Life in the 3rd Age

Whether it’s a stage of life thing, or an indication of the state of the times, I’m finding that I’m quite often helping people think creatively about what they want to do in “retirement”

Although when you’re young “retirement” sounds rather nice, it becomes an increasingly horrifying prospect as it approaches …. It resonates of compulsory golf club membership, interspersed with long mornings spent reading the paper and pottering in the garden, before moving into a sheltered housing scheme. Retirement may have worked for our parents, but it’s not what those of us in the baby boomer generation want.

I know many people who refuse to use the word “retirement”, saying instead that “I’m retired and working.” Others talk about the “3rd Age” or their “Phase 3 Career”. There’s a move in the US to refer to it as “Life 2.5”. In Spain they call it “Jubilation”, which sounds rather nice.  A former lawyer friend of mine takes great pleasure in telling his former colleagues about “life after the law.”

There are various worries, when one is facing the great unknown of retirement.  Money is the most obvious worry, even for those who clearly have no realistic possibility of running out.  It’s inherently impossible to know how much you will need, given that you don’t know how long you’ll live, or what your care needs will be towards the end. In the current increasingly uncertain world, investment returns are hard to predict, inflation is unknowable and one has a horrible feeling that by the time the austerity programme has wound the public sector back to the 1930s, we’re not going to get a lot of help from the state in times of need.

Pensions are one of those uncomfortable things like climate change.  We all know it is an important issue that we ought to pay attention to, but for most of us, most of the time, it is far enough in the future that we procrastinate about getting our heads round it.  Whether the reform of pensions on 6 April will dramatically change this I don’t know.  It’s certainly attractive not to be compelled to buy an annuity, but I suspect that the confuse-opoly of options and the potential to be conned or taxed will mean many will continue to procrastinate.  On the other hand, the reform does also offer an exciting option to take a sensible chunk of your pension money, to do something interesting in what might well be the final third of your life.

For many professional people, the deepest fear is about the loss of meaning, purpose and status that comes from losing their position as “Head of xyz”   Somehow, once one’s found this sense of purpose, other things fall into place.

When helping people think creatively about this, I find there are 3 very useful questions to ask

  • What do I need to do to keep life financially sustainable?
  • What would give me real satisfaction to do?
  • What can I offer to others?

The range of creative solutions is quite amazing, particularly for those that realise that they are now free to do things that seem interesting and worthwhile, rather than having to concentrate 100% on earning money or looking after family.

Penny (not her real name) is single, and was worried about being lonely and poor when she retires.  She has at last managed to pay off her mortgage, so decided to spend the money she was spending on the mortgage on reconfiguring her house.  She’s now buzzing about a 5 year project that will enable her to rent out a room to give her an income and company, without intruding on her own privacy. At the same time she is substantially reducing her future fuel bills by improving her home’s energy efficiency.

Having limited money, doesn’t have to limit your fun, once you have time to offer. Graham and Judy, a couple of retired teachers in their late 60s, regularly act as stewards at Glastonbury and other music festivals on behalf of Oxfam.  They get free entry to the festivals and have the satisfaction of using their skills to help Oxfam, other festival goers and the younger volunteer stewards. Glastonbury stewarding is heavily oversubscribed, but there are similar opportunities to get free entry to a wide range of concerts and events in Cambridge in exchange for helping (just ask the organisers)

John, the founder of a small engineering business had retired a few months before we met and was feeling a bit bored.  However that rapidly changed when he became the Treasurer of a thriving little homelessness charity. His business experience and financial common sense was vital in shepherding them through their early growing pains to a substantial Big Lottery grant.

For those that want something truly adventurous, VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) take experienced professionals up to the age of 75 for postings in a wide variety of developing countries. They’re particularly keen on people with experience in running small businesses or IT, who can mentor businesses in Africa. Although the norm is a 2 year assignment, in some cases they’re offering specialist assignments as short as 3-6 Months.

Some people just take the opportunity to do something they always wanted to do.  I know of an actor, a photographer, a 93 year old first time author, an artist, a philanthropist. Olwen, a retired GP, embarked on a PhD in her retirement. It involved dissecting cow pats in her kitchen but she’s now an expert on the adverse impacts of a drug used to deworm cattle on the diet of local rooks.

Others just refuse to stop doing what they’ve always done.  There are definitely some founders in the Cambridge Tech community that will be carried out feet first rather than retire (you know who you are!)  but it always seems to me to be a bit of a waste.

After all few people’s last words are “I wish I’d spent more time in the office”