Published On: Fri, Aug 9th, 2019

Retirement news: ‘We still have the world at our feet, but now we have time to enjoy it!’

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Author Celia Dodd (Image: NC)

For 40 years, the life of English fashion designer Betty Jackson revolved around her work. It was her passion and her identity. She introduced the Autograph collection for Marks & Spencer, created outrageous ­costumes worn by Edina, played by Jennifer Saunders, and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) for the hit TV comedy Absolutely Fabulous, and was awarded a CBE. When asked once by a fashion editor what made her sad, she replied, “When work is going badly.” So as we met to talk about retirement, I was surprised to ­discover how much she relishes it. 

“We come from that brilliant generation who had it all,” she told me, exuberantly. “If you lived through the Sixties and Seventies, why the hell would you ever consider being old? If you wore a mini skirt and burnt your bra and dyed your hair pink, you’re certainly not going to wear a woolly hat and shuffle about in your slippers. 

“We were the first generation to have the world at our feet, and we still have. We’re still interested in art and theatre and music and politics because it has always been a huge part of our lives. 

“You don’t give up all of those things when you retire, because they don’t just come with the job,” added Betty, now aged 70, ­emphatically. “In fact in my experience you actually make more of them.” 

She is so right. The automatic link between retirement and old age is desperately ­unhelpful. And, as I have discovered, it diverts attention from the real issues we face, especially when we first retire, which have nothing to do with ageing. 

The challenge is CHANGE, not age. After all, people in their 50s, 60s and even their 70s just don’t see themselves as old. That’s not vanity: generally we are in better shape than our parents’ generation were at the same age. 

Certainly, we have a more upbeat attitude about what lies ahead, and with good reason. When the state pension was introduced in 1948, a person retiring at 65 could expect to live on average another 13.5 years. Now a 65-year-old can expect to live for another 22.8 years. 


English fashion designer Betty Jackson (Image: Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

Not only that, but the default retirement age was abolished in 2011, making our generation the first to be legally entitled to carry on working for as long as we choose. 

Consequently the latest research focuses on the challenge of retirement as being a major life transition, on a par with leaving home as a young adult, getting divorced, or coping with an empty nest. 

This is a new way to view it. But, like all of life’s big transitions, retirement brings ­challenges as well as opportunities. It gets you out of your comfort zone and it forces you to take stock. 

And while that’s good, it may feel ­challenging when you are in the thick of it. For in retirement there is no clear destination as you abandon the familiarity of the ­workplace for the unknown. 

With no parent, teacher or boss to blame, suddenly you are no longer on automatic pilot. 

All this confirms my original hunch that it’s not enough to offer pat suggestions to ­volunteer or find a new hobby or stay active. For most of us, the search for new purpose and structure is more complicated and requires deep soul searching. Mark Vernon, a psychotherapist at London’s Maudsley Hospital’s Older Adults’ Unit says: “It’s in tolerating that period of uncertainty that you re-form yourself as a person.” 

Fortunately, there are qualities that aid a healthy and productive retirement, and they can be learned. A study by Greenwich University found that conscientiousness – broadly the capacity to plan and be self-motivated – is more important in retirement than earlier in life. The good news is it is a skill that can be learned. 

So how best to prepare for the years ahead? Assessing your ingredients for fulfilment is crucial. Make a list of the activities that truly nurture you, the sort of interaction you want with friends, families and new faces and assess ways you can find “flow” – that sense of losing yourself in an absorbing activity. 

Consider how you can stimulate your brain to keep it sharp, find a sense of achievement and create challenge. Work out what gives you an overarching sense of purpose – a long-term goal that incorporates short-term goals. Ask yourself what you want to learn, how you want to progress, and how you will have fun, factoring in simple pleasures that truly energise you. 

Think about what an average weekday would ideally be like once the honeymoon period is over. Specific ideas are more useful than vague ambitions. Where you will spend most of your time? How will weekends differ from weekdays? How will you meet new people? Previous transitions in your life provide useful clues. Periods when you were out of work or on maternity/paternity leave can be particularly illuminating. 

How you prefer to spend long holidays can also give you an idea about how much structure and routine you like, how easily you get bored, how much company you need, and so on. 


Betty Jackson with fellow designer Stella McCartney and Jennifer Saunders (Image: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock)

Think about what you will miss most about work and how you might recreate it: water-cooler moments, mental challenge, working in a team. 

Talk to retired friends about what works for them and what they’d do differently. Finally, look at roads untravelled. We all have interests that fell by the wayside because of time pressures. It’s time to revive them. 

For train driver Chris, a proactive approach has paid dividends. Now in his sixth year of retirement, he remains ­determined to squeeze the most out of every precious moment. 

“When I took my driver’s key out for the last time, the thought I would never drive out on the main line again did give me a twinge of regret. 

“A few days later I went on holiday with my wife. It was a lovely sunny week in Dorset. Walking the coast path I thought, this is my time now. That was a really ­wonderful feeling. Retirement can be one of the best times of your life.” 

Extracted by JANE WARREN 

Not Fade Away: How to Thrive in Retirement, by Celia Dodd (Green Tree, £12.99). For your copy with free UK delivery, call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562310 or send a cheque/PO payable to Express Bookshop to: Green Tree Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4WJ or visit


Not Fade Away: How to Thrive in Retirement, by Celia Dodd (Image: NC)


There are three main ways to approach retirement:

1. Cliff edge

This is the traditional way to retire, but is often dismissed as too sudden. But it works well for many. The key is preparation. “Nowadays most people have been thinking about retirement and preparing for it,” says Chris Phillipson, professor of social gerontology at Manchester University. “So it might be a cliff edge in one sense, but not in a psychological sense.”

2. Phased retirement

A more gradual transition via part-time work with your existing employer is seen as a less traumatic way of adjusting to a big life change, and research suggests it helps with adjustment. Negotiating a phased retirement – lasting from several months to many years – helps you get used to having less money slowly. Winding down at work gradually allows you more time to experiment with different possibilities for retirement. In companies where phased retirement is not yet established, individuals may have to negotiate exible arrangements.

3. Part-time job or self-employment

Increasingly popular is a mixture of part-time work, perhaps with an existing employer; paid or unpaid consultancy; and volunteering – leaving time to have fun, too. The balance between the different elements continually evolves with each new stage of retirement, and as priorities develop.


Pensioners can take a break and go on holiday [FILE PIC] (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)


  • Find out if your pension will be affected if you take it early or late. With some schemes it is possible to keep topping up the pension pot beyond pension age. With others it’s not.
  • Check whether your pension will be affected by a reduction in hours. Note that you can still take your state pension if you work beyond state pension age.
  • Look into big projects you want to pursue, such as setting up a new business. can you build up to them while working part-time? do you need to retrain? Make a realistic assessment of how long that will take.
  • If you have a partner, discuss decisions with them. Not everyone does, and this can be a source of con ict.
  • Take a break: go on a holiday or even a retreat – something that takes you away from your routine and allows an objective perspective.
  • If phased-in retirement is not the norm where you work, start putting feelers out as early as possible.
  • Remember, retirement is exible and most decisions are reversible. If it turns out you’ve stopped work too early, there are ways to go back.

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