If you’ve stayed with me this far, a big thanks cos you’re taking a big chance with someone who’s still working this out!
Then again, as with any life hack or self-help writeup, readers must ultimately make up their own minds. Caveat emptor and all that right?
But who said one must wait until his last breath to expound sagely on the last days? If true, then anything about retirement would have to be written from the grave!
Besides, given my “new life” these past three years, I can at least assure you I’ve got a closer vantage point now to those twilight years in front of us. More so for sure than most of my fellow over 50-er’s, still working their butts off in pressure cooker jobs for over 50 hours every week!
This gives me time to reflect and palpate the small moments of life, a life that will ultimately culminate in that ubiquitous curtain call we’re all eventually summoned to; some, unfortunately, sooner (or later) than others!
So with that backdrop, let’s dive back into this mini-series and its final installment, shall we?
To retire well, have a strong social network
Truth #3 of retiring well is simply this:
When everything we do requires a social network (and it does), we’re going to be disappointed when that network disappears after retirement.
And here’s a newsflash — it will!
Last month, I touched briefly on a growing trend among the elderly — loneliness. Or what one study referred to as social disconnection.
First collated in the 1990s and subsequently over three follow-up rounds, a local study here by the National University of Singapore (NUS) examined research data collected from over 17,000 seniors (aged 61 to 96). It was done for the purpose of determining socio-demographic and health factors linked to social disconnection among the elderly.
To measure social disconnection, the researchers interviewed these seniors to find out how much support they felt they were getting from friends and families. The researchers also measured the extent of these seniors’ social participation.
What I found riveting in the study was this little nugget: “…among older adults who lived alone, men were twice more likely to be socially disconnected than women. The researchers explained that men’s traditional role as wage earners meant that they had smaller social networks and fewer social interactions. In addition, retirement further reduced their opportunities for social interaction, increasing the likelihood of social disconnection.”
Guys, work networks aren’t social networks!
Guys, I hope you didn’t miss that last bit I just shared. The bit that said we increasingly have “…smaller social networks and fewer social interactions…”
With the exception of social butterflies, the rest of us ordinary menfolk have to face up to this harsh reality!
Of course, “conventional wisdom” (an oxymoron if you ask me) says men traditionally aren’t as sociable anyway, compared to women. So the above conclusion is hardly a shocker. It is just what it is. No biggie.
Nevertheless, there’s no escaping the outcome for the majority of aging men if we continue to put paid to this assertion that we have smaller networks and fewer interactions with each passing year — the outcome of loneliness.
For too long, we’ve assumed that our workplace networks were also our social networks, meeting our social needs. It never occurred to us to think it’ll be any different when we leave our place of work.
Or at least it never occurred to me!
Learning this truth the hard way
I certainly made the mistake of thinking so three years ago!
For the first six to 12 months after I became a full-time stay home dad, I tried to stay in touch by arranging to visit my old workplace to catch up with ex-colleagues. They were my regular coffee buddies before I left. (This was before Covid of course)
Yet it soon became obvious our conversational topics were drying up after just one or two gatherings.
And then it hit me.
All those coffee moments were spent just “talking shop”; we really knew very little of each other’s lives outside of work. Even for those who shared slightly more, our conversations still hinged mainly on work-related matters. So now that I’ve left the office, what common grounds remain?
As for friends from my old school days? They too spend more time among their own colleagues and work-related acquaintances, leaving little time to stay connected with me. And after a few rounds of me initiating get-togethers, it became for me a case of trying too hard and getting no “love” back. (something I’ve previously posted about too)
So as I inch towards the day I retire, what can I do to stave off “social disconnection”? To avoid loneliness?
What I’ve learned
With the benefit of…
— ploughing through tons of books, articles and podcasts on the topic of masculinity and friendships,
— experiencing firsthand who’s truly interested in me, and catching up regularly to find out how I’ve been, and
— connecting with those who faithfully reciprocated regularly to stay in constant touch despite obviously hectic lives of their own;
…I’ve concluded that it takes “mutual intentionality” to make and keep friends that will sit by me on a bench to watch every sunset in my twilight years!
And in doing so, upend what that NUS study had concluded.
Five tactics to make and keep friends when I retire
From my little research, I’ve distilled the following tactics to (hopefully) help me retire well.
1. Tell myself daily that I have inherent worth outside of a job title, and so am deserving of a few good (men) friends for life.
2. Pick up one or more new hobbies that require more than one person (me) to happen eg non-individual games and activities like chess or book clubs. It won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But I must try!
3. Find communities and causes that require many volunteers. Then sign up and consistently show up!
4. Take up courses with definite deadlines and schedules that force me to learn alongside others (online or off). Do NOT choose those self-directed learning ones, where I learn at my own pace by myself.
5. Invest time to connect intentionally with friends who…
…I’ve known at least ten years, and have connected at least once in the last ten months. Anything longer than ten months, forget it!
…never make me feel I don’t “measure up” to them eg because they still have jobs that are boast-worthy in the real world, or whose lives aren’t “perfect and well put together” (for such men have little empathy and patience).
…don’t assume everything I share is a problem I want them to solve; in short, friends who don’t tell me what I should do every chance they get!
…are authentic listeners ie they hear me, are there for me, offer no advice unless solicited, and cheer me on no matter what. (And of course, vice versa)
…actively invest in my happiness and well-being; and whom I too am similarly and fully invested and interested in.
…will (within reason) drop everything to come to me in my hour of need, without me even asking. (And I, them)
Start now to find your bench buddies for every sunset!
Not saying I’ve friends who match all the above descriptions. Nor am I currently matching every one of these descriptions either!
Still, with this blueprint as a starting point, I can begin to slowly but surely erect a network of connections now to help me retire well in the future.
And “now” is the perfect time to get to work on this; not after I retire!
The same goes for my previous two suggestions.
So take your pick.
And who knows?
Maybe I’ll see you one day beside me on that bench facing the next glorious sunset!