Don’t retire; be bolder

Simon Woolley’s advice to older workers is don’t retire and be braver.

Happy older woman looking up studio shot


Older people shouldn’t retire, but should instead by bolder and braver and consider new opportunities, according to Lord Simon Woolley.

The activist and campaigner who is now head of Homerton College, Cambridge, told the recent International Longevity Centre’s Future of Ageing conference that experts say that, despite early euphoria, retirement can lead to depression. From that comes the need to do something different.

At 60 Lord Woolley began a new career after 30 years as an activist for equal rights and success with Operation Black Vote [when he started campaigning there were just four BAME MPs; now there are 64 and an Asian Prime Minister]. He says he loved making a difference, but someone asked him if he’d like a career change and invited him to be the first black male leader of an Oxbridge college. He was worried that he wasn’t an academic, but he has found that it doesn’t matter. “We can take our learnings and transfer them to many different areas,” he said. Moreover, the college he is at appreciates that he takes a different approach because he doesn’t think in the same way as most academics.

“Often we get told to have a career, stay in your lane and then retire and do gardening or golf,” he stated. “I passionately believe that age is a number, a construct that in many ways pigeonholes us to think and behave in a certain way.” He added that that restricted people from taking advantage of “a myriad of opportunities to feel wonderfully alive”.

Speaking about running, he said an older person might give up running if their knees start aching. That might lead to them giving up other activities. Yet, although they cannot run like they used to, they can do many other things. “We need to turn the age thing on its head,” stated Lord Woolley. “I think I can do anything, but I know I can’t. However, I can try to do new things.”

By adopting this kind of approach, people can live in better health for longer, he said. Lord Woolley added that in addition to turning our approach to ageing on its head and being braver, we need to be aware of discrimination so that everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of “a can-do culture”. “We need to flip the switch when it comes to age so we can be better and braver. Simon says you can,” he stated. “And we should do that together, making sure that there are no discriminatory barriers.”

The conference heard of the urgency to get the ageing agenda right, given that in the next 10 years there will be 2.8m less workers because of demographic changes – without taking into account ill health and other factors such as reduced hours. Not everyone was as optimistic as Lord Woolley, however, with speakers commenting on the need for employers to grasp the age diversity agenda quickly and to support older workers instead of allowing them to drop out of the labour market.



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