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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

Starting Out



For the last nine months, whenever anyone has asked me what I do I’ve launched into a variant of a well-rehearsed reply which goes something like “Retirement isn’t a word I like to use but after 37 years I decided that work wasn’t really for me.” Sometimes I’ll add that I used to be an accountant and now I’m trying my hand at writing.


Responses I receive to this vary. Most often people are interested or feign interest, and might ask about my writing. But not infrequently - and this generally from people I’ve only just met  - I get “So you are retired” accompanied by a nod of the head as if mentally ticking a box.


I wonder what drives this desire to categorise each other into stages of our working and post-working lives, or even asking what other people do to generate an income? The latter especially seems to me to be a peculiarly British fixation.


Cards on the table. I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to stop working and start afresh, doing something that I love. (In a parallel universe there is a successful author, who after 37 years has packed in the writing game to become an accountant just for the joy of it.). Fortunate but not all down to luck, I worked hard running my own practice for two decades. I could have worked harder, but I never had the dopamine of ambition to scale the dizzy heights of the accountancy profession.


Another response I get - and this from people my own age or older, still in paid employment - is “oh, I couldn’t stop working, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself”. We’re desperate to define each other by our jobs, and are unable to imagine a life without work, embracing Noël Coward’s maxim that “work is so much more fun than fun”. (Although the Master was a pragmatist too, saying that “if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.”) And yet many of the same people are obsessed by the minutiae of planning their pensions. I should have taken more of an interest myself but perhaps it is this that concerns those people i.e. that once they retire, the end game to their working lives will have been resolved. They will no longer have anything to worry about, where previously there were hours spent at the coal face a void has opened up, and now ... well ... what are you going to do when you retire???


In my head I only left school a few years ago, and I’m just starting out in life. But see above, you don’t need me - an accountant - to do the arithmetic for you: I walked out of the school gates for the last time over 40 years ago. I’m time-served. Nevertheless it came as a considerable shock one day last week to find myself sitting in the office of a financial advisor signing forms to purchase a modest annuity, making a mental note that next time I complete a tax return I’ll need to fill in the UK Pensions section (box 11).


So yeah, it’s been a while since I left school. But I am just starting out in life.


Lose sight of that and I might as well be retired.

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