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The retiring kind
In one of last year's biggest Bollywood hits Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, when a character says he just wants to make enough money to retire at 40, he was voicing a dream cherished by many in the rat race. Retirement is the reward for a long slog, a time not to put the feet up (maybe for a massage) but to do all the things that one never had the time for. The frenetic pace of modern life has made the R-word sexy. There is another R that has spurred on this talk of retirement. When Rahul Dravid announced his exit recently, at age 39, it was clear that he was already thinking of things to do to take the place of the sport that occupied his life 24/7. Wife Vijeeta gave a rare peek into life of the private Dravid on a website shortly after his decision. "What next for him?" she wrote. "I know he likes his routine and he's in a good zone when he is in his routine, so we will have to create one at home for him. Getting the groceries could be part of that. A cup of tea in the morning for his wife would be a lovely bonus. "
GET THE REASONS RIGHT
While sporting retirements come earlier and are usually more dramatic than the regular ones, the lack of a routine can get to the best of people. "Take a man in his mid-40 s, for example, " says psychiatrist Dr Yusuf A Matcheswalla. "He may be going through a mid-life crisis;may not be enjoying what he's doing, and may be looking to escape a job he has begun to detest. So he plans to resign, to invest his Provident Fund and VRS package and 'enjoy his life'. When he does eventually put in his papers, he'll be happy and relieved initially, but if he doesn't resolve his underlying problems, they will soon resurface, perhaps even manifest themselves psychosomatically. The person may be worse off after retirement, " he warns. This is why it's important to thoroughly examine one's motives for retirement, says Matcheswala, who is a consultant with a company called Energia that works with corporates to improve mental health at the workplace.
Fifty-year-old Atul Chitnis, quit as chief products officer of financial goods company, Geodesic, a couple of years ago to finish many unfulfilled goals. He planned on building his own house, writing a couple of books and for some "me+mine" time. But according to him, one shouldn't expect to 'retire' - just expect to be doing something different. "If you are the kind of person who can even afford to 'retire early', then you are almost certainly the kind of person who can't sit still, " says Chitnis.
I DO BUT SHE DOESN'T
Even if you are, your spouse may not be happy at you sitting still. Couples often disagree about when to retire and how to live the retired life. Some couples are out of sync - the women are younger and finally moving into top jobs while their partners are winding down, wanting a break from high-pressure jobs.
An earlier generation of women, usually housewives, contended with the annoyance of a retired husband underfoot in her fiefdom. The new complaint from the high-flying woman, rushing in from a stressful but stimulating day at work, is that the retired husband should be doing something more worthwhile than reading newspapers.
When it does work, the rest-and-recreation approach can be a dream. In Bangalore's Whitefield, Srinivas Shastri is living it every day. The 47-year-old, who quit Infosys in 2006 just past the supposedly all-or-nothing age of 40, lives in an upmarket gated community where CXOs are more densely packed together than commuters on a local train. In this haven for the high IQed, Shastri begins his day by playing a round of badminton, follows it up with puja, breakfast, some reading (' Kindling', as he calls it) and Internet-surfing, a nap in the afternoon - which sounds like the highlight of his day - and family time in the evenings.
"I lead a spiritually and emotionally fulfilling life. I dabble in various things, but I don't pursue anything with great drive except on the baddy court. I'm happy that way. My life's philosophy is spelt out on the header of my blog: 'we are human beings, not human doings', " says Shastri. Not only is he very spiritual, he is a fervent believer that something's gotta give, sooner or later, because of the unsustainable pace of modern living. His lifestyle may be funded by the stock options he cashed in before quitting his job, but he is ready to downgrade it if necessary. "We'll just put up the house on rent and live somewhere cheaper, " he says placidly.
Travelling, learning a language, painting, more time for spouse, children, grandchildren, and friends - retirement is the boring thing it used to be. Potentially, it is a period where the work-life balance finally falls into place.
JOB'S OVER, NOT WORK
But some believe no matter what the storyboard, there won't be happy endings without something to work for even without a job. Bangalore's R K Misra, who quit as CEO of his telecom start-up at 40 to enter public life as a community do-gooder and went on to win the TOI Lead India contest in 2009, agrees with this. "A roadmap is essential, " says Misra. "After early retirement, you can have fun for three months but after that you'll need something meaningful to keep yourself engaged and excited - a sense of purpose. I've seen people talk of retirement, take the plunge, and become restless and depressed within a few months. "
While corporate India is beginning to acknowledge the growing demographic of potential early-retirees, the subjects, probably after a lifetime of meeting deadlines and attending meetings, often delude themselves into thinking all they want is a quiet life. Srinivas Shastri thinks this is possible only if you have great spiritual reserves to build and fall back on. Those less in touch with their inner lives need some help, believes Pune-based counsellor Gouri Dange, who has seen people through the unsettling times post early retirement. "Many of them encountered low self-esteem, and perceived themselves as redundant after they were out of the office, " says Dange.
The more practical even seek out life coaches who help align their goals with their skills to plot a realistic graph of their future. Many upper management mavens who arrive at those foreseeable crossroads, plan for it by consulting life coaches. Rajiv Vij, a life coach based in Australia, is considered a reliable compass, having been at that very career intersection not long ago. Vij had it all - at 39, he was MD, Asia for Franklin Templeton, but he sensed the futility of meeting professional success without corresponding personal growth. "Around that time I got involved with some NGOs in India and spending time with them made me wonder whether the highflying job I had, jumping in and out of planes every week, made any real difference to people's lives. The question that haunted me was whether my existence mattered at all and whether I would leave this world any better than what I had inherited, " he muses on email.
Vij now helps business leaders and technocrats join the dots - from a pre-retirement life to a post-retirement one. He helps them identify what fires their pistons. "I had a highly successful technocrat for a client, who, driven by his passion for sharing and giving, decided to move on from his lucrative job to start a venture
with an objective to help nurture small size business and social sector organisations, " Vij recounts. His clients are predominantly in the age group of 40-55, and their key question is "What next?" "They have achieved a fair amount of professional success but are no longer motivated by their current work, " Vij says, "They want something more meaningful. As for the younger lot, they are keen to discover their true calling. "
With more and more younger professionals opting for that, the line between early retirement and seeking out new goals keeps blurring, as it has with 37-year-old Haripriya Eswaran. Eswaran, who has worked in the corporate sector in companies such as Accenture and iSoft, had been planning to take up full-time work in development for over a year before she took the plunge late last year, signing up with international non-profit iVolunteer. In February, she flew off to work as a hospital administrator at an AIDS hospice in Zambia, Africa. She has signed up to work there for two years, after which she plans to continue working in development. "After talking it over with my husband, who also works in IT in Chennai, I decided this was the best time to do fulfil this long-standing goal, " says Eswaran. "But that doesn't mean I have no plans of ever returning to a corporate job, as a consultant or full-time employee. That's always a back-up plan, " she admits.
Even models who are known to have a short shelf life have back-up plans these days. Noyonika Chatterjee, who has had a very successful modelling career, is already reinventing herself. "I have not retired from modelling completely but now I focus more on grooming projects. I am about to start a grooming school in Sainik Farms in Delhi. I started working on this alternate career choice about 10-15 years ago while I was still very active on the modelling scene, " she says.
Back then, few models would make plans for life after the ramp. "Now the girls who enter this profession are much smarter. They carefully chart out their career path, like five years of modelling, then films or compeering or television, " she says.
This seeming abundance of options speaks of the flexibility and maturing of the Indian workplace, which can support diverse goals and enable people to live their lives at liberty from the tyranny of the monthly paycheck.
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