‘Retirement is a serious blow to one’s self esteem and should be avoided’ according to Peter Wilhelm (The Financial Mail 3Nov’06) and he makes some very valid points. Some of you may have contemplated retirement from engineering (as an engineer or technician) – whether this be in your thirties or sixties. Wilhelm lists a number of great reasons for retirement (and the sad reality in brackets):

  • Being free of all workplace commitments and hassles (but in the non-work environment, no one cares any longer about who you worked for)
  • Enjoying your favourite hobbies such as fishing (but now, because you have so much time, this becomes devalued)
  • Spending more time with children and grandchildren (but besides watching the cartoon channel together there is a lot of babysitting available!)
  • There will be money for luxuries (no – medical expenses and pet food will consume any spare cash)
  • Travelling (definitely once in a while, but too much and the realities of travelling kick in - plane delays, cramped seating kilometres up in the air, and the yearning for familiar home haunts - to name but a few)
  • Deepening your relationship with your partner (hopefully true; but instead of covering new ground your thinking becomes so attuned that you land up finishing each other’s sentences)
  • Nurturing friendships (well, not the working ones – they are too busy – and how do you meet new people?)
  • Reading the books you always wanted to (but will you? ‘Ulysses’ or ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’? Probably not. To pass the time, something more lightweight, perhaps, such as JK Rowling)
  • Making your intellectual legacy available to younger people (but they aren’t interested in listening)

Admittedly Wilhelm seems somewhat cynical about life; but I believe the points he makes are important. The answer, therefore, is not to retire. Why even consider it? Reduce your "working" time and increase your ‘leisure’ time, if necessary. But most critically ensure that you do what you enjoy - and if you don’t - change as soon as possible to something you are passionate about.

Remember, however, that you fought hard to gain skills in engineering and this know-how shouldn’t be simply tossed away. If what you are doing in engineering is not satisfying, examine other related areas of engineering which would create enjoyment and passion for you. Don’t write the whole profession off because of some bad experiences; challenging management or some horrible projects, for instance.

A number of our engineering instructors are well into their seventies. They are absolutely outstanding and do a brilliant job presenting courses. They appear to balance work and their personal time very well. We are told very quickly when their assignments are too burdensome and they often insist on taking their wives with them when they travel to more exotic spots. They also keep time aside for gardening, walking the dog and reading. These instructors are still absolutely passionate about engineering and ensure their areas of expertise are updated by extensive study and interaction with their peers.

Research has proven that Alzheimer’s disease can be minimised (or eliminated) by treating the brain as yet another muscle and exercising it. Continuing to work also ensures a steady income; helps one maintain friendships and contacts; stimulates the intellect and for the community it helps ease the deepening crisis with the overwhelming shortage of good technical professionals.

Wilhelm does say, though, that whatever your decision, remember these three qualities: humour, joie de vivre ("joy of life") and a sense of proportion. And as Groucho Marx put it: "Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend; and inside a dog it's too dark to read."