What happens when you enter retirement age 68, only to discover it’s not what you want after all? Which way do you turn? How do you decide what to do next? 

Sixty-nine-year-old Dee Flower is an example of someone who found herself in this unexpected situation. But returning to employment in a new role has left her happier and more content than she’s ever been.

Her story is one of inspiration and empowerment, acting as proof that your most exciting life chapter could still be unwritten…

“Returning to employment in a new role has left her happier and more content than she’s ever been.”

Dee is currently employed as a part-time Skills and Apprenticeships Consultant for Little Gate Farm – a charity that supports young people with autism and learning disabilities. A typical day in her role involves talking to employers about the benefits of recruiting these young people through supported apprenticeships.

Having no previous experience of autism or learning disabilities, Dee found herself embracing a fantastic learning opportunity. She says:

“This role was brand new to me and what I love about it is that I’m at one end of my career and the young people I’m supporting are at the other end of their career, which is just fabulous.

This is the first time I’ve worked with people with autism and learning disabilities, and I’m still learning now. I try to get involved as best I can by going to conferences and things like that. I’m just absolutely loving it, I really am. I feel great.”

Dee took on her role at Little Gate Farm in December 2018, after regretting her decision to retire eight months earlier. She’s now so thrilled with her job that she has no further plans to retire and her sense of purpose has been completely restored.

So what were Dee’s initial thoughts in the lead up to retirement?

Retirement at 68: “I guess it’s about time now...”

Having spent several decades working for herself and for employers such as Reed and Hastings Direct, Dee approached the stage where she welcomed retirement as an opportunity to wind down and spend more time helping out her 95-year-old mum. She’d also reached the state pension age and at 68 and she found herself thinking naturally, “I guess it’s about time to retire now then.”

So, in April 2018, Dee left her recruitment role to dip her toes in the retirement pool.

“Oh my God! What have I done?! I don’t want to retire!”

After only a month, Dee missed the benefits that came with working life. She remembers thinking, “Oh my God, what have I done? I don’t want to retire!” As well as feeling that she’d lost her sense of purpose, she also started missing the social interaction that came with her former career.

“When I wasn’t working, I think I kind of felt, well…what else have I got to talk about? Not that work defines me, but if you’ve got a job that you enjoy, then it’s nice to have conversations about it. I started thinking about what else I could do instead and I didn’t want to join a needlework group or anything like that, I just really wanted to carry on mixing with the same kind of people I’d previously been mixing with.”

“...I needed to think about something completely different”

Although Dee missed her old job in recruitment, she decided that she was ready for a new challenge. She says, “I didn’t want to go back to my old job, even though I loved it. I felt I needed to think about something completely different.”

With this in mind, Dee began exploring a number of different opportunities to discover how she could re-establish her sense of purpose. She stayed positive by surrounding herself with family – including her three grown-up children and her three grandchildren – and took on the role of caring for her 95-year old mum; visiting her several times a week, to keep her company and help her out with practical tasks.

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Volunteering: “I felt I was really appreciated and it gave me lots of purpose”

Dee says that it was her appreciation for her mum that led her to start volunteering a couple of mornings a week. The mum-of-three explains:

“I’m just so lucky to still have my mum at 95 and, although we all see her regularly, there are so many people who aren’t in that situation. So, I started volunteering as a companion for people that were on their own, and I also did a short stint at a hospital, working with patients.

I think volunteering is so important, I really, really do. It just makes such a difference and there are so many different ways you can help. I felt I was really appreciated and it gave me lots of purpose.”

“...I suppose it’s just about being brave enough to think, I’m still the same person that I was, I’m just a little bit older and probably a little bit wiser”

Whilst Dee was volunteering and looking after her mum, she also started going to jobs fairs, which gave her the opportunity to meet employers face-to-face.

“I decided I didn’t just want to be a carer, I wanted to have my career as well. Mum lives on her own and she’s in fantastic shape – she just needs a little bit of help sometimes.”

Although Dee felt excited about the prospect of doing something new, she still had fleeting worries about her age, which she overcame by celebrating her strength of character.

“I suppose it’s sometimes when you’re reaching out to people, you think, ‘Oh, are they going to need someone younger?’ And I suppose it’s just about being brave enough to think, I’m still the same person that I was, I’m just a little bit older and probably a little bit wiser.”

“Jobs fairs are really positive because you can go along have a real, meaningful, conversation with an employer”

Dee found job fairs were a great way of allowing employers to make a more accurate first impression.

“Jobs fairs are really positive because you can go along and have a real meaningful conversation with an employer. You’re standing in front of them and they’re not looking at a CV, they’re meeting you, the person.

“I think if you can go up to somebody, shake their hand and talk to them, immediately they’ve got a different impression of you even if your CV looks like you’ve had 150 years experience.”

In the end, it was Dee’s decision to remain proactive through volunteering and networking at jobs fairs that led her to find her career as a Skills and Apprenticeship Consultant with Little Gate Farm. Through various introductions, she was introduced to the charity, which at the time had just won a lottery grant to launch supported apprenticeships across East Sussex, and were looking for someone to promote their young people to employers.

Making use of transferable skills

Dee’s professional background in recruitment has allowed her to sit on both sides of the employment fence, and she explains the value of realising how many transferable skills she could bring to her new role.

“Many of my skills are transferable. I was working in recruitment before and my new job is not dissimilar because you’re going out and talking to employers about taking on an apprentice, so it’s not drastically different.

I also had some past experience from a job as an Academy Team Leader, which gave me some experience working with younger people, so that was also transferable. Most of my work history has involved coaching, developing, or persuading and so now I’m just in a slightly different industry.

I think that’s what people need to do; if they’ve had an experience, they should think about the various ways in which they can use it to benefit them elsewhere. So if they’ve worked in a shop and they’ve been dealing with customers, there’s no reason why they can’t do customer service on the phone or something like that. It’s just about thinking about your skills differently.”

“...what I’m doing now is just so worthwhile”

Dee working at her desk

Since returning to work, Dee’s experience has so far been nothing but positive…

“Everyone was so welcoming and lovely, so they made it easy for me to get back into the swing of things. Age just doesn’t seem to come into it at all. My line managers are of an age where they could be my children, which is completely fine, and there are all sorts of age groups within the companies I liaise with – which is great!

While I was really happy in my old job, what I’m doing now is just so worthwhile. It really is a completely different ball game. The flexibility is good, the talking to people, and the cheesy bit as well – the making a difference. I feel happier doing what I’m doing now.”

“...I’m doing it because I want to”

However, a sign that times really are changing came when some friends of Dee’s mother, expressed concern about her decision to continue working into her “retirement” years.

“There is a bit of stereotyping, where they think I shouldn’t still be working at my age. But it’s just about explaining that I’m doing it because I want to and I really enjoy it.”

Looking back over the last few months, Dee says, “I don’t regret leaving retirement; I feel really lucky and I don’t even think about retiring anymore.”

Dee has established a work-life balance in her new career at 69; splitting her time between work and family, and she is currently happy and fulfilled.

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