Most Retirees I observe are loving retirement and pottering along, working on their general health a bit, grey nomading the whole way or caravanning around Australia in short sections, taking a longer overseas holiday there, doing a bit of family history research, loving the cafe life, getting into golf, or sailing, or patchworking, or bridge, doing quite a bit of babysitting, and especially enjoying not being in the jobs they left behind, thank you very, very much. It's a holiday lifestyle. A very loooooooong weekend. There's no real sense of purpose as such, just as the long weekend has no real purpose other than to be a blissful state of rest and relaxation.
I have been empowered and excited by a fearsome few of my fellow Retirees, a brave handful of my fellow Baby Boomers and the ways in which they've grabbed their Post-Retirement Life by the horns and wrestled it largely into the beast they want to carry them forward into whatever twilight age. These retirees are doing the travel and the babysitting and the long weekending lifestyle thing, but they also have that something else. They seem to have a transcending passion that absorbs them. This transcending passion has the potential to make a wider contribution to society in a way that their former working lives did, and it this aspect that interests me very much.
It's not as if there is a monetary involvement or status recognition for the post-retirement transcending passion; for this is the normal way in which our society recognises and accords status to people and what they do. It will be interesting to see what motivates people to continue striving, and how satisfaction and fulfilment is rated by my sample study over the next ten years.
There's the couple that retired and immediately charged off to Asia, amidst their grown up children's protests, to do volunteer work in orphanages and loved it. Their children, who'd not bothered to visit much because four or five hours driving was too far, suddenly decided that it was selfish of their parents to devote themselves to a cause bigger then their own adult children. The parents want to go back overseas again. They feel like rebellious adolescents. How are we going to break it to the children?
There's the woman from the Victorian bush just awaiting the electricity to be connected to her shed-adapted studio where she has morphed from chemical engineer into artist. When she's not travelling the world on self-designed excursions viewing carefully selected collections of the world's major art works, she's attending art classes over the state border and painting in her shed. In the morning she gets ready for work. She packs her lunch, tells her spouse not to expect her until nightfall and out she strides into the yard and shuts out the world. She has an exhibition currently in another country town. And I love and admire this new life that she has carved out and insisted on for herself! She also does community driving and is involved in a zillion things, but her studio time is sacred, and long may she guard it so!
Then there's the bloke, the agricultural scientist who was an extremely important state government executive. If you wander by his garage you'd be hard pressed to make him hear you above the whirring of saws and other intricate word working machinery. He is a sheer poet who expresses himself in wood and joinery. His trademark is a small frog. Look for it carefully on each piece he makes. It's his signature. The medieval wooden chair sitting near his dining room was copied on a trip to Europe. His current project is a travelling desk inspired from a trip to Spain; the equivalent of our ipads or computers. The intricacy of this piece is a joy to hear about. A Weeping Cherry had to be removed from his front yard recently, but did he wail and gnash his teeth? No. After he got over the shock, he got the tree loppers to cut the tree down in such a way that he now has a beautiful piece of cherry wood for a future project. And did I mention that his wife, the former head of department does the most delicate lino cuts?
Another woman friend much further north has just had her first photographic exhibition. I see her work displayed on Facebook and her development has been remarkable to behold. Her passion takes her out at all times of the day, to urban and rural environments, in searing heat, and frosty cold, on rough tracks, on rocky shores, laying on the ground at eye level with frozen blades of grass. She's sixty one for crying out loud! I know! I started high school with her!
What about the wonderful parting comment of a recent dinner guest we had who said to the rest of the yawning hoard who were eager for bed, that he was going home to emasculate a few plants? That woke everyone up! None of us realised that the midnight hour was reserved for more than Gothic novels! This clever scientist has kept on being a scientist, but now he plays with Salvias instead of wheat breeding and government politics. His shed, or at least the back of it, has become an experimental laboratory, with lots of crosses happening in various stages of growth.
As I type I am reminded of a friend's father who retired from a life high up in a state parole board and turned to a very satisfying career making harpsichords. He made harpsichords for decades and connected with the international community from a small Canberra suburb. Who could have foreseen that? Certainly not me!
I am sure that there are lots more stories like this out there, of people who have retired and allowed for new opportunities to flow in. Not for everyone I hear you shout/mumble. Of course I hear you. I know that after decades of marching to the beat of someone else's drum that you just want a quiet life. Of course you do, and that's okay. Of course it is.
The Existentialist in me often asks "Is this all there is?" about retirement and life post-sixty. I want a purposeful life still. One where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution, a mere nano-drop in the bucket of human knowledge. It's the innate scholar in me. Call it what you will. Certainly it can be very frustrating given my past decade of health problems.
As I perch precariously in my Nest here you can hear me twittering and spitting enviously that these folk with studios and labs and workshops have retired with Relatively Good Health. It is now six and a half years since I retired with Bad Health and I feel much of that time has been spent crawling on my hands and knees through treacle or a noxious swamp. I have energy in fits and starts. I start things and then I let them lapse: enthusiasm wanes; depression sets in; I battle it. I find the strength to have another go: to survey the land and to find where I'm at yet again; to try and work out whether the old plan that I'd worked out ages ago is still the plan I want to follow now that I've emerged from the miasma once again.
I've had two headaches this week in three days BUT today was a GOOD DAY sooooooooooooo I structured my day AS IF I was going to work, which in my mind, I was.
- I was showered and dressed by 8 am.
- I had a leisurely breakfast whilst watching ABC Breakfast TV. I wasnt going to get too carried away with this 'work' idea; after all, working from home whould be as attractive as possible.
- By about 8.30 am I was in my very own purpose designed Study (looking onto the street through the gum trees), formerly used to mark a mountain of student English essays, but now designated for blogging and local history research and as my Flute Studio.
- I spent the first half of the morning tidying my desk and making it into an uncluttered working environment.
- I asked my husband to buy an extra large dog bed for the study so that our two dogs could feel welcome while I worked.
- I spent the second half of the morning finally setting up and designing the Late Adult Music Education blog that I am using to explore ideas about Late Adult Music Education using my forays in learning flute and piano and myself as guinea pig. I took photographs for the blog the other day, but you know how it is when you have to jiggle with pixels and column widths and font sizes etc. I've called my blog In the Key of Sixty Plus and attached it to my Magpie's Nest Suite of Blogs. Pop over and have a look at how it's developing. No Posts yet. I've had a very busy day here at 'work'!
In between times I've had two delightful ex-students pop in for afternoon tea so I've had time off because I'm my own boss and I could.
- Knitting is my 'work' too.
- And there is the local history research work that I'm doing in fits and starts. Mainly fits at the moment. See references to Bad Health above.
- My husband has told me that dinner will be ready soon so I'd better shut the computer down and 'go home'.
It's taken me six and a half years to be happy with this idea of retirement. Granted that illness has dogged me, but many people come to grips with their retirement plans much quicker. Some never do.