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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - January 2013

It could be you ....


Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

Am I getting sidelined?

A conversation with an artist acquaintance a few weeks ago has reminded me of someone, whom I’ll call Nick, who came to my clinic a few years ago with concerns about his relationship with colleagues at work. In his late fifties, after 20 years in a graphic design studio, he felt that he was being skipped over for any of the better jobs in favour of the younger artists there. His manager tried to assure him that this was not so, but it left him feeling nervous and resentful.

Nick and I talked for some time about his work. He had always been in the design field and loved it. He admitted getting a real buzz from the social life as a younger man, the late night working and the regular visits to bars afterwards. Later, after he married and had a family, that socialising seemed less attractive, or at least less compatible with home life and responsibilities. Nick had seen designers come and go and felt that he’d been fortunate to have escaped the occasional bouts of redundancies in the business. His wife had been supportive of his chosen career but, when the children were younger, had found it hard to cope with Nick’s late night working when a job came up at the last minute, as so often happens in design work.

Yet here he was, a highly experienced man who was seeing the plum jobs quietly hived off to younger colleagues. No late night projects any more, no excitement, no stress-induced highs, just a plodding 9-5 job.

It does seem, in the arts and design field especially, there is a tendency to favour bright young artists rather than the more mature ones. Several of my friends in this field find this.

I get the feeling that in many jobs there is a similar sort of change in work conditions as people grow older, with the heavier or more pressured work given to younger employees and the steadier tasks handed to those approaching retirement. Few manual workers, for example, would choose to be hauling heavy loads or working outdoors in bad weather if there was an alternative, and would be glad of the chance to stay in and do lighter tasks. Nick admitted to getting really tired out not only if there was pressure to get a job finished fast but also, as often happened, to find a client had changed their mind and wanted changes made. In years past, he thrived on that stress.

So, as we talked, Nick gradually explored his own changes. He had tried to keep up with the many technological developments in the way design work is now done. When he started, there were, of course, no computers and the artist’s skill with pencil, brush and pen were crucial. Now, Nick said, anyone can design (after a fashion) even if they hadn’t a clue whether or not their work looked balanced and right on the page as well as on the screen. Nick was scathing about how many young artists these days weren’t even able to draw. On top of that, he added, styles in everything had changed, making his own style seem old-fashioned.

Coming from these conversations was a feeling of being out of place, of being thrust aside from the centre of what was happening. The younger artists would come in late and talk about last night’s work and the social ‘jam’ that followed, while Nick would feel left out and, indeed, a little jealous. But at the same time he admitted he wouldn’t enjoy that anyway because the bars were too noisy and he had too far to travel home.

Nick’s feeling of loss was tinged with sadness, and he finally seemed ready to agree that, being older now, he wasn’t in a position to do some of the things he did ten or more years ago. That wasn’t because he couldn’t, but because his life had changed; he’d made choices about his conditions of work, had chosen his family life, he’d settled down out of town and decided to commute, and he’d seen technology remove the need for some of his undoubted expertise. “I suppose”, Nick concluded, “that I’m still working in a young man’s world”.

He had reached a point where he could see his own position more clearly and, while put out of course, was now ready to consider how to progress. He worked out a set of options:

  1. he could leave things as they were and ‘stick it out’ until he retired in six years’ time;
  2. he could look for a different kind of job;
  3. he could do a few relevant courses on computer-aided design (CAD);
  4. he could spend more time at weekends on his own art projects;
  5. he could even think of negotiating for part-time work during his last few years at the studio.

Nick decided what to do like this:
Option 1 would take him back more or less to where he was so was a waste of time. Option 2 was too risky because at his age he was unlikely to find a secure and settled job. Option 3 was probably worth looking at in more detail because there are always new courses were being developed and his employer would be willing to pay for them. Nick found it a pleasure to consider Option 4 and, together with newly developed skills and the prospect of ending up with a part-time option (5), he felt quite excited about the possibilities of the coming, self-selected, challenges.

Jobs change and we, as we age, change too. It is always worth taking some time to talk about this and to look closely at what you feel your options are.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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