‘How I stepped outside my comfort zone and made new friends after retirement’

Feb 01, 2020
"I find that retirement means I’m so much more flexible and willing to try new experiences," writes May. Source: Stock Photo/Getty Images

I opted for an early retirement. It was a matter of not being able to face it anymore; the daily grind, the daily train travel, the rostered lunch breaks, the whole damn kit and caboodle. With absolutely no regrets to have ‘stopped to smell the roses’, I honestly consider these the best days of my life.

Although limited lead time till my retirement date I was aware of the need for interests that would keep both my mind and body active. My first 12 months of freedom have included university study, learning new skills at a fortnightly workshop, gardening, travel and finally finding more time to catch up with my friends.

Isn’t it awful when we allow employment commitments to compromise our social connections? Hands up all those who have been guilty.

My days have been full, interesting and ever evolving. I find that retirement means I’m so much more flexible and willing to try new experiences.

Late last year I saw an item on social media about a group that gathers for conversation and coffee at the Alexandra Hills Hotel, literally a 5-minute walk from my home. It was coordinated by Starts at 60 and was a group of mature folk from varied backgrounds.

They were all welcoming and friendly to this new face. There were no defined rules other than a sign-on, and the volunteer facilitator, Helen, with a smile that would turn the Cheshire Cat pea green with envy, made introductions with ease.

Helen confirmed there were male members, a couple whom are regular attendees. She stated that although the group is made up of a diverse range of personalities everyone has the same goal: to expand their social activities and participate in activities. In short that means enjoy life.

At my initial meeting the laughter was constant and the conversation around the table bounced from topic to topic, including travel plans, recently released movies, recipes, gardening and social activities. It was lovely to be included in their Christmas meet-up at a swish restaurant in the city.

I recently attending my first meet-up for the new year. This group meets on the first Friday of the month at 11:30am at the hotel, which as well as being handy offers a variety of meals to suit all budgets. This, I believe, adds to the relaxed ambience. You can have a coffee, a wine, a carvery meal or something from the restaurant menu. You don’t even have to order a meal — it’s about social interaction, meeting new people, and making friends.

Every other Friday the group meets at Gastronome, a European delicatessen with a Ukrainian background in Capalaba, which I’m told serves a mean Borscht soup. The group are such a friendly lot that some of them even meet on weekends to walk along the foreshore at Manly. I have no doubt a coffee is part of the deal.

Did you know that there is a growing body of research that supports claims that group-based interactions have a distinctive role to play in health and wellbeing over and above social interaction and social contact?

It was a step outside of my comfort zone when I decided to attend that first meet-up, but boy, I’m glad I did. I’d encourage anyone looking to expand their network and build some wonderful friendships to see what opportunities are out there. I know personally, there are Starts at 60 meet-ups being held all over Australia and New Zealand.

Next, I‘m thinking about giving the Borscht soup a try.

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