Transitioning from a full-time career to “retirement” – a personal journey

OPINION: Some general points

In our parent’s day, the transition from a full-time career to retirement was very often abrupt and total. The expectations were that retirement years would be spent in a relaxed way including the obligatory big trip overseas, indulging in personal hobbies, fiddling around in the garden (big gardens were common at that time) or whatever. Work would rapidly become a thing of the past.

It is now generally accepted that an abrupt transition of that sort is not a good idea – I don’t think it is a coincidence that many people in that situation died at a relatively early age.  Once the “bucket list” had been cleared that was it. In contrast, the mantra these days is that it is important to stay intellectuality, physically and socially active in a way that suits the individual. So, retirement has taken on a new meaning – it no longer means you stop doing anything – it rather means you do different things or similar things in a different way.

What happens in practice is absolutely individual to each person, which is why I have called this a personal journey. There is no reason for other people to follow the same path. The real point is that the path should lead to an active life which really can no longer be called “retirement” but is just different from the full-time career occupying the so-called working years.

So, there are lots of options.  Some people actually don’t stop working at all at their previous job – they work till they drop! However, in that situation it is common and probably wise to negotiate (if you can) a gradual reduction in working hours, otherwise, exhaustion can become a real issue. But if your job is your passion then why not? And doing this has become much easier with the abolishing of an official retirement age.

Some people effectively start new careers, which may represent a long-held ambition which they can now fulfil.

Some people become nomads – fulfilling their passion for seeing every conceivable corner of the world or even of just New Zealand. There are many examples of people selling up the family home and buying a camper van so they can lead that kind of life style, (I have to say there are also examples of people doing just that and then finding that the attractions pall fairly quickly so the camper van becomes a liability and gets swapped back for a fixed home relatively quickly. But for others it is a great long term option.)

(One of the issues that always comes up is where to live, with a shift to a so-called “Life style Village” being an increasingly popular option these days.  But I will leave that aspect aside in this article because it is really a subject on its own.)

There are lots of other options and I guess some people do genuinely retire to a life of leisure.


One person’s journey

My own “transition” started when I finished full-time career employment in 2006. Like many senior public sector professionals before me, I decided to become a full-time consultant, making use of the skills and knowledge I had accumulated over a period of about 40 years. However, there is more than one way of taking this step, e.g. a path often taken is to join or become an associate of an existing consultancy. This has the merit of producing a more stable employment situation and means that you can draw a more than your own resources if wanted. The alternative is to go it alone, either with the goal of building up a consultancy employing staff or with partners, or to become simply a sole consultant. My choice was to become a sole consultant because of the freedom this offered to do exactly as I pleased, and it mixes other activities in with the consulting.

wineOne activity which increased in significance at this stage was my interest in collecting and cellaring New Zealand wines – particularly reds. With the time available, I began to take it really seriously and over the course, if the subsequent years built up a formidable collection of the best New Zealand wines, and constructed a cellar (a special room in the house) to store the wines. The interest in wines leads to extended holidays and visits in Central Otago, Waipara, Marlborough/Nelson, Martinborough. Waiheke Island and Hawkes Bay. At its peak, the collection held about 700 bottles, many purchased from the cellar room at the wineries. What made this hobby a particular pleasure was the genuine passion of most of those involved in the industry and their willingness to talk about wines generally and their wines in particular.

Partly for the reasons signalled below, the cellar is now in “gradual decline”. One of the problems – believe it or not – is drinking the wines when they are aged but not “over the hill”. The biggest problem in this regard is pinot noir which needs perfect cellar conditions to age for more than about 6 or so years, Syrah and Cabernet based winds don’t present the same problem.

Setting up the consultancy was a fun process, although building up a portfolio of projects was hard work. I was lucky enough to have to acquire large assignments initially which kept the consultancy humming for several years. However, work eventually began to tail off and it was not because of unhappy clients – far from it. The problem I suffered from was that I was a generalist (having been in management for about 30 years) rather than a specialist. Specialists have the advantage of having unique capabilities which can be readily kept up to date and for which it is possible to establish a niche market. One job then tends to lead to another.

The generalist problem can be partly overcome by looking to partner with other consultants and with the benefit of hindsight, this is what I probably would have done.

pexels-photo-530024Something I discovered early on is that the Government contracting system, which at that stage was based on a system called GETZ. Was that it was loaded in favour of the large professional consultancies and I had the galling experience of losing tenders for which I knew quite well I was better equipped to tackle than the professional consultancy chosen. I got very little work through GETZ!

Although the consultancy was kept alive, the level of activity declined until I eventually ended up going back to work as an employee, and in that role worked for several different public-sector agencies – but quite deliberately in a junior role. My last period of work was with a government department which initially took me on as a 4 day per week part time employee, which I eventually reduced to 3 days a week to reflect a wish to have more time for myself. I got into the pattern of working 3 days on the trot and then having a 4 day weekend. However, I was lucky to be able to do this – you need an accommodating employer.

This situation continued until early 2016 when I was hit with some health issues that really made it difficult to continue. I thus decided the only fair option was to resign although I was at the stage where resignation was looking to be an attractive option. By then I was aged 74 and had a list of things I still wanted to do while I had the physical capability.

Without going into detail, the health issues turned out to be significant enough to put a severe dent in my “bucket list” for the next stage of my life. These things happen unfortunately and it is just a case of adjusting. But I guess the lesson is that it is possible to delay for too long with the result of limited opportunities.

And so, this brings us to late 2017. Life is still busy but I have had to change direction somewhat. I still watch new vintage wine releases and add very selectively to my collection. I enjoy writing and this now takes a significant chunk of time I am in particular a contributor of articles for the “Grownups” online magazine and this this is one of my articles. My interests are eclectic and there are not many subjects I have not written or would not be prepared to write on. I have also written a book on my life and times but for the family, not for general publication. I help my wife manage a property on the Kapiti Coast that we let out as a holiday home. Various ad hoc projects also come up. We do a fair bit of travelling within New Zealand and will be looking to get overseas again at some stage. And we now have grandkids to think off and that takes time in various ways.

screen-shot-2017-09-08-at-4-39-22-pmWhat the future will bring is probably more unsure than might otherwise have been the case. But there is certainly another chapter yet to be written on my personal “retirement” journey.


By Bas Walker

This is another of Bas Walker’s posts on GrownUps.  Please look out for his articles, containing his Beachside Ponderings.