Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 216 Doing Nothing and Guilt

"I don't do anything', said a retired friend of mine recently. "Well, I do things of course, but nothing that I can point to and say that that is what I do. I do whatever I feel like almost one moment to the other".

He has no grand plan. He has no hobby. He has no direction. He lives in the moment. Is that so bad? This guy use to be a college professor. He retired a bit late at age 68. He just didn't want to quit. He liked to work. I was surprised to hear him say that he didn't do anything. "My wife taught me how to do that", he said. There was a sense of pride in his voice.

This is Retirement Talk.

Book store shelves are lined with books that advocate for "living in the present". Best sellers are always advising us to focus on what we are doing at the moment. To be like the child within. Like we were before the worries of the world came to dominate our minds. Before we worried about tomorrow, the rent, the career, our health, our neighbors, or the price of tea in China. They advise us to play like children in a bathtub; just splash around and enjoy whatever we might be doing.

It isn't easy; this enjoying of the moment. Life has prepared us to plan ahead. Make preparations. We need to acquire certain knowledge and skills. We need a map. We cultivate initiative and ambition. We concern ourselves with what may happen. The ability and inclination to enjoy the moment is drummed out of us at a very early age.

I recall taking our six year old son to school on his first day. He was going to be tested to assess which grade he should be enrolled. We had held him out of kindergarten so that he might enjoy another year of freedom in his early years. No teachers, no schedules, no required activities.

That day I took him by the hand and led him in for his testing the only thought going through my head was that, "This is where it ends. From now on the institutions will have you and determine much of your life. Your days of "living in the moment and doing what you want to do is over".

Of course, schools, books, teachers, and classmates open a whole new world. But at the same time a certain structure would have to be inculcated into his very soul.

He would learn what time to get up and go to bed if he wanted to function well in school. Hw would learn how to stand in line, take turns, work so many hours, take breaks, produce product, conform to standards, control his emotions and his inclinations. Schools teach us work habits. They teach us to meet expectations and to exceed them if we can. It rewards us to be competitive. We identify ourselves as a student.


Then we move to the world of work. We are a farmer, doctor, lawyer, salesman, teacher, consultant, etc. We are identified by our work.

"l don't know what I am," said a recently retired friend of mine. "What do I say? I don't know what I'm suppose to be or do".

That is it with retirement isn't it? We don't know what we are suppose to be or do. We have no parents to tell us what to do or not do. We have no teachers to direct us. And we have no bosses or supervisors to dictate our efforts.

We are free. That's what retirement is. We are free to  make our own choices. Dream our own dreams. Follow roads of own choosing. We are free to run wild, climb a mountain or to sit in a rocking chair.

This a problem for many of us. We are not use to making our own decisions. We have not been educated to think for ourselves. We are not internally motivated. We are lost.  Some of us stumble. We feel guilty. What happened to our marvelous skills and abilities that were admired by classmates, coworkers and member of our community? The feeling of guilt can be overwhelming. We want to feel productive in the community. But the community no longer seems to need us.

I had friend recently tell me that she volunteered at the local food bank. She was put to work rearranging food on shelves. Just sort of straightening our can and jars of stuff. She felt like she were being given something worthless to do. She wasn't even need or wanted as a volunteer.

What to do? One choice is to do nothing. Like my friend, the ex professor. That might not satisfy everyone but it may be the right decision for some of us. It just takes getting rid of the guilt.

Seems like we could all have fun relearning how to enjoy the moment whether we are helping to feed the hungry or splashing around in a bathtub. But before we do we might want to take an afternoon nap. Never hurts.

This is Retirement Talk.   



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