Boredom

When children get bored it often causes them to ask their parents to solve their little problem, which in turn makes parents impatient. “Find something to do!”, may be the cry of the exasperated parent. This raises two questions: 1) what is boredom and 2) what is to be done about it?

To begin, I have yet to find a good definition of boredom. But it does seem to possess two dimensions 1) the environment 2) personal motivation. Here are examples:

1)   A bored schoolchild in a classroom where an uninteresting subject is being taught on a hot day.

2)   An adult who can’t get motivated to start certain attractive activities.

There must be a complicated link at play between the environment and the desires of the individual. Either you are trapped in the eggshell of boredom or you crack through it and escape.

In retirement the issue of boredom can arise; and in small doses it should not create problems. In case it persists longer-term, you may want to consider your environment and your motivation, that is to say your meaning or purpose now that you have stopped working.

Possible remedies are 1) make small variations in your daily routine to see what interesting and unexpected outcomes might emerge 2) reflect on your life, in order to recall aspirations from the past that you may want to revive.

Boredom is no enemy, it may be the spark of creativity that motivates you to find purpose and meaning.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

A conversation between two friends

Jim is about to retire, but Mike retired 3 years ago.

Mike: So what will you do with yourself when you retire Jim?

Jim: Relax, travel a bit, play golf and relax.

Mike: Interesting, but say a year on?

Jim: Let’s see. Now you have been retired for what around 3 years, don’t you miss work?

Mike: I did at first. Actually the transition from work to retirement was stressful and difficult, in a way that I didn’t expect. My job gave me a clear purpose. Also, I missed the friendships. But now I’ve made new friends and I see them all the time.

Jim: How did you do that?

Mike: I realised early on in retirement that I really wanted to do voluntary work, there’s plenty around, and you meet new people and test yourself in new situations. It’s not like work at all. And you make friends there.

Jim: Do you do that five days a week?

Mike: Oh no. I’m also studying Japanese. Seriously. It’s an open-ended commitment. I can do it at any time of the day for as long as I am motivated. Then when I go to Japan next month I will have a much better chance to understand their culture than when you and I went on that work trip ten years ago. Do you remember?

Jim: Yes I remember that, it all seemed pretty strange. But I think I will miss the pressure of work, it really motivates me.

Mike: I make my own pressure. No boss tells me what to do. Except for the voluntary work which I can turn off when I want to, I am my own boss.

Jim: How did you work through all these issues?

Mike: I got help. From a retirement coach. He is not a financial planner but he listens. He helped me to find my meaning and purpose since I stopped work. I can give you his details.

More on executive and retirement coaching

I wrote some time ago about executive and retirement coaching, making the point that while the first is commonplace within corporations, the second is still finding its way. In other words, companies have yet to see the value in providing retirement coaching to their soon-to-retire employees.

In making a case for retirement coaching I pointed out that, when implemented, it sends a signal to younger staff that the company values its employees at all phases and times. That is a key benefit as I see it. What obstacles stand in the way of its implementation?

It may come down to this: retirement coaching is still a cottage industry and therefore not at the same scale as a corporation of reasonable size. This is not the case with executive coaching which has developed over the years and is typically well-placed to meet the needs of its corporate customers.

But the important point to make is this: when you help someone in their 60s to search for their personal meaning, in my opinion, a certain congruence of coach and client is important. And it is from a cottage industry that you can hope to find that compatibility. That is a coach who is a good match in terms of experience and stage of life to the retiring client whom they help. Moreover, given that coaches often work in networks, that compatibility should not be difficult to locate.

Finally, just as the retired person’s search for meaning involves experimentation, so a corporation’s search for good retirement coaching outcomes will involve a degree of searching and experimenting. Let’s start.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Emotions

 

People ask the question: what is retirement coaching?

Let me begin by mentioning two things that retirement coaching is NOT: it does not cover issues of financial planning nor mental health. There are many specialist practitioners in these two areas.

However, between those two practices, there is the emotional makeup of a retired/soon-to-retire individual. Why is this important? To answer this, I like to think of how emotions (happy, sad, angry, bored, frustrated, restless etc.) connect to two other aspects of who we are.

The first aspect is behaviour. How often have you seen a person lash out and behave badly because they are expressing an emotion such as anger or frustration? So it is not hard to believe that a retired person who hasn’t settled into a contented emotional pattern may start to impact those around in a negative way. This can’t be good in the longer term.

The second aspect is understanding. A retirement coach tries to help the retired person come to understand the world of postwork and the client’s place in it.  So, for example, what kind of balance should the client strike between activity and leisure. Yes, emotions enter into this equation. There is no universal answer to this; each person will find a balance, and in this it’s useful to get some help.

Yes a retirement coach will charge for the service but why not think of this as an investment (amortised over time) in your emotional future; no different from gym membership and probably a lot cheaper, as six sessions will suffice!

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Risk

Conventional wisdom has it that risk aversion rises with age. This statement seems both empirically and theoretically reasonable, but let’s investigate further.

First I think of financial risk. There in retirement, where there is no prospect to gain income and top up a retirement account balance, it may be quite reasonable to become intolerant to investment risk.

Second, wounds and scratches take longer to heal in older age. How sad. However, that may sensibly discourage older people from skateboarding and rollerblading. Not only that; but as reflexes slow, along with our reaction time to the unexpected, there is again more reason for caution. Besides falling on your backside becomes less elegant the older we get. It’s that status thing.

The moral of this piece is that as we move into retirement we need to be aware of, and I say avoid, what I call acronymically SAHS or Stay at Home Syndrome.

In other words, even though there are reasons to become risk averse as we age, this is a trap to avoid. I say that we need to keep experimenting in retirement in order to secure our personal meaning. To experiment requires that we take risks, measured perhaps, but still risks.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Time and Energy in retirement

I want to talk about energy and retirement, but first to recap on time and retirement.

I have written before about time in retirement, which I think is a critical matter. I talked about the psychology of time and that it is experienced rather than directly measured by each of us, hence we can talk about time going quickly or slowly for us.

I want to take another perspective, that of energy, without getting to a precise definition. Instead of constructing the day according to the clock – for that is the way it was when you worked (tick tock, another meeting, stress, stress) – I want to base it on how you expend energy. As a model think of the electricity grid where you can either draw from it for your energy needs, or contribute to it from your solar panels’ power.

This framework poses a question: How will you allocate the energy of your day? Will you have periods of intense energy spent in a task, combined with restful activities where you re-charge, and even periods that are energy neutral? Now the day has a completely different flavour. The clock is no longer your master. This use of energy as a framework corresponds more closely to a division of the day into things you love doing and those that are a pain to you.

Isn’t this approach likely to reduce your stress in retirement?

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Phases of retirement

Why should retirement consist of one uniform block of time in your life? Was your work life similarly monotone? Of course not, you shape-shifted through many tasks, jobs, perhaps careers. So you know about phases during your working life, and how a new phase of work may either be imposed on you from above, or you will plan for it.

I have written before about the importance of the first few years postwork when you are probably brim-full of plans, energy and good health. Let’s call this phase one of postwork.

Now consider the possibility of phase two of postwork. This may happen after about five years when you are ready for new challenges. My thought is that you could start to plan phase two before it comes knocking on your door.

Quite simply, you could review what you have achieved so far, say at year four, then evaluate and most importantly dream of future possibilities.

Don’t have phase two drop on you, plan for it, just as you did during your work life.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

The truth about retirement

Suppose you are about to retire or have retired recently.

Do you believe that the best years of your retired life will unfold after you turn 90? If so, then read no further.

Do you imagine that every dream you have ever held about retirement, and how you will live it, will actually come true for you? If so, then read no further.

Are you entering a possible 30 years of retirement by just winging it, that is letting it happen to you? If so, then read no further.

Do you think that all your friends and family are waiting with open arms to accommodate you to your retirement, even though you haven’t given it much thought? If so, then read no further.

However, if you are still reading, then perhaps you feel that retirement can’t be that straightforward for you.

But, more importantly, the sooner you get to grips with what it means for YOU then the more that pleasure and stimulation will come your way.

Make the most of those early years of retirement whilst you have the health, mobility and motivation for it. This will come down to your personal search for meaning.

It’s not easy to discover this meaning all by yourself: but a retirement coach can help.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Authenticity

What would an authentic retirement look like, what would it contain, how would it feel?

I was surprised and a little disappointed to read in the dictionary that the word “authentic” has little to do with the word “author”.  Authentic derives from a Greek word meaning genuine, whilst author comes from a Latin word meaning to originate.

Then again authentic also means “proceeding from its reputed author”, so there is a connection after all.

Therefore as the reputed author of your retirement script: what will you write there? Will it look different from your working life; perhaps you will create a more authentic balance in your life than you have ever been able to achieve before?

Will you have more time for family and friends, hobbies and most of all will your stress levels decrease dramatically?

It’s your call but you may benefit from the services of a retirement coach who can help YOU to write your retirement script.

Retirement: You won’t know what it is like until you get there.

Measurement matters

Productivity is a very important matter in the world of the employed. Tote that barge, lift that bale; as the lyrics of the song had it, many years ago.

As a result in the world of work there is a strong focus on, and belief in, measurement; measurement of output, measurement of the effectiveness of an employee. It seems so rational compared with anything as old-fashioned as judgment; and we could have an argument over the merits of measuring versus judging as a way to assess an employee’s worth to a company.

But let’s not do that, and instead consider retirement. As a retired person, you can shuck of any sense of measuring your success, and swim with the tide, as you no longer have a boss.

And now for a practical example: learning a foreign language.

You could take all the exams and get all the certificates that you want and need: all good. But, and this is a CRITICAL difference, you could also simply work to improve your proficiency in your chosen foreign language: that is to slowly immerse yourself in the language and its associated culture. You won’t be able to measure your success, but that is OK, as you can form a judgment. And guess what: your stress levels will reduce because you are not being measured!

This is a radical distinction; as you have moved from measuring to judging your success.

At base, this is all about setting your expectations. The choice is yours. I would simply emphasise that in postwork (as distinct from when you had a boss) you can set your own expectations and work within those; you can even change them of your own volition, without a need to ask anyone for permission.

Retirement: you won’t know what it is like until you get there.