Retirement preparation can be daunting, but it is not just the financial side or what you might do after retiring. How do we manage the transition out of the workforce when there is little rite of passage for the event after so many years? This piece by Cathie Cummins of Wagga Wagga, Wiradjuri Country, takes a look at saying goodbye to work on our own terms.
I have worked in a large regional hospital for some 16 years and have been highly invested in my job where I worked across all departments in the coordination of work health and safety, including safe patient handling, with my clinical background in Occupational Therapy. This role has also included varying involvement in all phases of hospital redevelopment over 10 years. In 2021 I knew I wanted to plan to retire. Maybe I felt I was wearing out a bit. Multiple minor surgeries over an 18 months period may have been a bit telling.
In the first week of January this year I selected my retirement date and submitted my leave application for whatever long service leave I had. Not much, after working mainly part-time for the past 30 years since marrying and having children in my mid-thirties. Anxiety kicked in pretty quickly with just thinking about the challenges of sorting finances for the future and divesting myself of the worker role. I had four more months of work and then a few months leave. I needed to prepare!
So far, I had located a female financial planner and had attended an initial appointment in December 2021. By October I had finally managed to roll over all of my bits and bots of superannuation into one preferred fund, quite an achievement after I ended up with multiple funds over my working years with several in my maiden name. The financial planner involvement was as much to stop me from further procrastination, as it was for assistance.
I looked up and found on Wiki ~ How to Emotionally Prepare for Retirement which is well set out and helpful. What a relief to find something other than financial preparation and links to retirement homes! But that was all that came up, so then I searched the same, but specified for Australia and that revealed some more options. A few months ago, I had asked in Collins bookshop if they had anything Australian and not just financial. The lady said “have a look here, but there isn’t much”. A quick glance and I was out the door – nearly all non-Australian and definitely financially focused. So boring.
Having found a few online resource guides I realised, although they were good, none of them looked at mentally adjusting to the finishing work side of things. They focused rather more on the what you would be doing, staying positive, readjusting your mental picture of yourself and your worth. I found myself telling a work friend recently that having something to do in retirement does not negate the personal experience of the transition from working to not working. You still have to go through whatever that entails.
In fact, I pretty much hate the words retirement and retiring which now seem so archaic. Google told me that originally it was from the mid-16th century French re, meaning back and tirer, meaning draw. Literally meaning to drawback to a place of safety or seclusion. Retirement from work at a certain age, has been around since around the 18th century. Prior to this time, life expectancy was 26 to 40 years and only started to increase with the industrial revolution. It was a way to move out older workers who were less fit for the work and bring in younger workers. These days we are really seeing retirees entering a third phase of their lives, which for most is not about moving to the sedentary lifestyle of our forefathers, but about staying active. But there was still nothing on the transition.
So, I have been preparing for that transition in my own way. Finishing off things at work to give some closure, not leaving things undone. Letting go of more work issues. Seeing the bigger picture of change as evolving, with me going out one door and someone new coming in, with different approaches. Well, that is very philosophical of me but I realised it was not without some figurative kicking and screaming to get there – I was not going to let myself go quietly. Decluttering of papers and computer files is also cathartic, but initially I only ditched five years of diaries and kept an extra bin beside me for security shredding, when really, I need a whole skip!
I planned my last week to be a transition in its own right. Wearing some weird apparel with signage so I could visit all the departments and people, to say “So long and thanks for the fish”. Getting married we have hen’s nights or weekends with zany activities, but getting unhitched from work does not evoke much fun, does it? I wondered about some sort of headdress and when considering keeping the chicken theme, my husband suggested an old boiler! I did buy a crazy hat construction from a milliner, luckily discounted, which looked a bit like a shipwreck. And I did enjoy wearing it for the last two days at work. I also wrote a Goodbye to Work for our hospital weekly bulletin.
Over several months at home, I worked on some mock safety alerts for common staff work safety issues of fatigue, sitting is the new smoking, patient handling and microwave safety. This was creative and enjoyable for me. I completed a sheet for each of the four topics in a humourous vain using cartoons and pictograms. I printed and laminated a number of sets and presented them to colleagues as my farewell card to work – never to be publicly shared.
In my dinner speech I focused on “leaving work” since that is the first step to take. An opportunity for some black comedy in my own gig! I did find some retirement jokes (there is no shortage). Some gems are:
“What do you call a person who is happy on a Monday? ……… Retired”
“They didn’t give me a watch, just told me the time”
“Goodbye tension, hello pension”
“Going to a retirement party and finding out it is for you”
“Reaching a finishing line after the longest marathon”
I incorporated some Spicks and Specs type games at dinner as well. Even with this preparation I found myself writing in the early hours because I was sick of losing sleep thinking about work issues and going over retiring in my head.
I realised I had been doing a mental retirement SWOT analysis for some time, you know, when you brainstorm the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a situation. Even when I tried to focus more on the opportunities they were overshadowed by the threats! I am sure retirement anxiety is real - my lived experience. I tried to talk to my husband about it and he said “well don’t retire”. I have been responsible for planning the whole financial retirement thing. I also obtained some assistance through a few counselling sessions where I could unburden myself and get some perspective.
In the SWOT there are many things I have worked on and achieved over the past few years (the strengths). The latest was solar power to reduce ongoing power expenses. I then needed to maximise my savings for the last five pays to reduce the redraw on the house mortgage, which paid for the solar. When I started to jot down the SWOT, I mainly came up with the weaknesses and threats. It took a few months to get the more balanced picture.
Overall, it was a great exercise.
Solar power installed Not focusing on the positives
Accessible shower done Being aged
All Super together in 2021 Sitting
Reviewed private health cover Habits
New fridge and recliner couch Decreased mobility
Organised trip on Ghan Good food
Make fun of work ~ create Reduced financial means
own rite of passage Arthritis/ joint replacements
More time to write Living with pain
Get better sleep Increased weight
Exercise classes in the Art Gallery Being seen as lesser
Be more philosophical Being patronized – ageist attitudes
Unburden Having so much time to clean the house
Learn new things Procrastination
Having found there is no rite of passage from working life to non-working life,
I tailored my own which worked well for me. All these things helped. It was a combined approach, keeping a diary about how I was feeling, consulting a financial planner to force me to get ready, some counselling when too stressed about it all, planning my work exit strategy by poking a bit of fun, buying and wearing a weird hat, working with my replacement over the last month of work, researching retirement preparation resources and finding them lacking. The SWOT analysis, which also showed me I had been addressing some larger concerns over recent years. A farewell dinner (not too big) at a nice restaurant with some games I wrote myself. Planning a holiday was also a good strategy. It was an expensive one on The Ghan and so planning commenced in 2020 and it was paid off in installments. It was meant to be in 2021, but delayed of course due to everything COVID. In the end the trip was two weeks after finishing work - well timed and a welcome reward, while having some long service leave.
Success. I am not missing work at all!
Cathie moved to Wagga Wagga in the early 80s. She wrote "Confessions of a Shoe Addict" in the nineties when at home with young children which was published in the Wagga Wagga Writers Writer’s Annual Anthology. She has been a member of fourW on and off over many years, attended their writers’ workshops and has undertaken a range of on-line creative writing short courses. “Meeting in the Middle” was published in the fourW thirty-two anthology in 2021. She plans to spend more time writing now she has said goodbye to work!
Like what you read? Check out more stories like Cathie's in Mona Magazine Issue 02.