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Archive for June, 2012

Having Enough Time

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

All that angst about “not having enough time” is supposed to go away when we retire, right? Well…

For the last couple months I’ve been struggling to “find the time” for things I really want to get done.  I’ve also been feeling guilty about not getting to the “shoulds” (like dusting).  A lot of stuff is just not happening.  It’s not because I have a major project at work that’s burning holes in my own choices.  I have been captain of my clock for almost 20 years now.  You’d think I’d have it figured out.

I don’t.  But when I started to look at it more closely this morning, I made a startling discovery.  Maybe “having enough time” is the wrong way to look at it.

We all have “enough time”–we are blessed 24 hours every day.  You don’t get 27 hours because you need it as a young parent, or 18 hours because you’re tired of it all and waiting to die.  24 hours is it.  It’s how we manage it that makes the difference.  Depending on your personality, this may be a conscious thing or it may not.

I am a planner.  I make specific decisions about how I am going to spend that 24 hours.  I make a list of what I want to get done every day.  I cross stuff off when I get it accomplished.  My sweetheart rarely does lists.  He’s a lot more casual about whether something gets done or not.   At the bottom of it though, we are both making choices all day long about how we spend our time.

One of the things that bugs me most about the current version of “retirement” is the boast by retirees that “I’m so busy I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”  It’s not about being busy.  It’s about filling your 24 hours each day with what you really value.

I finally realized this morning that the dilemma for me is that I have a hard time making peace between what I want to “get done” and the things that come along on a spontaneous basis that have more value.

In the last two weeks, my list has been ursurped by helping decorate the nursery for a soon-to-arrive new grandson, a trip to the zoo with my granddaughters, hours of televised sporting events as part of Father’s Day, and a hike in Mount Rainier National Park on a glorious sunny Summer Soltstice.

Every one of the things that I did instead of spending time on the important projects really was more important.  But I’m giving myself a stress pill by fretting over what didn’t get done because I did those things.

Not so very smart, I agree.

But what’s a better approach?

This morning I finally saw the light: see it as the budgeting process it is.  Cutting out the little time wasters can help.  E-mail, especially forwarded stuff, needs to be demoted.  Forgetting how to get the Spider Solitaire game to load would be good.

I need to stop pretending I can do it all.  When the unexpected requires resources, the original plan has to change–be it with money or time.  Maybe it’s a timeline I set for myself on a writing project that needs to be stretched,  Maybe it’s putting a “creative fun” project on hold for a little while.

But  I’m concerned with just leaving it at these kinds of solutions.  I’ve done this before, and eventually I start to resent that I’m getting to what everyone else needs of me but not to my own interests.

That’s where the “Ah ha!” occurred this morning.  When I was managing operations in the gas industry, one of my most unexpected challenges was teaching the guys I supervised that it’s no better to be way under budget than to be way over.  When you’re under budget, the company holds back resources you say you’ll need that could have been used elsewhere.  Something that could happen didn’t because you said you needed those dollars.

It’s the same deal with time management.  It’s wiser to live near the tipping point between “enough time” and “not enough time.” on an on-going basis. Living well does not come from “getting everything done.”  It comes from using your time on the things you value.  Sometimes that’s going to be on the “to do” list and sometimes it’s not.

That means a granddaughter’s excitement over a hippopatomus trumps getting a blog post up. And that is just fine.


Knowing Yourself — A Key to Happy Retirement

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Knowing yourself sounds so…well…selfish. But it’s a big piece of getting retirement right.  When you know who you are, what you value, and what makes your heart sing, you spend a whole lot less time and money on things that don’t.

I was saddened to hear of Ray Bradbury’s passing this week. As a writer, he did a lot to make science fiction a noble genre.  As a person he did more–at least for me personally.  I was lucky enough to particpate in the Santa Barbara Writers Conference one year when he was in residence.

He gave the keynote address, which was about really being  a writer.  That was good stuff. But observing him being himself for that week was an even better source of lessons for me.  Bradbury was a regular at the conference.  So were Larry Gelbhart (the genius behind the M*A*S*H  televisions series), and Charles Schultz (of Peanuts  fame).  The three of them, as well as the conference organizser Barnaby Conrad, served as kind of an aging Rat Pack.  Bradbury, Gelbhart, and Conrad appeared every morning in wrinkled bermudas and white, white, button-front shirts, the ensemble of each finished off with a jounalist’s vest.  (Schultz was more conservative–and pressed.)  So it was easy to know who you were looking at when they were part of the scene.

They were the Wise Men of the conference–but they were also capable of mischief and mirth.  Bradbury in particular seemed adept at bridging that gap.  I hung on every word he offered the group, but laughed as hard as anyone at the shenanigans.  I think at that point he was in his mid-70’s, but as a member of that community, he was timeless (and still is).

He seemed to be happy in his own skin.  He knew who he was.

If you are thinking that happens automatically, think again.  It is very hard in this culture to know who you are without putting any effort into it.  We spend our adult lives striving the please assorted others–bosses, spouses, parents, kids, friends, neighbors, your rabbi, etc.  Knowing what makes our own clocks tick is not part of that drill.

When you retire, that need to please shifts.  Instead of being vital to the company, community, and church, you move to postscript status unless you make the effort to clearly define yourself.

Sure, you can do any kind of volunteer work that comes along without knowing if it’s right for you–but you won’t do it well if it’s not.  And you won’t be satisfied with the role.  You can do all the things family members ask you to do, but it will feel empty at this stage of life if it’s not consistent with what you value and get satisfaction from doing.

When I left the corporate world, I was asked to be on the Board of a women’s agency whose work I admired.  Of course I said yes–without ever exploring if it was a good fit.  It wasn’t, and within months they were looking for a new director after I backed away.  A few years later, I pursued a path as a mediator the same way–and backed away from that within months as well.

Trial and error is a legitimate approach to finding new satisfaction, but starting and then quitting a lot of things makes you feel like a loser.  Once I finally figured out what I really like to do, the process bore much sweeter fruit.

Getting to know yourself isn’t an awful assignment. Once you start to dig into the reality of what makes you you, it can be kind of fun. Treat this exploration as what it is–one of the most interesting searches for information that you will ever undertake.

Expensive relocations that don’t pan out, exotic travel that leaves you wondering “what’s the point?” and purchases that leave you feeling empty are all signs that you don’t have a good handle on who you are.  It’s never too late to figure it out.

How do you do that?  That’s the first thing you’ll determine in getting to know yourself.  How do you like best to learn?  There are lots of books (Supercharged Retirement being one of them) to help you get a better sense of your values, priorities, interests, and yearnings.  Or sign on with a life coach.  Or take classes.  Or find resources online. Some of us do well with just the question “who am I?” and a series of long, solo walks.  Some of us need to poll our entire circle of family and friends.  Some of us might grasp it best taking an online assessment tool.  All of us need to do something.

To have a satisfying retirement, you have to be who you really are.  Until you know the specifics of that, you are going to be shooting in the dark.