Last year I retired from one-to-one practice as a holistic therapist. It was a tough decision to make as I had an established practice and enjoyed my job but I wanted to pursue my ambition of introducing positive health to a wider audience – especially children and young people – and complete a list of half-finished projects that have been gathering dust over the years (sound familiar?). My list includes writing a book – current title is Healing Words for Teens, although is not final – positive health guidance cards for teens, finishing an Eating Psychology course and designing character strengths ‘snippets’ notices for schools.
My decision was also partly influenced by having a relatively independent but elderly mum and in-laws who may require increased support as they get older. At the same time my daughter announced that she was expecting our first grandchild and my husband took redundancy from work, so the decision to semi-retire seemed even more timely.
Notice I say semi-retire. Having spent almost 40 years working in the field of health, (20 years in nursing and longer in holistic medicine) and completing a Master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology in 2014, I believe that I have a unique and rounded perspective on health and wellbeing that may help others and especially if introduced early on in childhood. I suppose that helping others in these so-called caring professions is a ‘calling’ that fits my character strengths and is central to my sense of meaning and purpose.
A better way to health
I have always enjoyed working to help others in their journey towards health in both conventional and holistic medicine and manage my own health by making lifestyle changes and taking natural remedies rather than medication wherever possible.
Witnessing many changes and advances in healthcare over this time, yet seeing increasing levels of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and mental health problems (including in our children), and a plethora of confusing and conflicting advice from ‘experts’, my drive and ambition to teach and help others how they can manage their health better is as strong as ever, so I’m not ready to retire fully yet.
Helping others is good for you too
Studies have shown that altruistic behaviour and kindness is good for you and it can lead to the helpers high. Kindness builds connections between people and creates stronger societies and it can be contagious.
I love teaching mind-body health and encouraging individuals to take charge of their own healthcare, exploring what works for them, (through the Upward Spirals programme: www.upwardspirals.org.uk ), but it can be difficult getting into schools to work with staff and pupils with lack of funding and time.
However, recently I have found myself pondering whether this drive to teach is good for my personal growth and wellbeing as I would have more time to for myself and family if I retired fully.
As a semi-retired mum, daughter and wife, I am more available to my family which gives me great joy in many respects. My husband and I are able to spend time with our adorable grandson and support his exhausted parents. I can look after mum as she recovers from a nasty fall and give her home a ‘make-over’ to make it a lovely place in which to spend time and am free to help elderly neighbours who have no family. Society still doesn’t seem to value caring as much as productivity and the time to complete the aforementioned projects and pursue my other ambitions seems as far away as before.
Yet work takes us away from family – sometimes when they need us most – and can be exhausting so that we are not fully present when we are at home. It can be difficult to afford all the things that our children ask for without putting in more hours at work and a recent survey by Bright Horizons showed that family life is under pressure from work with almost half of parents saying that work regularly got in the way of spending time with their children. Offering flexible working hours is a step in the right direction although many parents felt they could not take advantage of this due to management attitude or workplace culture.
Individualism v Collectivism
This train of thought then lead to wondering about the impact of this individualistic approach of western culture than the collectivist approach in eastern cultures. In the west individual achievement is our main goal and often through work, whereas the tribe / extended family are more central to daily life in eastern culture. It is common here for elders not to retire but to continue to have a productive role within the family and community: perhaps it is the interaction and sense of purpose that afford them a longer and happier life with less isolation and depression than in the west.
I have realised that my personal ambitions and unfinished projects are actually work orientated, but because I love learning and teaching / helping others too, this also gives my life meaning and purpose.
· Take a moment to consider what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose?
· How can you use your personal strengths more at work?
· If you are not currently working, look for something that matches your character strengths and comes naturally to you (www.viacharacter.org )
There has to be a balance between work and play, and for me it’s about helping others and doing what I love too: this can be difficult to achieve as I have discovered, but it is very much worth working on! So, I am grateful to be able to semi-retire which allows me to choose which projects I want to complete whilst still supporting family. Retirement probably wouldn’t work for me…
Bright Horizons: Family Solutions. The Modern Families Index (2017). Retrieved Sept. 30th, 2017 from: https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/wp- content/uploads/2017/01/Modern- Families-Index_Full-Report.pdf
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