We don’t think of retirement as a difference but it is.
By Alison Green, the creator of Level Playing Fields:
Once upon a time, the editor of this Level Playing Fields blog would arise at stupid o clock, get in her car and travel to work, stopping only for a healthy thirty lengths in the close-at-hand swimming pool. After this, she would arrive at work in an irritating state of alleged healthiness and settle down for a day’s advice, guidance and possible tuition with a range of students. Then the editor retired and became the ex-editor. She still gets up at une bonne heure to go swimming – habits are hard to break. However, now she goes home and returns to bed, generally with a book; mostly, at the moment, Dickens because there’s time to pass on all those words. I heard Howard Jacobson on the radio the other day decrying folk who say Dickens is too wordy: ‘what’s the rush’, he asked (quite vehemently)?
This is a blog about difference. We don’t think of retirement as a difference but it is. Mostly, it’s a difference driven by choice – a choice aligned to money. By this, I mean a choice of whether to enter penury or not. Feminist baby boomers like me, who have raised our children as single parents, fortified by that back-in-the-day self-indulgence which saw no need for redundant husbands and partners who weren’t up to scratch, fought our brave onward path without a thought that two pensions might be better than one in later life. We’re paying the price now.
On the other hand … my daughter says, ‘do you miss work, mum?’ You must be joking. I had a lifetime of ‘ejucashon’ and responsibility: an adult existence of consoling myself with the edict that you don’t go into that world if you want to make money. A friend of mine, in a quite high powered job, recently paid hundreds of pounds for a course on ‘how to retire’. I’m thinking of going into this business but I don’t know how to make it last longer than half an hour. There’s only one obstacle to overcome: reassuring yourself that it’s ok to do what you want when you want. It’s alright to spend a day reading a book. No-one cares. It’s quite acceptable, on a dull day, to take your Heinz tomato soup in the company of Time Team repeats – it’s educational. It’s perfectly ok to sleep a lot – you just spent thirty odd years dragging up children and going to work to pay bills – why wouldn’t you be tired?
People who retire have a sorry truth to learn: how do you fit in? There’s no homeland for the excluded. I go to exhibitions. I venture on long walks. My social life is better than it’s been for years because I have time to spend with individuals and because I’m not permanently storing up time for the next day.
And because I’m lucky enough to not care too much about anything.
I’m a sociologist and I know how important identity is. And mostly, you get your identity from work. And if you’re not at work, then you’re ‘different’. Doesn’t matter how up to date you are with the latest news: if you’re not having that interaction with colleagues, you’re in trouble. No-one tells you that…and we all need benchmarks when trying to locate our place and fit in.