Productivity, Sociability, Relaxation


July 22, 2015 by Jean

back garden entrance - JulyOne year into my retirement, I am still trying to find the right balance among productivity, sociability and relaxation. Here’s how I distinguish among these three: Productivity is goal-oriented activity. This includes all those house and garden projects, both inside and out, that seem to rule my life right now; but it also includes goal-directed intellectual activity like reading, research, and writing. Sociability is time spent interacting with other people for pleasure. Many people would not distinguish sociability from relaxation; but I’m an introvert with high needs for solitude and, for me, true relaxation is almost always solitary. This includes time for getting lost in pleasure reading, time listening to music or watching television, and time spent sitting in the garden just soaking in the sensual pleasure while I let my mind wander.

I’ve been feeling a tension among these three different types of desirable activity in recent months. During my teaching years, summer was the time of year that I associated with relaxation, especially long dreamy hours spent sitting out on the deck with my feet up reading novels. But summer is also prime time for sociability in Maine. In part this is because Maine’s status as the Northeast’s “vacationland” means that friends from out of state are particularly likely to visit in summer. In addition, summer is a great time to engage in outdoor activities with Maine friends, and it is the time when the open gardens and garden tours that I love to attend with friends are held. Add to all this the fact that summer is also an important time for my own garden projects (major ones for the next several years as I create a whole new front garden landscape around my new house addition), and I am left feeling as though there are not enough weeks in the summer or hours in the week to fit all this in.

I can probably improve my balancing act by giving priority to different kinds of activity during different seasons, just as I did when I was teaching. For example, I could make scholarly reading and research a low priority in summer when there is so much else going on; this is activity that I can prioritize in winter when there are many fewer competing demands on my time. Indoor projects can similarly be put on hold during the summer as I concentrate on the garden. Since I want to take advantage of the opportunities for casual social visits in summer, I should probably keep organized activities (classes, workshops, clubs, volunteer work) to a minimum during these months, giving organized forms of sociability priority in fall and spring. (I discovered last year that all kinds of organized opportunities for both sociability and intellectual stimulation start up again in late winter and early spring when it becomes easier for people to get around.) I also know from last year’s experience that I need to actively seek out opportunities for sociability in the winter. Solitary relaxation and indoor productive activity are easy to find time for during the snow-bound months, but I can also start to feel socially isolated. This coming winter, I am hoping to join the cross-country ski club at the Senior College, which will get me out exercising and also interacting with other people during the snowiest months. I can also adopt the kind of casual, spontaneous approach to socializing in winter that often characterizes summer – making last-minute plans to have friends over for dinner or to see a movie when weather permits.

I’m realizing that retirement has a learning curve. Through trial, error and experience, I am discovering all that my new life has to offer and figuring out how to balance all those opportunities and responsibilities to create a fulfilling mix that is just right for me.

14 thoughts on “Productivity, Sociability, Relaxation

  1. Jean R. says:

    The cross country ski club sounds like a great activity for winter in Maine. It’s so easy to become isolated in snowy climates and that’s not necessarily good for us. Finding balance is an on-going thing, I’m discovering. For me, I don’t think a formula would ever work the same in the four seasons and that’s okay…once I accepted that. Mother Earth speaks, and we listen.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, It only took me a year to figure out that the same formula doesn’t work for all 4 seasons! 😉 I think I tended to ignore the seasons at first because I imagined that I was leaving behind the season-bound scheduling of teaching. Now I’m realizing that seasons still matter, although in a different way than they did when I was teaching.

  2. Diana Studer says:

    we are still locked in the list of tasks to complete in house and garden.
    That’s why I enjoyed a few days AWAY from it all last week.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I am making progress on my house and garden to-do list, but s-l-o-w-l-y. I know it’s going to take me several years to get it all done, so I just commit myself to making some progress each week. Today, I finished building my little front patio; now on to the last walkway and then I can finally get to creating flower beds.

  3. Recently, I’ve been considering moving to Florida for retirement — year round. Last winter seemed bad in Maryland, imagine Maine! I have relatives in Bangor. I think Bangor-Brewer-Orono area would be a great place to live, if not for the winters. I imagine summer is a fleeting season in Maine, so I can understand your wish to use the time well.

    Jean, your post helps me see the value of the seasons. Florida would be bland by comparison. The two words “Senior College” are intriguing. I hope you’ll write a blog post about Senior College.

    I think we have to give ourselves permission to relax and enjoy life in retirement. We don’t have to always be productive, as we have been all our lives. I’m beginning to to relax into retirement, but I still have a lot of adjusting to do.

    • Jean says:

      John, I think last winter was challenging throughout the northeast, and maybe especially so in New England. I lived in southern California for a couple of years when I was in my twenties, but I missed New England’s seasons too much to stay there long term. I know I’m not cut out for Florida; I’m one of those people who finds excessive heat much more difficult than excessive cold. Summer is a fleeting season in Maine, and those of us who live here try to savor every minute of it.
      Maine’s Senior College programs are wonderful. For information on these and other similar programs throughout the country, see my May post The Treasure That Is OLLI.

  4. Rusty Roessler says:

    Thanks Jean, it sort of seems that retirement is as much work as work is but you don’t get paid.

    • Jean says:

      Rusty, I guess that depends on your work. My work required 60-80 hours a week of my time (and sometimes more) during the school year; I always found it hard to give up evenings and weekends as times for relaxation when summer ended. In retirement, I don’t ever have to work that hard again. I don’t have to set an alarm or get up in the dark or pull all-nighters grading papers, or subsist for weeks at a time on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. For me, the work of retirement is figuring out what opportunities this new life status presents me with and how to get the most out of them.

  5. Stacy Moore says:

    My brother retired recently, and you and he are making similar discoveries, Jean. This is his first true summer after 30 years of teaching, and for him there has been a “ghost” pressure to accomplish all of his goals before the (non-existent) school year starts. He’s begun to think strategically and seasonally, too.

    By the way, I bought the Nava Atlas 5-ingredient cookbook and love it!

    • Jean says:

      Stacy, I think I expected to step away from those strong seasonal patterns of academic life when I retired; so it’s been a bit surprising to discover that seasons still matter.
      I’m pleased that you’re enjoying the cookbook!

  6. I have had similar thoughts about these three….I relax and work as I want and do have goals, but I am still trying to distinguish these 2 to be more productive….and socializing is the hard part and I too am concerned especially with winter and being house bound.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, It might be worth looking around for one or two organized activities in the fall that can introduce you to some new people and provide you with a little more buffer against social isolation in winter.

  7. […] Productivity, Sociability, Relaxation […]

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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