No ‘larkin’ around when it comes to retirement issue
While nowhere near being pensioned-off, Will Mooney, Carter Jonas partner and head of its commercial agency and professional services in the eastern region, contemplates retirement. In the same week in February, Pope Benedict XVI resigned, in a move unprecedented at the Holy See for 600 years, and his fellow octogenarian, Warren Buffett made his latest business move with another investor for the $28 billion purchase of global food giant, Heinz.
In the previous month, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands decided to abdicate at the age of seventy five and the nonagenerian setter of cryptic crosswords, Araucaria – aka the Reverend John Graham – revealed the advancing stage of his terminal cancer through one of his grids.
In considering age and when is the right time to go, for most of us in less auspicious positions in public life, it all used to seem so structured and easy with a path and a pension plan mapped out. A transition to old age marked out in the comedy staples of a carriage clock presentation and then the pipe and slippers awaiting us by the hearth at home.
While I am not sure it was ever like this, there did seem quite a straightforward path to retirement and assured pension annuity when I first entered the working world after college. That was the uncluttered view I could afford to have in my twenties but I doubt it’s one many of that age can anticipate with any clarity now.
In the developed western world, there’s a real shake-up of not only what age might signify but also what ‘work’ has come to mean, especially if your job doesn’t see you having to have a fixed, physical presence in any given workplace for a set amount of contracted hours.
“Walking around in the park/Should feel better than work.” Toads Revisited, Philip Larkin
When the poet Philip Larkin’s lines in Toads Revisited were first published, it was 1964 and most working lives were conventionally and heavily structured. The weight of work conveyed in the poem is balanced out by a dread of seeing retirement as just marking the passing of time until the old toads help each other down ‘Cemetery Road’.
While Larkin was also a full time librarian perhaps, in 1964, being a poet was one in a minority of niche occupations from which a person wouldn’t be compelled to retire at the age of sixty five – not so now.
Now we can walk round the park and work as many of us are in jobs where technology frees us from having to be at work to be working. Also, for those fortunate enough to enjoy what we do and be in a position to do it, we can regard work not as a separate part of our lives in a defined job but it becomes part of our lives. I believe it’s called The Merge.
Instead of trying to do what most of us have failed to do in the past twenty years – ie achieving a work-life balance – work and life become merged and it’s a question of doing what needs to be done in the time you have to complete it by, regardless of clock time dictating when you should be working.
If you are fortunate to be able to relax in to The Merge then any perceived inherent conflict between work and life melts away. Presumably, so do the stress and the guilt of being terrible at balancing home and work during the school holidays.
Those in high office such as popes or sovereigns have always had merged lives. Their life is their work and while they can resign or abdicate, they can’t ever retire in what’s been the conventional sense.
Similarly, for successful business people, poets and compilers of crosswords and such people with a talent through which they’ve earned a living, it’s unlikely to be a poor performing pension plan which keeps them earning a living from what they are good at and so obviously enjoy well beyond ‘retirement’ age – whatever that is.