Tools for Retirement 103 by Nick Fog

Tools for Retirement 103: Stowing Your Personal Baggage

Along with a sense of purpose our careers gave, generally we focused on tasks. We were engaged in work and rewarded for that, even if it was only the pay. We enter retirement with the notion of enjoying ourselves, and may not be aware of past events that may have the chance to interrupt that enjoyment.

With the end of work most of us acquired extra time for ourselves. Along with all the positive memories that we had from our working lives and families, sometimes comes a set of injuries. For most of the baby boom generation we started work with an understanding that ‘loyalty equalled job security’. Somewhere along the line we came to realize that many employers saw us as temporary assets. Layoffs and redundancies became more common in the pressured work world.

Ill-treatment of employees has become more common and the redress more difficult. Frequently, managers were selected not for their management acumen (i.e., people skills) but because they followed orders, and advance the careers of their supervisors. Big companies hired lawyers to find ways of bypassing stated work practice standards. Many companies simply aped the appropriate rhetoric and never followed the intent of ‘best management’ practice. Now, it’s rare to find a company that is genuinely concerned about the welfare and careers of the people they employ.

Employees who found the economic rationalist work ethic immoral, were in for a rough ride. Employers generally didn’t embrace a range of opinions on work ethics. The term “toxic workplace” has frequently been used to describe poisonous work standards, where extra work was expected without payment.

Trained and ethical managers don’t use these negative techniques in a professional workplace. However, trained managers who’ve had a significant investment in their leadership skills are becoming rare. Nepotism and cronyism are rife. Managers who are not confident frequently surround themselves with sycophants.

To some extent, most employees carry all of the successes and scars that our industries/workplaces handed out. We were expected to “wear” the ill-treatment, or ‘move on’ if we couldn’t tolerate what was on offer. Micromanagement technique often meant that professionals weren’t allowed to use their skills openly. Frequently work that was passed up the ladder in the workplace, was claimed by the higher-level. Equally, it was relatively simple to reassign blame down the ladder.

Commonly, when our minds are not occupied, memories of these injuries revisit us. It could be just a melancholic feeling, or it could be much more substantial. I witnessed the extreme effects of unaddressed injury/trauma for students re-entering education after 10 years of absence due to warfare. When their minds were not fully occupied in class, many of these teenagers exploded with rage. Teachers had to be specially trained and respond humanely in order to deal with this.

There’s not ‘one solution’ for this. In retirement, if you become aware of any ‘internal negative chatter’, many counsellors suggest just do your best to refocus on the sounds outside your head instead. In other words, stay busy and engaged in something positive.

Meditation, therapy books, audio programs, and courses promise to teach peace and reduce stress. For a price they promise less worry, and peace of mind.  Some of us are hardwired to remember events that scar us. It’s not abnormal. However plotting meticulous revenge(s) in your mind, even if you don’t intend to carry it out, isn’t something that is recommended over the long term.

Most of us don’t have the self-discipline or the will to enter into time-consuming self-examination. Some people claim that they achieve quiet insight in the shower.  Perhaps it’s the water, or the white noise that surrounds us in the shower.

Walking in the eucalypt forest, woodworking, or a great cup of coffee and a newspaper seems to do wonders for me.  Learning to care for yourself, and reorganizing your brain so that the remembered injury(s) doesn’t take up so much space seems to be one of the common prescriptions you’ll get from a professional. You will even see some people with an elastic band around their wrist, snapping it (cognitive therapy) to remind themselves to ‘stow these negative thoughts’.

My own personal favourite is to ‘name the thing that’s troubling me’ by writing it down. Yes… you’re allowed to get angry. But putting it on paper, and taking it to the extent that you feel it justified through a number of drafts, seems to work just fine for me. Then slip it into an envelope and address it. Put a stamp on it, and bury/burn your personal baggage in a big hole in the backyard.

I’ve even known people to pour a good single malt over it before they burned/buried the letter. Of course, they did pass the whiskey through their kidneys before anointing the letter.

Here’s to a rewarding retirement… that is light as air.



This is the second last of the series “Tools for Retirement”. The final edition will be a cathartic example of how to write one of those drafts that you stuff into an envelope and deal with expeditiously.