Written by Chris Mackenzie, Semi-Retired CEO and business owner of Kanyu Escape Rooms.
I’ve been lucky. Very lucky.
I was lucky to have been born in 1950 and, therefore, to have enjoyed my teenage years in the ‘60’s - the best time ever to be young and embarking on my adult life. I was lucky to have worked most of my adult life in a business that I loved and enjoyed. And, finally, I have been lucky to have found contentment and fulfilment after I retired. But the luckiest thing is that I have achieved this without any certainty or long term planning. Sadly not everyone can be as lucky as I have been, and I am certainly not recommending this approach to anyone.
And it wasn’t always a smooth route to happiness for myself. After graduating from the London School of Economics in 1971, I returned home to Manchester with no firm plan, but a vague feeling that one day I would work in advertising. After a few months of aimless slobbing about and getting out of bed mid-afternoon, my father threatened to kick me out unless I did something with my life. So I trotted back down to London and accepted the first job that I was offered, as a Marketing Executive in Travel and Tourism.
After a brief stint there, (with no free holidays) I landed my next role in Marketing, at the Head Office of a newspaper group. I had a ball and enjoyed the buzz of the newspaper world. It suited me, but after ten years in the big smoke, I became fed up with life in the Capital. I found myself yearning for life back in the North, and secured an internal promotion to become Marketing Manager of Yorkshire Post Newspapers, in Leeds.
It was a big step. I was full of trepidation as I knew absolutely no one in Leeds. But almost as soon as I arrived I felt I’d come back home, and have stayed in Yorkshire ever since. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Yorkshire Post. It was an exciting world with many interesting characters. However, I still felt something was missing.
AND THEN IT HAPPENED! Because of my media and marketing knowledge I was head hunted by a local Adverting Agency to become a shareholder and Marketing Director. I took the offer without hesitation and never looked back. I LOVED IT. I loved the creativity, I loved the variety, I loved that we got closely involved in our clients businesses. But most of all, I loved that we could really make a difference to those businesses. I loved it so much, that I had to force myself to go on holiday and, when I did, I couldn’t wait to get back to work. My work was my favourite thing to do for nearly 30 years, (I told you I was lucky).
But then things started to change. It began with the 2008 recession, which was a difficult time in itself. But it also massively stimulated the growth of digital media and the rise to power of the Procurement Director (great at getting the best deal on paper clips but the killers of creativity). Over time I came to the realisation that I was no longer enjoying my work. I no longer got up in the morning excited about what the day would bring. I knew the time had come to retire. But I wasn’t ready.
It took another year to actually leave work and the truth is, that in so many ways, I didn’t want to. Instead of using this time to prepare myself I pushed the reality to the back of my mind, and used every excuse I could to delay the inevitable.
I still thought I’d be OK and would adapt and cope. I had a very full life. Although I was divorced and my only daughter lived in London, I had lots of friends and a very active social life. I played poker 3 nights a week, was always out at the weekends and had a holiday home in Turkey. But when the inevitable day came I was neither ready nor prepared.
In fact I quickly became despondent, and increasingly desperate. With nothing to do all day, with no purpose or focus, I was lost. I began drinking more, staying up later and later and sometimes (as when I was younger) not getting out of bed until late afternoon.
At the very time I should have been relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labour I felt isolated and valueless. I saw my retirement as the start of a slow, long, and lonely descent towards the end. I tried to break out of it. But I had never enjoyed the normal retirement staples of gardening or long country walks. So I looked for and tried other things. Firstly I tried golf. I persevered for several weeks but the fact is I hated it. It has been said that golf is a good walk spoiled - and I didn’t even find anything good about walking.
Next I tried green bowling. My local club invited me to go play. When I got there I realised I was very much the “young lad” and that this was not going to be the activity that would excite and stimulate me.
In desperation I even tried fishing. Two days sat by the River Wye in the great British Summer. Sounds idyllic but it wasn’t. There was a freezing cold wind and I had three bites, caught one fish and then put it back. I was bored, cold and miserable. Fishing may be the country’s biggest leisure activity but I just don’t get it. Never again.
And then I got lucky. Again. Through a friend I heard that a mutual friend who I hadn’t seen in years was starting a new business. I went to see him, we got talking and now I’m a director and partner in a new Escape Room business, Kanyu. For those of you who may not know, an Escape Room is where customers pay to be shut in a room and then have an hour to solve puzzles in order to escape.
And it’s been fantastic. I’ve worked, on average, a couple of days a week in a business that is exciting, stimulating and rewarding. Coming up with the concepts for the rooms is brain taxing and very creative. Helping to build them is like nothing I’ve experienced before - even though my main job was holding and passing things. And seeing them come to fruition and open to the public was fantastic. My main job now is as a back up Games Master - briefing the players, watching them via video and giving clues when needed. And it is always a big high to see the joy and pleasure on our customer’s faces as they leave. They have all had a great time - even if they haven’t managed to escape.
So looking back on my transition into retirement, what wisdom can I share with you?
1. Don't do what I did. Yes I am lucky, and yes I am enjoying my ‘semi’ retirement. But it could have been very different. I could have missed out on my vocation and loving my job, and I could be having a miserable retirement. Not everyone can chance to luck and win.
2. Do think about and plan for your retirement. Think about what you like to do to fill the hours you used to be at work and how you can achieve this. Retirement may still be a shock to the system but you will be more prepared for it.
3. Don’t lose sight of yourself and who you are. You may not have the daily contact with staff or suppliers who rely on you and who, therefore, make you feel important and respected, but you are still the same person.
4. Do remember you still have skills and experience that are valuable. Whether to simply help and advise friends and family or to volunteer at a local charity or hospital. Or you could get a part-time job. A lot of Escape Rooms employ youngsters as Gamesmasters. At Kanyu we advertise for retired or semi-retired people to work for us. Why? Because they are more reliable and have both the inter-personal and business skills to help enhance our customer experience. And they love it. It’s win win all the way.
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