It is January 2015 – another new year. It is also a new beginning for me in some ways. Last January (2014) I had returned to the office with a sense of purpose, all the while knowing that 2014 heralded only a repeat of 2013. So I sallied forth and got on with it. By mid-year I found it increasingly hard to drive up the enthusiasm to go to the office. As I drove each day to work, by the time I reached the Simpson junction crossing just minutes away from entering the university campus drive, I wanted to turn around and go back home. I was dreading another day of doing the same thing for yet another week in my twenty sixth year of service. My role at work had become so predictable my days were ending with a repetitive, inward cry to myself, “Why am I doing this?” I felt like a puppet going through a mechanised cycle of movements, with my eyes glued to a computer screen all day.
It took another month or so before I began to explore my options. Continue to repeat the cycle or make a change. The only changes possible were a change of role at the university, or to retire. I really did not see a change of employer as a viable option. Another employer could not beat the existing pension scheme at the university so it seemed silly to walk away from that. Changing my role was not really viable either. After having given this option a lot of thought, I realised that I really did not find any other role in the list of vacancies on the university website at all attractive. I felt indoctrinated into my role and less willing to go into another area of the university.
Thoughts of retirement crept into my brain regularly because the R word had already been uttered. From the very first mention of the word, like a worm it began to wriggle into my brain filling the gaps whenever frustration manifested itself, growing larger by the day. By July I had very little space left in my thoughts for anything else but the prospect of retirement. I drove about every day with it uppermost in my mind. It kept me awake at night. I dreamed about it when I finally slept.
Retirement is a scary word. It means ‘The End of Working Life’. No regular salary at the level to which I had become accustomed. No daily commute. Loss of the presence of my colleagues on a daily basis, all of whom I respected and had enjoyed the company of over my almost thirty years of employment. There are also the practical aspects relating to going out to work, like not using energy during the dark hours of the day in winter. Being at home as a retiree, energy bills would undoubtedly double because I really like to be warm during the winter season, but fuel bills for my car would be much reduced because I have no daily journey to make. It is a balancing act, managing on a pension or two when one chooses not to work.
Eventually the R word became so large in my thoughts that I could not shut it out. I wanted it so much that I discreetly discussed my intention to retire with a colleague or two, until I announced my official statement of intent during a meeting, which probably surprised everyone except those whom I had taken into my confidence. The only factor of which I was uncertain was when to retire. I had thought I could last another year, but the reality of how I felt about spending another year hit me hard every time I thought of it. I just did not want to do that so I eventually handed in my resignation after all the pension administration details were finalised. What a relief!
Each day after that I looked forward to the prospect of participating only in those pursuits I enjoyed, like photography, writing and oil painting. I also had a list as long as my arm of things to do after I retire to look forward to.
About a week or two before R day, four of my colleagues very kindly took me to lunch in the Mulberry Suite (restaurant) on campus because they knew they would be away on my last day. ‘How very kind and thoughtful of them,’ I thought. It delighted and surprised me to find several more of my colleagues waiting for me when we arrived, and after a very enjoyable meal we all left, with me clutching a bottle of champagne and a retirement balloon. I counted down the last 10 days in the office with yellow crepe flowers and stars stuck on the wall behind me just for fun, taking one down each day until only one remained.
One of the most charming customs in most places of work is that when weddings, birthdays, leavings and retirements occur, the celebrant’s workstation is decorated profusely with flowers, garlands, balloons and appropriate confetti.
On my last day pictures of me were plastered all over the corridor entrance and around my desk in the open plan office in which I worked. Later in the morning, as lovely a collection of colleagues one could wish for, along with my elder daughter, who also worked at the university, stood around me and one of the managers during the customary formal presentation, with cards, presents and much reminiscing, which was followed by my somewhat brief speech. This in turn was followed by a cold lunch, supplied and prepared by my colleagues. It really made my day.
Retirement is a big decision. If you have given it some thought already, be aware that it will haunt you until you give in and do it! Be assured, though, once you have made the decision and gone through the practicalities, it will be worth it.
Every day I wake up with a big smile on my face. I love my life. I love being retired. I love being free to do as I wish.
When your turn comes, I hope you will too!
© VW Selburn 2015