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Retirement - what’s in a word?


During our research for our forthcoming Structures for Living programme, Planning for your best possible retirement, Sheryl Andrews and I have found it interesting to learn about people's different reactions to the word 'retirement'. Some people are OK with the word; for them it simply points to the time when they stopped, or will stop, work. Some are ambivalent about it: "What does that even mean? Is retirement just that you don't get paid anymore? Does it mean you just go off and do things that you enjoy?" And one person even told us, "I hate that word! It should be a joyous word!" 

What became clear is that there lots of stereotypes around the word 'retirement' which include stopping paid work, looking after grandchildren, travelling, meeting friends for lunch, getting up late, volunteering and pottering around the house or garden. And many people no longer want those traditional things; they might want to start a new business, go to university or go adventuring. Or it may be more of a gradual transition from working full time to a life of leisure. That is certainly the case for me. I will be sixty-five this year, an age that has long been associated with retirement, although with the pension age in the UK increasing to 66, that particular milestone has ceased to have the same significance. And while it might be nice to slow down a little, it is hard for me to imagine not doing the work I love. So my 'retirement' is likely to be a more gradual path from where I am now to where I might be in 20 years' time. And of course, anything could happen during that time to speed that process up or slow it down. So it feels more open-ended than the abrupt stop that I had somehow coupled with the word retirement in my own mind.

The word 'retire' come from the French 'retirer' and means to 'withdraw' or 'draw back'. According to the online Etymology Dictionary the meaning, 'privacy, state of being withdrawn from society' hails from around the year 1600; and that of 'withdrawal from occupation or business' is from 1640s. However, according to Wikipedia:

In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Previously, low life expectancy, lack of social security and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until their death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement benefits in 1889.

Nowadays, in most developed countries, pensions are considered to be a right and the idea of retirement has been normalised. I recently discovered that in the UK the state pension age is linked to life expectancy; it's expected that we should spend no more one-third of our adult life in retirement - which seems to me to be a very long time. And so definitely worth thinking about, planning for and considering in depth. 

Even during a 30 to 40-minute clean interview, our interviewees uncovered lots of new insights about themselves and their ideas about retirement, for example:

  • "What this has helped with is... I don't know if I'm planning for retirement or just not having to do what other people tell me to do. I could do my own thing."
  • "If I think of it as a series finale, rather than the last few chapters of a book, it turns into something much more positive for me. It's about a change of pace in my life, not rushing around pleasing everyone else all the time."
  • "What's the point of putting off the things I want to do? Can I do some of the things that I want to do now?"
  • "I've been retired for a year now, and the dust has settled and I'm finding my place in running the house."
  • "I want to step off the fast treadmill and onto the slower treadmill."

Now we are looking forward to welcoming a whole group of people for six 90-minute workshops and to exploring some of these themes and more. If you'd like to join us, you can sign up here.

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Structures for Living

31st Dec 2021

By Marian Way

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About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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