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Men, work and retirement.

Insight from Wes Carter.   For those of us men who have spent most of our working life defining ourselves according to our occupation or status in life, there is a general disposition to have a real hard time severing our eventual dependency on productive activity upon retirement from the workforce. Of course there are some who make the transition with ease and complete satisfaction for their release from the daily grind.   This desire to continue doing things runs deep with a lot of men, we become agitated and fidgety if there is nothing to “do”, those lucky men who can resist the temptation to do anything, must be in the minority. The opening gambit when men meet for the first time usually involves the inevitable question related to the type of work that we do or have been doing.   We men are usually shaped by our job identity, and the work we do, for some, it can take on the form of an over developed reliance and attachment and will become a lifelong determinant on who and how we are to behave and perform in the world. Work being perceived as some crusade to the establishment of male identity and one that usually defines our status in the community, good to see that Politicians standing are now closer to the bottom of the pile!   With retirement from the workforce, your past work and job description has little impact on who you really are at this moment in time. Moving from “I used to be a ……….” to now “I’m retired” as a male identity or job depiction takes time to adjust to.   The widespread question that men pose to each other on the subject of retirement is “What are you going to do with yourself when you finish work?” It’s a bit like having an expectation that without something to do and occupy us, we will be unable to survive.   The primary male roles of devoted father and tireless breadwinner of family life are also limited roles, neither can adequately prepare us for the larger questions of life, the constancy of questing, conquering, having all the answers, always invincible….cannot continue forever. These traditional roles eventually erode, giving way to the often quoted mid-life crisis and the descent into private grief that we have been putting off in our compliance with the hard wired notion of how to be a man.   Some fortunate and aware men have the realisation that there is more to life than performing these limiting and confined identity definitions. More achievement is not what a man actually desires, he longs for rest and renewal, and for the time when he can stop serving the gods of success, acquisition, capitalism and earning income. Man wants to serve something higher but does not know what that is, or how to break from the chains of compliance within the system.   With retirement and the cessation of work, attachment to our social persona now requires the making of another identity, the habit of a long working life and the name tag that goes with it, present men with a new challenge. The high rates of early demise and sometimes illness following retirement are testament to the difficulty that men face if they haven’t prepared well for the completion of their working life and taking on the new identity and the roles that are now required to accompany the ageing process.   This is men’s work in progress for all of us.   Wes Carter September 2016