Friday, 13 August 2010

The first three months

At the time that I decided to retire I was self-employed but I still had to plan ahead and let the companies that I worked for know that I wouldn't be available for new projects. As it turned out my timing was very good as due to the change of government and the financial downturn, work has become much scarcer since. In the run-up to retirement, though, I was extremely busy, very stressed out and certainly  didn't have any time to start planning how I would spend my time. So it was that round about the middle of May this year that I found myself twiddling my thumbs.

At first things were quite frankly grim and I simply didn't know how to spend my time. As I said to a friend, I seemed to be spending all my time doing things like clothes shopping which I am very bad at and could, thankfully, scarcely squeeze in at all when working full-time.  I went to town more often and even visited the supermarket instead of doing all my shopping online which is what I have got used to. I did spend a bit more time on my Spanish but not in any systematic sort of a way. What I really missed was a routine. Frequent trips to our flat in Galicia, northern Spain helped to break up the monotony but didn't really help me to solve the problem of what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

It took me a while to grasp that what I was missing was not just something to keep me busy but the experience of doing something that I was good at and which I would get some recognition for. When I thought back to my first maternity leave I remembered crying over the dishes on the first morning of this because I didn't know how I was going to manage without work!  Obviously adjusting to retirement was going to be much more difficult because the loss was supposed to be permanent rather than temporary. Paradoxically once I had understood this I also realised that my recent experience of gainful employment had only provided limited support for my sense of identity and self-esteem. And I certainly hadn't laboured under any illusions that the work that I was doing was ‘making much of a difference’ to people's lives - in spite of the rather grand sounding projects in which I was involved.  So I set about looking for activities which would help to nurture my sense of who I was and my self-esteem.

First of all, I looked for opportunities to do voluntary work. Because of my background in research into education and training I was most interested in becoming a trustee, for example, a member of a school or college  governing body but I'm not sure I've got the experience to secure one of these positions.  However I also have a background in social work which widens the opportunities so I  signed up with a web-site called Reach which specialises in matching volunteers with organisations looking for people to fill trustee or similar roles.

As indicated in my profile I have a passion for Spain and for learning Spanish.  Nowadays learning a language is something that I'm never going to be good at  - my memory is so poor. I can't believe the number of times I've looked up the word in the online dictionary and then forgotten it and had to look it up again 15 minutes later. (I know - I should have written it down the first time.) However I have at least adopted a more systematic approach as a result of joining the U3A - University of the Third Age for those not familiar with this organisation. I’m now a member of a small advanced conversation group which meets on a weekly basis. However such a group didn't exist when I joined up so I had to take the initiative myself by organising the initial meeting. This like all the other U3A groups is run on a self help basis: individual members take it in turns to act as facilitator and everybody prepares short pieces to say on the chosen topic. Fortunately somebody else has agreed to take on the administrative role of notifying members of topics and meetings. So far this has worked really well: it has encouraged me to write a piece on Spanish every week which is something that had been missing in my previously rather haphazard approach to language learning. The whole process of getting the group established seemed so straightforward that I decided to see if I could get another group going - for movie-goers and I've taken the first steps towards doing so - more about this next time. 

In the run-up to retirement I'd attended a creative writing class as, like many people, I'd always had dreams about writing fiction or possibly drama. The class was very badly run but this didn't excuse the banal quality of the few pieces that I had attempted. Nothing daunted, I still had creative writing down on my checklist of things to do in retirement when I suddenly realised that it would make much more sense to try my hand at writing non-fiction. What a relief to be able to ditch the 'creative writing' fantasy! Given that I have spent much of the last decades researching and writing extremely long and complex research reports,  reports nevertheless which were intended to be accessible to non-specialists, this was really a ‘no-brainer’. I immediately set to on the Web to lay locate advice and opportunities for freelance writing and discovered that there were a number of websites to which anybody could submit articles and which claimed. moreover, to offer the possibility of income generation. Within the last week  I've written and uploaded my first two articles- you can see the one about retirement Planning for Retirement or Ten Reasons to Continue Working  by clicking here.This has been a huge learning curve for me, especially in terms of the technology but it will be interesting to see how I get on.  Over the next few months I’ll be writing in this and other blogs about the success that I’ve had in all these ventures and how my efforts to build a new and more satisfying life for myself post-work are progressing.

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