Perils of Retirement
Venkatesh Rao of Ribbonfarm had said in one of the essays that:
If your identity was defined by your job, you never really had a real identity.
Yes, it sounds very common sense and logical. But it is not. I am talking about my dad's generation.
My dad joined an insurance company in his late teens and retired from the same after 35 years.
My dad was the sole breadwinner for our joint family. It was a huge one. My dad had four brothers and two sisters. My granddad didn't have a fixed income. We all benefitted hugely out of my dad's stable job and a steady salary. It was a luxury. My dad was particular of marrying a woman, who has a focus on career and also a regular job and salary like him. My mom was a bank employee.
From whatever I remember of my childhood, mine and my younger brother's focus had to be only on education — the only known weapon of the lower-middle-class families in India.
My dad really sweated his heart and soul out in the big insurance machinery. It was inevitable for him to adopt the identity by his job. He steadily climbed the ladder in the organisation. He was quite popular in our town and the nearby villages, because of agriculture insurance and cattle insurance.
My dad also had a relatively decent network of friends and colleagues, mainly because of the insurance company. He also had friends from college and hometown and a relatively huge set of relatives. But he gelled well with his colleagues and acquaintances because he merely spent a lot of time with them. Conferences, deputation, transfers and blah blah, kept him very occupied. He enjoyed the challenge.
Meanwhile, the family also progressed; his brothers and sisters were getting married, had children. My brother and I were growing up and had to move from schools to colleges. My dad and my mom fuelled the engine of our family with their salaries. (I will have to write separately and in detail about my mom's contribution in her efforts.)
Bottom line is: for my parents, their jobs were their primary identity, or it was as close as their identity as a mom or dad or a son or a daughter.
Given this condition, I had persuaded my parents to retire, after me and my brother started working and making good enough salaries.
My mom handled the impact of retirement very gracefully, but with my dad, all hell broke loose.
My dad had a health issue. He had minor brain surgery (he is fully recovered and completely fine now). Because of this episode, for six months, he was on leave. When he went back, he took an administrative position. Earlier, he was in business development & management roles, where he was interacting with customers, managing a team of people and handling a region.
Post surgery his bosses suggested to take it easy and moved him to an administrative position. Also, he was three years away from his actual retirement. In his new role, he got exposed more to internal politics and faced some brunt of it. Many times, he used to lament about his current work and talk about other colleagues who were taking early retirement.
All of our immediate family members discussed and concluded that early retirement would be the way to go. Dad was also fine with it. But after the retirement, he found the day to day life, very mundane and irritably boring.
There were temper tantrums thrown, a lot of lamenting, sometimes what-if-aboutery, like why did I do this in my life or my career? Why did I not do this and blah blah blah?
It was almost a year after Dad's retirement; Mom also took early retirement. But the manner she handled it was fantastic. My son had been born then. Mom made herself the primary caretaker of the family. She got herself busy with something or other activities. She formed her kitty party gang. She took up aerobics and yoga. She also enrolled in a Sanskrit class and attends it, to date, very sincerely. She has cleared a couple of exams too.
Despite this happening at Mom's end, Dad was still in his mode. It was during this time; we moved from Bangalore to Chennai. Luckily, we were living in a high-rise building together with 200+ families. Dad got into a group of senior citizens. With them, he got himself busy with stock trading, going to pilgrims nearby and WhatsApp forwarding 😆. But this took almost five years to happen after his retirement. Those five years weren't easy for him as well as our family.
I used to wonder, how Mom handled it different than Dad. The answer to this came from the excellent book of Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning:
He knows the 'why' for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any 'how.'
Viktor is a Holocaust survivor, psychologist and one of the most influential writers. His book is a gem, and I cannot summarise its value in one single quote. His ideology revolves around "finding meaning" in one's existence, and all other things in life will fall in place comfortably.
My mom saw herself more than a bank employee. But it took time for my dad to realise that.
If any con-artist philosopher or salesman, entice you with the lure of retirement, be wary.
Retirement is a thing of a past. Living a happy life with vigour, by reinventing ourselves and learning should be the thing to strive for.