I retired ten years ago, at the fairly young age of fifty-eight. I retired early for several reasons: a brush with death in my early forties, both my sister and father passed before they were sixty-two, and many of my co-workers were retiring and then passing away within a few years of starting their more leisurely lives.
I’ve been a busy girl during the past ten years, writing three books, maintaining a weekly blog for four years, and enjoying time spent with a very wide circle of friends and family members.
I’ve felt driven to be busy, to do constructive things that would signal to the world I wasn’t lazy. I didn’t have a job title that defined me anymore, so I took up activities that showed my continuing sense of vibrancy and importance. Here is a photo of a recent monthly calendar of my activities. I have a decade of saved appointment books with month after month of similarly crammed weeks and months.
This photo shows busyness, not vitality or importance.
My husband will attest to the fact that I can work twenty to sixty hours a week writing, researching, reading, etc. I’m up and at it by 4-5 a.m. and can be glued to the computer most of the day, seven days a week.
A change is coming. I feel working this much doesn’t allow me time to just goof off. These days goofing off means reading something other than research material, watching something other than documentaries on TV, and having the highlight of my day be time spent visiting with friends. Something has changed with regards to the amount of work I’m interested in doing.
“Okay, so quit complaining and just work less,” you say. The conundrum for me — and I’ll bet lots of other seniors as well, especially those who worked for many years — is how will I define the last years of my life? If I don’t work as hard as I have been, I’m positive I’ll be judged as a slouch … someone who totally succumbed to the inertia of the couch. Oh, sign me up for the General Hospital fan club now!
Ahhhh, the ego steps forward. I don’t feel free to just be me because my ego is running the show, and the show can’t feature some senior citizen who no longer is a contributing member of society.
If I can break free from the ego, of course, I can see that the truly wonderful person I am is not defined only by my work.
That is my challenge. I must learn to just be — and to accept that I am wonderful whether I choose to spend my time enmeshed in junk novels or The New York Times, Real Housewives of Wherever or a Ken Burns documentary.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my work. What I’d like to improve upon is letting go of some of the aspects that would free up time to discover more about myself outside of writing.
Who could I be? My friend, Ruth, and I were talking about this conundrum recently and she said, “Close your eyes and visualize this: a white sandy beach, smooth creamy sand, no one around and the short intense teal waves that are pouncing repeatedly onto the beach. Feel the energy of the two: the calm white beach just lying there and the fierce little waves continuously beating up the wet sand. Right now you’re those inexhaustible waves — working, working, working. But, think about being the beach — just lying there calmly in repose. No one is calling one better than the other. They both are contributing to the beauty of the world. It’s okay to be either the waves or the beach. Try being the beach and letting the waves come to you for a change.”
In other words, I don’t need to do all this work to justify my place in the world. Letting go of the ego can enhance my personal well-being by taking me to a new and different level of life satisfaction.
I am passionate about making the last chapters of all senior lives some of the best years. Perhaps, now my perspective can include more goofing off. And, if it does, I’ll still be a vital person with lots to enjoy sharing with others.