The Monday after my leaving party in December 2012 marked the beginning of an infinity of blank pages in my diary. I was 58 and had spent much of my career as a full-time, high-profile magazine editor; a single-income single parent to a now 25-year-old daughter.
I’m one of that first generation of women — baby boomers — who joined the working world expecting a career in their own right. I’d lived my life at breakneck speed. Sometimes my stress levels had been so far through the roof they could have orbited the International Space Station.
But now there were no more meetings, no more reschedulings. My world had come to an abrupt halt and I felt stunned.
Of course, I’d planned for my retirement. As editor of no less than 17 magazines — the last ones being Radio Times and Reader’s Digest — I’d worked incredibly hard and budgeted meticulously to make sure that, if not exactly wealthy, I’d at least have enough to live on. But other aspects of retirement hadn’t seemed so pressing. How hard could it be to enjoy yourself?
Gill Hudson (pictured), 64, who spent much of her career as a magazine editor, claims that it’s possible for baby boomers to find fulfillment in retirement
Harder than expected, as it turned out. For the first two or three months I felt fidgety, scratchy and out of sorts. Far from being the happy, chilled, creative person I had assumed would emerge in my retirement, a much tetchier, more restless soul had taken her place.
I was stressed and paralysed by the choice suddenly open to me. Faced with the options of learning to kayak, walking the South West Coast Path, tracing my family tree or digitising all my old photos, I found myself scrubbing the bathroom grouting instead. Soon the house was clean enough to perform open-heart surgery in, but my paralysis remained.
While I’d never defined myself completely by my job, I hadn’t anticipated how disorienting it would be to cut the ties with the working world.
All those years of meeting deadlines is a hard habit to break.
And I remain, now aged 64, at heart, an achiever. But what happens when you no longer know what it is you want to achieve?
At least I haven’t had to face this question on my own. While I was one of the first of my friends to leave the world of work, most have since followed and found themselves in a similar predicament.
Having looked for satisfaction from our jobs, we baby boomers now expect fulfilment in retirement, too. But how to get it? By rethinking old habits and establishing new rules — starting with . . .
KEEP CALM AND DON’T CARRY ON
Ours is a generation addicted to adrenaline, to getting it all done. We’ve been hooked on the nine-to-five.
The minute I stopped work, I filled my diary to bursting point because that’s what I was used to.
Gill (pictured) revealed that since retiring she learned how to fail again by trying golf alongside her husband
I ended up so stressed from rushing from one appointment to another I really did have to lie down in a dark room to recover.
I’ve had to wean myself off that adrenaline high by blocking out times in my diary to do nothing much at all — and, crucially, not feel guilty about it.
If it felt unnatural at first, I had to remind myself there was nothing natural about my former life, either.
LEARN HOW TO FAIL AGAIN
My husband — a big golf fan — asked if I’d like to go to the driving range with him. In the spirit of ‘try anything once’, I did — and to my surprise enjoyed it so much I signed up for a few lessons.
‘You pick it up quickly,’ the coach observed, clearly impressed.
In my head I could hear the crowds gasping in wonder as I swept majestically around Wentworth.
A week later I was standing at the first tee and missed the ball . . . five times. I felt a surge of tears the like of which I can’t have experienced since I was about three.
Only once I lost the expectation of being any good from the start did I begin to enjoy playing for its own sake.
What a burden that expectation of ‘being the best’ can be.
BE FLEXIBLE . . . AND BE YOUR OWN CHAMPION
After a lifetime of meeting targets, winning awards and getting promoted, it’s quite a shift to accept that now the only person whose opinion matters is mine.
It’s a lesson I should have learned long ago. If I look over my shoulder now, it’s not to see who’s trying to review my performance, it’s because I’m at a yoga class, trying to stretch my trapezius. For me.
That’ll do nicely.
CUT BACK ON THE SHOPPING
Contentment doesn’t come easy to the consumer generation. We’ve spent our working lives striving to not just cover the bills but to fund a never-ending list of things to buy.
Now I have to live on less, but though I’m not exactly rolling in readies, nor do I have to make impossible choices between eating or have the heating on. I count my blessings. I have enough. Life is not about spending. When faced with the question ‘do I actually need this?’ the answer is almost invariably ‘no’.
The former editor (pictured) believes retirement is a sobering time for discovering who are your true friends
WILL YOU STAY IN TOUCH, REALLY?
A friend who stayed in the same job for years ‘because of the people’ was shocked to realise two years after retiring that she is in contact with just one former colleague.
Retirement soon sorts true friends from those you just used to share an office with. It’s a sobering reminder of how fleeting work relationships can be.
BE NICE TO YOUR PARTNER
Retirement can be a challenge for baby-boomer relationships. My generation of women has been more economically independent and the men (at least a bit) more domestically active.
With mutual dependency reduced, we’ve ramped up our expectations of emotional and physical fulfilment.
Over the years, as those knee-buckling take-me-now moments have morphed into ‘Poldark’s on in five — tea?’, more than one friend in a long-term partnership has admitted to feeling like doing something drastic.
But there’s quite a gulf between being unbearably miserable in a relationship and feeling a bit bored. As a self-help guru once said, if it’s excitement you want, try hang-gliding first — as a newly retired friend did. She swears it saved her marriage.
While the most recent divorce figures for over-65s have shown a marked increase (largely down to there being more over-65s now), there has also been an increase in so-called ‘silver splicers’ (older people who marry or remarry) — up by 46 per cent.
Just because a relationship didn’t work, it doesn’t mean we’ve given up on wanting better ones in the future. I’m a classic example. When I met Mr Very Right Indeed seven years ago, we moved in together within 18 months and married soon after.
THE ANSWER TO A TRICKY QUESTION
‘And what do you do?’ It was so easy when the answer was ‘I’m a magazine editor’. Instant status. I can’t pretend I don’t miss it.
These days I just smile and reply: ‘How long have you got?’
Gill (pictured) urges others to ban the word ‘retirement’, instead taking time for growth and self exploration
It’s now more a case of who I am rather than what I do — and ‘who I am’ has turned out to be far more fluid and liberating than my previous incarnation. I hadn’t expected that.
IT’S TIME TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK
i liked the idea of spending my retirement in an orgy of self-indulgence, but after a few weeks of catching up with friends, city breaks and theatre trips, I knew it wasn’t going to satisfy me in the long run. I still needed to contribute.
Some of my most fulfilling moments involve community projects such as a refurbishment plan for our village hall, setting up a cinema club and running a litter-picking scheme.
Other friends have got involved in pursuits — from taking Open University degrees to becoming artists, jewellery makers or gardeners. And they enjoy volunteering (check out volunteeringmatters.org.uk) and some great literacy schemes (try literacytrust.org.uk, readeasy.org.uk or beanstalkcharity.org.uk).
Whoever said true happiness is the combination of pleasure and purpose knew what they were talking about.
AND . . . BAN THE WORD ‘RETIREMENT’
Retirement implies a shutting down, a withdrawal. But when I look at my generation of women I see anything but.
This is a time of growth and discovery, an exploration of all those sides to ourselves we’ve had no time for until now.
We’re seeking a new dynamic between our busy working worlds and a more home-based future, familiar to our mothers, but less so to us. Why should our working lives be all or nothing? Maybe we can find a better work-life balance. Let’s face it, we’ll never really retire, will we?