This is going to be an embarrassing post.
Retirement isn’t straightforward. At least not for everyone.
When I first stopped working I asked myself, “Am I doing the right things? I cleared obstacles. Two years later I ask, “Am I doing what I’m doing the right way?”
Working, your days are structured. Get up and go, every morning. Retired, you ask yourself, “And what to do today?” You always have to ask again, “And next?”
This is hard on project people. We can’t treat our unstructured lives as a single timeline, or we launch only at death. Nor can we organize each day around multiple small projects, switching costs are too high. We have to prepare and contextualize, even for errands. So we fall back on a To Do list. The tyranny of yellow pads.
Eventually, even that list comes to feel too stressful. I struggle with balancing each day’s need to matter — to accomplish, to serve — with the earned right to do as I please. If I have the privilege of retiring, I ought to both contribute and enjoy myself. How? How to organize a life with very few constraints? I never knew this would require thought. Turns out anxiety is not caused by To Do’s alone.
Over the past several months I’ve been sick enough to be bed-ridden. Or at least sofa-ridden. I didn’t talk about it here, because, well, I didn’t. I’m better now. The reason I bring it up is because I lived without a To Do list — excepting blog posts — for the first time in my life.
To my surprise, this was not blissful. I found myself in pigeon-lever land, pressing for dose after dose of endorphins, delivered by food, shopping, alcohol, and highly compelling units of digital narrative. Also known as “television.”
Recovered, I understand that a project person needs a process. A well-constructed operating model for A Day in the Life.
I’m a little embarrassed that this knowledge feels important. Here’s my new plan.
Mornings are for Sitting, Thinking And Writing. Blog posts, emails, or bill paying, doesn’t matter. I’m in front of a computer. At 6am, or sometimes 7, I wake up, eat a small breakfast, and head for my corner of the sofa.
It’s important that the computer work ends before I get too hungry. Why? I used to keep going ’til noon, then eat a big lunch, then have to lie down, which of course meant watching television. Once the television – or streaming video – comes on, the day enters a cocoon period which is impossible to exit before the inner clock allows.
Now I get off the computer earlier, by 10:00 or 11, have a small snack, and start Moving Around. This means working out, or doing errands, or finally cleaning the shower tile. Have I ever told you how much I hate housework? But I can manage a few hours a week, as long as I get to pick the task spontaneously.
Then I fall sighing into Lunch And Lounge. Unconditional permission. These days I’m watching HBO’s Getting On, (having finished the 3rd season of Rita on Netflix), and reading the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Deep lounging.
Time passes. My metabolism slows to a crawl, hitting the nadir of its day. I breathe. A clock ticks somewhere.
And then I get up and start Making Dinner, happily. Peacefully.
My husband comes home, we eat, he works, I read, watch more digital narrative, maybe clean up, maybe do something I didn’t take care of during the day. But my husband is with me, so the anxiety of What To Do subsides.
This structuring of a day seems so trivial. I know. I know. But I find it’s given me the space to revisit the earlier question, “Am I doing the things that matter?”
I’m pretty sure I’m Lunching and Lounging correctly. Ha. Want TV recommendations? I’m your Gal.
Do I Write And Think about the right things? The question of the blog as a platform for values belongs here, as does the mix of entertaining vs. analytical posts, and the won’t-go-away thought of writing a book. Am I Moving About enough and in the right places? The idea of volunteering at a local school belongs here, as does taking more walks.
In essence, organizing my days so as to think very little about what to do next may clear space to consider a longer timespan. How to make it mean as much as possible. By which I mean my life.
I had a similar chunk of time when I was young, a small inheritance in the bank, no commitments, when I could have done anything. Did I sit quietly and think clearly? Nope. I thrashed about the world.
I believe this small understanding could only come now, at almost 60. So I do not regret not having known it earlier.