Essay: retirement

65 and wondering about retirement                                                                        3.7.15

Thoughts of retirement recur from time to time, in part because some old friends have recently retired and are enjoying themselves, with plenty of time to travel and develop other interests.  It’s quite challenging (though not impossible) to develop other significant interests while still working.  It just takes some self-discipline, and has certainly been helped along by my recent reduction of hours at work.

So at the moment I’m still going to work for about 29 hours each week. General Practice consulting isn’t boring, but some of the associated necessities are becoming more tedious – paying large defence insurance premiums, registration fees and college membership for example, and the study involved in keeping up to date and on the ‘vocational register’.  As income declines those costs become more onerous; it’s probably not viable to reduce hours to much less than now.

More than ever it’s worth getting fitter, to try to safeguard health so that additional leisure time can be spent enjoyably.  My physical fitness has declined somewhat owing to arthritic joints and reduced exercise capacity – with capacity for eating unimpaired.  Again, more self-discipline required.

What might complete retirement look like?  There’d be a lot of free time to develop a consuming passion, but so far I haven’t found anything that really grips me.  Having said that, there’s clearly some risk that in retiring too late, there won’t be enough years (or energy!) left to develop the last period of life.  Art?  I’m getting better with practice and enjoy it once I get started, but sometimes resist picking up the brushes; won’t mention that word self-discipline again!  It might become a consuming passion if I remember that I’m just doing it for my own enjoyment, the pleasure of developing a new skill, not with a view to career success.  Improvement is necessarily slow, plateaux are lengthy.  Writing?  Yes, I enjoy it and it comes more naturally to me than painting; but I doubt that I’ll attempt another novel (have two unpublished manuscripts) – it takes an awful lot of time and effort for little hope of getting published.  I’ll just continue with short forms – poetry and essays, diary and letters.  Non-fiction eg history (one self-published) or biography (one manuscript) needs much research, once again with little prospect of publication; so it would need to be a topic I felt very strongly about, with a potentially large market.  It would be a lot more efficient to move to some logical extension of clinical practice eg university teaching;  I don’t feel very motivated towards that, though I do enjoy the one-to-one student teaching I do currently.

Another broad option is just to spend a lot of time pursuing relaxing, enjoyable activities like travel, performances, the arts, reading.  Yes, but there’s a lot of organizational tedium, and a certain amount of boredom in the passivity of being transported and entertained, if that is taking up a lot of your time.

To state the bleedingly obvious, retirement means giving up paid work, the structure of going to work, and a useful income stream.  We could probably live (more frugally) now without it, but would have to ?sell assets, ?travel less.  It’s part of having not focussed on making a pile of money ie having tighter options is the logical (and expected) consequence, though not something that bothers me.  It always seemed important (and still does) to have a good life balance, to enjoy life as it is lived rather than planning for a well-heeled decline.

And I still enjoy my present GP mix of working 3 days close to home, 2 days in the west, and 5 weeks remote NT locum work each year.  Giving up work also seems odd when I feel ‘at the top of my game’ – from the point of view of accumulated experience enabling easy decision making and efficient clinical practice.  The risk of staggering on too long, of being unaware of declining competence, of one day getting tapped on the shoulder by a colleague (or worse!) is real enough.

These questions are all ‘grist for the mill’ over the next 4-5 years as I approach 70, and the attitude and preferences of my life partner are clearly important too.  Should I set a tentative retirement age and work to it?  Should I consider the viability of a year’s work in UK, or perhaps a few years part-time in Queensland, as a swansong?  We’ll see.


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