Written by Carol Christen
Saturday, 26 January 2013 17:21

altWhen I first started seeing articles on retirement entitled the Third Act, I wondered if it would catch on. Although, as a metaphor it sure beats The Fourth Quarter!  Well, catch on it did. There are books, conferences, retreats, music groups and blogs all focused on reinventing retirement. 

In addition to my special focus on successful teen and young adult transition from school to work, I'm a career generalist.  I've worked with all ages throughout my career. 

Recently, I've been contacted by potential clients who have come to their third act, retiring from their long time careers either by choice or not.  Some have come into retirement because their industry is dying.  Others have had enough.  But all share the same agenda: They are not yet ready to leave the workforce.  To each of them, I've sent an article from Irish colleagues and today's guest bloggers, Brian McIvor and Pauline Murray.   As each client found it very helpful, it occurred to me that many of my readers would too.

This excerpt deals with just the ideas of the Third Act.  The longer article from which it is taken has more history on working women in Ireland.  If you can't resist a subtitle like:  Once Upon a Time--a short guide to selected episodes in Irish history.  Email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , subject line:  Send complete Irish article, and I will.

Biographies for both Brian and Pauline appear at the end of the article. 


It is against  the background outlined above that a more equal, educated and articulate generation of Irish professional women are now moving into retirement. Full equality has not been reached – there are still differences in pay – both during career and at retirement but much has changed in the last 50 years.

Career Issues: The Three Boxes of Life and the Third Age

Richard Nelson Bolles in his Book the Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them suggests a model of life as a process of moving between three boxes of Learning, Labour and Leisure and suggests that the proportions of these are different at the major stages in our lives. At the start our school days do not normally have a large element of work in them but put the emphasis on learning and leisure. During the years of work, work predominates with leisure and learning struggling to get a look in.

The notion of retirement as a time when we stop work and enjoy access to almost unlimited amounts of time brings its own challenges:

  • What are we going to do with all that time?
  • Will our income be adequate to our needs over time?
  • Will our hobbies be sufficient to sustain our interests over time?

In Ireland our Social Welfare system holds out the prospect of a substantial State pension at 66 – not enough to live on but together with the typical occupational pension it will give many of our retirees a reasonable standard of living and compared to their children a relative level of affluence. A recent study of ageing in Retirement (the TILDA Study) suggests that retirees in Ireland are subsidising their children directly (by contributing to their mortgage) or indirectly (minding grandchildren).

With increasing longevity in Western Society most of us will spend  at least one generation in retirement and will live to see our great-great-granchildren! However, if the standard definition of retirement is that it is a total withdrawal from paid work it gives rise to a number of problems – not least because of the loss of contact with colleagues on retirement and the loss of up to 80% of one’s social contacts on withdrawing from a workplace.

Considerations of Life Balance should not be abandoned in retirement just become somebody has stopped work. For the retiree the question is: What will your life be like in retirement and what place will work play in it?

Consistently, surveys report that a majority of people in the western world are in jobs that don’t suit them. No wonder, then, that retirement offers them freedom from job slavery and the vision of everlasting leisure for the rest of their lives.

In 1974 the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland  was formed to promote the idea of retirement as the Third Age of Our Life.A survey of government employees who retired at around 65 years of age in the 1970s revealed that 58% of them were either dead or seriously/terminally within two years of retirement. One of the major reasons: stress arising out of fears about an uncertain future. To some extent that fear still exists today but the issues are better understood. Some retirees have the notion that on retirement their lives will be constant from then date of their retirement. Retirement planning helps them develop a set of strategies for coping with the multiple changes brought on during the period of retirement and later.

Over the succeeding years the following strategies have emerged as being central to transitioning into a successful retirement.

1.      Stability of Income:The WCIYP Guide to Retirement (Bolles, Nelson) suggests that to maintain a similar standard of living in retirement retirees need to have a pension of about 70% of pre-retirement income to maintain a similar standard of living. But how do you define a “similar standard of living”? The process of planning for finance in retirement includes not just income planning but distinguishing between wants and needs and concentrating on life experiences rather than on possessions.

One of the questions we ask participants to consider is what part will work play in your retirement?  We suggest a place for work in retirement may necessary to:

  •   make up the shortfall income
  •   get you out of the house
  •   use you skills and expertise usefully for the benefit of others
  •   help your sense of self-esteem.

Paradoxically,  this work need not be paid. Our experience is that it is more important for the work to be valued and validated – and in this situation recognition of inherent value is more valuable to many than money itself. Volunteering is promoted as a way to help the community and build local self-esteem.

2.      Health Issues:Although modern medical science has helped extend the span of peoples’ lives by an average of 5 hours per day over the last century the area of health, aging and a comfortable life in retirement  is a major concern. As trainers in this area we would emphasise questions of life-style and diet as being key strategies in ensuring a rich retirement. However, there are three other aspects of healthy living we would stress;

  • The relationship between physical and emotional health. Stress is a major reason for people taking early retirement – an option that is offered in organisations that want to down-size.
  • Mental Health.  A temporary form of depression can follow retirement because of disruption to one’s pattern of living and a realisation that life has entered another major phase and that time is not reversible!
  • Spiritual Health: A retirement can spark such questions  as what am I here for? What use am I now that I am retired, my family is grown up. How will my faith help me build a better life in retirement (e.g. volunteering?). Less people may be going to Church in Ireland these days but there is still a strong interest in religious rituals and spirituality generally.

3.      Social Networks: The major statistic we stress to our clients is that on retirement most  people lose 80% of their social network. What we forget is that most of our adult life is spent at work, with other people who work. When we retire we all go home – usually to an empty space or one occupied by our partner. This loss of social contact can give rise to a form of depression  and loss of self-esteem. 

Since Ireland is a compact and socially integrated society personal contact easier in communities. Accordingly, social media Facebook etc. are not a significant part of the average retirees life – although email is used extensively. Loneliness and isolation in retirement is no less a danger in Ireland so our advice is for retirees is to join clubs and become involved– but be sure your new club or activity meets your needs and not just those of others.

4.      Time:  How do we use time? Retirement frees up over 3500 hours per year and the secret is to have a daily, weekly, annual routine that suits the retirees needs. Conventional wisdom suggests maximising leisure time but we suggest that looking for hobbies or activities just to fill spare is not enough. A hobby is transformed if it helps the individual develop new skills, interests or to meet other like-minded people. Hobbies and interests have a central role to play in closing the 80% social gap opened up by leaving the workplace.

Activities such as hill walking or cycling that combine the elements of health, hobbies, social needs and filling spare time are undergoing a revival in Ireland in recent times. Many events are linked into fund-raising for charities – so that both pensioners and communities benefit in different ways.

5.      Sense of Identity: Who are you now that you are retired?

During the years of work there is a tendency for our sense of identity to be determined by our work; in retirement that shell is removed and we are each left with the question – who am I now in retirement? How will I see myself? How will I project that to others?

 Gender Issues in Retirement:

Although Irish Psychologist Maureen Gaffney suggests that identity is personal and not dependent on family or work our experience – which is backed up by research – is that men define themselves much more in terms of their work more than women do. This issue surfaces in our work in Executive retirement courses where male executives report that the loss of power and status in retirement to be a major challenge.

Another finding we use in our work is that men see work much more as part of their identity than women do and consequently the transition into research is more protracted and difficult for men and easier for women. Also women are better at creating and managing networks and working collaboratively.

  The Future? The only constant is change:

For the professional women of Ireland who came through a generation of social upheaval and constant change it is obvious that their retirement will be a longer one (because of the population statistics).  It will be a richer one in terms of diversity of experience and obviously one which will be characterised by the achievements that Irish women have accomplished in the last 50 years in their struggle for recognition, reward and equality.

On the evidence of our history over the last 50 years the only constant we can offer is change – and a need constantly to adapt, learn and grow. Career and retirement professionals are in a profession that help their clients to grow into a new future, a new reality and while we may not have many of the answers the above article may generate some relevant questions.

There is a tendency in western society to be ageist, to fear retirement and to distrust the learning life has give us  up to now. The challenge for the retiree, particularly, women is to vision a new life and identity – one not rooted in the traditional view of the retiree as someone who is incapacitated and with little to contribute to society. So, retirement is a process of rebeginning life.

The Irish Poet Brendan Kennelly, in a poem entitled Rebeginment says:

Though we live in a world that dreams of ending

that always seems about to give in

something that will not acknowledge conclusion

insists that we forever begin.”

In our view successful retirement requires the mastering of the skills of constant rebeginment and regeneration. It has been our privilege to be part of a process that helps people in their transition into the third age.



Brian McIvor worked in the Public Service and Financial Services Industry until 1994 when he became a self-employed training consultant specialising in career and life planning. Brian is on the Associate Faculties of the Irish Management Institute, the Smurfit International MBA (Dublin) as well being visiting lecturer at the FHWN Business School in Wiener Neustadt in Austria. He is also an author on the subject of career change. He was a member of Richard Nelson Bolles International Career Workshop in Bend, Oregon from 1997-2001. He is also a musician and broadcaster producing documentaries for RTÉ Lyric FM (Ireland’s national Arts radio channel).  Brian is a Retirement Consultant with the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland.  


Pauline Murrayis also a Retirement Consultant with the Retirement Planning Council of Ireland. Formerly she was Administrative Officer for two major research centres of Teagasc.- Ireland’s Agricultural Advisory, Research and Training Authority. She was responsible for the development and delivery of training courses and co-ordinated the post retirement programme for Teagasc retirees. Pauline is a graduate of the Dublin Business School and holds a Diploma in Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations and Sales Management. She is also an accredited mediation practitioner.{jcomments on}e



#2 Mary Pena 2013-01-31 02:44
Speaking from the viewpoint of someone who is approaching the "third age" most likely sometime within the next ten years, I found the article a good balance of things to consider. It wasn't so much that it was new information but put in a way that was easy to mentally organize. It also mentioned something that I find so important, to make sure that your volunteer time or activities that you pursue in retirement are meeting your own needs and not just those of others.
#1 Mark Davis 2013-01-31 02:34
No. No! No way. Noooo. I seem to feel guilt free so far. Good advise. Mark Davis