So much changes when we retire. Our roles in society. The structure of our time. The things people ask of us. The way we set up the week. How we see ourselves. How society sees us. What our families expect of us–and think of us. And on and on and on. Yet there is little available to get us ready for all these transitions.
Before we retire, we look longingly at what is on the sometimes-way-too-distant horizon–the chance to give up all we are doing now and just STOP. To retire. When we are running too fast from thing to thing with too much to do and not enough time to get it done, the appeal of this “do nothing” future is unparalleled.
Don’t be fooled. It’s a mirage.
Doing nothing is no more satisfying that doing too much. The trick is to do enough and to do it on the right things. This is where the real treasure of retirement lies. But it’s not at all like the “do nothing unless I want to” fantasy that we usually leave work with.
What happens when we no longer have to get the work we’ve been paid to do for years done? If you’ve been doing a job you hated, the loss is truly liberating. But if there is anything about that work that gave you satisfaction, you will find yourself feeling less about yourself and wondering why.
Odd as it sounds, part of the problem is that we no longer have the authority of the job we did so well. Yes, authority. Even if you have been cleaning motel rooms for a living, there was value in what you did, and you had the responsibility and the authority to get it done. You had a role to play that went beyond “whatever I feel like.” You had things that were expected of you. And you knew how to do them and do them well. When you give that up, you might want to put some thought into how you are going to retain your sense of relevance. And your sense of competence. Your sense of self-worth.
For those of us who were in jobs that weren’t particularly satisfying, that “something else” might be a bit easier to latch onto. My dad spent over 40 years making paper for Kimberly Clark. What he really wanted to do was write, sketch, and paint pictures. When he left work–a couple years early because of health problems, these interests carried him the rest of his life–another 24 years.
My grandfather was a different story. When he retired, he sat down. And pretty much stayed there. Whenever we went to visit grandma and grandpa, he was in that easy chair, watching television. He retired from an office job but had owned a successful commercial fishing business earlier in his career years. He too lived another twenty plus years after he retired. I use the term loosely though. What he did with his days was so uninspired that it almost seemed like he had died but forgotten to stop breathing.
The “extended vacation” model isn’t going to get you what you need as retirement. It just doesn’t work to be “on vacation” for twenty years. You lose your sense of direction and your sense of time when you are “gone” for that long. Remember how hard it is to figure out what day of the week it is when you don’t have things you have to do? Well, don’t build a life out of that!
Okay, so if you are ready to leave what you are doing and have no idea what about it you are going to miss–and what you want to do instead–does that mean you need to keep working? Not at all. It means you need to start paying attention to yourself so that you can start to remedy that information deficiency.
We all have interests, whether we acknowledge them or not. We all have skills and abilities that give us a leg up on doing certain things. We have interests that allow us room to find a new source of “being an authority.” It might be as the builder of doll houses and it might be as the builder of Habitat for Humanity houses, but if it’s you, honoring it will give you the greatest thrill of your life.
So give up the rat race if you can and it’s time. Give up the workload that keeps you from the rest of what you enjoy. But find things to learn and become good at that make you have that sense of authority, that feeling that “Yes, I do know a lot about this and I’d be happy to help you with it.”