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Retirement for entrepreneurs – is it possible?

Husband and wife left the retired life behind to give themselves a challenge again, so they set up a business. Scrumpies of Mayfair, was a project that breathed life into their retirement for the couple, who had left an international law firm behind. Here, Vicki gives the story behind her and her husbands journey or retirement and entrepreneurship.

Retirement

Soon after I retired from a twenty plus year career in the law, I quickly found that the fastest way to aggravate my friends who remained in the corporate world was to moan, “it’s not easy being retired, you know”. Put generously, sympathy was limited, but for many people a post retirement struggle is a surprisingly common experience. A friend of mine who is a consultant psychiatrist actually laughed out loud when I said I was finding it tough. “It’s a myth” she crowed “people like you can’t retire and it’s actually very dangerous to try”. Oh dear, and there I was thinking I would be improving my quality of my life.

The problem is that entrepreneurs are hardwired to achieve and to be active. In the beginning retirement is like an extended holiday. This initial holiday for a period of weeks or perhaps even months is entirely effective for relieving stress and exhaustion. However, post that period, the previously dynamic entrepreneur is liable to become listless, anxious, and even depressed. The problem is similar to an athlete who is used to exercising every day. The new retiree starts a desperate search to find his or her retirement nirvana. They’ve waited a long time to be free of the constraints of the rat race. Expectations are very high – they are the lucky ones, right? Behaviours change. They spend more, eat more, drink more and do less and less. Demotivated and lethargic, they become the living embodiment of the expression “if you want something done ask a busy person”. It’s a downward spiral and at the bottom lies a whole heap of negative emotions – feelings of dislocation, dissatisfaction and emptiness.

Entrepreneurs who successfully retire inevitably have a new arena to enter, a post retirement mission. It is not enough to vaguely contemplate “learning French” or “spending more time with the children”.  A few hours at Alliance Francaise can’t replace the working buzz they once enjoyed and the children often find the new era unsettling. They are busy people too. They don’t want a suddenly clingy mum hanging around the kitchen pushing her freshly baked cupcakes at them. They want their confident feisty mum back – the one who sails into the kitchen, throws together supper while chatting and recounting entertaining highlights of her day. A colleague of mine who had also retired in his 40’s realised that he needed to make a change when, while discussing their parents’ jobs in class, his 6 year old paused perplexed for a few seconds and then told his teacher that he thought his dad’s job was “probably lying on the sofa”. Obviously the issue isn’t just a problem for the retired parent. Without a life of their own and living vicariously through their children, retired parents can actually damage the children themselves. Even retired parents need to find their own meaning outside the family.

In our case there were two of us facing this the post-retirement crash to earth. My husband and I had about 18 months before we realised that we needed to roll up our sleeves again and embrace some new challenges. We set about various projects. Our new development company built 11 new homes.  We educated ourselves on the rarefied world of coloured diamonds and had enormous fun becoming involved in the trade of precious gems. In our most audacious move, we set up our clothing brand Scrumpies of Mayfair – designing, manufacturing and selling luxury knickers. Almost straight away we started to feel that we were living again.

Prior to my own experience, I would have been one of the people reading this thinking “that wouldn’t happen to me”, but it did. If you are thinking about retirement, I would recommend that you actively plan your new life. Realise that before long the need to rest will be gone and the need to achieve will stay. I hope that, like us, you find that new challenges are the key to staying happy and motivated. Think about what you have always wanted to do. Don’t dwell on the barriers and don’t limit yourself to where your experience would naturally take you. Be brave enough to take on the unknown. Just four years after leaving the law, we are very happily established as the proud founders of our own knicker brand and living proof that a change is as good as a rest.

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