How Time Disappears in Retirement

To the uninitiated, retirement sounds like a vast stretch of free time with maybe a few minor chores like laundry thrown in. Theoretically, yes.

However, all of the retirees I know are as busy—if not even busier—than we were when we worked for pay. It’s a fundamental mystery of retirement that I have so little free time. Or perhaps I should say “unscheduled” time, because really, I have nothing but free time. But I’m using a lot of it. Having fun.

Now that I can choose whatever I want to do with my time, I’m like a kid in a candy store. There are so many choices: classes, writing, travel, volunteering, two book groups and the associated reading, hanging out with friends, family get-togethers, etc. Why not set a date to make sure it all happens? As a result, I regularly confound my sons and working friends with how booked up I can be.

Here’s how a lot of conversations go:

“You want to stop by on your day off? Great! Oh, wait, I’ve got pottery class that morning.”

Or

“Happy hour? I’d love to, but not that Wednesday—I’ve got Guthrie tickets. How about Thursday instead?

I get that this is annoying to people who have less flexibility than I do. But if another day works equally well, I’d rather do the original activity I planned and paid for.

Of course, I’ll drop everything when something comes up:

“My car is in the shop. Can you give me a ride?”

Or

“Can you pick me up at the clinic? I’m not supposed to drive after my outpatient procedure.”

For years, other people controlled my schedule. The magic of retirement is that now most of what I’m doing I’ve chosen to do. This time feels precious. It’s a gift—not empty hours while I’m waiting for someone to call or visit. Not too put too fine point on it, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have or how long I’ll be healthy.

I want to use my time well.

Advertisements

Resolved: Nothing

Resolutions past and present

This year I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. That’s odd, because they have always appealed to me. I cherish the idea of fresh starts, and I have an abiding belief in a person’s ability to change. And it’s not as if I’ve magically become a better person who doesn’t need to improve!

But I’m moving away from this familiar yearly cycle—Wanting to change –>making resolutions –> attacking my goals for a while –> losing energy and focus –> feeling bad –> re-resolving to incorporate the changes.

For example, year after year I have vowed to exercise regularly and to devote more time to writing. I’d start off full of zeal—this is the year! But establishing habits is a daily battle. Oops, I ran out of time. Something came up. Better luck tomorrow. Eventually, my enthusiasm would flag. Hmm. Maybe the fact that I had to renew those intentions yearly was a hint that my approach wasn’t working!

Early last year, I stumbled across a better way to incorporate new habits into my life. The insight came about as a side effect of writing out my weekly calendar. Instead of taking a work-before-pleasure approach, I began identifying blocks of time when I could do the things that matter most to me: writing, volunteering, exercising, connecting with friends and family, and pursuing other creative outlets (e.g., pottery, sewing, trying a new recipe). After I’ve made time for my priorities, I fit in necessary evils like cleaning, laundry, appointments, and shopping.

Writing a detailed calendar may sound fussy and restrictive, but for me, it’s energizing. It’s about scheduling fun. Fulfillment. I’m making time for what I like to do and what I think is important. And that’s a good thing. I rarely do everything I set out to do, but I get around to most of it. Consequently, I have fewer regrets about how I spend my time and less need for the same old resolutions spurred by what I wish I’d done.

I still plan to lose two pounds of cookies and do strength training more consistently. And I will. I still want to be kinder, more patient, less critical, and more grateful. I’ll work on that, too. But this year, I’m saying goodbye to the yearly cycle of regrets and resolutions.

On Becoming Easygoing

The Secret to Aging Well? Contentment. That recent New York Times article caught my eye, because clearly I’m aging and with luck, I’ll continue to age for another 30 years or so. My body and mind are likely to take hits along the way, so how can I age gracefully? What magic needs to take place in my mind so I’ll be accepting of inevitable changes, tolerant and easygoing when confronted with irritating people and situations, and content with the many good things in my life, if not joyful?

Hmmm. This might be harder than it sounds . . . . Ever since I was a girl, I’ve had a writer’s sensibility—noticing sensory details along with the quirks and nuance of how people behave. I’ve mentally recorded and searched for the words to describe all of what I see and experience.

For a writer, the capacity for analysis and the ability to think critically are assets. For example, I wrote the previous sentence five times before I found the right words, and I enjoyed that analytical process. I also analyzed the NYT’s author’s choice of “contentment” and concluded that “acceptance” and “being easygoing” would be more accurate word choices for the outlook he is recommending. But who asked me?!?

Because writing has been both my work and my passion for decades, I’ve honed my ability to see, remember, analyze, and define. Yet now the habit of noticing and articulating everything appears to be at cross purposes with the habits of being tolerant and accepting. Implied in my wish to become more patient and forbearing is the expectation that I’ll quit noticing stuff and letting it bother me.

The habits of a lifetime are hard to change. I will probably remain particular about writing. But I’ve already cultivated the power to notice without judging in some of the other areas of my life. For example, one of my friends always apologizes for her messy house. I can see that it is, but I don’t care. Mine’s messy too.

Another friend wears the same three shirts over and over, but I accept that although she has the money, she doesn’t care about clothes. And I definitely sympathize with her dislike of shopping.

Many of my friends and family are passionate about sports, while I remain lukewarm. No doubt the sports lovers are equally baffled by my passion for reading and gardening. They must wonder how I can get so excited about Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel or why anybody cares at all about plants with variegated leaves!

Variegated

Variegated coleus

Perhaps the answer to my dilemma is to refocus my observational powers on seeing the good in life and finding the words for that. That sounds positive and cheerful, which is how I want to be. Maybe with practice I can flex those muscles and strengthen my capacity to be easygoing and accepting.

I figure I’m still young. I’ve still got a few years to get that right!