Repurposing not retirement - this is your time
Many of today’s retirees have much higher expectations than living the quiet life and regard retirement not as the end of useful life but a chance to reinvent themselves and find new purpose.
Take Jill Garnett for example. She left full-time employment at 58 to write a book. It sold reasonably well and today she is the author of nine books still in print.
When she discovered how little money authors received for their work she began her own online self-publishing business, purchasing a domain and using a webhost company.
Today she uses the Amazon platform, where authors can benefit from that company’s sophisticated selling and marketing programs.
Jill also studied palaeontology and spent several years looking for fossils and working on dinosaur digs in western Queensland. The best fossil in her collection is 370 million years old, found in an old gravel quarry.
Jill’s other retirement interests include studying – and teaching – Japanese, working on citizen science projects and playing the ukulele.
“I turned 70 last year,” Jill says, “And I can honestly say that these have been the best years of my life. It’s wonderful to have the time to finally do all the things I always wanted to do – and a few I never even thought of doing! I want to be a participant in the game of life, not just an onlooker!”
Retired nurse Brenda Quaife, too, has been playing the ukulele for a couple of years and belongs to a group that gives occasional public performances in her local community. She has also joined a singing group and plans to learn the dulcimer.
Ukuleles, it turns out, are the most popular musical instruments among older people who have never played a musical instrument before, and uke groups can be found all around southeast Queensland.
Some retirees (or should that be repurposers?), however, are prepared to tackle tougher challenges and are proving that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.
Heather Nel of The School Locker music studios has been teaching students to play various instruments for 30 years. Her oldest student is an 81-year-old former trumpeter who recently decided to take up the saxophone.
Another of her students started learning the piano at 74 and went on to pass three music exams.
Heather says that with older people it’s about learning and sharing knowledge rather than teaching.
Exercise techniques can be developed to help overcome any deficiencies of age, such as stiff fingers.
“Older people have more intuition (than the young) when it comes to learning music,” Heather says.
For many, it has proved life changing, mentally stimulating and physically uplifting.
Besides music – and excluding sport – art, craft and writing are the most popular pursuits for retirees.
Journalist Glenis Green gave up full-time reporting but still does some casual subediting from her home computer – when she’s not at her easel.
“It’s a nice escape from words; something purely visual rather than computer-orientated,” says Glenis who had been interested in painting since winning a school art prize.
She took it up again when her adult children bought her paints and an easel two Christmases ago.
Another artist, Patricia Stockwell, combines her love of painting with a love of plants to produce botanical art as exquisite as it is accurate in detail.
To achieve this level of expertise she has spent the past dozen or so years taking every botanical art course she can find, learning from Australia’s leading plant painters. The advent of Amazon’s self-publishing platform six years ago has made it possible for many would-be writers to publish their work in either print-on-demand or ebook format.
But Jill Garnett warns it is not a licence to print money.
“There is a lot of self-indulgent rubbish out there and you need to invest some money in promotion both on and off-line if you want to actually sell your books.
And narrowly-targeted markets are the best,” she says.
Birdwatching is another popular interest among retirees and with southeast Queensland’s rich birdlife, there are several local groups as well as state and national organisations with sophisticated communications programs to engage the binocular brigade.
Citizen science projects, in which people with sufficient time to spare can engage in bird and other wildlife surveys and monitoring projects, are today attracting participants from all around Australia.
Jeff and Marg Eller sold their plumbing supply business about 10 years ago and, having become interested in birdwatching, turned it into an almost full-time interest.
They are the mainstay of their local bird group, travel all over Australia looking for unusual birds and are even involving their grandchildren in their favourite hobby.
While Marg does the sound-recording Jeff has become a proficient bird photographer, creating sophisticated video productions with appropriate backing music and special effects.
Those who want a little more excitement in their retirement years than improving their golf handicap, throwing in a line or joining a bridge club, take the opportunity to travel.
While most are content to visit the places they’ve always wanted to see, others turn it to more significant account.
Jaap Vogel trained as a doctor and became a science writer specialising in medical matters. He is also an artist working in more than one media whose exhibited works range from metal sculpture to photographic art.
While in his 50s, he was diagnosed with leukaemia. His response was to buy a large bus which he named The Spirit of Curiosity and do something he’d long wanted to do – travel around inland Australia.
During his three-year trip he took an interest in Aboriginal culture and social problems, turning it into a book, Wake Up Time and doing volunteer work in two Northern Territory museums.
Now 62, and settled back in southeast Queensland, he has recently published another book, a natural history photo essay called Green Island in the Sky.
This has received some financial support from his local community and also features photos of works by other nature-connected artists.
The leukaemia has returned and thanks to his medical knowledge, Jaap realistically faces the fact that his latest, very expensive treatment, suppresses the symptoms rather than offers a cure.
“It can’t change the quantity of my life but it can change the quality,” he says, and as long as that quality lasts he will make each day count, especially when it comes to doing his bit for the preservation of southeast Queensland’s natural environment.
Brenda Quaife sums it up nicely when she says that during her years of nursing and raising children she never had time for the things she enjoys now, such as yoga, walking and, of course, music.
She quotes a poem by her mother, who lived to three months short of 100 and had a happy and active life to
“Dream what you want to dream, go where you want to go, be who you want to be because you only have one life and one chance to do all the things that you want to do”.