When is the best time to retire?

18 Jun 2021

The way we find meaning and purpose in life is often deeply connected to what we do for a living. So what happens when we stop doing whatever it is we do? In western cultures the convention is that retirement happens when you reach a certain age, largely defined and changed by the prevailing government.

So – even if it’s far off for you – have you thought about the best time to retire? When you are fed up with working so hard? When you feel out of place in the workplace? When you can’t seem to function like you used to, and just want to sit in the garden and relax?

Specialists like psychologists and neuroscientists are challenging this convention, saying that in fact the best time to retire is - never. Laura Carstensen argues that we arrange our careers entirely wrongly for the rhythm of our lives, by forcing people to cram together their most productive professional years and the raising of small children, then leaving people with too little to do in their later years.

Other cultures do not share our concept of retirement. The Japanese, world leaders in the art of the long and happy life, do not even have an equivalent for our word ‘retire’. Why, they ask, would you suddenly stop doing what you are good at, leaving yourself short of purpose and meaning in your life? (A response of ‘because I hate my job’ begs the question ‘so why have you chosen to spend your time doing something you hate?’. But that’s for another day).

For the Japanese it is usual to have a second and third source of income and activity, so that when one of them completes, you continue with the others. Thus people carry on doing the things they love, creating beauty, building community, helping others… into their 80s, 90s, and even well into their 100s, because it would not occur to them to stop.

They are also inspired by the concept of ikigai (life’s purpose, or raison d'être), expressing the idea that our unique talent is our reason for being here and for getting up in the morning.


A Moodscope member.

A Moodscope member.

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June 19, 2021, 4:42 a.m.

Thanks for today’s blog Steve this is a question right up my street, Ian 65 I have been working as a plumber for 50 years. Mostly I have enjoyed it and still do. I have struggled with anxiety/ depression for many years. My job is a great distraction which helps with anxiety, talking and listening to customers also helps. I am amazed how many people suffer with anxiety that I work for. The downside is when a job goes wrong it affects my mood badly, Also my body doesn’t like crawling under baths any more. I keep changing my mind one day I am retiring the next I am not. I have a lot of lovely customers that really appreciate what I do and how I work. It’s not all about money with me, helping folk in a panic situation really gives me a boost. I think I will carry on as a Japanese plumber Paul (no leaky paw)


The Gardener

June 19, 2021, 8:20 a.m.

Paul, the world needs plumbers (you could spend half the week in my house). Japan must be good for business, had a daughter often there, and frequent earthquakes made work. But, as you say, there's a limit to crawling under baths, especially if you get 'stuck' and have to get the fire brigade to get you out (plus osteopath).

Oldie but Goldie

June 19, 2021, 5 a.m.

Thanks Steve that is a brilliant post. I'll write more later.


Little Lighthouse

June 19, 2021, 6:16 a.m.

Interesting topic for someone like me.. If retiring is anything like life with talent unfounded and unrewarded, sporadic yet rewarding employment, seemingly needs unimportant by others.. I know which I'd follow 100%the Japanese and minds of others and neuroscience in their ways of thinking, because it uphill, unrewarding and demoralising without.. Life is best when taking part in it not excluded, but we'll never be other countries. But how do we change or how do we make the best out of a bad situation when we're is stuck in our ways? Best get looking for some fun stuff!and I know just the place! Thanks for wake up call steve! Little lighthouse!



June 19, 2021, 6:21 a.m.

Hi Steve. The headline of your blogpost caught my attention instantly. Whenever I talk to people about how and when they want to skip their jobs to retire I answer I hope not to retire at all. Just keep my profession at a pace which I can handle. I'm self employed and I am maybe in a better position to choose than someone employed at a company. It's so true what you write. Our three-staged oragnization of life is wrong. Learning-working-retiring. We should never stop learning. We should be able to work when we feel like it and when we want to get paid. But we should always have sufficient time to rest. Thanks for your inspiration! Marc from Germany.


The Gardener

June 19, 2021, 8:23 a.m.

Marc, I think you would agree one is very lucky to continue in a job you love, and are expert at, but at a slower pace. So many, at 65 or earlier 'Out', often at the top of your profession and with all that experience.


June 20, 2021, 6:20 a.m.

Hi Marc, Your response is similar to my own. In relation to learning, and never stopping, I totally agree; my friend who has a Phd said to me in a very annoyed fashion, 'You are always going on courses!' which I found really upsetting at the time. What on earth is wrong with trying to improve yourself, whether it be your skillset, or your life skills? You are lucky to have your own business, where you have your niche. I have made several attempts to find my niche, to have my own business, but I find I have too many skills to choose from! but never mind, with this Japanese approach, I hope I will find my way forward. There is no looking back! Best wishes, Kate


June 19, 2021, 6:23 a.m.

Hi Steve, I'm a massive fan of Ikigai. Retirement is an impossibility, so that makes thinking about it easier! My Mum 'retired' when she retired, and I watched, with horror, her rapid decline. For this reason, I am in agreement with you - the best time to (mentally) retire is never. Cogito ergo sum! Keep thinking my friends! Lx


The Gardener

June 19, 2021, 8:26 a.m.

Hey Lex, I used 'cogito ergu sum' last week. You are right about your Mum. Mr G and I were SO lucky, moving from active farming to more passive writing, research, loads travelling (actually, not passive, just very different, and so stimulating). I'm thinking, what the **** do I do with a cold, wet week coming up? x


June 19, 2021, 6:36 a.m.

Purpose for living is my challenge. Since the familly relocated abroad it seems purposeless. Trying to find it on a daily basis. Good blog Steve. I went to uni at 59 after organising a community walk across england in the previous year and helping to write a book about it. Since then its been all caring, trauma and loss. To find new purpose is my work that doesn't completely centre on me. Bit of a challenge but I am up for it, I think :D x Dido


Brum Mum

June 19, 2021, 6:37 a.m.

I am looking forward to retirement which is at least 10 to 15 years away. But I don’t see it as ‘stopping’ but a new phase where I will have more opportunity to do the things I love: garden, make pottery, walk and I hope a big dose of volunteering. I found the comparison with the Japanese fascinating. Now that we are back to a faster pace of life now lockdown is easing, I am finding the pace quite hard. I have to remind myself to rest for my own mental health. So as a slightly knackered 50 year old I do hanker for retirement and see it as a hugely positive phase to embrace when the time finally comes….



June 19, 2021, 6:56 a.m.

Steve Thanks for your blog. I had my own business for many years and thought I would work in my shop fir as long as I could. Alas I was forcibly retired when my shop was destroyed by fires. I think it makes a difference if you have a choice about when you retire as to how you cope. I can only do volunteer work now as there is no work for people my age. Thanks for making me think .



June 21, 2021, 4:36 a.m.

Agree Leah. Dad’s very prolonged illness and care needs in England forced me out of a highly challenging role here in Oz at 58. I came back here and am rebuilding my life slowly - 5 years on now - and can now see that it was a good thing I left work. My mind and body needed a slower pace and it’s good to have time to appreciate the rhythms of daily life. Plus I was able to get therapy and my mental ups and downs are better controlled than ever before. So while I miss being in charge or being super busy sometimes, I can see the upside now. Your traumatic ending to work was very different from my slow realisation that I couldn’t care for dad and work in Australia. I wish you peace and wellbeing. xx


June 19, 2021, 6:59 a.m.

Hi Steve, Thank you for a really wonderful blog. Having 'retired' from the 9-5, 10 years ago, I feel as though I have been attempting to find this 'value' for myself and am still not quite there. I have too many choices, it seems. Needing a supplementary income as well, seems to make focus more difficult. I have always thought retiring from work at 60, or whatever age it happens to be officially now, was a mistake. It is almost imposed on you. I saw my father deteriorate after his retirement from the forces; I wish I could have given him this advice at that time. It could have extended his life. He had so much to give to other people and he was a talented teacher and craftsman. He loved helping other people; I can imagine he couldn't even think about making money out of it either! How times have changed. People need to be included, and feel a part of something, and they need to feel useful and as though they STILL have a contribution to make! and they are valued. It is exacerbated I believe, by the attitude society seems to have towards the older generation, as though they don't count anymore; as though you don't really exist. My advice to anyone retiring soon, or in any number of years, to make a plan for it now! Make it your lifelong goal, to have a wonderful retirement and something to strive for and look forward to! I will now do some research Steve, and have another go at working out my own situation, and I cannot thank you enough. It has been staring me in the face; I have a love for Japanese culture, costume, as it happens, so I need to explore this subject. Perhaps worrying about whether I can earn money doing these things, is overshadowing my choices..



June 19, 2021, 7:22 a.m.

Hi Steve thanks for the great blog. I retired last October about 8 months ago. We were planning to move but things have come to a standstill. I liked my job, but was also volunteering alongside it. I spent some time mentally preparing myself for the experience. Some fun things have also fallen into place like the workshops that I attend twice a week through the OpenBook Programme at Goldsmiths University College.



June 19, 2021, 7:35 a.m.

Thanks Steve. I didn’t know that the Japanese had that outlook but it makes sense to me. When I was in my 40s I started a new career path using hypnosis, but I didn’t abandon my other work. I’m happy doing part-time with both. Before our favourite virus came to town I was also earning as a musician. Similarly, I’ve been looking ahead and learning new musical styles for when I’m (even) older and can’t be so physical on stage.



June 19, 2021, 7:40 a.m.

Interesting blog, Steve. My story: worked in IT for a long time, well paid, but didn't particularly like it. Became a freelance bookkeeper, which I enjoyed, but the money is pitiful. I realised that I so deeply identified with the status of my previous IT role, and felt that I had to explain myself and my new 'lowly' career. I decided to retire from paid employment a few years ago. I gave each client plenty of notice (over 6 months) and left them gradually over the year, to prevent the 'cliff edge' of full time work one day and nothing the next. I could then start to take things more easily, with plenty more 'me time' , looking after my mental and physical health, and doing more voluntary work which I really love. With voluntary work, I can do it when I please, and don't have to book time off for holidays. There is no pressure and there are no performance reviews. So, yes, I am retired from paid work, but I fill my days with stuff that interests me. It took me a long time to shed my attachment to my first career, but am pleased to say that I have nearly forgotten it now. I don't think that it is particularly healthy to describe oneself by one's career. I'd prefer to be thought of as a decent etc person, than as an IT professional. I am wary of the Japanese idea, because the society there is still deeply misogynistic (look at the shenanigans at the Olympics committee, where they permit a couple of women to attend but not speak). I do understand that I am immensely privileged to be able to cease paid work at my age, and I really appreciate the freedom it gives me to explore new opportunities. In most societies women continue to run the home (cooking, cleaning etc) throughout their lives. I know that some men do, but I am talking in gross generalities. So women rarely 'retire' from that role, but they might appreciate more time to do it without having to take on paid work too.



June 19, 2021, 8:38 a.m.

Thanks Steve. Very close to my heart as I am 76 and still working at the best paid job I have ever had at an auction house. However work has considerably dried up as so many sales online now due to Covid so people like me not needed. Help! Another job at 76? Definitely. Perhaps charity shop. Love meeting people. I am terrified though as thinking of moving 45 miles away as well. Help, again! Haven’t moved for 30 years . Whoops, sorry going off the subject. Phew, got rid of that one. Sandie


Patricia E

June 19, 2021, 3:59 p.m.

Hi Sandie. Good luck with the move - I found my relocation (150 miles north, to an area I had visited for years, but where I knew no- one) absolutely terrifying and/ but almost certainly the best thing I've ever done. I ' had' to get out there and engage with people and establish a new local infrastructure of people. I'm volunteering, I'm engaged with the u3a, belong to gardening, poetry, antiques and book groups, know more neighbors than I ever have in any previous location, and, best thing of all, these new people know me just as the person they're presented with, not the me who came with a 'job label'. I am not 'me' in this new environment than I have ever been in my life before. So, good luck. And have a wonderful time.

Patricia E

June 19, 2021, 4:01 p.m.

Sorry - that should read ' more me' in this new environment etc. Don't you just hate predictive text!!


June 19, 2021, 8:46 a.m.

Hi Steve. I was in your position about 15 years ago. My normal retiring age was 60 but their was the option of continuing part time for 5 years. I think the answer to your question is "it all depends". There are many factors involved. If you like your work and feel able to continue then delay the retirement if you can. If you have a desire to do something else and the finances are okay perhaps retirement is best. Most importantly do some planning and you have made a good start with this post! Good luck.



June 19, 2021, 9:14 a.m.

If I could retire now I would! At 45 and why not! I’m sure I can think of better things to do than sit behind a laptop all day!



June 19, 2021, 10:29 a.m.

Hi Steve, great question. My Mum was forced to retire at 60 from her part-time job as a doctors receptionist and was very unhappy about it. She loved dealing with people and getting out of the house. I was made redundant at 47 from an IT ob which I had loved until the last few years when I had to work on an out-of-date system. I found the first year hard, although I joined several groups (badminton, Scrabble) which kept me out and about. Then I found the perfect part-time job which I enjoyed for 8 years. Now I still volunteer in a charity shop. I also do admin for a local group and my church, which I was able to continue during covid. I think I would have gone mad if I had had nothing to keep me useful. I think it depends very much on how much you enjoy your job and how capable you are of continuing.



June 19, 2021, 10:39 a.m.

Most days I do “hate” my job so will gladly retire when I’ve saved enough. The stress of my job leads to too much lost sleep already so couldn’t be much worse losing sleep figuring out what to do in retirement.



June 19, 2021, 1:45 p.m.

I'm going on my 4th year of retirement. It hardly feels like that long but it is. I retired because I could financially and my receptionist job was nearly nonexistent because of changes in phone systems and other changes in the office. My husband was also retired so I thought why not? My job had gotten rather boring. Not as boring as I find it now though. I am not good at finding things to do and kind of hibernate at home and doing very little. It is not good for me. I believe it is due to depression but the combination of stopping work and retirement has not been good for a social person like me. At least I did some structured things at work even though there was not a lot it was more than I do now. I know I should go out and find some things to do. I have not felt purpose in my life. I did not plan ahead. It just kind of happened quickly. I am helping my mom who has dementia which helps to help someone and I live her. That is meaningful to me.



June 19, 2021, 2:04 p.m.

It’s an interesting subject. I have seen some people thrive in their retirement and others not coping at all. It depends on individual circumstances for when the time is right especially the financial and health aspects.



June 19, 2021, 2:58 p.m.

Hi Steve, I loved my teaching job but circumstances I’ve talked about on here before forced me out of it at 59. It was an abrupt end, but 10 years on, I think it was all for the best. Not that it’s been easy! I hadn't prepared retirement, and it came as a shock, although I have many hobbies. Still I have to guard against judging myself useless! I think an awful lot of value lies in the career, job, passion you do for a living. I missed colleagues and pupils, and stretching my brain / intellect and the creative side of teaching which suited me. I didn’t miss the feeling that what I did was never enough and that everything was done in a rush, riding slipshod over some of the most needy and vulnerable pupils...and staff! Crazy deadlines and workload set by who knows who...A picnic it most certainly was not! I really do hope they get teaching as a profession sorted out...it has become untenable for many.



June 19, 2021, 3:51 p.m.

I can relate to you Sally. I miss my job in a lot of ways but it ran its course for many reasons and I cannot imagine being back there now.


June 19, 2021, 5:14 p.m.

As soon as possible!


David Gosling

June 20, 2021, 7 a.m.

I semiretired at age 40 now 72 and continued part time working till I drop I hope!


Oldie but Goldie

June 21, 2021, 6:06 a.m.

Steve Your post hit a chord with me for several reasons. The first was that long ago, after nearly 50 years ago, my late father retired from a job he had disliked for years, then after a six month "retirement honeymoon", he realised he was bored, and struggled to find fulfilling ways of spending his days for the next three decades. He also spent a lot of his time boring anyone who would listen telling the same old stories about his old workplace over and over again. The second is that I recently saw an excellent video on YouTube "How to recover from depression", in which one of the speaker's main points is that people who have a positive vision for the future always seem to recover better than those who remain locked into their pasts - "the unchangeable past" as the speaker says. The video is here, I recommend it highly : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVgQ_tgWMyU


Little Drop

June 21, 2021, 7:38 a.m.

Interesting blog Steve. Three years ago I retired 6 years early from a job I had begun to hate. It was stressful and affecting my mental and physical health. Retiring was the best thing for me - it gave me time to relax and heal. I am now very happy. I have made new friends and do new things. I think everyone needs to make their own choice (finances permitting) to find the best solution for them


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