It’s been two years and a half since I finished full time work after 39 mind-numbing years in the civil service. The fear of a subsequent financial shortfall barely figured in my calculations. Now, I realise what a good decision that was and I have not got a single regret. But it is not just the sheer drudgery of carrying out the largely symbolic work benefit fraud investigation had become. It was the waste and loss of time and time becomes more valuable as you get older.
Time certainly appears to pass quicker than it once did, which then brings home an acknowledgement of mortality. People around you get ill, sometimes they die, suddenly or gradually, and you never know if you are next. Without going into detail, my line of part time work now has illustrated to me just how tenuous our existence is.
Take retirement. We all dream that once we have finished a lifetime of full time work, we will all grow old at our leisure, hopefully in good health, seeing the grandchildren come to visit, travel at home and abroad and, if we close our minds, believe we will live forever. If only. The truth is rather different.
We lose our parents and older relatives, we see friends and acquaintances suffer in various ways and it hurts. Why did X happen to this person? They worked hard, played by the rules, deserved a break in retirement. It’s just not fair.
It is true that retirement for many can bring untold joy for many years until infirmity finally takes hold, leading to a gradual decline and then dying in your sleep in your 100th year. If only it was like that for everyone.
The epidemic of dementia is set to explode more because society is growing older. The odds of us acquiring this evil disease are depressingly high. It scares the hell out of me. I have come across instances of people being struck with dementia in their sixties, sometimes even younger. And Parkinsons. In fact, these awful diseases represent the tip of a very large iceberg of diseases. In my final years of full time work, I didn’t exactly think that I was sitting around, waiting to get struck down by any of these conditions. Life isn’t that way. It was, for me, more a matter of time. You just don’t know.
I know and have worked with people who worked right up to and beyond their retirement dates and then everything unravelled. Because we don’t know what will happen, every decision we make it a roll of a dice. But as we are not all the same, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much.
Plenty of people’s lives revolve around work and would like to work forever. For instance, if your job is very well paid, the potential loss of income may be a step too far. One less break at Center Parcs, one less skiing holiday – let’s carry on working. I love working anyway. A very fair argument. For others, it will be the chance to travel more, to spend more time with family, the chance to embark on a more creative journey, to do those things there wasn’t enough time to do before.
I’m not saying any scenario is wrong. If someone can’t face finishing work for whatever reason, of work and money is their raison de’tre then that’s just fine. Perhaps it was because I had tired of spending five days a week in an office and only two doing things I really wanted to do that I had to change. Each to their own.
Whatever floats your boat, this is not a trial run. And if you work to live, rather than live to work, you could be just like me.