Most of my friends are either about to retire or recently moved past it. For the people who are currently retired, they run the gamut. Those in more than fine financial shape (not too many) frequently travel to visit friends, or just get away and explore. At the other end of the retirement spectrum are those who can “manage”… meaning they don’t necessarily have to work, but need to be careful with their expenses (everyone else). For the latter group, a not so dissimilar life as the one they were leading before they stopped working. The main difference is, they’ve stopped working.
For the already retired, their conversations never seem to include, “the gang down at the office” or wistful rhapsodizing about the work they used to do. In fact, it’s as though that life never existed. For those about to retire, it’s “counting the days” until they stop the drudgery of forced employment. Clearly this is a portion of their lives they are more than happy to put to a close.
When I ask, “What do/will you do with your time?”, the replies are often vague pronouncements about a path left untrodden only due to the necessary commitment of day to day employment. Invariably these paths remain unwalked, leaving me to conclude that the unfulfilled fantasy was more powerful than the effort it would take to live out the dream. Those about to retire seem to have no goals other than to be rid of the shackles of regimented life: the need to wake up early; the need to commute; and often the need to spend their days with people with whom they’d sooner not be in the same room. To reach that point in their lives which allows them not to have to abide by another’s demands and schedules, feels like a goal unto itself.
I’m still left with the question: “What do you do with your time”?
Our work life engages us with the world. We’re called on to think, establish and maintain relationships and make decisions. Those that work with us, whether we’d invite them to our home for dinner or not, are all working toward a common goal – the extent to which one is invested in that goal will, of course vary from person to person. But we’re all glad to greet paydays and three day weekends, and complain about whoever is above us on the corporate food chain.
Without work, where is the social capital that connects us to the world and each other? Certainly there is an argument to be made that social media provides connections among people especially those that are geographically unavailable to each other. But, what is the vehicle for people to have meaningful face to face connections? Work forces us into a group where we have to interact with people who may have different views and values than we do and in fact with whom we have no connection, except that we have all come to the same place to make a living. With nothing compelling us to come together, how do we do this in our post work life?
This is not meant to be a primer for what to do after one retires. Anyone with access to the public library or an internet connection can find meetup groups, volunteer opportunities, adult education classes, free concerts and lectures and community gatherings. But for those in retirement there’s no paycheck that motivates us to engage. There is only the new and unfamiliar that provides us the opportunity to engage and contribute. We have to generate the courage and motivation on our own to move into this realm.
My fear is that if I retire – and I have unlimited time – I won’t feel the urgency to do anything since there is always tomorrow. And if I string enough “there’s always tomorrows,” my life will come to an end with regret that I wasted it.
I remember when I was younger and my only dream was not to have to work. So, why am I not looking forward to retirement?
Intellectually, I know there are many things I can do, but without the structure, the expectation that there are people who count on me and my experience, what will I actually do with my time? Will entropy reduce my fantasies of creative and volunteer contributions to commenting on Facebook posts?
I’ve fashioned a plan for myself, which (I hope) will provide a transition into a meaningful “third act.” My current plan (which I am in no hurry to implement) is to gradually cut down my time at work. My hope is that my reduction in employment will correspond with my spending time in more creative pursuits. Who knows? I might find a blend of structured work and personal/creative time that works for me. In any event, the success of this approach rests solely with my initiative to put it in place. It’s a bit daunting. The plan is based on moving towards a new activity, rather than on “retiring,” which is synonymous with sleeping. And as I read on one bumper sticker, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
If you haven’t already, make sure to read Ed and Retirement: Part I
Artwork by Lisa Curran