Monica Silvestre (Pexels)

“Retirement will make my life better”, at least that’s what I thought…

The prospect of a new life

I retired 4 years ago from a high-profile job at the headquarters of a big company, based in Luxembourg. My retirement was triggered by my husband being moved to the southern French facility of the same company. The company would have provided me with a job at the southern facility, but being a Luxembourgish employee allowed me to benefit from a financially interesting in-house retirement plan, so I didn’t think for long before signing.

To be completely honest, I was fed up with driving every morning 1 hour and a half to get to work, and then running all day long to pursue unrealistic goals and try to fix inextricable situations. I was feeling down with no hope of getting better, because to tell you the truth, I was beginning to feel the weight of the years on my shoulders. Everything I was doing seemed to be draining a lot of energy, while I was seeing my juniors dealing with it much more easily.

Thus, putting an end to my professional activities looked like a way to start a new life, and I jumped on it without any second thoughts

“I will be able to do sport again, travel all over the world, read all the books I have on my shelves, take piano lessons, learn to cook better”, I had plenty of ideas on how to keep myself busy when retired, besides the rewarding feeling of being able to do what I want when I want.

The golden period

In the beginning everything went well. I had a golden period of several weeks where I appreciated doing nothing and just resting, waking up naturally without an alarm clock brutally ringing at 6 am, and just taking my time to do all the things I was used to rushing when I had a well-filled professional life. Like taking a long bath in the morning, going to the local market to buy my fruits and vegetables, cooking a healthy lunch, going for a walk in the afternoon, and playing the perfect housewife waiting for my husband’s return from work with a nice dinner ready!

But we had to move to the south of France, and I was soon busy with packing and hunting for a new home. The company was providing us with a little condo in a holiday resort for 3 months, but I had to find adequate housing, convenient for my husband to commute to work, and for me to start my retirement life goals. We found a perfectly located apartment to rent, with four rooms as a duplex, a 10’ walk from the sea. Every evening we were enjoying dinner on our terrace with sea view, while sipping a glass of “Rosé” wine.

I enrolled in multiple activities: Spanish courses to keep up my hard-earned intermediate level, gospel choir (I had always wanted to try singing), cooking lessons, aqua biking, to name but the most important.

We traveled a lot, as much as we could afford with my husband’s annual days of leave, and went to very different but stunning destinations like Peru, India, Vietnam, Bahamas, or Norway.

This sounds like the ideal life don’t you think?

The sobering reality

Three years went by at this pace until I realized one terrible thing: I was living well, but I had the disturbing feeling of not being useful anymore to anyone, outside my family and close circle of friends.

Obviously I had successfully started the new life I was aiming for and managed to avoid the mental breakdown frequently experienced by other retired co-workers by abruptly cutting all ties with work.

But at the end of the day, I had to admit that I was cruelly missing something: the feeling of recognition that you get at work when you’ve achieved an important goal, or when you are able to make a difference thanks to your expertise or experience. And moving from the expert in your field, acknowledged by your pairs, to the retired senior to whom nobody would dare to ask anything (because you know, she must be out of the game now…) is something quite hard to accept. Moreover, if you reflect deeper on your situation, you realize that your intellectual capacities, that you had to mobilize at all times at work, are now more than under-used. And you think: if it goes on like that, will I gradually lose all of my skills? My hard-earned knowledge and experience, will it all go to waste?

I was in the HR field, and of course some friends and family members still ask me from time to time to review their resume, or to advise on some specific issue in relation to labor law. I’m doing it with pleasure, thinking this is the least I can do to look useful and make my remaining skills available to those who need them. But this is only a drop in the ocean of the large scale of services my professional background would allow me to provide.

But what can I do?

Make a comeback into the professional world and take a new job? Definitely NO! (I remember how it was tiring in the end…)

Try to find some projects or charitable organizations where my skills could be useful and appreciated? Why not? To be invested…but I have no illusion: my current professional knowledge will slowly become out of date and fade away over time…

What if the remaining choice is to be brave and bold enough to start developing new skills that will be more fitting with my new life, and that I can put to good use for my now smaller circle of contacts?

I have to confess that I’m very fond of this last option that could lead to re-boost the part of my self-esteem that has vanished in the retirement process while providing the always-exciting feeling of learning something new.

For example, during the first months of the COVID pandemic, I was given the opportunity to learn how to make cloth face masks, and I’ve been happy to deliver some samples to my friends and family members. And I realized that there is a wide range of activities that I can do, that do not require big efforts nor huge training investment, simply leaning on my experience, goodwill and commitment. I can sew, I can cook, and I’m able to teach various things. I’m also not too bad at writing, and could thus share my thoughts and experiences, what I’m modestly trying to do now…

And maybe it’s not crazy to dream that those new challenges can help to expand my circle…