Look forward to retirement
Does one necessarily have to go through pre- and post-retirement blues? What does this milestone of 60 or thereabouts mean in India?
PHOTO: ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY
THE SECRET TO RETIREMENT: It lies in having wider interests all through life such as reading, music, sport, friends, and outdoor hobbies.
AS I approached the day of stepping off the treadmill, something in the air amongst my friends told me that the R-word was something, like a poor relation or an incurable ailment, that one did not mention in polite company, in the interests of preserving one's self-image! I wondered whether one must necessarily go through post-retirement blues, as suggested by some. Do we have to undergo a male mid-life crisis? Luckily circumstances had conspired to make me prepare myself over the past decade, so it turned out to be a case of downshifting, running life at a lower rpm. I simply began another innings, of freelance coaching and teaching, catching up on reading and writing, mercifully less ruled by the clock.
However my interest here is to ask a more general question what does this milestone of 60 or thereabouts, mean to the present and next generation in India?
Non-issue in the West
In the West, this question has largely become a non-issue, because few can indeed afford to stop working altogether, given their indebtedness and sliding value of savings. The State too can hardly cope with the cost of maintaining a growing and greying population, and most pensions are deferred till the 70s, nearer the day of real physical incapacity. Besides, post-industrial society has long since given up the norm of a lifelong career culminating in a pension. A substantial minority have already faced retrenchment; most have changed careers mid-stream; and been compelled to cobble together a portfolio of part time jobs and occupations for half their adult life. A typical example in the United Kingdom would be an ex-health service officer in his fifties, living in the country as a market gardener, a part-time tutor and helping out at the local church or museum on weekends, in order to stretch his savings comfortably. This is a salutary example of the shape of things to come. Call it a globalisation effect or whatever, the future for our under-45 generation will not be far different. The reason, quite simply, is demography. Around 1950, the life expectancy at birth of an Indian was 27 years and the population around 330 million. Our headcount has more than trebled since; and the typical Indian can now expect to live twice as long. Put these facts together and the mind boggles at what lies ahead!
Nothing is as certain in life, they say, as death and taxes; you could add, at least for most people upto the current generation, laying down office and handing over the reins as yet another. People deal with this inevitable event in a variety of ways depending on personality type and lifestyle. The easiest route for some seems to be to plan well ahead for another career, in other words, not to face the blank appointments diary at all but put off the evil day for some more years. In the government and public services, the officer cadre achieves a similar end, cultivating a network of contacts still fresh enough to open doors for a client when needed. That keeps them in the style of living they are accustomed to, with a few years of full-time employment as an elder statesman in a company. Nonetheless, both sides to this post-retirement employment know very well that the value of a network dwindles fast once you are away from the centre of power. Your own juniors and successors prove to be slippery customers, taking shelter behind a screen of urgent meetings, with secretaries and assistants to offer creative excuses. Many rue this state muttering to themselves the Shakespearean dictum "even a dog is respected in office"!
But let's face it, not everyone has a friendly businessman waiting to offer a directorship or two, a consulting assignment, or full-time job. As the grey population increases, the available sine cure jobs will certainly not be enough. The sadder part is not with the middle class or mid-level office holder but the brass who lose the trappings of office the moment they vacate the seat. As the well-known joke has it, of all the things former CEO's miss, the secretary and the sanctuary of a private office are the most wrenching losses. Reserved parking spaces, a chauffeur and someone to make tea are small but accustomed, inexpensive luxuries which are worth a great deal as one realises in the first weeks out in the cold. Of course some manage to come in from the cold, through many devices by which the smart ones retain the perquisites, through emeritus positions and part-time advisory roles, besides committees, commissions and so on.
Yet all this is merely postponing the inevitable. One must in the end develop one's ability independently to keep emotionally and physically healthy. For this, some form of attitudinal change is essential. Merely occupying the mind with substitutes for full time work will not do. Yoga, meditation, a daily regimen of self-maintenance, doing good works, helping out with pro-bono societies, all have to be worked out within one's own interests and resources. Of course one must attend to the financial side of planning one's investments for which there is plenty of free professional advice in the media and in the industry. We would be well advised to start thinking of the needs at 60, 20 to 30 years in advance, and build up a slowly evolving mix of equity, debt and bonds and insurance, over a long term. As with any major change in life, the prescription for mental preparation for retirement is much the same: think of it long before you actually have to. Here is where your frenetic, type-A executive, charging around in a whirl from seven in the morning on Monday to late on Friday night, is frequently so ill prepared. He has no time to stand and stare, or smell the roses. Even while travelling, he is blind to the surroundings, wanting to fill every "unforgiving minute with 60 seconds' worth of distance run" but all on business! And suddenly when the dreaded R-day is upon him, he feels lost and bereft of support. Some go into a state of couch potatoes or prop up the club bar or just become a nuisance for their still employed former colleagues.
The real secret, I venture to suggest, lies in having wider interests all through life such as reading, music, sport, friends, and outdoor hobbies and so on. One must also recognise the need to be self-sufficient in such things as mailing your letters and cheques on time and keeping accounts if need be. Being by oneself without feeling lonely is another art by itself. Taking long walks, playing tennis or swimming if health permits, teaching children, singing in a choir or gardening, learning a new language, joining an environment group these are a few of innumerable examples that are all around us if we but care to look, without bias. So, the word to the young is clearly start thinking now, and try out options long before you have to choose. Step off the treadmill by all means, so to speak, but enjoy strolling at will in the garden instead!
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Tips for women
If you have yourself retired from full time work, make doubly sure you do all of these things. If your partner has retired, you must do them anyway.
Find a good reason to go out at least once everyday; otherwise you'll only get on each other's nerves. So too with im!
Do NOT make the household the centre-stage i.e. cooking, washing and cleaning up, grocery shopping, and tidying up. Its true, a mother's work never stops unless you stop it.
Enjoy being grandma but don't become just a full-time unpaid baby-sitter.
Play a game if at all possible - outdoor preferably, otherwise chess, bridge, board games at least.
Keep in touch with the young, teaching, playing with them, doing voluntary work
Sing, chant, walk, listen to music, keep some new interest coming up all the time at least until you are comfortable with the new routine.
Do not neglect your health and get annual check ups.
Tips for men
If you are a methodical man, some of this may be old hat or even too obvious, but for the majority it may well be news!
Whatever your age now, start planning the finances, or at least mulling over the alternatives. It's never too early. You don't have to be too specific, but think it over.
Retiring can be fun remember it is only shifting gears and driving at your own speed not shutting down the engine.
Develop at least two new interests that don't strain your budget; not all of us have to go after the golf club membership.
Give up some things deliberately, some old habits, some expenses that may have been necessary for the job.
If you smoke, give it up NOW!
Learn to enjoy the smaller, every day, cost-free pleasures walking, reading, listening to music, surfing the net for new interests, bird-watching, and watching your own relationships with people with a fresh eye.
Invest in health; make sure you are insured.
Defer to the last possible moment plonking yourself down in front of the TV.
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