June 23, 2017 by Jean
Recently, several friends and family members have commented about how busy I am. It is true that I have a lot going on: work on my garden and volunteer work as a Master Gardener, at the McLaughlin Garden as part of my membership in the Foothills Garden Club, and as a member of my town Conservation Commission. Summer is the busy season for garden club activities, mostly visits to gardens. Although my chorale group is on hiatus for the summer (after a late May concert of songs from Carole King and James Taylor), I did turn out last week as part of a small group singing the National Anthem at a local business conference, and I have signed up for a series of summer workshops on vocal technique. And then there are my courses at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which mostly take place during the summer and fall. Several times in recent weeks, I have responded to comments about how busy I am by describing myself as “one of those retirees who’s so busy I can’t remember how I ever found the time to hold a job.”
But is this really true? It is true that retirement has provided me with an opportunity to pursue many interests and activities that I never would have found the time for when I was working. And it is also true that, as I explained to a recently retired acquaintance, I sometimes get carried away with my enthusiasms. But do those enthusiasms and activities constitute a schedule of commitments similar to a paid job? The answer is an emphatic “No.” Last week, when I was arranging a get-together with a woman in my town who serves on the Board of Selectpersons, she raised the possibility of my running for a seat on the Board in next year’s election. My instantaneous response was “No way! That would be too much like having a job.” Retirement has brought with it a new standard of what it means to be busy. When people comment on how busy I am, they don’t mean that I am as busy as a person working 60-80 (or even 40) hours per week; they mean that I seem very busy for a retired person.
Here are some of the ways that my being a busy retiree is different from being busy at work:
- When I was working, being busy meant that virtually every minute of my day (sometimes every minute of the week) was scheduled; being busy in retirement means that I have some part of the day scheduled on more than half the days in a week.
- When I was working, I often skimped on sleep in order to get everything done. In retirement, I get enough sleep and almost never set an alarm, waking up spontaneously and full of energy.
- In retirement, as when I was working, I spend a lot of time reading. The difference is that now my reading is shaped by interests and enjoyment rather than by the requirements of my work.
- When I was working, I struggled to keep even part of one day a week free for relaxation; in retirement, I take time for relaxation almost every day, and I set aside time for solitude by scheduling few commitments before noon.
- In retirement, no matter how busy I am, I can almost always take advantage of an opportunity to pursue an interest, activity, or new friendship – even on short notice.
I think that when retirees say they are so busy they can’t remember how they ever had time for work, they don’t mean that their retirement activities have constrained their time as much as their jobs did when they were working. What they are really saying is that they can no longer imagine living with the kinds of constraints imposed by paid work.