It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”
I am interested in words and connotations and a few weeks ago I “retired”.
Retirement almost always refers to retirement from work. The connotations of retiring are many;
she is a retiring sort of person, that is, she is withdrawn or keeps to herself
they retired a fleet of cars, that is they put them out of action
In French the word retirement is retraite, the connotation being that one is retreating from something, presumably life.
In my casual job, most of us are over 60 so we are referred to as “the ladies”. If we were under 50 I am sure we would be called something less patronizing.
We are also mocked generally about computer use and are the butt of endless jokes about tuning the TV, using Zoom or using the apps on our phones.
Other language becomes more ageist too. Young people “fall”, old people “have a fall”. The skateboarder “fell” while trying a new move but granny “had a fall” on her way to the letterbox.
In my many hours of ”spare” time, I watched The Crown on Netflix. When Louis Mountbatten is speaking with his bedridden sister, Alice he says something along the lines of, “When one retires, one becomes a spectator, not a participant.”
He says it like it’s a bad thing. I quite like the idea. In fact, in retirement I have withdrawn from lots of activities because I don’t want my life structured and scheduled. The article below from The School of Life is the best article I have read so far and I have interwoven my comments in red along the way.
How to Retire Early
One of the most common and deeply-cherished fantasies of our times is the idea that we might ‘retire early.’ Websites abound promising to help us with the dream, managing our finances, working out where we might live and deciding with us how close we might want to be to a beach – or perhaps a mountain.
I only worked two days a week for the last four years and I think some do think I am lazy and a bit spoilt at giving up even that small work commitment. During that time, I woke on my non-work days with a feeling of deliciousness and freedom and not once did I wish I was going to work. It gave me time to see what I could manage on financially and I have no regrets at all about choosing time over money.
But what we often miss in glowing discussions of early retirement is the extraordinary work that is being done for us across this subject by the apparently innocuous term ‘retirement’. This word manages to pull off an astonishing feat: it momentarily anaesthetizes all those who hear it into forgetting their society’s founding pressures and most ingrained competitive values and renders deeply desirable states of inaction that could – without the word – simply have appeared contemptible or downright lazy.
Some colleagues were surprised about my retirement as I am not 65 until next year. One inquired whether I had won Lotto (I haven’t). As a single person, finances for me are often a night time cause for anxiety and sometimes I panic thinking I may not have calculated correctly. I have listened to podcasts and read articles about needing a million bucks (I don’t have) but in the end I relied on what I hope is my own good sense.
Someone in the prime of life who loses any interest in going to the office, who doesn’t care about promotion and who isn’t trying to accumulate ever more money would standardly be described as a loser.
That was me, I lost any sense of ambition even as early as my 40s, after my husband died. I just couldn’t see the point but ploughed on, applying for jobs I didn’t really want because I felt I had to.
Unless, of course, that is, they could declare that what they wanted to do was ‘retire early’ – at which point they would be transformed in our eyes into fascinating and near saintly figures. We would know that they had stopped working not because they were incompetent or got sacked or were mentally weak-willed. They were almost certainly very good at their jobs; they just gave them up freely to focus their attention on a host of intriguing things that gratified them far more.
Strikingly, at present, we only invoke the idea of retirement around employment – which is a profound pity because there are so many other things that it might be extremely important for us to stop doing, but which we feel obliged to continue with because we are under punishing pressure from others to conform. ‘Retirement’ is the word we should learn to use to explain quitting a host of activities otherwise deemed crucial without forfeiting our claim to be classed as honorable and dignified.
Earlier this year, I retired from a range of activities especially around my area. I have kept up only one charity and have left worthy causes to other people to organise. It is not that I am uninvolved, but rather, I do not want to be the organiser. I started to feel exposed in the community. “Oh, so you’re Sue…” became a common refrain wherever I went it seemed. I know I am seen as an extrovert, but I couldn’t survive in the world without a lot of home alone time. I’ve stopped commenting on Facebook very much and think a lot more about whether to comment when I do.
Ironically, it might not even be work that many of us most want to retire from. We might be far keener to retire from, let’s say, late nights, going to the theatre, using social media, holidaying abroad or having sex with new people. Take the idea of announcing ‘early retirement’ from parties. Usually, if someone turns down every invitation and stays at home, they’d be seen as lonely and withdrawn – and probably unfit for human company. But suppose we could say that we’d ‘retired’ from social life; our decision would instantly acquire nobility and prestige. We’d be seen to be giving up not because we couldn’t stand other people or because we were gauche or unpopular. The implication would be that we might have been perfectly capable of making witty conversation over cocktails – but that we had decided we’d done enough of that sort of thing and were going to concentrate instead on deepening our friendships with just two or three people or on learning a new language by ourselves in bed.
This struck a real chord with me. I like to hold parties, at least I like the idea of them. In reality, however, especially as I go alone, parties hold less and less interest for me. When I split from my partner, invitations changed to one on one lunch dates anyway and I have not been invited to many dinner parties since. It might be my personality! or it’s just plain awkward with the numbers. Parties often mean rushing around introducing people or if at someone else’s place, holding fairly shallow conversations with people you barely know. I had a couple over for dinner the other night and it was a much more rewarding affair. We talked in depth about lots of things that interest us.
The same could hold around material competitiveness. We could step back from having an impressive car or a large house and declare that we were ‘retiring from consumer society’. While such a move would typically be seen as a mark of failure, with the word retirement in tow, we can imply that our interests have been willingly and intelligently redirected towards new more aesthetic or spiritual targets.
I have been trying to do death cleaning, reasonably successfully and I am happy with my small wardrobe but recently during lockdown I spent a bit of money on doing things at home that didn’t actually need doing. They were just ideas I felt like trying. I bought a print from Jaco Putker and got his permission to convert it to wallpaper.
I also asked 2Creative to paint one wall of the dining room silver and two others gold… call me pretentious but I really needed to give my chandelier more of a glamorous background! These two women also hand painted my bedroom wall and I had the rest of the walls painted in Heggie Pink. Porters Paints liked the colour enough to give it a name.
Sometimes I feel a bit indulgent and extravagant but equally, we are all spending more and more time at home so I thought I may as well do it. If you can’t please everyone then you got to please yourself.
A flaw in the current notion of retirement is that it is unimaginative about what an individual might retire from. Mostly, the vision is that one stops working so as to be able to undertake outdoor leisure pursuits – tennis, gardening, sailing – and perhaps move to a place with a milder climate. But we can get more ambitious about what we unshackle ourselves from: we could retire to connect more deeply with our own minds, to develop our creative potential, to keep a handle on anxiety, and to explore who we could be if we stopped caring so much about what other people thought of us.
The old chestnut of worrying about what people think of us.
Alain de Botton, my favourite contemporary philosopher spells it out.
Reference to retiring also softens the blow for others. When we retire from work, people don’t feel we’re letting them down – our colleagues will perhaps throw a party for us, congratulate us and say how much they’ll miss us. Likewise, by announcing our retirement from social life or relationships, we’re making it clear that there’s no suppressed personal hatred at work. We’re just rejigging our priorities.
It’s ironic that life-advice for the young is so overwhelmingly focused on what to do in one’s career. In a wiser society, the emphasis would at the same time be about retiring – as early as possible – from a host of supposedly necessary demands which, on closer inspection, are entirely unsuited to who and what we are.
Our societies are very keen for us to have busy, competitive, complicated lives. We should express thanks for the well-meaning suggestions and then, without causing anyone offence, make our moves towards announcing early retirement from a host of areas that torment us in the name of the simpler, kinder lives we long for.
I have been told a few times that in retirement I need structure. This may work for others but not for me. Why stick to a structure? If I haven’t slept well, I can simply lie in bed and doze and read a book from time to time. I can do TV yoga in the morning or at midnight if I feel like it.
“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.”
Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
It isn’t all beer and skittles or as in my case wine and chips. The hardest thing I find is suitable companions for holidays. Most of my friends have family commitments or work and are not free to escape for mini breaks. I’m not into group tours and it’s always much more expensive for the single supplement and I am not a room sharer so I am experimenting now with little trips away. This week I drove to meet up with a friend in Taupo and had a few days away. I don’t like driving but I found it okay. I don’t mind eating out alone so will go again soon.
All in all I am getting into the groove of retirement very nicely. I am possibly not doing enough chores and doing a surfeit of binge watching TV (I recommend Upright) but I think I will get the balance right. I am doing Coffee Break French most days, reading, going to the library, Adriene’s yoga and still getting that rush of joy when I wake up and realise I don’t have to be anywhere.
And best of all I can go to movies on my own in the middle of the day.
My current recommendations:
- Never Rarely Sometimes Always -grim but gripping.
- The Two of Us -also sad but beautifully done https://www.france24.com/en/culture/20200212-encore-a-late-blooming-romance-for-the-ages-in-french-film-two-of-us
- 23 Walks -great for an easy relaxing watch with an icecream.
- By the way, why do I eat an ice-cream only at the movies????
I continue to indulge in my favourite addiction and fantasise about my herb farm, novel, and great enlightenment but mostly it’s just day dreaming. Here’s my latest obsession.
Happy October. FG