Few of us will ever know what it feels like to have the world desperate to know when we intend to retire. That’s the difficult situation Andy Murray finds himself in, however, with mounting speculation about when he will bow out of the game.

Murray gave the clearest indication of his estimated time of departure when he admitted he might have only a “few months” left, although he’d like to take part in this summer’s Olympics. Given his many comebacks of late, it would not be surprising if his professional departure was to become as protracted as Frank Sinatra’s.

Nevertheless, retirement is obviously at the forefront of his thoughts: “When the time is right I will probably say something before I play my last match”, he told the BBC. If that sounds like a statement of the obvious, it is not. Some world players have simply walked off court, leaving the crowd unaware they had just witnessed a historic swansong.

That’s the way I would prefer it, to be honest: no pre-match hullaballoo, no tearful courtside encomiums to fans and family. Rather, just the satisfying click of the changing room locker closing for the last time, and the stadium disappearing out of sight in the rear view mirror.

The Herald: Andy Murray is one of Scotland's greatest ever sportspeopleAndy Murray is one of Scotland's greatest ever sportspeople (Image: free)

On one level, the thought of Murray exiting is sad. It will mark the end of an extraordinary career, and leave the tennis world the poorer, as one of its greatest personalities departs the stage. On another, though, his position is enviable: a 36-year-old with enough money in the bank never to have to worry about working another day in his life.

Not that his going will look like retirement as most of us understand it. Like many top sporting names he will doubtless soon be reincarnated as a coach, a pundit or businessman. Yet he shares with mere mortals the same dilemma of when and in what manner to go. When his last day dawns, he will experience the same feelings of dislocation and loss of identity as people in their 50s, 60s and 70s who are calling time on their careers.

Retirement used to be one of the few fixed points in working folks’ lives - assuming they made it that far, of course. Whether it was aged 60, 65 or - for judges and popes - close to senescence, it was the inevitable full stop to a life of toil. There would be the dreaded farewell drinks, whip-round gift and speeches, followed by a yawningly empty Monday morning. After which, they would slowly discover that life on the other side can be as interesting or enjoyable as 9-5.

It’s not that simple today. For some, surviving on their pension is a financial impossibility, and the treadmill of work stretches ahead of them like an infinity pool, with no finishing line in sight. That’s especially true of women of my age who began their careers expecting to retire at 60, only belatedly to discover we would have to keep going until 67.

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For others, at an age when their parents would have been improving their golf swing, they continue part-time: more for the company and sense of purpose than the income. The problem is, for those thirled to a punishing work ethic, who have had little time to pursue other activities, embracing retirement can feel like an admission of surrender.

For months some of us have been hoping that Andy Murray would admit his best playing years are behind him, and leave with dignity and reputation intact. The same applies to ageing workers, whatever their trade. Obviously there are rare individuals who continue to perform impressively into later life - certain composers, artists and writers immediately come to mind.

In the main, however, most of us feel ourselves slowing down as the birthdays tick by, our stamina or enthusiasm not what it was. But it’s not simply that we aren’t perhaps as sharp or keen as before. There are so many other things to enjoy that, at a certain point, being tied to the workplace no longer feels like a priority.

It comes at a different stage for all of us, I expect, but come it undoubtedly will: a time to recognise that younger generations are on our heels, or whooshing past in the fast lane. That’s when moving aside is the right thing to do. Older heads can offer perspective and wisdom gained from experience, but such insights are not always appreciated. For good or ill, they can be seen as an impediment to creativity and progress, stifling spontaneity or risk.

Saying goodbye to a job, whether it’s a lifetime’s vocation or a portfolio career, is even more to the retiree’s benefit than that of their colleagues. Indeed, rather than viewing a P45 as the beginning of the end, several of my older friends say they’re happier and fitter than ever before, not to mention rather too busy.

The French word for being retired is retraité, meaning in retreat or withdrawal. It’s a good description, suggesting stepping back from the frontline and discovering a pace of life in which it is possible to relax a little, rather than jumping from one deadline and duty to the next.

The Herald: Andy Murray's glorious tennis career is moving toward its endAndy Murray's glorious tennis career is moving toward its end (Image: free)

Am I thinking of retiring? Listening to other freelancers confirms it’s not a word in our vocabulary. For us, there is no formal end to a career. Rather, we gradually fade off the scene as other interests start to encroach until eventually – almost without noticing – work barely features, and we have time for mid-morning coffees and weekend jaunts.

It’s some years off yet, but I know the day is coming. Meanwhile, the first harbinger of approaching freedom for people my age is the number of friends who now have time on their hands. Their kitchens are like an annexe of The Fat Duck at Bray, the ironing is under control, and the workflow chart above their unused desk has been replaced by an exotic bucket list.

For most of us, retirement confirms we are not defined by how we once earned a living. For Andy Murray, however, I suspect this stage of life will be tough. Ever since boyhood his identity has been shaped by tennis, and by proving himself a winner. Finding a new direction could well be daunting. Fortunately, the past 18 years have amply proved he was born to face down a challenge.