And I thought my adjustment to retirement was brilliantly handled! One problem (or perhaps blessing, I can’t tell) is that for me retirement was a phased affair over a few years; there was no single cutoff point. As I increasingly had the benefit of more and more non-work time, I was delighted that obligations applied to fewer things and freedom presented a more leisurely pace than I’d ever known. Quite recently even my penchant for writing—the last part of my working life to wind down—found a non-business outlet in this blog.
If pride had anything to do with it, I’d be able to say I’ve been proud of the pleasing, carefully phased-in mastery of retirement. However, although I have complete faith it will continue to go well, I’ve recently become aware that there’s a new snag, one that calls for me to reach inside more deeply to make a further adjustment. And, wouldn’t you know it, this snag got started as a child.
My parents were hard-working, church-going, Protestant-ethic people. There was no room for laziness (I was repeatedly told) and precious little for other “foolishness.” Even my joy in reading was more likely to be found in encyclopedias and scientific magazines than in novels and short stories. After all, one was real and the other fiction. My parents’ limited reading was largely the Bible, so they were unequipped to impress upon me that good fiction teaches lessons that non-fiction cannot. I had not noticed it then, of course—and they were not predisposed to do so themselves—but the Bible’s greatest contribution is as a work of fiction, not fact.
But as to working for a living, I’m sure they equipped me well. The ever-present test was whether time spent was meaningful and productive. Don’t get me wrong on this; I’ve had a lot of fun in life, but it was work and achievement that “justified” the frivolity and good times. Meaningful. Productive.
So here I am at 75 enjoying the fruits of all those meaningful and productive years. And it really worked! Now, however, I’m faced with a new challenge: to eliminate or, at least, to severely cut back on what has worked so well for me. While my schedule is wonderfully loose, my insides apparently are not. The tests of meaningful and productive must be laid aside. I have thus far been able to convince myself they were already. But no; they have simply acquired camouflage, so I wouldn’t notice their continuing influence. Would you believe that if I don’t produce a new post for this blog after a week or so since the last one, I feel that old tug to get off my keister and get something done—and this blog was to be, and still will be, for pure fun and self-indulgence!
I doubt seriously that dropping the meaningful and productive pressure means I will retreat into daytime soaps or drop the “meaningful” reading that I truly enjoy. I loved recently reading John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, but mired down in John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government. The latter was too taxing due not to Locke’s thoughts but to having been written in the difficult style of a century earlier than On Liberty. So instead of soldiering on as once I would have felt duty-bound to do, I have triumphantly put The Second Treatise back on the shelf with appropriate apologies to Mr. Locke, though with no shame or sense of defeat. I’m aware that sentence sounds strange, but for me the indolence of shelving was a victory!
I imagine the best psychological tactic for me is to drop the M & P test entirely and just follow my nose. Other than the truly damaging, “if it feels good, do it” might be a philosophy that’s come into its own. After all, I am convinced the only meaning in life is that which we choose to put into it. Maybe I need to get with that program more consistently—not because it is meaningful, but because getting rid of a snag just feels good!