JEFF CORBETT: A dramatic change

The pessimists and the optimists agree that both I and my life are about to undergo dramatic change, and if they’re right it will be the biggest change of my life.

Bigger than the move from school to work at the other end of my life, because as a new worker I was still a learner, bigger than from youth to adult, because that happened so slowly as to be almost imperceptible, bigger than from single to married and fatherhood, because my inertia prolonged those transformations.

My move from a working life to retirement in three weeks will happen overnight. 

When I wake on that first day I won’t have to set about my to-do list with late Sunday as a deadline, I won’t tap column ideas into my iPhone, I won’t be mapping out prospective columns in my head, I won’t wake in the wee hours with pithy lines that I know from long experience will be far too pithy in the cold light of day.

What, a 22-year-old workmate asked when she learnt I was to retire, would I do on the first day? I like the question.

As several retired mates point out, on that first day I will no longer be Jeff Corbett the journalist, and one tells me that retirement’s greatest impact on him was that over just a weekend people stopped seeing him as John the lawyer.

The phone stopped ringing, people no longer sought his advice on anything, his opinion was of little consequence.

Sounds good to me.

It will be a little longer, I imagine, before I stop getting the second look, when someone’s gaze drifts idly over me to snap back in the split second it takes the brain to register recognition, before I’m no longer strangely aware of people interrupting a conversation to point me out with a behind-the-hand comment I expect is unsavoury, before I’m no longer approached on most excursions by someone asking if I’m Jeff Corbett.

Instead of ‘‘Are you Jeff Corbett?’’ I may get ‘‘Were you Jeff Corbett?’’.

I will miss that, my contact with this paper’s readers.

But there may be a bigger cost in this loss of professional identity, and I’m aware of that only because it occurred to me some time ago that my occupation had played at least an initial role in the forming of almost all my friendships and acquaintanceships. 

And I know that I am seen as more interesting as that fellow in the paper than I will be as an old fart who gets in the way on the road, on the footpath and at checkouts.

I’ll be less than amusingly difficult, I fear, while I retain the illusion that as a retired person I have rights, indeed that I matter, that a forthright letter will sort the insolent upstarts out, and I’ll have a mental library of instructive vignettes for any young person whose exit I can block. I’ve started already with the line delivered to young smokers, ‘‘If you keep smoking you may end up sounding like me, if you’re lucky’’, and I can see that they are horrified by me, not by the dangers of smoking.

I’ll find reassurance in my own cantankerousness, and the dogmatic delivery of my every opinion will be testimony to its value. How long will it be before the young fellows of that day are no-hopers? Before I decree from the public bench against the wall that we need a good war to sort them out?

So, I should make the most of the months or, hopefully, years before I become an intolerant old goat.

There is much time to make the most of, if only because I am conscious of how much of our life we devote to work. There are not just the hours at work and the travelling to and from, there are the two or three hours preparing for and recovering from the day’s work. Then, at weekends especially, there is the servicing of the infrastructure that allows us to work.

That will be my second biggest problem, I’m warned, too much free time.

But as someone who’s delighted in mocking old codgers waiting on benches for their wives, holding everyone up telling stories to checkout staff, driving like we all have all day to get there, I’ll need time to create more roosts in my chicken coop.

What advice do you have for a new retiree? And what do you plan for your own?

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