Mandy Collins: Why I’m so happily looking forward to never retiring

It’s such an old-fashioned idea, for one thing. For another, these days, who can afford it? But mostly, if you love the work you do, there’s no reason why you should have to give it up, just because you’ve reached a certain arbitrary age.

By Mandy Collins*

I was telling someone the other day how much I enjoy paddling. That I might have joined the canoe club close to my previous house except I had small children at the time, and getting there at 5am wasn’t practical. Now, I told her, I live too far away. “Oh,” she said. “Perhaps you should save it to do when you retire.”

I recoiled in horror. I’m 48 now, so retirement isn’t really on the horizon for me yet, but it also isn’t even vaguely in my plan for my life – and not only because financial planners like to warn us that retirement annuities didn’t quite take into account how long people would live, and none of us can really afford to retire.

No. The problem is that I have always viewed the notion of retirement with a great deal of suspicion. The idea seems to be that you work like a drone for 40-odd years, to make enough money (in theory) to fund finally having the time to work your way through some sort of bucket list. Except by the time you get to retirement age, you have a bad back, shocking knees and perhaps a heart problem or two. So now you can’t really do what you wanted to do anyway.

Besides, planning that far into the future is folly. Life is short and can be snatched away or changed in an instant. I learnt this the hard way when I lost a parent unexpectedly when I was 16. I’ve watched friends, too young, die of cancer. I’ve seen the life-altering effect a freak accident can have.

I think this view of life’s unpredictability is at the root of why I’m so bad at doing nothing. I hate watching time slip through my fingers, with nothing to show for it at the end of the day. Unless I’m asleep I need to be doing something – strolling, swimming, reading, colouring in, sewing, knitting. Something quiet and relaxing and restful, sure, but not nothing.

But the biggest reason, I think, that I don’t see myself retiring is that I’m fortunate enough to enjoy my work. I really love to write, and it’s the kind of work that I can do no matter what age I am. I just need my fingers and eyes to keep working well enough – although I know there are ways around that too.

I never meant to be a writer – I had my career mapped out first as a chartered accountant, until a teacher suggested it might bore me silly, and steered me towards something more creative, towards journalism. And then, at university, I chose the broadcast option, and had my heart set on a career in television.

For various reasons, things didn’t work out that way, and words have become the way I earn my living. I am immersed in them; they are my work, and even my play – I do love a groanworthy pun, as my children will tell you when they’ve finished rolling their eyes. After 20 years of writing professionally I still take the odd course to hone my skills in different areas of writing. And if someone gave me an academic research grant, I’d happy enrol for a Sociolinguistics Master’s and then a Ph.D.

I also have at least four or five writing projects of one kind or another that I wish I could work on all day, every day, but none of them will even potentially earn a cent until they are finished: books, both fiction and non-fiction, and possibly a screenplay – oh, how I dream of that one. But right now I have a mortgage to pay, and children and dogs to feed. So at this point in my life, I need to focus on the jobs that earn me an income, and try to squeeze those other projects in after hours or on weekends.

So the only change I foresee in my writing life is that perhaps, at last, when my retirement investments start to pay out, I won’t have to rely so heavily on clients for my income. Then the way I allocate my writing time might shift slightly. Otherwise it will be business as usual – my work is too much a part of who I am.

I’m not a great believer in the work/life split. Work is a huge part of what we do every day – why do we separate it out as though work is over here, and life is over there?

And why wait to travel, to learn something new, to see and do things you’ve always dreamed of? Ke nako – the time is now. If money is holding you back, give up something and start a little fund – if you’re reading this, chances are you are doing better financially than most South Africans.

So give up cappuccinos, stop that gym contract you never use, cut back on your cell phone data (which is probably a good idea anyway), stop eating out so much, learn to cook from scratch and buy fewer readymade meals. Just get a small savings account and keep feeding it, and watch it grow till you have enough.

Ke nako – the time is now. I refuse to postpone living to some made-up point in the future. Who knows if that day will ever arrive?

And why would I ever want to stop working and playing with words when I’m having this much fun? Nope. You can be sure they’ll have to prise the laptop from my cold, dead hands. And if I die without adding a full stop, I’d be grateful if someone would add one for me.

  • Mandy Collins has worked as a journalist for more than two decades. She has a passion for good business writing and communication, with a particular focus on plain language use.
  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.