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Old Age Stereotypes

Sometimes, all it takes is one question to make me realise that I’m guilty of letting an age-old, old age stereotype influence my thinking.

The only thing that’s constant is change.’ That was the mantra of the organisation where I worked in my thirties when I was under immense, unremitting pressure to deliver on deadlines; innovate, motivate and inspire change in others, and lead the way in total quality management.

And I thrived on it.

But as I headed into my forties, and the organisation morphed into something more stable, less dynamic, with no incentive to continue to push boundaries, I found myself drifting and began to visualise a world in which a career path was less predictable. Stepping away from everything that was familiar to us, Jack and I launched ourselves into an unknown future where every penny was hard-earned, and every step forward required Herculean effort.

But we thrived on it.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself less inclined to put myself under that kind of pressure yet an annoyingly persistent voice in my head nags me to push myself further and achieve more. Consequently, I find myself perpetually pulled in two directions: should I be slowing down, letting go of my inner over-achiever, and putting ambition out to grass? Or should I refuse to submit to the old age stereotype and not allow it to cloud my ambition?

It’s time to ditch the term ‘pensioner’

In the summer, Jack and I applied for a ‘mortgage in principle’. There was no issue with our eligibility but one question during the interview had us stumped.
“At what age do you intend to retire?”
Jack and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and mumbled something about writers never really retiring. The question is designed to ensure that once someone retires, they will still be able to afford their repayments and as we both already receive occupational pensions that cover our repayments, there was no issue.

But just being asked the question made me realise that receiving a pension, whether it’s occupational or state, is still inherently linked to the notion of slowing down or stopping work and I wondered to what extent my own thinking was being influenced by that outdated concept.

Getting a pension, and retiring, are two distinct things. A pension is something that you pay into over a period of years until it matures, at which point you begin to draw it. I don’t see a difference between that and any other type of savings policy.

Retirement, on the other hand, is something that you choose to take when you no longer wish to participate actively in the labour market. For those whose jobs require heavy manual labour, that point may come long before someone who does clerical work. If someone’s unhappy in their work, they’ll retire at the earliest possible opportunity whereas someone who loves their job will continue doing it for as long as they’re able. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario, and it shouldn’t be aligned to the receipt of a pension.

So, isn’t it time we ditched the term ‘pensioner’ with its inherent old age stereotype of someone whose highlight of the week is shuffling to the Post Office to get their pension?

Getting a pension doesn’t define who you are, it’s not a classification that means anything.

For Jack and me, getting our occupational pensions has given us a freedom we haven’t had since before we left the UK – the confidence to know that we have an income no matter what the future holds. What it doesn’t mean is giving up working or succumbing to an old age stereotype. We can be ‘pensioners’ and still be in gainful employment.

Work for me has always been as much about finding out what I’m capable of, as it has been about wanting to earn more money or climb the career ladder. I despise being idle, consider wasting a day to be nothing short of criminal, and am happiest when I’m working towards a deadline. I need to end each day knowing I’ve achieved something, and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I’m done with ambition yet either. I still have things I want to achieve, and I don’t yet know what I’m capable of in terms of writing. In short,

I’m still thriving…

…despite being a ‘pensioner’.


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