‘I can’t imagine giving up’: The benefits of working past retirement age

Apart from the financial implications, staying active and purposeful in older age is beneficial to our physical and mental health.

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Thousands of people flocked to arenas in Ireland and across the world this summer as legendary greats took to the stage to perform their greatest hits – Madonna, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John – to name but a few.

But these artists have more than talent in common as they are all either nearing or over the traditional age of retirement and, with the exception of Elton John who has taken his final bow, showing no signs of slowing down.

Working long into their 60s, 70s and beyond is not uncommon among performers – and the same can be said of actors and indeed politicians. But while it may seem that continuing to work after retirement age is exclusive to those with glamorous or powerful roles which they are loathe to give up, many mere mortals have also opted to do the same – as, apart from the financial implications, staying active and purposeful is beneficial to both their physical and mental health.

Rosemary Kavanagh Mayrhuber can attest to this, as along with being an all-round sea swimmer, the Kilkenny woman, who lives in Dublin, is relishing her second career having retrained as a tour guide later in life and also working as a ski coach.

“I worked for AIB for nearly 40 years, many of those in mortgage lending and development which saw me travelling around Ireland to update management and staff,” she says. “In 2012, in order to reduce costs, AIB offered early retirement to people over 50, so I applied and finished up in in March 2013 before starting the three Ts – travel, tourism and teaching.

Rosemary Kavanagh Mayrhuber.

“I completed a Fáilte Ireland Tour Guide course in 2014 and initially did tours around Ireland, whereas now I focus on Dublin City Tours and tours of Wicklow and Kilkenny – and I really enjoy introducing people to our great country.”

Rosemary, who met her Austrian husband, Gerhard Mayrhuber, when he came to Ireland to learn English, has been married for 40 years and says that although she forgets how old she is, she does have free travel and has no plans to retire for a long time to come.

“Along with being a tour guide, I also teach skiing on a voluntary basis at Ski Club of Ireland in Kilternan where TY students from schools around Ireland come for lessons,” she says. “These are great classes to teach as the dynamic can be very interesting. Changing careers was great as it allowed me to start something new and fresh. I haven’t thought about retiring yet and will probably only do so when I no longer enjoy it. So I would definitely support people working past retirement age if they so wish.”

Kathleen Leadbetter is also an advocate for working past retirement age. As the owner of Jerpoint Glass, a handmade glass studio in Kilkenny, the 70 year old finds her work and home life are intertwined. “My husband, Keith, and I started our craft business in 1979 and today our son Rory is the master glassmaker, along with fellow artisans James Long and Johnny Maher.

Kathleen Leadbetter.

“The glassblowers use simple hand tools and 2,000-year-old techniques to gather red-hot molten glass from a furnace and transform them into the Jerpoint range and I make my own range of slumped glass art, like framed wall pieces and mirrors. But my day-to-day is running the glassblowing studio, so I have my hand in every department from production and distribution to retail and accounts.

“I’ve been bound up in the business from day one and love everything about it – from going out to the glassblowing studio every day, to see what came out of the Leher [cooling-down oven] to watching the glassblowers do their magic after all these years. It’s fascinating and not just a job – it’s a way of life really. I can’t imagine giving up dealing with customers and people I’ve dealt with for years.”

The Kilkenny woman says although she knows she will have to hang up her tools at some point in the future, she thinks people should be allowed to work until they feel ready to retire. “I suppose I will have to think about retiring in the next few years,” she says. “But when you’re running a small business and are so involved in it, it’s hard to step back and to find the right person to carry on with the job which means so much to you. And you just can’t employ somebody to put their heart and soul into something.

“I think that if people are enjoying their work and they’re invested in it, you can’t get a better candidate than somebody who’s interested in the job and has the experience.”

Paddy Coyne from Tuam in Co Galway also has no plans of slowing down. As the co-founder of iDonate Ltd and also the managing director of Western Webs, he has worked in the computer industry for 50 years and, at 69 years of age, has no plans for retirement. “I have worked with ‘change’ all my life and like the challenge of the next big thing,” he says. “I also love working with people who are technically capable – people who see the opportunity, as distinct from the obstacles.

Paddy Coyne.

“I don’t think I will ever fully retire – but hopefully will continue to work in web development and marketing as a hobby. I am on the board of a local enterprise group – Action Tuam – and will be putting time into some projects. There is an opportunity to have Tuam as a centre for the Creative Arts industry, so in 10 years’ time I would like to think that Tuam would have the Irish version of ‘Warner Bros Studios’.”

The Galway man says he needs to have “something to get up for in the morning” but if others want to scale back to a more manageable schedule without actually retiring, then this should also be an option.

But for those who have no choice but to retire, Paul Kenny, programme leader at the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland says that finding other interests is crucial. “In order to enjoy a meaningful retirement, there needs to be more of an emphasis placed on lifestyle during the planning phase,” he says. “Many individuals are looking for opportunities to stay active, engaged and to pursue their passions in retirement. This includes travelling, volunteering, taking up new hobbies, spending time with family and friends, and even starting a new business venture.

“It is important for individuals to have a clear plan in place for this phase of their life and to start acting towards their goals as early as possible. With the right planning and support, retirement can be a fulfilling and enjoyable phase of life.”

Psychologist Peadar Maxwell agrees and says keeping a balance in our lives is important at all stages of life. “For many older adults, new dilemmas arise such as having a fixed income, bereavements, health issues and medications – all of which need to be considered and will require some outside professional advice,” he says.

“It will be important as we plan or experience life-changing events such as retirement or loss to be aware of who and what are our sources of support. Whether it’s seeking clarity about your medications from the GP or seeking reassurance about your home security, there are people we can reach out to. But retirement or continuing to work in a new way can bring lots of positive opportunities which we can plan to avail of such as having a more relaxed workplace and new engaging colleagues or duties in continuing in our jobs if that is an option, in part-time work or by volunteering. Equally we might prefer to stop working and focus on family and interests.

“Being a carer can focus us on meaning and keep us connected with loved ones such as our grown children or grandchildren. And pursuing our own interests and novelty is important – socially, emotionally and for our brain. Hobbies, interests, travel, a language – all of these things can help keep our bodies moving as well as keeping our minds fit.

“Our brains love novelty and strengthen by learning new things, whether that is a card game, a new skill or a hobby. This is particularly important where our work was one of our main sources of purpose, so finding new parts of our identity through hobbies, volunteering, being open to new relationships can help us to move on from a change we did not necessarily chose for ourselves.”

But while taking up new activities or hobbies is important, the Wexford-based expert says so too is the continuation of good habits.

“Having a balanced healthy diet, getting enough good sleep and staying active all contribute to staying engaged and fit no matter our health,” he says. “It’s good to seek GP advice and doing things at the level we are able of.

“There are so many resources out there from Citizens’ Advice to Active Retirement and Age Action Ireland that are great sources of information. The is no perfect way to retire or to age but as soon as we can take the personal responsibility to stay active and connected, the better chance we have of minding our emotional and physical health.”


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