Retirement & following my dreams
Retirement does not mean a journey downhill but a life filled with more adventure.
BY: Francis Lim
People look at retirement in many different ways; some perhaps even with a sense of trepidation and worry. The general perception is that once you have crossed that milestone in your life, the journey leads all the way downhill and everything starts to shut down progressively, including your mental capacity. My belief is that retirement can represent a new lease of life adventure, paving a way for doing completely different things, rather than doing the same things differently. Although the current official retirement age is 62 years, there are people who had made it good in their lives to call it quits even in their 40s and early 50s.
Deciding to retire is a very personal choice. It is a decision that should be made with the head as well as with the heart. I had decided a year earlier on that when I hit 55 years of age, I would quit the rat race, take care of my health and pursue the other things in my life which have been kept in the backburner for one reason or other. Working in an organisation for 36 years is, by any reckoning, a very long time. The new frontier hence appears more attractive with each passing day, and I had actually looked forward to making that plunge. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the work that I do when I was working in the zoo, but the stress of a seemingly interminable and regimented work life has taken its toll. My blood pressure was going up like a thermometer in a sauna that I had thought that I would drop dead anytime. These circumstances made me decide that enough was enough, and that I wanted very much to be able to do things at my own pace, and to be free to pursue my own brand of happiness. I worked out a detailed plan for my retirement, and counted the cost of making such a decision by going through all my financial portfolios. I had to ensure that I do not jump out of the frying pan only to land in the fire, as regrets would be too late.
I have always liked the outdoors, and enjoy immensely the wild wooded places that are found all over Singapore. I wanted to fulfill my passion of hiking and doing nature photography, as well as writing. I am now able to explore the woods and forests to spot and photograph the great diversity of flora and fauna to be found there. I also found the time to finish writing my personal collection of poems, and had it published recently. It was hard work doing the reviewing, editing and writing, but it gave me a sense of self-satisfaction which I had not felt for a long time. I am now working on my fifth book, which is about a group of semi-parasitic plants known as the mistletoes. I hope to complete this project and have it published before Christmas 2011. After that I would go on to writing animal-theme storybooks for children. These writing projects will keep me occupied for quite some time to come. More importantly, the efforts will keep my mind stimulated and active as I explore ideas, create storylines, and craft words to furnish the concepts.
There are also two other significant areas in my life which I had wanted to give greater attention to when I retired – my family and spiritual life. My twin daughters are now 22 years old, and we were in danger of becoming strangers in our very own house. Due to my working life, we hardly saw each other, let alone found the time to bond. Being finally freed from regimented work has enabled me to spend more time with my girls, and even share some meals together. This family bonding is very important to me, as youngsters do grow up quickly and will soon leave and lead their own lives faster than I dare believe. Being able to prepare dinner for them, or have a conversation or discussion about recent events, like for example the haze problem, has and will continue to give me immeasurable joy and fulfillment in fatherhood.
My spiritual life too has deepened. I was able to carry out my plans to become more involved in my church. I volunteered to join the new parish pastoral committee, a think-tank group set up to look into the spiritual and pastoral concerns of the parishioners. I am also now a group leader for the small Christian community, and have made more friends than I ever had in the many years I perfunctorily attended the Sunday mass services. My renewed spirituality has reconnected me to God and I thank him first thing in the morning when I get up from bed. It is a joy to be able to serve in the church community and to contribute to its spiritual growth and progress. I see myself getting more involved in the future as I become more accustomed with the various aspects of the church ministries and policies.
Apart from keeping my mind sharp, I also have plans to keep my body fit and healthy. I eat a simple diet, and avoid fried and oily foods like prata, pig-trotters and thick curries. Luckily for me, I still have some self-discipline and do regular workouts by jogging twice a week for 40 minutes each time. Occasionally I would mountain-bike for a few hours to check out wild wooded areas or forests for a potential photo shoot. In the first five months of retirement, I had trimmed off 5kg of body fat and brought my blood pressure down to within a healthy range. I continue to keep in touch with old friends and former colleagues, and we meet from time to time for a meal and chat. The freedom I now feel is refreshing and invigorating. The road I am now on is far from going downhill – there are still many exciting things to do, see and learn. I think if you have this kind of mindset, then retirement becomes an adventure in living. And I am very happy for the choice I had made.
Francis Lim, 55, who retired in May as a zoo curator at the Singapore Zoo. He recently launched his book “Once A Zookeeper”, a 79-page book (below). This anthology of poems is on his observations and encounters with people and animals and he started penning it 15 years ago. The book retails for $15 at the Singapore Zoo and some bookstores.