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I lost my anchor when I quit my job, but then I made myself captain of a whole new ship

"I couldn’t sit at home all day pursuing my hobbies. I wanted something that made me feel I was contributing to the world around me. So I became a retirement coach."

Nothing could have prepared me, when I walked out of a toxic job on my 60th birthday, for the huge vacuum that confronted me.

The fabric of my life, with its Monday to Friday structure, had evaporated. My long-time circle of friends was too small for filling the seven days I now had free.

Hiking on the mountain was appealing when I was only able to do it at weekends, but the novelty of being able to do it all week quickly wore thin.

The myth is that retirement is like going on holiday, sitting on the beach, and staring into the sunset. It’s not like that.

I calculated that I could easily live into my 90’s, going by parents and grandparents before me, which left me 30 to 35 years stretching bleakly ahead.

I have many hobbies and interests, so initially I thought I would be fine. But I struggled. I felt I had lost my anchor and could not see a way forward.

I wanted more income so I could continue to travel, and I wasn’t ready to pare back my comfortable lifestyle.

My own business went belly-up when I was 58. After bringing in the liquidator and spending a couple of months licking my wounds, what appeared to be an ideal job landed in my lap.

I threw myself into it, thinking all the while that this would tide me over till I turned 65 and then I could retire. I certainly wasn’t thinking about what my retirement would look like. I planned to hold this job down for another seven years.

Then come the day when I grabbed my coffee mug and walked out. This was followed by a couple of introspective months, agonising about the way forward.

I signed up to study life coaching by correspondence, not really knowing where it would take me, but realising it would be a useful tool in whatever I decided to do.

I remember the afternoon clearly. It was grey with pending rain. I was sitting on the couch, working my way through one of the exercises in the life coaching material.

I stopped what I was reading and said to myself: “But you are retired”. You may think that was a minor detail, but for me, it was a major insight, because subconsciously I had been fighting it.

This big step became my pivotal moment. As soon as I accepted that I was already retired, I was free to think with an open mind about what I could do with my retirement.

I had a vague idea of how much money I had for my pension and could calculate how much I could comfortably afford to live on.

I did not have enough money to cover the finer details and the extra perks, such as entertainment and holidays. But my basic living costs would be covered.

I could now calculate how much I needed for the extras. Armed with what I felt I needed to earn to cover those costs, I shifted my mind from looking for full-time employment to exploring part-time or contract work that could bring in the necessary income and allow me to organise the work around my retirement schedule.

So my life coaching qualification had relevance after all. It would allow me to choose when I wanted to work and for how long, depending on how much income I needed.

I love working with people, especially helping them to develop themselves. This links back to my “first career” as an occupational therapist, which I left in my 30s, because promotion in those days meant moving into an administrative role with little or no patient contact.

I couldn’t sit at home all day pursuing my hobbies. I wanted something that made me feel I was contributing to the world around me. So I became a retirement coach.

Yes, I know, coaches are popping up everywhere, offering to help with a myriad of problems.

But a retirement coach focuses specifically on helping with the transition to a retirement lifestyle, helping you plan a meaningful existence after work, or guiding you on how to build some work or income into your life.

In the ideal world, you would engage the retirement coach before you retire.

But in reality, like me, not many people are thinking beyond the day they walk out of work. As a result, it has taken me six years to finally set up the retirement lifestyle I want.

The other day a friend who recently retired offered to make me a dining table. “These woodwork projects make me realise my life is still relevant,” he told me.

It reminded me how important it is to find that “thing” that gives your life meaning, purpose and relevance in retirement, that will get you out of bed with a spring in your step after you jump off the “nine-to-five treadmill”.

After all, retirement is when you stop living at work, and start working on living!