Planning for Retirement (Stage 3)
A big gap in social interaction occurs very suddenly once you are no longer in the workplace. It is easy to spend the day without speaking to anyone. Whilst, after a hectic and stressful occupation, this may sound idyllic, absence of social stimulus can lower your mental and physical well-being.
Relationships with colleagues often contribute to your social interactions in life. It is simple to calculate how many hours per week you spend in the company of professional colleagues and in differing environments. The absence of this following retirement can create a ‘big hole’ in your life.
Although many relationships formed through work can result in lasting friendships it is also true that these can fall by the wayside as the changes within the workplace occur and the ties that formed the relationship are loosened.
Despite the permanence you consider your relationship to have it can falter and, even if it doesn’t, I would recommend investigating what you can do with yourself now that you are no longer leaving the house daily to go to work.
Alongside supporting mental health and well-being by interacting socially with friends and family it is possible to avoid loneliness which brings with it a host of issues I thought may be better written about in a separate post. (Coming soon)
Do leave the house – but where to go?
You could investigate this both locally and nationally, so below I have briefly done both. Pathways to national information appears very straight forward so I have listed this first.
National Groups and Links
Thanks to web search engines such as Google, Yahoo etc it is easy enough to discover what national bodies are ‘out there’ and keen for you to participate in their activity and/or cause. By inputting key words, relating to your hobbies and interests, into a search engine can lead you to all sorts of information and even more ‘links’ which distract you for hours!
Interested in gardens? By entering ‘Gardens to visit near me’ into Google several links to sites offer the opportunity to investigate this further
Interested in group travel abroad? By entering ‘travelling abroad in groups’ several links appeared leading to companies wishing to whisk me away to unlimited numbers of exotic places
Want to volunteer in Britain or abroad? Entering ‘Volunteering in Britain’ again resulted in many links – in fact I followed many and completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing. I had not realised that so many opportunities were there. The main concern that I would have on reading some of these sites is ‘are they looking for someone young? A student on a gap year?’ Whilst initially this seemed to be the case when reading further into some sites the majority are mainly looking for people with – time, skills, interest – and you are most likely to have those in abundance.
Walking along the River Tees last week I noticed this poster advertising for volunteers to assist with maintaining the waterway and its surroundings. Find out more at Canalrivertrust.org.uk or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another national source of information is, of course, newspapers. Especially the weekend supplements, many print articles such as ‘the 20 favourite coastlines’, ‘20 popular pubs’, ‘10 favourite Yorkshire walks’ etc. For many years I would read these, planning on which I would undertake – never to have the time.
A few years back, as a team building exercise, myself and some colleagues were challenged with following a scripted walk around an area of London. It was an area not unfamiliar, or so I thought. What I learnt was that I would be so intent on arriving at a meeting informed and on time that I never actually looked where I was going! It is easy enough (once again thanks to the internet) to obtain information of such walks in your area and create a social event with family and/or friends. There is sometimes a small cost to download the instructions but not always, so arrange a date and off you go.
I recently discovered a walk along Regent’s Canal (www.theoutdoorguide.co.uk/britains-favourite-walks) and so will be meeting up with a friend in early summer and following the route. It is described as a ‘country walk’ so I am expecting to see a different side to London.
To stretch your mind, you could also consider day/evening classes at local educational centres – often listed through the LEA websites for example https://sunderlandcollege.ac.uk/19-plus/short-courses/ lists vocational courses available in Sunderland. Another option is to visit the Open University website which offer free courses via the Open Learning page http://www.open.edu/openlearn/
Although I have no up to date experience of the OU I did study for my first degree through their undergraduate programme and found it a very enlightening experience, very efficiently run with a high standard of course materials and support.
Local information, surprisingly, is more difficult to identify. I discovered that some group activities are shared only amongst the people who already know and not all use the internet (and if they do it was frequently out of date). So, the challenge was finding out how to find out.
I discovered that it is common for local interest groups to share information in the buildings where they meet – so I spent some time walking around the village looking at notice boards outside such places as The Parish Hall, the Church Halls and of course – the Post Office (that ancient stalwart of village news and gossip). Local Libraries are another site that will distribute information via its notice board, although commonly those are only open part of the week, so you may have to call more than once to gain access.
One very useful pathway for discovering activity opportunities is a weekly/monthly newsletter which lists the meetings and venues for each month. Where I live we are fortunate to have both – the monthly newsletter is paper-based and delivered to the door. The weekly ‘roundup’ is an electronic newsletter delivered via email – which means you must join a mailing list, which means you have to know about it in the first instance. I only discovered by chance – eavesdropping on a conversation in which it was mentioned, and then I had to confess to my nosiness in order to sign up ?
Joining up to local groups can be a scary prospect, going anywhere as a stranger is daunting at the best of times. I find doing so in a community where I live can have added concerns. Whilst the first visits are to assess the level of interest, required commitment, cost etc if you then decide not to formally ‘sign up’ the ‘locals’ could take this decision quite personally. So, I decided to develop a strategy whereby I attended the groups that interested me and where I knew there would be people who I already know. Initially attending those I had always had an interest in and would manage to work into conversations that ‘I am just trying out the wide choice of activities over the next 12 months, I had not realised there was such a hive of activity’ (which I hadn’t until I started looking). Then I gradually expanded to attend those where I was interested although didn’t know anyone who went.
These included groups in nearby towns. I have always been a frequent reader and over the years have set myself reading challenges – this year my challenge was to join and participate in a Book Club. For a variety of reasons, I could not join the local ones so decided to investigate others nearby. I took a guess that a Bookshop would have some information so approached Waterstones – and not only did they know of some in the town they also had one that met in their store monthly. Alongside of this group I was also informed of a Writing Group that met regularly on a Sunday morning, again in the store. I have no intention of writing a novel yet am aware my writing experience was mainly of official reports, finance papers and projects – all of which had meant my writing style was formal and instructive, not a style that would be conducive to the ‘Blog’ arena I was planning on being part of.
Joining the groups meant I had to follow my own advice re ‘being comfortable in the company of strangers’.
Choosing an event where the participants sit and are expected to listen is, in my experience, a good place to start. If everyone is basically listening, then everyone is ‘on their own’ to a certain degree plus as a ‘first timer’ you would not be expected to contribute – this gives you space to analysis how the group works and what level of contribution is given. Most interest groups are just that – full of interested folk, this is not an exam, people are there because they are sharing an interest and it gives them a reason to leave the house.
This doesn’t mean that you do not make any contact at all – go in the room, introduce yourself to the person at the door (there is always a person at the door), grab a coffee/tea – say hello to the person next to you in the queue and/or the person on the chair next to yours. Introduce yourself, say that it’s your first time – with some luck it will be a chatty individual who gives you some hints as to how the meeting works. If the event interests you go back next time – or review the scheduled topics for future meetings and go to those of interest (I do that as I think it reduces the sense of commitment until I am sure I want to be a regular attender)
It is important to build up connections, even in localities where you have lived some time you may not know the names of the people to who you say ‘Hello’ as you pass them on the paths.
Recognise ‘first time’ nerves – our confidence is often underpinned by our expertise and position. Having retired from the workplace can cause a temporary lack of confidence as we adjust to the new life and altered status. It is important that we understand the normality and commonness of this.
Just think – at one time all the people in the room you are walking into walked into that room for the first time too. Building connections and gaining recognition takes time – something you now have plenty of.
If you are already involved with local activity groups you could offer to extend your commitment. When working it is often difficult to take on roles that maintain the group – now that you are no longer working perhaps doing so is something you can consider. Alongside of ‘helping out’ the extended involvement often results in widening your relationship with others. There is a danger you may feel that once recognised as the ‘Secretary’ means you will be doing the job foreveeer. To prevent this, prepare your exit plan – state how long you will take on the role and stick to it. If all is going well you can always extend the time period, although I never do – I take on roles for a maximum period of 3 years and then even if I am enjoying it I step down.
If interest groups are not your ‘thing’ or the thought of joining is too daunting it is still important for your well being to be outdoors frequently and maintaining even a basic level of social interaction.
Walking outside daily builds face recognition, for yourself and for others to recognise you. Do it often enough and folk start to say ‘Hello’, this initial greeting assists with sense of belonging. Because people have seen you the next time you meet, perhaps in a shop queue, they are likely to start a conversation because there is facial recognition and a sub-conscious acknowledgement they have seen you before.
I was in a local shop in the queue when I recognised the man in front of me. He said ‘Hello’ pleasantly, it was the week before Mother’s Day and I noticed he was buying a card so remarked on this – the queue was moving slowly so we had a good conversation about mothers and thanking them for their efforts etc. He was eventually served and left the shop. The assistant asked me if I know him – ‘I certainly know his face’ I said ‘just cannot think of his name’. She replied ‘He’s Kevin Keegan’ (A world famous International footballer and Premier league manager in his time – just in case you were wondering)
Face recognition – important for human interaction.