“One of the best things about this time in my life is having loads more time with Charlie, my husband”, Hilary tells me while having tea and home made fruit cake in her kitchen in England’s beautiful Peak District. Four of us, Hilary and Charlie, and my husband Richard and I, had just had a brisk, crisp 4-mile walk from her house to the Nine Ladies stone circle in Stanton Moor, ending up with lunch in the local pub.
And this was a week day in early winter – one of the many advantages Hilary has found since stopping her full-time role as a senior civil servant in the National Offender Management service where she ended up as the Regional Offender Manager for Yorkshire and the Humber Region. “We spend a lot of time together, having fun and sharing some activities, such as being on the Parish Council and taking part in our local pantomime.” Fun for Hilary and Charlie includes trips out in Clifford, their 1985 VW camper van that has taken them to Corsica and the Pyrenees, as well as lengthy trips in the UK to the Hebrides, the Lake District, Cornwall and Pembrokeshire since Hilary left her full time role in 2009.
Clifford only partly satisfies their wander-lust. Hilary and Charlie do a long-haul trip every February to places such as South Africa and Rajasthan in India.
But of course it’s not all plain sailing. Charlie finished his paid work 2 years after Hilary and she admits there are rubbing points. “We have had to work it out, to learn how to adjust to each other in this phase of our life, how to be together and to have our own spaces. It’s very lovely because we can spend more time together but it threw into sharp relief what matters to both of us”.
After she left her first career Hilary did 12 months of paid consultancy, working in the probation service which she knew so well after having spent 34 years working there. But as consultancy work in the Public Sector in Britain dried up due to the downturn in the economy, Hilary turned her energy and focus to other things, “I was always a very busy person socially as well as having this ridiculous job”, she tells me with a laugh. “Even though her daily commute was a 4-hour round-trip she made time for her weekly piano lesson, singing in the Bakewell Choral Society and her 2 boys.
“I do have some regrets about working full-time when my boys were little”, she tells me wistfully. “It was a financial and career necessity, but when I look at photos of them then I feel a lump in my throat.” Then she adds, “But one of the great joys of leaving when I did, at the age of 55, was that I had one year with my younger son, Freddie, before he left home, which was wonderful for me”.
Like many of our Metirees, Hilary lives now on a third of her previous income. “We have had to adjust, but that’s not been difficult”, she tells me on our second piece of home-made cake. “We’ve stopped going out for meals, but that wasn’t hard as I’m a vegetarian and restaurant meals are often disappointing. And I’ve been on some great cookery courses, and really enjoy cooking and baking at home, including using produce from my allotment”.
Hilary recalls another way of spending less, which many senior women in particular in the workplace will recognise; “I buy far fewer clothes now, and in fact putting the smart, nice work clothes away was a great rite of passage. I don’t need them. They were a previous me. I don’t want those sharp suits any more. It’s a complete liberation to not have pressure about what you look like”.
I asked Hilary what it was like to leave her career. “I was excited more than fearful,” she replies, “but I was sorry that I did not have more time to prepare. In the end permission for me to leave under the voluntary early retirement scheme came only 2 weeks before my original leaving date. It was an awful time not knowing if I was going or not. But I was 55 and I thought, ‘There’s life in the old dog yet’. It was fantastic to have my coaching sessions with you, so I could work out what would be a good ending for me personally, and for my organisation. On my last day I was part of an interview panel, and I was writing up my interview notes as I went into my leaving party!”It would have been good to have had more time to design my new life”, Hilary tells me thoughtfully, “but I knew I’d throw myself into activities outside my career with the same enthusiasm that I faced work”.
“I did wonder how my self definition was shaped by work. I suppose I do miss the status a little because I’ve recreated it by my involvement in Age UK as a trustee and as a member of the Independent Monitoring Board” (a group in the UK that monitors the conditions of prisoners and other detainees). Hilary spends around 25% of her time working as a volunteer. She thinks for a minute and then adds, “I’ve always wanted to do work that makes a difference in society, and what I’ve done now is recreate it by other means. But I don’t feel that I should or I ought to do it. I like doing it. The responsibility sits well with me. It certainly doesn’t feel like a burden. And I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be the Chair of Trustees of Age UK in this region. They really, really wanted me as Chair, and are so delighted to have me.”. How does she have time for all this, I enquire. “Oh, it’s all manageable compared to the hours spent at work. And I really, really want to do it”, replies Hilary with enthusiasm.
I ask Hilary if, with such a busy life, she has any as yet unfulfilled ambitions, and I’m a little surprised by her answer. “Yes, this isn’t it for me. In my later career I was not dealing directly with service users. My contact was largely with managers. I’d like more one-to-one time with people in distress, doing front-line work. After my stint as Chair of Age UK Derbyshire has come to an end I’d like to be a befriender of the elderly. And then we finish our conversation as Hilary and Charlie need to dash off to the cinema together
Hilary’s Prime Time Tips are:
- You need less money than you think
- There are huge numbers of things that are interesting to do. Don’t worry about being bored or not having enough to do
- You’ll have time for things that matter that you didn’t have time for when you were working
- It’s really easy to adjust to not working full time
- There is huge unexpected pleasure from volunteering in something you believe in, and knowing that what you are doing is valued
- Get fit – there’s great joy in feeling good and looking after yourself
- Sit down with a coach or friend and work out what makes a good ending to your career and what shape you want your future life to be