I had a long talk with a friend who is reluctantly having to consider early retirement because of a chronic illness. Hoping to bring some encouragement into this difficult situation I reflected on how my own life has developed since retiring from my career in orthodox medicine in my early 50s – the same age my friend is now.
My decision to retire was made by choice, and largely for positive reasons, and therefore a far less traumatic experience than if it had been enforced by sickness or redundancy. All the same it involved significant change and loss, with big drops in both income and status.
It took time to adjust, and to create a new way of life. My husband and I moved to New Zealand, where most people we met had little knowledge or interest in what we might have achieved career-wise back in the UK. Relationships and activities had to be based on personal qualities, rather than position and qualifications and an existing network.
I extended my studies of holistic healing – discovered the challenges and rewards of being self-employed – returned to choral singing and music lessons after a lapse of 40 years – started writing on a wider range of topics – became more involved with animal welfare – made new friends – had more time for leisure and entertainment – and my fitness and energy improved. Some activities were planned, some presented out of the blue.
I do still miss my old job now and then, and occasionally get the feeling that I ‘ought to be doing something useful’ – though I have learned that there are many valuable ways of contributing to the world besides working directly in a caring profession.
But overall my experience has been positive, and I am glad to have been able to retire while still young enough to start afresh. What I value most is the freedom – being able to do what I choose without being accountable to authority or hampered by bureaucracy – and, by no means least, not having to get up so early in the mornings any more.