July 22, 2015 by Jean
One 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.