I’m A Pensioner
Life comes at you fast. Yes, sir, it does. My invitation to get my State Pension arrived today. Life comes at you quickly. I remember my first day at primary school with clarity. Oddly I remember that day better than when I turned 20, 30, or 40. I remember being 50 and not being enamoured. 60 was pretty cool. Indeed my 60s, despite some challenges, have been hugely enjoyable.
Please do not call me “66 years young”, or say “Age is just a number”, or ask me, “What are you doing now you’re retiring?” or “How will you use your well-earned spare time?” You can kill me on the spot if you see me with a golf club. Or going up the gangplank onto a cruise ship, again, kill me.
Retirement is a concept that does not resonate with me. My strongest desire is to nurture my ikigai, to have meaning in life. I have enough self-knowledge to realise that having no reason to rise from bed daily won’t sit well with my mental or physical health.
Recently I have told people close to me that I’m at peace with myself. I didn’t think I would ever achieve that state of internal harmony. I’ve waged an internal war against myself for so much of my life. Low esteem and an almost burning anger at myself for my failure as a human being. Weapons-grade self-loathing is a speciality of mine.
Thankfully I have had the drive to explore that. Sometime in my early 50s, I went to therapy for the first time. Goodness knows why I waited so long. I suspect it was fear of what I may find out about myself. I’ve had talking therapy with four different practitioners for nine years in total. I have had cognitive behavioural therapy and am reaching my third year of regularly consulting with a psychiatrist.
That’s not a ‘poor me’ list; it’s a timeline of my determination to understand myself and seek a more peaceful place for me and the people I care about.
Therapy works if you keep your mind open and don’t give up for real or imagined reasons. One of the tragedies of our healthcare system is that access to such treatment is difficult to access. Given the increasing level of mental health issues in society, I hope the situation can improve.
I’m rambling now, probably because of the fear of having nothing to do with my life.
Two years ago, I told anyone who would listen that I wanted to work forever. I was almost certainly talking to myself. To help me conquer the fear of the wilderness of irrelevance that stretched out so far, I could see the earth’s curvature.
I’m now excited about not working. It links closely to me finding my peace. I no longer feel defined by a conventional job and the influence and reward that come with it. It’s important to be alert, as while life comes at you fast, there are so many opportunities to learn and to grow.
A short story of relevance in the context of the working environment. I worked for a very large corporation back in the day and held a senior position. People wanted to talk to me, to curry favour; would I be the one who could help them gain that next step on the ladder?
I left and was invited to a rugby game with my former colleagues. I stood with a former peer of mine, and the ambitious talent crowded around us. My colleague drifted off to talk to another guest. The ambitious crowd evaporated within three minutes. I finished my beer and went home. That’s corporate influence for you. Fleeting as morning dew on a leaf.
That has played on my mind over the years. How quickly you become irrelevant. Without work, what would become of me? I know the answer, and I cannot wait to embrace it.
The Next Chapter
I’ve got several pursuits planned for the day conventional work ends. But I must put my wife, family, and friends first and continue to look after my fitness, mental and physical health. Accepting life comes at you fast, I want to age healthily. Simply ageing won’t do.
I’ve been a massive fan of Damon Turner’s work with Los Angeles Bike Academy. He is the driving force behind a charity that gives young people the chance to learn a trade, in this case, in the cycling industry. In addition, the bike shop the charity operates from is the base for an increasingly successful junior racing team.
Item one for me is to set up and develop London Bike Academy. Anything to help under-served young athletes get a chance. That’s something new I can bring to the city.
I’m keen to look at establishing an operation which can help young people access mental health counselling and potentially mentoring. I’ve experienced the isolation a mental health issue can present. It’s a brutal truth that access to support is very thin on the ground.
There’s a greater than even chance I will refresh my education in Clinical Organisational Psychology, something I studied at INSEAD many years ago. It was fascinating, and sharpening those skills cannot harm me.
What Advice Can I Pay Forward?
People who say, “Live each day as though it’s your last” are nobheads. You’ll be tired and wired the whole damn time. There’s nothing wrong with an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food and an afternoon of binge-watching Better Call Saul. It’s good for the soul. Life comes at you fast, but that doesn’t mean kicking back is bad.
Dress the way you want. I’ve had it pointed out that I’m too old to wear Nikes. I was 27 when the Air Jordan was launched. I’m the authentic one, not these late-arrival sneaker buffs.
Listen to and see whatever music makes you feel good. As with Nikes, I was there in the formative days of rap and hip-hop. In 1982 I owned two versions of The Message, the original vinyl and then a limited edition US import. My vinyl collection tracked the evolution of rap. And punk. And rock. I keep an open mind.
Pay forward some of your experience in the harsh lessons from life. Not the aspirational and success-focused stuff. The hard stuff. Recognising someone with depression and asking how they are. Letting them know they are not alone. Floating some thoughts out there. The stuff that Tony Robbins doesn’t trumpet. The life lessons stuff.
The Secret Sauce
As you age, you will find your authentic self if you are open to reflection. You will like who you meet broadly. The things you don’t like, you will work on. But this will feel like an adventure, something new to explore. While life does come at you fast, it consistently presents opportunities. It’s not as though this is time simply slipping away.
You will realise that while being young is good, being old is also good because you will have the wisdom to help you interact with the world and not take yourself too seriously.
That weaknesses and character flaws are part of our identity will become apparent, and that’s OK. You will accept that other people are also flawed and become more empathetic. Knowing what to work on and then acting is rich stuff. Helping others to do the same; in a soft, empathetic way is a positive contribution too. Don’t be pushy. No one likes those who tell war stories – “Enough about you, let’s get back to me.”
My only piece of advice is to stay curious. If you do, getting old will be a treasure to you.