episode one: unplanning retirement

Kitchen

This ‘seeingmeout’ blog has been intermittently evolving in my mind ever since I accepted an early retirement package from being a film academic at Queensland University of Technology at the end of 2010.  Contrary to managing, years in advance, a well-thought-through retirement process, my departure from permanent work turned out to be a speedy, unexpected roller-coaster ride over a couple of months. This rather unorthodox and unplanned experience was essentially a metamorphosis into the unwelcome, even alien state of becoming a ‘retiree’, a label I had shied away from for years. With the wisdom of some hindsight now at the beginning of 2014, this experience has become quite a liberating, though not at all straightforward, transformation into the mysterious messy world of post-work.

I started morphing from long-term worker to newborn retiree at the end of 2010. The University was enacting a form of ‘generation change’, and, of course, the ageing generation called the Baby Boomers was targeted.

One significant ‘ah-hah’ moment for me occurred when, amidst sorting out my finances post-retirement, I bought a brand new car in early 2011.  Seemingly well-meaning, sympathetic people commented, ‘Ah that’s good. The new car will see you out’. My immediate reaction was resistance – No! I want at least five more cars, including a red sportscar, before I’m well and truly ‘seen out’.

When the further acquisition of a shiny new stove brought forward another grim chorus that this stove would also  ‘see me out’, I found that this rather quaint expression, designed to comfort me, actually disarmed me, raising intimations of my mortality. I couldn’t help feeling that I was literally ‘on the way out’, with all my possessions lined up, waving me a fond farewell. I even found myself panicking and taking on this doomsday line of thought, scanning my wardrobe, for instance, wondering if the clothes I had already acquired would indeed ‘see me out’..

I pursued this rather puzzling ‘seeingmeout’ syndrome. My friends and acquaintances reported that their parents comforted themselves in their twilight years by saying they hoped that some possession or other would ‘see them out’.  I realized that this fateful bitter-sweet expression could lay the rather shaky foundations of a personal blog, with the modest aim of unpacking and hopefully disrupting the related myths and realities of ageing, retirement, financial planning, and many related topics. This resistant blog is definitely not meant to be a standard self-help tome on how to retire or age gracefully…but hopefully from my experiences there are some useful tidbits here and there for others to contemplate.

I had not prepared in any substantial emotional, psychological or practical way for this confronting ‘seeingmeout’ state called ‘retirement’.  When the offer came through, I was on leave in London in October 2010, and by December I had embraced the fact and retired. Having some distance geographically from the institution did help me make my decision to accept the retirement package – as well as some good advice from my long-suffering accountant.  For years building up to this, I had tried to avoid thinking about Retirement and associated concepts such as Superannuation or Financial Planning, and would even become irritated or bored if my peers raised these topics, especially at social gatherings. As with any form of literacy or skill acquisition, readiness is all, especially when one is thrown into the deep end.

By the beginning of 2010, retirement to me had seemed a long way off, given the rather shambolic state of my financial affairs. At the time, I was reluctantly persuaded to attend a Baby-Boomer-targeted Planning for Retirement seminar run by my superannuation provider, Q-Super. Thankfully I bumped into an old mate and we sat at the back of the room, mystified by the charts and projections, behaving like the naughtiest girls in the class.  Over a welcome recovery coffee afterwards, we both recognized that, while the people around us all nodded and behaved as though they knew how to realise the perfect dream of becoming successful Self-funded Retirees (SFRs), the path to retirement was a very shaky one, for different reasons, for both of us, and rueful laughter seemed the only way to cope.

My commonsense told me to face up to ageing and take a more mature approach to the realities of impending retirement. I therefore paid for a stint with a Financial Advisor. He made me feel as though I had been sent to a stern headmaster for a detention.  This Advisor forecast that I was doomed to longevity in the workplace, given that I had had my head in the sand for too long. I had apparently committed the following catalogue of lifestyle cardinal sins, indulging in, for instance:

  • Ongoing mortgage debt
  • Too many overseas trips
  • Living beyond my means each fortnight
  • An expensive social life etc (by implication perhaps too much crazy wayward spending on unmentionable pleasures)

I also quite categorically had no real safety net, apart from superannuation, summed up as:

  • No savings to speak of
  • No real inheritance
  • No stocks and shares
  • No second property investment…etc etc

Both my parents had sadly died a while ago at 74 years of age. On discovering this fact, the Advisor’s barely disguised disdain shifted to a kind of macabre optimism, that at least I wouldn’t need very much money to survive, given the family history.  Apparently his financial acumen also contained powers that could prophesy that I would definitely follow the family mortality pattern. In the midst of this financial and bodily damnation, I pathetically cried ‘Surely I can see New York and Paris again?’ The answer was a very predictable one from this grim financial reaper. He had already seen me out.

coming up: This blog contains no simple ‘seeingmeout’ recipes for life. But please tune in for hopefully diverting and refreshing views on my great timeless love, films, along with a further exploration of post-work pleasures and pain.

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21 thoughts on “episode one: unplanning retirement

  1. I love it !! Made me laugh as well. well done. I always love pics in a Blog Helen? More pics ? Xx
    Lisa Smith

  2. Helen, welcome to the blogosphere. Lovely to see you here and a most enjoyable first post. I have subscribed to your rss feed and look to reading more 🙂

  3. Excellent insight . Find also being in the ” seeing me out” phase of life that it has two meanings i.e. that you gradually become more invisible so you are being seen out . Ah, thank god you are leading the way Helen to ignore all the cliches and go to New York to play nude table tennis. We will prevail!

  4. Finally got the link. Hope you dumped that financial advisor on his head. Talk about doom and gloom. My best advice for retirement is to stay young at heart and laugh a lot at yourself and the world. It can be a very funny place.

  5. Enjoyed reading your first blog Helen even though you know I’m not much into using internet for such things. Insightful for me as I get closer to the big ‘R’ myself. Keep going with it….

  6. What a guilty pleasure you’ve turned me from a dutiful and anxious penny watcher to a wastrel! stuff the savings .
    Fancy meeting up in New York ? Can’t wait for the next episode for more ways to avoid ageing.

  7. Hah! Wonderful. That made me laugh out loud. Those financial advisers. I was told that Robert and I would be in great financial shape if we could just get rid of those wretched children. Ha Ha. As if…and then what kind of wretched financial stituation would they be in, I wonder. Can’t wait for more Helen. Keep it up!

  8. I find myself in a similar situation now that I am newly (and blissfully) divorced. All through my marriage, I yearned for a shadow future — one that could never be fulfilled because my ex’s preferences tended to dominate. When the marriage broke up (he was cheating all through my battle with cancer), everything turned upside down. For the better, I should add! The future I expected to share with him became the shadow and the old ‘shadow’ future, full of travel and art and interesting conversations, is now all quite possible.

    Some things I’ve discovered:
    A daily life without every moment being lined with lies is both liberating and refreshing.
    I’m better at collage and mosaic than painting.
    I no longer have a fear of public speaking.
    Castles in Ireland are cheaper than houses in Bardon.
    The same goes for lakeside villas in Piedmont.
    It’s possible to learn a foreign language at any age.

    There is no reason to follow the cautious path set out by conservative (ex-) husbands or financial advisors. You’re very welcome to visit me wherever I end up!

  9. Thanks everyone for your great comments – frank, insightful, warm and amusing. Sorry if I am making people less careful but also hope I am a liberating force. The next blog instalment should be done by next weekend. Very nice also to have some goddesses of the blogosphere such as Clare and Liz giving me the thumbs up.

  10. OMG. You have such a way with words. Financial Advisors … who do they think they are? After we lost almost everything in the GFC, these blokes are still trying to peddle the merits of the stockmarket. I personally don’t get their ‘blind faith’. Thanks for sending the link. I am following … and look forward to the next episode … and I LOVE reading all the comments as well! While I too would love to see more pix … I couldn’t help but think … this is a great movie script in the making. Anyway … I insist on seeing pix of nude table tennis please … a subject that should be immortalised either as art or photography.

  11. Now I know I am going to enjoy reading your blog, Helen, and all the comments, which are not much like all the stuff I heard at the retirement seminar I attended. And I hope that nothing we all presently own, will “see us out”.

  12. Helen, I have just read your blog while enjoying coffee in San Francisco. Far too cold for nude table tennis here. Maybe Hawaii or similar warm spot?

  13. Thanks Vivie for your wry observation! The weather is a definite consideration for such an activity. But I guess the New York venue will have appropriate heating.

  14. I just caught up with Episode One and am about to read more. Love it so far so thanks H. I don’t think I was ever one to say that “this will see you out”, given that I am also one to want new things more often than I probably should, at least according to your accountant!

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