increased with promotion or more work.

·         Security. Retirees sometimes lose employer health care benefits or other plans that can provide useful resources.

·        Belonging. Social events, intelligent conversation and defending workers’ rights provide a ready-made community that makes us feel part of a family. This disappears when we leave work.

·         Esteem. The sense of a job well done, rewards, recognition – there is far less scope for these in retirement.

·         Self-actualisation. Work encourages us to go bigger and better. Learning new skills in retirement may leave us thinking, but really what’s the point?

Retirement 2In a world where it’s possible to live past 100 we have to prepare for a 40 year retirement, both mentally and financially. There is something outdated about a system that makes us time-poor money-rich when we’re working and then quite suddenly money-poor and time-rich when we hit retirement age. Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Workweek advocates mini-retirements throughout life, relocating to different places for one to six months. He claims, “it is quite possible to have financial and time freedom but still be caught in the throes of the rat race”. The obvious two objections to this lifestyle are schooling for one’s children and the need to earn the money now while we still can, since many jobs are simply no longer available to people over retirement age, under law. But he is right that the division of one’s life into education – work – retirement lends it a bell shape that ends at zero on the x axis. Even if you could afford an exclusive nursing home, anticipating assisted living is setting ourselves up for infirmity. A social worker in the south of England once commented that as soon as the elderly move into a bungalow their health takes a turn for the worse. Healthy elderly people can be as happy and active as younger employed adults, and so continuing to do some kind of work into your 80s and beyond is the surest retirement strategy for health and fulfilment. At the same time it is not a good idea to hand responsibility for one’s pension entirely over to the state; canny investments and above all property can double the amount you can expect once you are no longer “allowed” to work.

There is a strong social taboo still about continuing to work and not “moving over” for the young. But there is no need to work flat out, or even to work for a huge salary. We need a new word for retirement – “freedom phase” might do it. The point is having a project.

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