The birth of the Classic Women blog
- tips about how to form post-workforce relationships
- solutions for maintaining fitness and health
- inspiring stories about women who daily balance their roles as mother, daughter, grandmother, partner, friend and volunteer
- the perplexing financial challenges of older women.
Retirement for the Restless
Recently, I enjoyed five months of long service leave. I had recognised that I needed to take a break from the full-time job I had held for 16 years. Also, I was curious about how I might handle living a less structured life. I became more involved with my local community, and I met and became close to some amazing women. I started to indulge my passion for writing and I joined some Meetup groups and attended at least three yoga sessions a week at the local gym.
I met other women who were about to, or had just embarked on, retirement. Like me they were out and about, testing local opportunities. Some had firm plans about how they would spend their time – travelling, attending the University of the Third Age, starting up a home-based enterprise, volunteering.
Others were more laissez-faire.
By getting myself out and about in my local community, I discovered the value of connecting with others. Women, particularly older women, benefit greatly from trusting each other and sharing openly. We have so much to gain and so much to offer in return as role models to our peers.
I started consciously designing the post full- time work version of myself and stayed wide open to whatever opportunities retirement presented.
Rollback to 2015
When I turned 60, my husband and I hosted a bunch of our dearest friends – to share delicious food and wine, and enjoy some nostalgic tunes in our backyard. The Gold Coast Autumn was kind to us that year, and the photos I have are a reminder of the great time we all had.
It also sticks in my mind as the time when our friends first started asking me if I was planning to retire. Retirement wasn’t really something I had given a lot of thought to. I have never been much of a life planner, my preference being more for spontaneity and variety.
Fortunately, my husband is of a similar ilk, which allowed for our fairly nomadic lifestyle during the first thirty years of our relationship. Nev and I met at Officers’ Training School in Victoria, a year after I joined the RAAF.
In the ensuing years, we moved from place to place, attracted by adventure and employment opportunities. We spent time in New South Wales, Victoria, Mandurah (Western
Australia), Darwin and Groote Eylandt, in the Northern Territory, then back to the west, before finally settling in Queensland. On reflection, it’s clear that our constant change-of-address was, for me, a bit of running away.
My retirement role models
So, retirement? I didn’t have many role models. I recall my mother retiring soon after her 60th birthday. Her retreat from a high-pressure professional career morphed into a yet more stressful alter-career, leaving her frustrated and entangled as a volunteer in some community groups. It seemed she wasn’t ready for the indolent life that some people associate with retirement, yet she had swapped paid stress for unpaid stress. Not an attractive option to me. I looked to my sister in law who had vacillated about retiring from her position in a school for students with disabilities. She had struggled with walking away from a job that brought her joy, purpose and fulfilment. I also reflected on a dear friend who had boldly announced she was in fact not retiring, but resigning from work in her mid-sixties.
It was evident the women around me had struggled emotionally with the decision to leave work.
My husband and I reviewed our finances, and it looked okay for me to leave work. But rather than jump straight into retirement, I decided on the try-before-you-buy model of reduced working days initially. My boss was supportive, even assisting in the recruitment of a person to cover my non-work days. Away we went – three days at work, two at home and all the free time one could ever need.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I started to experience all sorts of uncomfortable feelings and then became angry with myself for not having the time of my life I had envisioned. I was restless. I experienced pangs of guilt if I wasn’t doing something productive.
I couldn’t identify a constructive objective for my free time. I would curl up in the sun with a book, but my attention would easily wane and I wouldn’t be able to recall what I had read.
What was going on?
A few months in, I was chatting to my doctor about this overwhelming malaise that had descended on me. I felt terribly lost. I knew that all this additional free time gave me the opportunity to do the things I felt I missed out on as a full-time worker, but instead, I just felt sadness. He then respectfully asked, ‘do you think you should speak to someone?’
And this is how I met psychologist Angela. At our first meeting, I felt a bit lame explaining to Angela why I felt I needed help. My inner voice was telling me she probably had truly unwell people to deal with.
We met weekly, teasing out theories about self-determination, my identity, my friendships, my deeper relationships. Why I couldn’t enjoy an aimless walk along the beach. She kept digging, determined to unravel that part of my brain that refused to relax.
Now, upfront, I had advised Angela the only ‘no-go’ zone was discussing my mother. Our relationship had had its issues But, I insisted, they bore no connection with my current inability to just sit back and relax into my newly found free time. Did they?
Weeks passed, and I was convinced it wasn’t working for me. But then I unwittingly dropped a breadcrumb. She prodded for more, and I crumbled, dissolving into tears. Angela had pierced my emotional armour, my inscrutable shell. She crossed the no-go barrier. No wonder she had a box of tissues at the ready.
Over the weeks that followed, we excavated my emotions to try and uncover the cause of my malaise. Inevitably, like many women from my generation, I struggled with expectation. Trying so hard to please, to excel academically – justifying the private school fees – and always be turned out perfectly in public. Constantly working to earn the love and approval of my mother.
This had subsequently contributed to my evolution into an anally-retentive, controlling perfectionist. And people like me find it bloody hard just chill out, let their guard down.
I started to join up the dots. Our itinerant family wanderings, my hopeless period of post-natal depression, a mid-thirties diagnosis of both anxiety and depression, and the overall difficulty I experienced relating to other women.
These uncomfortable discussions with my counsellor became key to my transition into retirement. I learned that my own pleasure is not conditional upon meeting the expectations of others. I started to disclose some of these vulnerabilities to close friends, discovering these relationships became strengthened as a result.
I have now adopted a more healthy regard for myself, granting myself permission to just relax and explore new avenues. There are still some lingering difficulties, but that’s okay – I’m finding, and quite liking, the real me.