Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Now What?

As my family sat around the table playing Scrabble after midnight last night and I said I really needed to go to bed, my husband replied, “You’re retired. What do you need to get up for in the morning?” That question so well captures my current dilemma.

I feel as though I have been on an extended vacation for the past 6 weeks. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to go back to work. And I have proven that I can sleep in. But there is an undercurrent of angst that I am trying to better understand.

When I was working, at the end of the day I could always cite accomplishments, problems solved, products delivered, meeting set up – things that happened because I was doing my job. Some days I have little to show for my waking hours – at best perhaps a cleaned closet or a trip to the grocery store. I’m having an adjustment to this seemingly diminished productivity.

When I woke each day, I had a definite sense of purpose. Although I seem to be busy now, I can’t articulate my current raison d’etre. I’m just unclear as to where I’m headed or if I have any direction at all.

Hardly a day goes by that some well-meaning soul doesn’t offer me an idea for something I could do in retirement. There is absolutely no shortage of ideas. But there’s this issue of sorting out the things I think I should do and the things I want to do. In some cases they overlap; in others, they do not. I would think a healthy balance might be a combination of the “should’s” and the “want to’s”. I haven’t yet identified regular activities aimed at helping other people – one of the things I always said I was going to do. This might include teaching adults to read or visiting the sick or elderly.

I think I am going to have to come up with some semblance of a schedule. This is not to say I can’t deviate from the schedule, but it might help shape my day. I could see waking up at 7:00 am, feeding and dealing with the dogs, exercising for 45 minutes, eating breakfast as a start to the day. This would then mean going to bed by 11:00 pm, which seems perfectly reasonable. As it is now, when I wake up at 9:00 am, I actually feel cheated from not being able to enjoy the peace of early morning.

I know I am motivated by having things to look forward to. I had so much fun anticipating my 40th high school reunion. I may have to make a concerted effort to plan things with family and friends that can serve as motivators. Otherwise I will go crazy in this sea of the ultimate freedom.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re ever really content with our lives. When we are working, we can’t stop asking when we can get off the treadmill. When we step off, we want to know how to occupy our time. Only in an affluent society do we have the privilege of asking these questions. That thought alone should make me grateful for my current situation. I’m not yet really old and I have a big chunk of my life still ahead of me. I’m sure with time all of this will get sorted out. But in my typical impatience, I’m ready for the next phase after the vacation is over. I’m ready to work on this business of semi-structured relaxation. I want to be retired with a purpose.


Blogger Richard said...

barbara wrote: I wonder if we’re ever really content with our lives

Not that I can see. It seems fairly universal that people are dissatisfied with their current state.

I prefer to get to bed before 23:00 (preferably 22:00) because I am a morning person and find the whole day wasted if I sleep in. Besides which, my head never clears for the day if I go to bed late.

Nothing gets done if you don't take action. Are you looking for something to do or for something to occupy your time?

There is a difference between slowly sipping your tea on the veranda as you watch the sun set and unwinding from the day and sipping your tea slowly because it doesn't matter if you spend 5 minutes of 30 minutes doing it.

I suppose one of the sad realities is that the world is not sitting their waiting for you with open arms, it is not looking to fulfill your life with meaning - whether you are on the job or retired, that is up to you.

One problem is that we have been trained to regard work as a large monolithic chunk of our lives and of who we are. We work regularly and consistently. Any time outside of that is not as important and of a secondary nature (of course, there are some who are quite passionate about their hobbies, but they are fairly rare, with most seeking diversion rather than leisure). We are taught to occupy our time, to fill it up with diversions. But we are never taught to use it.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

I know what you need: grandchildren! Kidding. :)

Purpose, you need purpose. While work could be a grind, it had meaning and helped add meaning to your life. (Especially your work, which a lot of people depend on and use.)

When you figure out where to direct your focus, you'll feel better, I think.

My dad, who has been retired for several years, started a non-profit company and still serves on its board. He serves on other boards. He has a seat on the city planning commission. And, yes, he has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

My mom, who just retired, got a dog, signed up to volunteer with FEMA and is still doing some contracting work and is fairly active in the Jewish community. Not sure if she's on any non-profit boards, but she might be. I'm not sure if that will be enough for her, though, since she is single. Dad is married and that certainly helps. He also has a dog. :)

6:01 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- I loved the analogy of drinking tea. I was thinking about your comment during meditation tonight. Our reading from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book "Wherever You Go There You Are" included the following

TRY: Thinking that your life is as least as interesting and miraculous as the moon or the stars. What is it that stands between you and direct contact with your life? What can you do to change that?

Jamy -- I can actually see how having grandchildren at this point would provide a good focus. But unfortunately that is probably not in the cards for me for some time as neither child has a serious significant other. Your parents sound like they are making the most of their retirement years. I too plan to have a dog or two until my dying day.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I think you should exercise your mind and body daily, then book a volunteer thing the same time/day each week so someone is expecting you on a regular basis.

11:14 PM  
Blogger steve said...

I would schedule an hour or two just for bustin' David's chops a couple days a week...

And I think you should be working on your Bodhissatva Degree...

Have you read 'The places you'll go" by Dr. Suess yet?

I think Richard and Jamy are is way overated and Grandchildren would put that youth in ya!

10:45 AM  
Blogger steve said...

Yes, The Places You'll Go
Its becoame a mainstay for Graduates, but I think its does nicely for Retirees as well! But then, I'm a real idiot!

11:47 AM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

I agree with Steve- He's a real idiot!! HAHAHAHA!..
All in good fun.

What's wrong with just BEING?

Although, I think I would need some kind of work too.
When my Dad retired he bought a cab and drives in D.C. (you've probably seen him around). He has worked since he was 13 years old. He's now 75 and still at it. He can't sit still. The point is, though, that he did something different when he retired.

Me, I'm gonna be a photographer/writer for National Geographic when I retire from this job. HA!
Besides, we still have to get together for coffee.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Steve - cool it on the chop busting suggestions please :-)

1:57 PM  

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