Fifteen years ago, I went on a skiing trip in Canada and through the local skischool I found myself a guide to take me off-piste; skiing proper powder. After three days of discussing skis, tools, clothing, snow depth and what to do in case of an avalanche, I finally asked him about his pre-skiing years.
I understand that it sounds like I make these stories up, but incredible coincidence would have it that my guide and I spend 2 years sitting only 50 yards apart in a London dealing-room. Twelve months earlier he had decided to emigrate to Canada with his family and become a retired ski-bum.
He talked the rest of the trip about how he had made the right choice for him and his family, how much he loved Canada and skiing, and how he would never go back.
About three years later, I rejoined my old company, and walked out onto the dealing-room again for the first time in years. As I made the rounds, shaking hands with old and new colleagues, I could see about 50 yards away, my 'ski-guide' sit behind a bank of computer screens, shouting trade orders down phones.
The early retirement dream did turn out to be a nightmare; Boredom, lack of professional challenges, but also the difficulties of bringing up a family in a remote ski resort empty and deserted eight months per year, all contributed to a unanimous family decision to go back to London. His arguments from years earlier on how he had made the best decision ever, had with hindsight been intended to convince himself, rather than me.
I was reminded again of these conversations with 'my' ski guide as I spend Christmas and New Years Eve in Austria skiing with my family. At 45, I have truly reached middle aged-ness and I am at a point in my career where I need to find myself a new challenge.
Sitting on a Gondola, my eldest pointed out the 'for sale' signs in the village, and mentioned that now I was a free man again (did I mention, I left my job?), and that we could retire here and ski all year. Next to the fact that there was hardly enough snow in December, let alone for summer skiing in July, and the fact that an early retirement requires a very large bank balance, the thought of not working filled me with dread.
Like myself, I think many people will never retire and I also think that part of the population is growing. Some will point at the inadequacies of the pension system and the continuing increases in longevity and changes in demographics. But I also think that because general employment increasingly consists of knowledge industry, our 'working life' has extended.
Do you want to retire when your main working activity is to 'think' and use your brain? I experience a lot of self worth and satisfaction from working, activating the grey cells underneath my grey hair. Doing the daily crossword puzzle is not mentally challenging for many older retirees and I sincerely hope that I will always be able to rely on my career for my mental work-out.
In years to come, retirement will be a thing of the past. Instead we will work less, or infrequent. Life-long saving will provide some of our financial needs, but the rest will be subsidised by employment. Fit and healthy octogenarians will spend a few days per week in an office environment, sharing their lifetime experience with younger colleagues.
Work in old age will become part of your social life, where you truly build 'lifelong' friendships, find fulfilment and future challenges. Work will keep you on your toes and healthy for longer. And the word 'retirement' will, uh, retire to the dictionary, as a peculiar, old-fashioned tradition from the 20th century.
PS to David the 'Ski-guide' from Whistler; should you somehow read this, please feel free to reach out. I could not find you on LinkedIn.
Wed, 13 January