David is 58 years old and Gill 48. It is just on two and a half years since David retired as a management professional, or as he describes it, started his ‘gap decade’. Gill continues to work full-time in a busy senior management role.
David and Gill are tertiary educated and describe themselves as socially progressive with interests around travel, lifestyle, the arts, politics and current affairs that pre-occupy their community; Australia and overseas.
We asked David and Gill to reflect on their experience both in the planning and the reality of David’s ‘retirement’ with Gill continuing to work.
So, how has your two and half years been?
David: I was quite clear in my own mind that I did not want to take up any form of paid employment or engagement in the early years at least of my ‘gap decade’. I was keen to experiment on myself how to make good use of my time and my skills and experience built up over decades. I decided to look at ‘time’, as similar to ‘water’ and use it wisely, not wastefully. I also decided that every retirement is an individual journey and looked to treat mine through this lens, in close partnership with Gill.
Gill: I have thoroughly enjoyed watching and sharing David settle into his new life pace. I sure am appreciative of the support both in terms of household chores and an always open ear/shoulder as I sometimes wrestle with the daily grind. Yes, many times I have felt a little envious! Especially getting up on our cold winter mornings!
What did you do to prepare for David’s gap decade?
David: I was lucky to have access to an employment access program. I was keen to test my philosophy and planned approach with some independent expertise. The experts I met with over a few meetings were strongly supportive of my plan and were especially useful connecting me with some tools to support my process. One was ‘mind-mapping’ which I found to be a really valuable way to visually organise important information about myself and my likes and dislikes. This strongly affirmed my view that you are the same person whether in full-time employment, retired or in transition.
Gill: My earlier years of working in and around superannuation gave me some insight here, in that I encouraged David to do his homework, financially and also emotionally. I played a sounding board role and tried to test or challenge David’s thinking. Above all I was quietly excited about a new direction for us. I also encouraged him to learn some new skills – especially around gaining confidence with technology – including using and getting the most out of social media. A couple of good friends were especially supportive in this area in a very practical way.
Are there things you would have done differently?
David: Like many retirees, I was keen to work on a volunteer basis in both executive management and more general community service roles. I was accepted in to a volunteer program as a conservation interpreter after a rigorous assessment program. I suspect I was also worried about having time on my hands and jumped at the first opportunity where the subject matter was a personal interest. Community volunteer opportunities are often more competitive than they appear. On reflection, I wish I had sat back and surveyed the landscape for a wider range of potential volunteer roles rather than jumped at the first attractive opportunity.
Gill: The timing of events was reasonably quick and intense, so I’m not sure what we could have done too much differently in terms of preparation. There is always something – but from where I sit, I think David’s was a smooth transition. He doesn’t have any regrets, so that makes me very happy! I look at my own future work options and desires with a much greater clarity in terms of the life we want as individuals and together.
Is there any advice you would give or comments you would make for people who might see similarities in their own circumstances?
David: Do your research. There is a wealth of information available via desktop research. Talk to friends who have taken some of the steps you are thinking of taking. Definitely sort out a clear financial plan as part of your retirement decision-making. Based on your research and plans, get to the point where you are comfortable with your own decisions and can articulate them clearly – family and friends will naturally be curious and will make assumptions that might be wide of the mark. And finally, be fully prepared for some of your initiatives to work out well and some not – just like life in paid employment.
Gill: In addition to David’s comments above, I would say be realistic about what you are going to need. For example, there is no Helpdesk, or HR department to troubleshoot; either factor in paying for services you hadn’t thought of before, or learn new skills! I believe you can teach an old dog new tricks!
… and the new dog.
David: We had a great dog for fifteen years when Gill and I both worked full-time and long hours. This dog passed away in the lead up to my retirement. Gill was always keen we get a new dog after a ‘waiting period’ which we have done. I have been surprised how demanding on my time and patience the new dog has been – even though I really shouldn’t have been. Perhaps this also reflects how much I have been enjoying spending my ‘gap decade’, for the most part as wisely as I can. To adapt from Paul Keating, “if you’re in politics and you need a friend, get yourself a dog’ … and the new dog, well he’s a cracker!
Gill: I think we both forgot how much time and effort (and money if you have a chewer!) a new puppy needs and there have been a few times where we have wondered what we were thinking! All in all though, timing is good and it won’t be long before we settle into our new rhythm and enjoy every day!
Have you experienced any of these same challenges? Did you make your retirement choices slowly or did you zoom into your new life? Do you have any advice for Gill and David? Is a dog part of your life, one of your aspirations?