Last week was, in many respects, my first normal week since I retired in May. The summer had its own special dynamic, there were household changes in the works as well as travel. In spite of the jumble of activity this summer I was eager to get busy with writing even though it chafed against my better judgement that was telling me to take it easy and relax a bit. So I tried to do both and it actually worked fairly well. But last week I had my first quiet week, which presented itself as a blob of ectoplasm awaiting conversion into life. My head about exploded with the possibilities of writing, reading, cleaning projects, decorating projects, working on genealogy, contacting friends, starting exercise, revising our diet, doing craft projects! Where to begin? There seemed a to be a thicket encircling me that I would have to pick my through before getting on the other side.
By the time this past weekend (Labor Day) rolled around, I was less concerned with schedules for the weekend and more with determining a method for the future. Should write in the morning or the afternoon? For two hours? Three? Four? Or by word count goals? And what about house projects? Reading? Crafts? People? Could I design a scheme that would do it all? I mean, I have 45 daytime hours a week to work with; I should be able to shape that into something I like, right? But to return to the essential question on my mind last week, “How will I fill the blank canvas that I call my week?”
In spite my mental gymnastics, last week went pretty well. I addressed some household projects, mixed in some reading, a bit of journaling and a good smattering of life management. As I moved through it I found my thoughts turning over several questions and making a few observations.
First there is the whole topic of expectations. I now had the time and the freedom to ask myself what expectations do I place on myself and why. Who am trying to please? How much does meeting the expectations of others play a role in my choices and efforts? Expectations are a function of society, a healthy part of life, but their role shifts as we move into different stages of life. And they change very dramatically when a person retires. We have to ask ourselves how do we deal with this much freedom. In fact it’s easy to see how daunted one could feel by vacancy left by the well-defined expectations that were part of work life. Reflection on expectations became a necessary starting point as I thought about organizing my life. This is an area that for most people will be a huge paradigm shift. I think owning the shift is the key.
This is where jouraling comes in, it’s extremely helpful to sort how you see yourself, to identifying what they want to life to consist of, and how they want to go about it. The time I have spent journaling has helped me think about the changes that come with retirement. Reflecting on identity, goals, opportunities, relationships, activities, all of these areas need to be seen through a new lens, I find that I face them more squarely after putting them down on paper.
There are two sentiments that appear to be conflicting in my mind, but in actually I think I find that they are complimentary, or maybe beyond complimentary: symbiotic. Direction and relaxation. As last week started I found the concurrent pull of these two forces a bit frustrating. How can I do both? How can I embrace both? Certainly it made no sense to only embrace one and not the other. And wasn’t this the whole point of retirement, having enough time so you wouldn’t feel anxious about the things you need to get done? Wasn’t I suppose to be done with that for good? (Except holidays or when people would come to visit of course). My hope, my personal expectation, was that I could indeed do both, in the same day and in a satisfactory way. I was confident of that, I just didn’t know how. What I was missing was the method to strike that balance. I have a handle on the broad strokes of the picture, I keep wrestling with the details. Until today. When I started my day today it occurred to me that the broad strokes are all that matters. I wondered, what if I lived without a schedule or lists? What would that feel like? I spoke this weekend with my newly retired sister-in-law and we both confessed our mutual loathing of structure. Depending on the dynamics of your life structure can be a God-send. But the structure you need when you’re a mother managing a family is different from the structure you need when you’re retired. Or the structure you need when you are writing and holding an outside job is different from they type you need when there’s no competing claim on your time. I have to confess at the beginning of the summer I was looking for structure to be the key to having a fulfilling life. If I could schedule it, it would happen. Certainly this was a throwback to my professional life even thoroughly structured has always seemed a bit foreign to me. But in my insecurity I have used it as a crutch. Certainly it was helpful at times, but sometimes I think I defaulted to lists and schedules because I didn’t trust my instincts and judgement to manage without them.
Now I am seeing life through a different lens. And after considering what I want my life to look like, and more specifically what I want my days to look like, I don’t see the same need for detailed scheduling. My new paradigm is more present oriented and my goals and expectations are much more personal and flexible. And the bonus of being retired is the forgiveness that comes in the shape of tomorrow. I have all those tomorrows ahead, the pressure is off.