Who wants to be thriving in retirement?

In Dr George Vaillant’s 2002 book, Ageing Well he mentions that ‘retirement should be voluntary. If work is more fun, keep on doing it’.  

Fast forward a few years and the topic of ageing, or more precisely, retirement has been explored by the well-known U.K. author and journalist Celia Dodd.  

Her latest book, Not Fade Away: How to thrive in retirement is a very interesting and informative book. In fact, it’s an excellent resource. With 14 chapters, it covers areas such as finding new purpose, identity and status, money, good health and home – to name a few topics.

We read of ‘real’ people such as Chris the retired high-speed train driver, inspiring fashion designer Betty Jackson, Professor Dame Sally Davies and a ‘backpacker granny’.

Anyone considering retirement, would do well to read Celia’s book.

Why did you write ‘Not Fade Away’
Two reasons:
When I was approaching retirement age myself I was surprised to discover how many people dread the ‘R’ word – I admit I was dreading it myself!   I wanted to find out why, because surely giving up work and doing what you really enjoy should be one of the best times in your life?  So I talked to a about 60 retired people from all walks of life , as well as retirement experts,  to find out what worked, and didn’t work, for them.  

I learned a lot from their experiences, good and bad, and from the mistakes they made (which included moving to the wrong place).  

It struck me that one of the reasons people don’t want to think about retirement is that it is automatically linked with ageing.  That’s unhelpful, because actually the real challenges are to do with changing: negotiating one of the biggest transitions we go through in life. What’s more, this generation of sixty and seventy-somethings don’t think of themselves as old.  We’re generally fitter and live longer than previous generations.

That’s why retirement is such an interesting time for people now. There is a whole new phase of life ahead, and there are so many different ways to find fulfilment and meaning: by working part-time or setting up a business, or taking a course, or volunteering, or travelling, or looking after grandchildren.  

The second reason I wrote the book is more personal. My father didn’t have a good retirement. He had few interests outside work, and so he floundered, got depressed, and died when he was just 69.  So I suppose I’ve always tried to understand how retirement might have been better for both my mum and my dad. 

Photo: Robert Bye

Did you find any ‘surprises’ about retirees or retirement when writing ‘Not Fade Away’?
One of the biggest surprises was that some of the people you would expect to find retirement difficult  – such as men and women who identified strongly with their jobs and worked long hours – enjoyed retirement just as much as they had enjoyed working. The key seems to be staying curious about life and other people, and continuing to learn. And taking pleasure in the simple things of life. 

Another surprise was that ‘Cliff Edge’ retirement – stopping work suddenly, rather than going part-time first – worked really well for some people.  These days it’s generally assumed that ‘Cliff Edge’ is bad, that it’s better to take a few years to ease into retirement gradually.  But that can bring its own problems. Like so many retirement decisions, it’s a very individual matter. 

London with the Thames River and the Tower Bridge in the foreground
Photo: Benjamin Davies

Moving In Retirement?

Would you move in retirement? My heart says yes! I would love to move out of London to live by the sea.  But I’ve learnt from the mistakes people in my book made about moving. They taught me that a beautiful view is not enough.

What matters most when you’re retired is easy access to friends, family and all the things you enjoy doing. Also, I hate driving, so I need somewhere with good public transport.

So I’ve decided that if I ever move it would be as close to the centre of town as I can afford, with live music, dancing, galleries and adult education courses close at hand. And of course, it’s really important to be near my friends and not too far from my three children.


What’s the biggest challenge in ‘retirement’ you have faced so far?
I have to admit that as a writer I’ll probably never fully retire, although my husband will.  That’s going to be a big challenge when he stops work, because I’m used to having the house to myself! So we are already preparing for this new stage of our lives together; we’ve been on a really helpful pre-retirement course for couples. 

For me the biggest challenge will be finding a new purpose in life. There are lots of things I want to do –  volunteer for a homeless project, play my flute in a ceilidh band, and do more crafts –  but it seems that what retired people miss most is the kind of overarching purpose that work gave them.  That’s what I’m already looking for, and it’s fun exploring different options.

Orange bicycles leaning against a wrought iron fence of a London home owned by people thriving in retirement
Photo: Quentin Grignet

Should ‘retirement’ be renamed?
Yes! But for me the alternatives people keep coming up with – like ‘unretirement’ – don’t really work.
What would help is renaming things like ‘retirement’ homes, because it’s the association with the final stage of life, when retirement is really the beginning of an exciting new phase, that’s the problem.   

Thanks Celia and congratulations on Not Fade Away: How to thrive in retirement.

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