This article was first published on 28th September 2018

Sue and I have been in Spain this week. We bought a villa with friends in 2012 when I retired from corporate life. We visit frequently, have joined the Costa Blanca Wine Society and Costa Blanca Yachting Association, and have made friends with many people who have retired to Spain over the last 20 years.

This week has been particularly sociable: a party celebrating a friend’s 70th, a sunset cruise, a Wine Society dinner in a lovely local restaurant, a UK friend coming to stay for two nights and yesterday a four hour lunch with new friends.

I have exceeded the recommended intake of Spanish wine this week!

I have also heard stories of retirement that range from the happy image above to those of desperate sadness. These impressions of retirement have reinforced some of the lessons I had begun to draw from my own ‘retirement’.

Firstly, it pays to have spent some time planning your retirement. My planning involved contributing as much as possible to my retirement savings while still employed. Our teacher friend ‘retired’ when her salary peaked in order to maximise her final salary pension. Many of our new friends in Spain had successful businesses that they exited at the right time.

However, Ted was offered early retirement by BA and found himself unemployed after 35 years and unsure of his purpose in retirement and at odds with his wife as to what, where or how life should continue. They have now separated. Colin retired from the car industry without a plan and spent the first 6 months ‘getting under my wife’s feet’ – all is well now!

Of course, a plan is no protection if the cards are stacked against you. It is always desperately sad to hear stories, as I did this week, of people who plan for retirement and are struck down within weeks of retirement by an incurable illness or tumour. As our good friends in Spain say “carpe diem”.

Plan, yes – but don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Secondly, discover or re-discover all the skills and enjoyments that have been suppressed during your working career or learn new skills. Research shows that this is one way to a longer life. Retirement gives you time that was not available before. In fact, you have so much time that without the structure of a working day it is easy to succumb to boredom. And with boredom can come guilt and loss of self-esteem. As Ted said, “I can try to fill my day with running, hobbies and socialising but it never seems to be enough”.

I enjoy writing, Jane and Jenny have taken up painting, Ted and Colin fly model planes, Akra and Fred fly to Australia to stay with their daughter, Harry sails and Jim runs the Wine Society with his wife and travels Spain visiting new bodegas and sampling their wines.

There is no excuse, there is plenty of time! Find your passion and follow it to the hilt.

But, however busy you are, what I have realised this week is that retirement is not about what you DO but who you ARE.

The majority of people I have met this week are happy in retirement. They tell stories of sailing, flying, painting, amateur dramatics, wine tasting, gardening and 100 other activities. It is easy to conclude that they are happy because they are busy. But, it goes so much deeper than that:

Jim runs the Wine Society; Harry runs the sailing club; Robert runs the local resident’s association; Clare is a Painter; Richard runs a retirement planning club! In many cases they are also Dads and Mums (but not having to change the nappies!), Husbands and Wives (in partnership not just in the same company) and Grandparents.

Before retirement, either your job or parenthood defines who you are. After retirement, you need to work it out again.

Most people we met this week know who they are. Retirement works for them.