Retirement starts here

A thought struck me today: and I’m going to have a go here at thinking it through.

I’m thinking about that later life phase: those (hopefully) special times when we are free of responsibilities (or freer, at least); when availability of time is not an issue.

What do people think about doing in retirement? Travel is high up the list. But so is doing whatever we want – having quiet days, having stay-up-all-night days, however the fancy takes us.

We might want to take up new hobbies – or reengage with old favourites. We might long to enjoy beauty more, whether through going to galleries, painting our own pictures, or looking up at the sky more.

It might be about music, it might be about reading, it might be about other creative pursuits.

It might be about the people we spend time with: whether special friends, family members, people who live further away from us, whom we might normally not get to see.

We’re supposedly hoping for more time, more spare cash to do these things – but they may equally be the free or low-cost delights. The park bench in the sunshine. The cafe and the good book, as long as our fancy takes us.

So here’s the question. Why do we wait until retirement to embrace these things?

When we’re in our childhood or teens, we’re encouraged to try new things. To develop interests, deepen them.

Why is it that we stop doing that as we get older? Why does productivity have to take over?

I’m not assuming that I can get by purely on big ideas and shafts of sunshine. I know that there’s some earning of money that goes on, and I’ve done my fair share of that.

Then I took on the job without pay, for all the hours God sends (otherwise known as parenthood). If I’d forgotten how to have time for myself when I was working full time, it took on a whole new dimension as a mum.

For those who are reading who are parents, I don’t need to elaborate. Sometimes, it takes extremes to help you identify what you need for yourself.

You choose time for yourself – any spare minutes – because you see the difference it makes to everything you do.

Little by little, I got better about having time for me. I even started last year with a set of ‘wants’ for my birthday list which were all to do with hobbies and interests: tune the piano, use opportunities to speak German again, and so on.

Not all of that happened, by any means. But by the end of last year, I had to come to agree to writing being an essential for me, rather than an option for when I had done enough on my-to do list to be allowed some free time.

(I’ve never done enough on my to-do list. That’s partly realism, and that’s partly being a recovering perfectionist. So it had to stop being about ‘enough’.)

A few years back, some friends of ours had a tagline to their emails that went like this (quotation by Mark Twain):

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I liked it, I even tore it off one email and kept it in the back of my diary. I would look at it now and then and hope.

A new decade is round the corner for me. And twenty years on from that, I can start to think about retirement. So do I want to keep those joys of life until then?

We may save for retirement, but do we save our opportunities for then too? Or do we start spending them now?

I don’t think I can wait until retirement to listen to great music, read great books, maybe write some of my own. I may have to wait a bit for some of the travel I’d love to do, but I don’t want to give up on it.

I may find that the art I still want to see means more to me because I have to negotiate that time to do so, more than in my twenties and early thirties.

So. The only way I can see to do this is to begin now. As much of it as I can squeeze in, between food shops and school runs, work commitments and family responsibilities.

Call it a late New Year’s Resolution, perhaps. Retirement starts here.