Turning 60 can be significant in many ways – a time of transition; a time to reflect on life and to consider our future. For me, reaching my seventh decade brought with it the realisation that I needed to end my marriage, to say good bye to the house of my dreams (a barn conversion in the country) and to open myself up to what might come next. I recognised that I needed to be brave enough to change my life, so that I didn’t reach my 80s and regret the chances I never took.
And so I moved to a flat in Cheltenham, 10 miles, but also a world away. Cosmopolitan, but small enough to get to know people. Single life was hard. I didn’t have any friends from when I was married – we were an isolated couple. But slowly I started making friends via a couple of meet up groups. I went on pub visits, meals out and quiz nights, gradually finding my new tribe. It was wonderful to have people to do things with, but I also embraced going to gigs on my own. And as I started to gain confidence, I began to wonder about my next step.
I’d previously applied to do a doctorate exploring work transitions, but the programme had been paused. Now, a year after the decision to leave my marriage, I got an email to say it would be running from London University and did I want to apply?
I submitted my research proposal, and in July 2019 went for the interview. It was incredibly competitive and I had no experience of academic writing, although I had written several non-fiction books including Find Work at 50+, but I was passionate about the subject.
The day after the interview, I set off on a vision quest. It was something I’d come across a few months before. Based on traditional rites of passage, you spend 10 days immersed in nature. Four days preparing mentally, emotionally, physically and practically, then four days alone with no food or tent, just a tarpaulin for shelter. On the fifth day, the group (there were four of us on my quest, and two leaders) returned to the base and spent the final two days talking about, and making sense of, our experience.
I found the whole experience profoundly life-changing. Stripped of busyness, I could reflect on my life and consider my future. I thought about academic studies, my work, my relationships I gave my thoughts the time to come in and out of my mind. It gave me a clearer focus on the research I really wanted to do – how people find meaning in life after full-time work and how it’s possible to make a successful adjustment. And when I switched my phone on at the end of the 10 days, I found out I had been accepted on the doctorate!
And so, at the age 62 I started studying again. I chose to focus on the period two years on from retirement as the first couple of years tend to be the most intense in terms of change. Looking deeply into the psychological factors that help in adjusting to retirement, such as having a proactive personality and being optimistic, the importance of future generations and looking beyond the self for greater well-being. Then examining further, using in-depth discussions on how people found meaning and the impact they wanted to have beyond themselves into their community and wider world.
Studying in my 60s certainly wasn’t easy, not helped by going into lock down just a few months into the course. True it gave me more time, but the fear and uncertainty made it hard to concentrate. I hung on, kept focused and submitted my thesis, becoming Dr Taylor at the age of 64.
Then it was time to share my research. I considered publishing an academic paper but in the end, I thought a book would be more accessible to a wider audience.
The book is called Rethinking Retirement for Positive Ageing and in it I guide people through how to consider retirement in the broadest sense. Because retirement is about much more than just finances. It’s about considering what will give us meaning, our relationships and friendships, the importance of our health. I talk about the benefits of taking a flexible approach rather than when people make a clear break from work to retirement.
How I help people into retirement
I want to encourage people look forward with curiosity, to explore new interests and reassess the familiar with fresh eyes. In retirement, you have the freedom to be your authentic self, shedding the constraints of adapting to workplace expectations. Who are you really? It’s a time to let this shine through.
There is a need for some people to reflect on their personality; if your career was marked by high achievement and assertiveness, you may need to adapt to embrace open-mindedness and collaboration during retirement.
One of the most crucial traits for a successful retirement is a proactive personality, characterised by initiative, self-direction, and a commitment to seeking new opportunities. People who can do this tend to thrive in retirement, creating fulfilling new routines and connections.Optimism plays a key role in shaping a successful retirement. People who are optimistic experience less anxiety and depression, and they tend to live longer. Over seven years longer!
Reflect, review, renew
As we head towards state pension age it is a chance to take stock, review and decide on this new stage of life that can give us meaning and purpose beyond the pay check.
The first step is to reflect. Think about other transitions in your life, how they went, what helped, what you can use from those experiences going forward. You want to get a base line of where you are now: work, leisure, health, relationships and your views on ageing. To understand yourself, your personality, how you can be at your best.
Next, it’s time to review. To go deeper into these areas. Will you continue to do some kind of work or, if not, what will fill the gap? It’s not an either/or choice, it’s about finding the right mix for you. You need to consider your attitude to health and well-being and assess how to live longer in better health. There are so many relationships that will help you at this stage of your life, but the most important is the one with ourself. Are you happy with the person you are? Of course, you will have to consider your finances and how much money you need to live the way you want to.
Then move to renew. This is the stage to consider meaning and purpose. How you will feel you matter without your work and a search for a new identity. We consider our late life and look back so we can create the path to late life satisfaction.
Useful questions to consider before retirement
- Can I opt for a flexible approach to retirement? You could ask your employer if you could move to part-time work.
- How will I spend my time? Retirement is more than an extended holiday. Once you have done the decorating and had a holiday what do you want to do? Golf, the gym and days out might sound appealing but is this enough?
- Do I want to continue to work? How many hours? Same or different? An encore career, start a business, something with little, or no, stress while you consider your future?
- Will I have enough social contact? If most of your friends are from work, where can you make some new friends?
- What does my partner want? Don’t be a mind reader … have conversations. Too often one person wants to set off on adventures and the other wants to potter at home. It could be that one person wants to hang out with their partner who already has a social life planned, without them. Talk it through.
- Will I still matter? So much of our identity comes from our work; this can be a major challenge once we feel uncertain on our place in the world. It’s an area that deserves time for consideration. Journalling or working with a coach can be helpful.
- Am I doing all I can to live a healthy life? What changes can you implement to keep physically and mentally healthy.
We are the ‘yolds’
Those of us in the years leading up to around 75 are the young-olds. We are living our best life, still in good health, with the freedom and flexibility to work in the way that suits us and still open to exploring opportunities. There’s every opportunity to make this time really count.
Dr Denise Taylor is a Career and Later Life Coach and a wilderness rites of passage guide leading nature-based retreats. She is the author of Rethinking Retirement for Positive Ageing – how to find meaning in life after full-time work. Find out more about Denise here.