Exploring Retirement


Welcome to the August 2014 edition of Exploring Retirement. This month is a bumper issue with articles from several new contributors, following on from our invitation to consider "writing for the web".

The featured activity this month makes use of a story about a retired doctor who found a new outlet for his abilities, creating reproduction antique furniture. I am grateful to Charlie Laidlaw for sending it to me. I have included it here as I think it provides a good example of "planned happenstance", an approach to life planning that is especially relevant to anyone who is retired and is looking for new directions in life. As an approach, planned happenstance fits very well with the concept of retirement as a new phase of life that is there for us to explore.

I am delighted that Michael is back, writing about what matters to him, in this case football! Well, it was the World Cup and Michael has some interesting points to make, which may provoke comment from some of our readers. Do you agree with his analysis of "the beautiful game"?

Michael's friend, Margaret Barnes, who lives in Yorkshire, England has also contributed a short article telling of her experiences as a volunteer with the Tour de France which this year commenced in Yorkshire and attracted over 2.5 million spectators!

Finally, this month, Jeanette Lewis from Canada writes about "reinventing yourself in retirement". Jeannette provides some excellent insights that are both interesting and thought provoking. Her stress on the importance of relationships in retirement has been well-validated by study after study.

Feedback from readers is always welcome. Please let us know your thoughts on life planning and whether you think the "planned happenstance" approach is of value. E-mail your comments on planned happenstance or any of this month's features, to editor@exploringretirement.co.uk.

Planned Happenstance

In Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, Alice is lost and asks directions from a neighbourhood cat!

Alice: "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

Cat: "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

Alice: "I don't much care where -"

Cat: "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."

Clearly, it is important to care about where you are going, yet many people retire with no plans for how to spend their time. What is there to do? What would I enjoy? Readers of this site will know that these are the key questions Exploring Retirement tries to address. Life planning courses for retirees traditionally approach these issues by asking participants to engage in structured self-reflection, designed to elucidate what they care about and that has a bearing on what they might wish to do. You are asked to think about your interests, values and skills, as you are unlikely to find an activity satisfying that does not satisfy these personal requirements. While there is no doubt that thinking about these things (often for the first time) can be a valuable exercise, there is equally no doubt that most of us find it difficult.

While self-awareness can help us see what we are looking for in general terms, it does not tell us how to find it. Like Alice, we are left asking "where do we go from here?". How do we put our newly acquired self-knowledge into practice to find our way in retirement? A relatively new approach to life planning, devised by Professor John Krumboltz of Stanford University, provides a practical follow-on to self-reflection. He calls this approach "planned happenstance".

Planned happenstance is a conscious, purposeful and ongoing process whereby you take action in order to create new opportunities to explore. It is not necessary to have a fully worked out plan of action but rather to follow your interests while being responsive to unexpected opportunities that arise and being willing to follow them up.

Planned happenstance suggests that unplanned events are a normal and necessary component of everyone's life. Rather than seeing these events as a distraction, we can come to view them as presenting potential opportunities. With planned happenstance we deliberately set out to generate more of these events so that, with heightened awareness, we begin to recognise opportunities as they arise and are prepared to take action to capitalise on them. Planned happenstance requires that we become more open to new experience and don't dismiss anything simply because it is unfamiliar.

Planned happenstance puts a great deal of stress on being proactive. While we are waiting for the ideal retirement activity to appear we can get on with actively exploring the ideas we have. If you haven't got any ideas then you could try visiting your local library or neighbourhood bookstore. Try exploring the hobbies and interests sections or the travel section. Ideally you want to be exploring several options at the same time, so if one of them fails to deliver right away, you can move on to pursue another.

A vital component of the planned happenstance approach is networking. If you are invited to an event, try to make the most of the opportunities attendance presents. See every retired person you meet as a possible source of new ideas. Ask them about their interests. They will be delighted to find someone who is interested in what interests them. Getting people to talk about what they enjoy can be a real inspiration. Remember also that the secret of being a good conversationalist is to be a good listener!

What's great about planned happenstance is that it views indecision as a useful state. You don't have to know what you want to do when you grow up! Flexibility is preferable to fixed ideas. You have nothing to lose from this approach and you may even make some new friends along the way!

The five key traits identified by planned happenstance are -

  • Curiosity: Actively explore new opportunities; be curious about your own interests.
  • Persistence: Exert effort despite potential setbacks in the process.
  • Flexibility: Keep an open mind; be flexible with changing attitudes and new ideas.
  • Optimism: Expect to discover ideas and opportunities that are possible.
  • Risk-taking: Taking risks may or may not generate career opportunities, but the lack of action definitely provides no new opportunities of 'chance' events.
  • Recommended reading "Luck is no accident : Making the most of happenstance in your life and career" by J. D. Krumboltz and A. S. Levin

    Featured activity - Planned Happenstance

    I am grateful to Charlie Laidlaw for submitting the following article which I have reproduced here to illustrate "planned happenstance" in action. Note the proactive way in which the retired doctor responded to a series of chance events, leading him eventually to discover a new outlet for his latent talents.

    Wood you believe it for retired doctor

    Retirement gives us opportunities to think in new ways and embrace new challenges - whether that is to travel the world, bring down our golf handicap or learn new skills. Before retirement, we all understand the need to refresh our skills, but many people see retirement as a way to escape the relentless demand to keep learning. But lifelong learning needn't stop at retirement, particularly if it involves learning something completely new that will benefit not only you but your family and friends - and maybe give you a valuable source of income.

    Sounds too good to be true? Well, not to Dr Charlie Clark, a recently-retired doctor who enjoyed a varied career in surgery, hospital administration and public health. He wanted to keep busy after he retired, but had no clear idea how to achieve that.

    For Charlie, the solution didn't come as a sudden epiphany, but in a series of chance encounters and coincidental good luck. The first chance encounter happened shortly before his retirement when he was in a small English market town and visited a newsagents' with a large selection of magazines. He picked up a woodworking magazine and was immediately intrigued by what he read.

    A second coincidence came a few months later when a colleague offered him an unwanted lathe that had belonged to his father. Charlie bought a how-to book and taught himself how to use it. Before long, his garage had turned into a small workshop.

    "Then, quite by chance, I came across a young man exhibiting his furniture at an arts festival in Fife in Scotland. I was completely astonished by the quality of his workmanship and the huge variety of work he had on display," says Charlie. "I assumed that he must have served a lengthy apprenticeship, but no, he explained, he had learnt it all in the space of a year in a local Institute, near Edinburgh." That place turned out to be a small teaching institution committed to preserving age-old craftsmanship, inspiring new designers - and passing on those skills to a small number of students each year. Those students, Charlie found, were all ages and from all over the world, most with no woodworking experience.

    "I signed on the dotted line and haven't looked back since," said Charlie. By the end of the course, he had restored a number of pieces of furniture, including a friend's Victorian medicine cabinet (which had a secret compartment for hiding the arsenic) - and therein lies the clue to a fulfilling future for the former medic.

    "As a retired man on a pension I don't have to make a living out of what I have learned but I do have children, grandchildren and friends. I can keep busy helping them, while doing something I enjoy - and, particularly for younger family members starting out, I can save them a lot of money. One interesting experience is that I have lost count of the number of friends and acquaintances who have expressed envy at what I am doing. And they are right to be envious."

    "Doing a course like this is an enormously fulfilling thing to do in retirement for anyone with the time and energy. Learning to work in new ways with your hands is a fabulous experience. I have acquired a whole set of skills that will keep me happily occupied for the rest of my life, and in the process I have made new friends and had a hugely enjoyable year."

    Here is a photo of Charlie seated on a reproduction Mackintosh chair which he built with his own hands.

    Guest contributor - Michael McSorley

    This month Michael reflects on the highs and lows of the World Cup which concluded on 13 July. With three matches being shown on as many days, retired people will have had a better opportunity than most to follow the competition's progress.

    Michael poses questions which arise for many of the tournament's leading nations. Given the demonstrations which took place in Brazil about the spending on football and the failure of the host nation to reach the final, he examines football's business models.

    To read Michael's article - please click here.

    Guest contributor - Margaret Barnes

    Margaret writes about her experiences volunteering with the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

    To read Margaret's article - please click here.

    Guest contributor - Jeanette Lewis

    Jeanette Lewis reflects on "Reinventing Yourself in Retirement", her take on what you need to do to ensure a happy and fulfilling retirement experience. To read Jeannette's article, please click here