So, there I was--fully retired! No job, not even part-time, and each day full of a million options. Why, I'd be writing all the time and producing books like there was no tomorrow.
Except, I suddenly lost all ability to allocate my time wisely.
Sleep in? Of course. Drink coffee and watch the morning shows? Sure, who says I can't? Walk the dogs? Well, that's not exactly optional. Also, walk the big dog several more times to prevent the "stare" later when I want to relax and catch some TV.
Meditate, clean the house, do laundry, call family or friends, mail some bills. All things I used to do on top of a job and hobbies, but now they somehow seemed to suck up every minute of the day.
Let's not forget the ultimate time waster: my iPhone. Have to post a cool pic to my Instagram account! And my dog's Instagram account! Time to read Twitter, scroll through Facebook, post on Facebook, empty all the junk emails, text with friends. Shit, it's bedtime!
Friends would ask, "What are you writing?", and I'd say, "I can't talk about it yet." Not because it was a secret, but because there was nothing to talk about. I wasn't writing, and I had now sunk so low that I would tell people, "Who has time to write? All I do is walk the dogs." (Note: if you're going to place blame on someone other than yourself, it helps if they can't actually dispute it.)
Finally, I realized I had a problem, and the problem was me.
In order to write, I just had to schedule time to write. First, I signed my big dog up for doggie daycare once a week. Then I told my husband that every Tuesday, our dog was going to daycare, and I would be locked in my office all day writing, so do not disturb, please. I gave myself every Tuesday to write, leaving me with no more excuses.
It worked! Not immediately, of course. The first few Tuesdays, I spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen, or staring out the window (Look! A hummingbird!), or meditating, or surfing the internet. Or getting coffee. Oops forgot to make the bed, can't write till I do that!
But eventually, my "Tuesday writing day" became a habit, and the words finally began to flow again. Once that happened, I had to add a "Friday writing day" because I was writing so much, and needed additional time. I had now tricked my mind into thinking I could actually write all day two days a week, and I was surprised by what a sucker for tricks my mind is.
I guess the key thing I learned about retirement is that while it feels amazing at first to face a week that is completely open and unscheduled, over time it begins to feel aimless and slightly unnerving. My husband and I would ask each other, "What do you want to do today?" and we would both answer "I don't know." But now, I feel better knowing that at least some of my time is planned out, while also knowing that some if it is still "whatever the hell I want to do" time.
That's the beauty of retirement: TIME. Scheduled and otherwise. I am so grateful I'm here to enjoy it.
Thinking about retirement can bring a wide variety of emotions, and I will concede up front that a person's job and corresponding financial situation can dictate whether the idea of retirement is alluring or frightening.
For a lucky few in a career they love that still inspires them, retirement is put off well past retirement age. They are in no rush.
For some, it's not even an option, when they haven't been able to prepare and save for retirement (due to job choices or layoffs, lack of education/earning power, or just hard luck).
For me, I couldn't get there fast enough. From the age of 55 on, I was constantly doing the math when it came to our finances--what age could I feasibly retire, what we would need to live on in retirement, and how could I juggle things to help us get there quicker. We were lucky; both my husband and I were working in careers that provided a pension in retirement (the company I worked at stopped offering those 10 years before I retired, but those of us to whom it had already been promised, like me, would still receive them). In fact, we had both switched careers near the age of 40 since that is when you finally realize you ain't gonna live forever, and you certainly don't want to find yourself retired and eating cat food or working till you drop dead. So maybe we were both lucky and we planned ahead. We wouldn't be wealthy retirees, but we wouldn't be poor, either.
Ultimately, I semi-retired at 62; worked part-time as a consultant till 65 1/2 and then completely retired. It helped ease me into my new life in retirement, and yet... real, full retirement was still a bit of a shock. I now had the whole day, every day, to do what I wanted!!
All those years of working and juggling my creative hobbies--writing, theatre, music--and there I was, with no need to juggle.
When you spend your life trying to manage your time, trying to squeeze the things you love in there somewhere while doing things for or with those you love (and ladies - let's face it, women continue to do the bulk of the juggling), it can and is exhausting. Yet, managing to have a truly full life was more important to me than 8 hours of sleep, so for years I found a way to do it all. Or most of it. (Just don't wear your white gloves to my house.)
But now, at last, I was living on retirement time. Hell, after a week or two, I didn't even know what day it was. Who cares? Weekends no longer mattered, since the work week no longer existed for me. There was nowhere I had to be, and nothing I had to do. At least nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow.
Woo hoo!!! I could now do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it. Right?
(continued next week)
Donna J. Abear is the author of a children's play SPRUCEY, THE BLUE CHRISTMAS TREE, a memoir RELATIVELY CRIMINAL, and a humor book MOM…YOU’RE NOT NAKED, ARE YOU?. Married, mother of four, grandmother of two, and a “dog mom” too, she is living her dream in the Pacific Northwest among the trees and wildlife she loves.