Dessert or cheese, madam?
Part the first
The last course. What do you fancy ladies? Not to follow the nice main course you just had, your splendid career, but what to do with your life after that? What, me, retire? I’m miles away from that yet. Course you are. That’s what you said about being 40 when you were 20, remember?
At some point in the not that far away future you will glad hand and hug everybody at work, have a great retirement party and walk away with the witty cards and the carriage clock (or whatever) go home and say What now? Some of you will have breezed through the career trajectory as if on gilded wings, others will have had to struggle to get where they ended up. Either way they have indeed ended up somewhere and the idea of “ending up” is not appealing. The career might have ended but life hasn’t. So what do you do for an encore?
From the vantage point of the 72 year old superwoman….. (Aren’t there any other oldies hiding in the woodwork as part of the superwoman mob? Reveal yourselves please.) Anyway from the oldie totem pole position I am about to share my pearls of wisdom with you. First ask yourself what makes you happy? Happiness is a very elusive concept and one which I don’t propose to go into much here. The things you thought made you happy – often material things, you will have found out by now are temporary. That fancy car you worked your socks off for made you happy for a while. Until it got its first scratch then it became a heap of tin you spent rather a lot of money on. That love of your life relationship you made a massive emotional investment in made you happy, until it fell apart at the seams. There is nothing wrong with temporary happiness but lasting happiness has to be self generated and come from inside yourself. Ask yourself the happiness question and it is likely you will find that what you put into something is reflected in the happiness reward you get out of it.
You’re all achievers. What would you like to achieve in the rest of your life? Go round the world on your yacht? Climb Everest? Feed the birds in your garden? Hang on a minute, before you set your goals you need to take stock of your assets. Forget the 38D boobs, they’ve drooped, as has the pert bottom you once had. Mental, physical, emotional and financial assets are the ones up for stocktaking. List the strengths and weaknesses, blessings and limitations. Financially you might be very well set up and you have enough money to last you for life. Everything goes up in price, so do a quick budget before you throw £20K at the Nepalese Government to get to the foothills of Everest and then have to find a team and supplies to get you up the hill. Ten years on your Council Tax might be a bit of a pull financially. Bare necessities are always with you and whatever your budget for these double it for ten years down the line. Now can you afford that yacht?
Your brain is almost certainly ticking along like clockwork. Do you want to use the skills you built up in your job or do you want to go in another direction? I started my career as a psychologist, then acquired business and financial skills. Wrap those together in one parcel and my God people will beat a path to your door. Just one of those will have a queue forming round the block. I speak of course of working with charities. There is an endless demand for people with financial, business, admin and legal skills within the 3rd sector. It took me about 5 mins to launch myself as a charity treasurer. It can be enormously rewarding but sometimes it’s not quite what you expected. I went to my first regional meeting of a sub section of a charity I will call the Gaspers and Wheezers, for people with lung problems. At the entrance to the venue was a lady hanging onto a handrail gasping for breath. Are you alright? Not really I didn’t think it was so far from the car. Where’s your car? She pointed to a car ten yards away. Would you like me to get you a wheelchair? Gasp, gasp, wheeze Yes please. Me and my new mate walked in to the room. Which was awash with people in wheel chairs with oxygen cylinders attached. Then the coughing started. I spent the entire meeting running around giving people drinks of water in the absolute certain expectation that half of them would croak before the end of the meeting. They didn’t of course, they’re toughies, the gaspers and wheezers. Don’t ask about the money. Almost every small charity is run on a shoe string, and you return a deficit balance sheet every year and will achieve legend status if you can reduce the deficit. I do it by being very tight on the purse strings and slapping down any trustee who is looking for a little perk. The words “misappropriation of funds” works a treat.
Charity work is usually volunteering. You might get expenses or a small honorarium. Which will buy you a glass of wine or three. Not a bottle. Be in no doubt that the status of a volunteer is nothing like being head honcho of your own department when you were at work. A volunteer has no power at all as a worker in a sub branch of a national charity where decisions on policy are run from London. And not much more in the little local charity you fancy. The only power a volunteer has is to walk away. Your best bet is to get on the board of trustees of the charity of your choice and get a seat at the top table. I’ve hopped about various charities in my time. It’s a good idea to get involved with a charity whose objectives you care about. If you do not have some empathy for one legged blind black lesbian asylum seekers don’t even think about working with them. There are dozens of charities requiring your expertise. Medical, children, the homeless, the elderly, abused women, everything under the sun. Where there’s injustice and deprivation there is always going to be a charity for it. You need to decide at the outset whether you want to be hands on with the people you are helping or a back room girl. If you cringe at the smellies in the soup kitchen or have no aptitude for communicating with the mentally ill, while you may wish to be dedicated to their cause there is no need to be hands on with the hapless victims of a society determined to keep them under who you might be working your socks off to keep afloat financially. Plenty of space for you in the back room.
The other thing about charities and other well intentioned outfits is that you will not see eye to eye with everybody working for the same cause. You might have been top bitch in your job, some of these people have been top bitches/dogs in the do – gooding business for ever. You are a new broom, so they’ll be watching you like hawks. Is she going to make changes? Course she is – she was brought in to try and drag you out of the doldrums. Any first meeting where you are advised to sit in the wings and watch what happens for a year doesn’t deserve you. There are inevitably change resistant old sticks who are very suspicious of new brooms, and will vote down your every change proposal. There are several approaches to this one. One is – you want to stay on the verge of going down the pan and I’m supposed to sit on the touchline and watch that happen? OK you don’t need me- I’m outta here. Tact and diplomacy for getting them on side individually is another. One at a time is the divide and rule strategy here. Watch out for the deeply entrenched alliances. The other is to get a bit manipulative. Like shoving a wedge between the entrenched alliances. We’ve all done the tact and diplomacy and the manipulations at our regular jobs – these are transferable skills. These people are all volunteers too usually and can be edged out. Just like the good old days at work, without the redundancy payments. Play to things that interest you and play to your strengths.
Working for a charity can be very life enhancing, for others as well as yourself, and also gives you the rosy glow of giving something back and trying to empower people who have no power. Be very careful which charity you choose and vet your colleagues equally carefully and you too could be the next Mother Teresa. Or not. If you’re in it for a halo, forget it – try hang gliding instead. Charity work is the cheese course, filling and satisfying. Next blog about other fluffier retirement options. The lemon syllabub madam?