A truly magical moment as the Olympic rings come together during the opening ceremony.

One of the great things about retirement is that one has flexibility to reconfigure personal plans and embrace unfolding historic events.

Like many, I emerged from the London Olympics bubble on Monday having been unexpectedly caught in its spell for the preceding seventeen days.

I must confess to pinching myself in disbelief at what had transpired over that strange wonderful period.

What was it that surprised me and yes moved me so?

After all – given the poor England team performance in the European footie, Wimbledon, the wet and disappointing Queen’s Jubilee holiday – I honestly didn’t hold out too much hope for the Games of the 30th Olympiad.

Maybe it was just plain relief that we had actually pulled the whole thing successfully off in front of a skeptical watching world. This was despite all the signs beforehand (e.g. the G4S security failure) that it would be the usual cock-up. In pressure situations over the fortnight, where things could have gone either way, Team Great Britain often won things for a change.

And it wasn’t just the cyclists either – who were again clinical in their execution as the new Kenny/Trott generation came through to take over what the Hoys and Pendletons started in Beijing. For me, the last Saturday 5000m final was the iconic (but far from only) example of this new-found steely Britishness.

About 250 m to go to the tape. Mo Farah out in front having made a kick for home with just over a lap remaining. Slight falter promotes customary colleywobbles in me. Prepared almost unconsciously for familiar script where wily Kenyans and Ethiopians in chasing pack skip past in home straight and our man comes in valiant British fourth. Mo hadn’t read my plot though. Bloody gutsy performance to hold them all off in the closing sprint and win the track distance double. I have to agree with the words of his coach Alberto Salazar :

‘Mo dug deeper than I have seen any athlete do. You’re talking about a man who has more heart, more guts and more soul than any athlete I’ve ever seen’.

Mo wins the 5000m.

Perpetual loser Andy Murray also finally nailed one, revenging himself on Roger Federer for the earlier summer tennis defeat.

Feeding off the above was the whole positive mood thing, adding yet a further layer of ‘specialness’ to emerging proceedings beyond the superlative sporting achievement we were privileged to be witnessing.

People tried being friendly to each other in London and all around the country and found it was actually quite pleasant. Australian and French visitors were dumbfounded by the charm offensive of the big pointy-fingered pink and purple volunteer army (where the hell did they get conjured up from btw – bloody brilliant).

Helpful Olympic volunteer directs Games attendees to the venue.

We wholeheartedly embraced previously marginal sports and talked down the pub knowledgeably about such things as Dressage (“Charlotte Dujardin’s prawn pilau er piaff was definitely a 95 percenter”) and Beach Volleyball.

Charlotte going with Valegro in the team dressage final at Greenwich Park.

We saw British eccentricity at its unselfconscious best. People strutted in Wiggo sideburns, there was Beanie in Chariots Of Fire and Lord Major Boris dangling on the high wire, and oh yes the corgis….

Boris dangles in Olympic Park stunt gone awry.

Whatever it was it held the cynic in me at bay, allowing periods of child-like joy to shine through for the first in many a long time.

And there were a number of such utterly joyful and unforgettable moments. Who will ever forget Jessica Ennis’s face as she crossed the finished line after her 800m heptathlon-winning final event. The first sight of the fiery Olympic rings shortly before they fused together in the night sky above the athletics stadium at the end of the amazing opening ceremony intro sequence made my heart sing. Kathryn Grainger finally winning her long-sought rowing gold medal was beautiful to witness.

Since this is elite sport and we always have to have losers as well as winners, we also got unflinchingly close to the real-time sadness of those for whom things did not go quite as they had wished.

GB’s golden sculling hopefuls Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase were utterly inconsolable after losing by a metre to Denmark.

“We feel like we’ve let everyone down by not winning”

, the pair said…..

“Even though it’s a silver medal, it still hurts when you come for gold.”

Poor Becky Adlington, confessing that the pressure of expectation for her at least had been too much after her bronze in trying to defend her Olympics 800m freestyle swim title, had the whole of Britain welling up.

Disappointment for British Rowing pair.

Then there was the imaginative spectacles of the opening and closing ceremonies. A theatrical condensation of our evolving concept of Britishness and what must have been surely the soundtrack of many of our lives (mine certainly) weaved into the proceedings by the genius of Danny Boyle the director and his musical collaborators Underworld.

I felt a tremendous inexplicable sense of loss when it was all finally over late on Sunday night. The whole experience made me feel more human in a weird sort of way and perhaps renewed my resolve to be a ‘player’ in life versus allowing myself to merely watch it go by. My dearest hope is that it evoked similar sentiments in others in our country.

James Lawton, writing in the Independent, had the very words for it as usual:

“You thought of all this, you recalled once more the sight of Bolt and the meaning of Mo, and you felt pride that the old town had put on such a show. Then the music died and the flame went out and you wondered if we would feel quite this way ever again.”

London 2012 – Closing Ceremony magic

A Youtube embed of the mesmeric opening music is below and a link to High Contrast’s fascinating insider background to the production of the score for the ceremony is here.

Our longest-range personal goals may be best advanced by working in a succession of short-term, apparently unrelated projects……… Living and working in loose and open connectives….. like a city, not an army.

Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd on work models beyond a conventional company career

I discovered Jessica Hagy (@jessicahagy) out there on the web a few months back whilst checking out something on Forbes where she does a regular piece. Jessica is a cartoonist who does little graphs and things on Index Cards – see her blog ‘Indexed’ for great examples of her craft.

Her stuff is just so clever and original – real ‘social objects’ as Hugh McLeod would say.

Jessica’s blog has motivated me to play around with some doodles in a similar vein – this also has the added bonus of making progress with one of my goals around practicing drawing. I took the approach of trying to recall some inspirational sayings that have resonated with me in the past then considered how I might depict these graphically.

I’ve sort of coined the moniker ‘Venn Zen’ for this. This resulted in my first attempt as per above – inspired by the famous Victor Frankl quote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.


As a reminder , TIDDIR = Things I’ll Definitely Do In Retirement.

A great job can consume your attention like no other thing. Speaking from experience, it’s so easy to get so caught up in the excitement and egoic self-importance of it all that you do not give treasured relationships the time and most importantly real attention that they deserve.

As a newly-reformed workaholic, I am resolved to be less uni-dimensional in future.

Picture above is a wee reminder lest I forget – my daughter Catriona married Dave in the lovely setting of the Old Academy in Edinburgh this last March.

TIDDIR = Things I’ll Definitely Do In Retirement. Read more poetry like this thoughtful poem above by the great Caribbean poet Derek Walcott.

For me, it talks to re-discovering who you really are and those things inside you feel you simply must do. Lifesaving words if perhaps you are trapped in the rut of fulfilling others expectations rather than following your own heart’s desires.

Here is a link to an evocative reading of the above by the inestimable David Whyte, another one of my favourite writers in the poetic tradition. This is well worth the listen.

David himself can also conjure up powerful prose for one to reflect on which “troubles you with tiny but frightening requests”.

One of my very dearest friends Jenny retired from a teaching career about 18 months ago.

One interesting thing she did in the run up to finishing work was start a ‘retirement box’. She then over the months started to fill up her box with newspaper and magazine cuttings containing information about events, courses, holidays and ideas of things to do generally when she eventually retired.

This is such a wonderful idea, that I thought I would like to adopt something similar in spirit for my blog that can then be shared more widely.

I’m going to call this my TIDDIR list. TIDDIR stands for Things I’ll Definitely Do In Retirement. I’ll tag TIDDIR orientated posts with the hashtag #tiddir and also note this somewhere in the title.

Look out for the first one soon.

It would also be great to get some feedback / comments from fellow retirees about what is on your TIDDIR lists. I’d love to know.

One of my favourite quotes – fantastic insight into the psychic burden of doing great work.

Got the lovely burnt paper from Max Stanworth’s design site ‘Designshard’.

I created this photo montage as a visual reminder that retirement is about continually looking forwards and not backwards.

In the run-up to my retirement, I came across an interesting article in the Guardian. This was a review of a book about ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ written by an Australian nurse working in palliative care.

What particularly struck me about this piece was how unexotic these cited regrets were. Folks at the end of their lives talked about dreams unfulfilled and treasured friendships let slip – not about material worth or bungee jumps.

It is a well-known facet of the human condition that we never quite give enough attention to those things that are actually the most important to us. Rather, we allow our energy to be continually hijacked by the adrenaline rush of a stream of ‘urgent’ operational crises or focus perhaps on just one area of endeavour at the expense of other possibilities which would have given further breadth and richness to our existence.

I have heard from ex-work colleagues that there is evidence of this human phenomenon being if anything exaggerated in retirement.

One thing about a full time job is that it gives you structure. You might not like it, resent it even, but you don’t have to think about it. Retirement is in some senses the complete flip of this with nobody telling you what to do nor when to do it. Consequently, there is increased potential for aimless drift in this context.

So can one mitigate against this tendency and increase the chances of investing our energies in a way that we would later deem satisfying when viewed from the revealing clarity of our deathbed vantage point?

One way, advocated by many clever folks (e.g. by Clay Christensen in ‘How to measure your life’ – see my review in Goodreads) is to give considered thought to the purpose of your remaining life and formulate (or refresh your existing) ‘Life Plan’ directed to this.

Another one I’ve heard is helpful is to write your own obituary now.

Given the above, I put aside some time soon after I left work to do some serious thinking around my vision and life-long goals and came up with the following….

Now when you read this personal vision statement it all seems somewhat obvious – a bit ‘motherhood and apple pie’ ish. However, formulating this is about the thinking journey rather than the endpoint. The key is that whatever you come up with, you have to be convinced it has real heat for you. This is requires reflective iteration and is not some abstract analytical process.

My life-long goals also deliberately address aspects of all domains of living – wellness, learning and development, contribution, relationship and material.

In my follow up post on this topic, I’ll talk about another conceptual framework to take these bigger picture life-long goals and link them to the effective management of day to day activities. This is David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) methodology, which I am an avid fan of.

Towards re-imagining retirement

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