Nice guest piece from husband and wife team Ian and Vicki, who were once senior partners in an international law firm until they decided they wanted a new and creative project…
Soon after my husband and I retired from our twenty- five year careers in the world of corporate law, we began to risk losing our friends at social events with conversations that started with the words “being retired isn’t as easy as you might think, you know”. No-one was remotely sympathetic but for many people, a post retirement struggle is a surprisingly common experience. A friend of mine, who is a consultant psychiatrist, actually laughed out loud when I said we were finding it tough. “It’s a myth” she crowed “people like you can’t retire and it’s actually very dangerous to try”.
Our problem was that, as business people, we were hard wired to achieve and to be active. In the beginning, our retirement was like an extended holiday and it was as great as you’d expect for relieving years of stress and exhaustion. However, after a period of just a few months, we both started to feel listless, anxious, perhaps even slightly depressed. The problem is similar to an athlete who is used to exercising every day. We’d waited a long time to be free of the constraints of the rat race so expectations are very high – we were the lucky ones, right?
Behaviours change. In our quest to find what we were missing we started spending more, eating and drinking more and doing less and less. Demotivated and lethargic, we learnt the truth of the expression “if you want something done ask a busy person”. Once jugglers of eight meetings a day, for us now a dental appointment constituted a busy morning!
Business people who successfully retire inevitably have a new arena to enter, a post retirement mission. It wasn’t enough for my husband to take up learning French or for me to do the school run. A few hours at Alliance Francaise wasn’t going to replace the energy we once took from our work and the children started to find the new era mildly troubling. They didn’t want a suddenly clingy mum or Dad being embarrassingly chatty to their friends in the kitchen. A friend of mine who had also retired in his 40’s realised that he needed to make a change when, while discussing their parents’ jobs in class, his 6 year old paused puzzled for a few seconds and then told his teacher that he thought his dad’s job was “probably lying on the sofa”.
Obviously the issue isn’t just a problem for the retired parent. Without a life of their own and living vicariously through their children, retired parents can actually damage the children themselves. Even retired parents need to find their own meaning outside the family.
In our case there were two of us facing this post-retirement crash to earth. When finally my husband and I realised that our time of doing nothing was up, we lost no more time in setting about various projects and challenges. Our new development company built 11 homes.
We educated ourselves on the complex world of coloured diamonds and started to trade precious gems. We even set up our own hedge fund. In our most audacious move, we set up our clothing brand Scrumpies of Mayfair – designing, manufacturing and selling what we call “the world’s most beautiful knickers”. Almost straight away we started to feel that we were living again, happily immersed once more into the business world of strategy, decisions and risk.
Prior to our experience, we wouldn’t have believed we would have missed work once retired. However, the difference we felt once we started on projects again made it clear that we simply weren’t ready to tend the allotment yet. Retirement from one industry is a great opportunity to press the reset button but total retirement is not for everyone. We found that new challenges were key to our staying energised and motivated. Just four years after leaving the solid and dependable, some would say boring, world of corporate law, we are happily established entrepreneurs selling knickers worldwide, living proof that a change is as good as a rest.
Edited and prepared by Amy Murphy, Journalism student from DCU.