Senior adult couple at home watching television together.
Volunteering, starting a consultancy, creative pursuits - any of these would be cheerier than the life portrayed in ads targeting ‘leisured older people’ © Getty Images/iStockphoto

What do you want to do when you grow up? Yes, you, the former chair of Global Whizzo Inc, and you, the celebrated founder of SolveIT Maintenance, and all the rest of you who’ve earned a decent wedge and whose families have left home. This is you time. What will you do with it?

Many FT readers fall into this demographic; so much so that we have an online content hub called Next Act to help to inspire your next activities in later life. For some, this could be stepping back from the corporate world and starting your own consultancy. For others, it could be giving back in the form of voluntary work. Or perhaps a chance for more creative pursuits — creating the ultimate work of art, sculpting a landscape worthy of Capability or writing a devilishly original novel.

Any one of the above would be cheerier than ads targeting ‘leisured older people’. Aimed at the over 55s, the majority picture glamorous grey-haired couples laughing hysterically.

Sometimes the man and woman (it’s always a man and woman) are clinging on to each other. Sometimes they are sitting in a meadow. Sometimes they are consuming a lavish meal beside the sea.

Whatever the dull activity, the couple is always convulsed with laughter. Why? Is this open-mouthed guffawing the result of collective marble-loss triggered by receiving a solid gold carriage clock? Is it hysteria because they have miscalculated how much money they will need to retire on? While most older people I know want to stay active, the traditional concept of retirement seems — bizarrely — to be of greater appeal to millennials.

Young devotees of the Fire movement (Financial Independence Retire Early) seem very certain about how they want to fill their time: high adventure, from sailing to climbing; finding some cheap surf where they can live well on minimal outgoings; starting a family or founding a start-up. We used to call it “dropping out”. Either way, the motivation is similar — corporate life doesn’t score well on pleasure ratings.

From a millennial’s perspective, the financial backstop of the Bank of Mum and Dad (Bomad) could provide a reassuring safety net. And who knows, Bomad may cough up early, and in full, if we oldies come a cropper pursuing the extreme adventures on offer by travel companies willing to march us up Everest or into the more challenging parts of Africa.

If millennials can find interesting and useful ways to “Fire” away their time, what exactly are more conventional retirees doing?

Last month in Dorset, walking along the coast to the unusual Norman chapel of St Aldhelm, I came across an example of Next Act-ivity. Just beyond the chapel, on the teetering cliffs where pink valerian and purple thrift line the coastal path, there is a fully equipped lookout point to track and check sea traffic. Twenty years ago, lookout points like this one were government funded but cutbacks stopped all that. Now, a voluntary organisation called the National Coastwatch Institution has stepped in. The (mostly) retired people running it and helping to keep the coast safe even buy their own dapper uniforms.

This weekend, I came across retired chartered engineer John Porter who is using his retirement to be an engineer and trustee at London’s magnificent Museum of Water and Steam at Kew (fantastic party venue, but I digress).

The man who runs my local cycling club, and leads many of the arduous rides, is in his mid-70s. On a less energetic note, some Next Act friends are currently walking the 116 miles from Winchester to Canterbury to raise money for Littlemore church in Oxford. Most of them, when not walking for charity, also run charities ranging from local to international.

One seriously rich friend helps with reading at a local primary school as well as indulging in some serious philanthropy. Another volunteers as a maths and baseball coach, and one entrepreneur works in the local Citizens Advice — which is, incidentally, crying out for volunteers, particularly anyone with a financial or legal background. So too are the Scouts, Guides, Brownies and Cubs.

Another friend, barely 60 and a retired lawyer, helps run Gooseberry Planet, a software company using game-based learning to help keep primary school children safe online. It is her first board job. Stats suggest that her venture should do well — as the FT’s Money Mentor Lindsay Cook wrote in 2017, businesses set up by the over-50s are more likely to still be trading five years later than those established by younger age groups.

For others, retirement offers the chance to learn. I know a couple of City high flyers who’ve just stepped down to start studying Masters degrees in subjects far outside their first degree or work experience.

My brother Jo, who is 60, runs ten miles a day before starting his work as co-founder of STIR Education, which supports schools in India and Uganda.

Then there are the older people who travel a lot — some in lush comfort and others less so. Paul Fletcher, who is 63 and with whom I will be cycling next week in Denmark, did the pre-course Tour de France last year — some 2,000-plus miles of grinding mountains and hairpin bends. When Paul joins us in Copenhagen he will be doing a tiny fraction of the speed, inclines and kilometres that he covered in France. And no doubt itching for something more challenging.

So what are you planning? Email to tell us about your plans in no more than 100 words, and the three most original or inspiring ideas will win free tickets to this year’s FT Weekend Festival in London on Saturday September 7, where I shall be discussing the reinvention of retirement with the author Camilla Cavendish on the FT Money stage.

Jane Owen is an author and former deputy editor of FT Weekend. Email; Twitter: @Jane_Owen

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