Last week was, in many respects, my first normal week since I retired in May. The summer had it’s own special dynamic, household changes and travel, just a lot going on. I was eager to get busy with writing even though I struggled with my innate good sense that was telling me to take it easy and relax a bit. I tried to do both and it actually worked fairly well, even with a lot going on all around me. But last week I had my first quiet week, which presented itself as a blank slate awaiting conversion into life. My head about exploded with the possibilities of writing, reading, cleaning the garage, the basement, the office, working on genealogy, contacting friends, starting exercise, revising our diet, doing craft projects, and these were just for starters! Yeah, I felt overwhelmed and confused. I knew deep down that it would all sort itself out in time. But there seemed a to be a thicket encircling me that I knew I needed to pick my through before getting on the other side. What I found myself the most concerned with was the method. At some point each day I would grab a notepad and start lists that quickly regrouped on the page as schedules. Some days my confidence ran high, I filled out a schedule and commissioned my resolve to work with it. Mostly these were revised dramatically by 2 pm to something more realistically. Then again at 3:30 on some days. Over this past weekend (Labor Day) I was less concerned with schedules for the weekend but with settling on a method for the future. Should write in the morning or afternoon? For 2 hours, 3? 4? Or by word count goals? What about house projects? Reading? Crafts? People? Could I design a scheme that would do it all? I mean, I have 45 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. With what do I fill the blank canvas that I call my week?
Last week went fairly well, in spite my mental gymnastics. I addressed some household projects, mixed in some reading, a bit of journaling and a good smattering of life management. I’d call it a pretty good week. 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 function of society, a healthy part of life, but their role shifts as we move into different stages of life. And one of the realities of retirement is that the expectations have changed. This means freedom but it can also be disorienting until one determines where legitimate expectations come from in this new season. We have to ask ourselves how do we deal with this much freedom. In fact it’s easy to see how one could slip into depression when faced with the 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.
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. Focus and slowness. Quite and activity. Direction and relaxation. As last week started i found the concurrent pull of these two forces annoying, frustrating, and anxiety producing. 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 would feel anxious about things you need to get done? Wasn’t I suppose to be done with that for good? (Except holidays or when people would to visit of course). 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, or the mechanism to strike that balance.
So out came the notepads at some point each day, and the umpteenth schedule would appear. Essentially I was plagued by the same problem that always hounded my weekends when I was working. Having too many things to do in definite space of time. I came to realize that I wanted 12 hour days or 60 hour weeks; anything less seemed like a cheat. And I knew then: I needed to let go of it. I needed it to be OK with the reality that I would make choices every week and whether those choices were perfect or not, it didn’t matter. What matter was doing them with a smile on my face. What mattered was doing them with a thankful spirit. What mattered was laughing in the course of the day, and finding peace with God and peace with myself. 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.
In the course of any day my thoughts run the gamut from anxiety to hope and all land in between. Even when my thoughts regarding retirement were in their most baffled state, I felt certain that over the course of time I would fall into a good rhythm. I was prepared for this process to take most of the coming year, and I still expect it will be an unfolding process that holds surprises and challenges that I can’t foresee.
I have been retired now for three months and I have thought about who I am beyond my job, and evaluating the expectations I bring to my life. And while I had a handle on the broad strokes of the picture, I kept wrestling with the details. Until I started my day today, then it occurred to me that the broad strokes are all the matters. I wondered, what if I live with a schedule or without lists? What would that feel like? As I said, I know that broad strokes, I have categorized tasks both on paper and mentally: the household projects, the writing and reading area, the fun projects, the genealogy projects. Do I really need to say that at 8 I will read the Bible, 9-12 I will write, 1-3 household projects, etc…? 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 your a mother managing a family is different than the structure you need when your retired. Or the structure you need when you are writing and holding an outside job is different than they type you need when there’s no competing claim on your time. I was looking for structure to be the key to having a fulfilling life. If I could schedule it, it would happen. This was a total throwback to my professional life even though being that structured has always seemed a bit foreign to me. But in my insecurity I have used it as a crutch. I didn’t trust my instincts and judgement enough to let go of it until now. So today I will embrace a new kind of scheduling, something on the order this…. On most days I will start with Bible reading, followed by writing. I will try to read 1-3 hours throughout the day. I will occasionally give big chunks of my day to household projects or genealogy. I will go to library so that I have books to read to my grandsons on Skype. I will see my friends sporadically, as always. I will keep my bird feeder full. That’s about as much of schedule as I think I really need at this point.