My friend, Martha, recently retired as a top executive at a big non-profit. 36 years at one company. Her colleagues held a party for her, many lovely tributes; you were great, we will miss you, good-bye, good luck!
Martha’s last day of work was on Friday.
On Monday morning she did not have anywhere she had to be.
What to do now? – Both of us are semi-retired but hardly retiring.
We talked about how strange it feels to be at this new place in our lives. (It’s been nearly three years since I left my law firm and I’m still figuring it out) – it is extremely odd to no longer have a required schedule after years of having a very firm one.
Then I realized what makes it so odd – think about it! – from birth forward, someone else – not you – has been in charge of your daily planner, your “life clock.”
When you are a child, it is your parents who get to decide when it’s time for you to eat, nap, play, do your homework, practice piano, apply to college. Then your life clock nudges you to study for exams, to apply for an internship, to get ready for the interview, to get a job.
Finally! You become an adult – yet the life clock hovers: Time to go to work, to get married, to have kids. Time to write that memo, to go home, to make dinner, to bathe the kids, put them to bed, and then it’s time to look at your email again.
Years pass, your kids grow up, they leave the house (hopefully), you grow older, if you have an outside career, that matures too – and then you retire or semi-retire voluntarily or not (in my case, the latter) – and suddenly your life clock hits the pause button.
For the first time ever YOU are now in sole charge of you!
You get to decide what to do each day – and when to do it. You could theoretically, as a newly semi-retired person, if you wanted to, and I don’t necessarily recommend this, spend every week day in your pajamas, eat cereal for breakfast and lunch, whiling away hours catching up on Netflix.
(Unless you have a spouse who is still in the workforce, who strongly suggests that since you are no longer working in an office downtown, that you might actually now have the time to cook weeknight dinners for him to eat when he comes home at night. The nerve!).
So much blank space to be filled in on your calendar in this new semi-retired stage of life. And I think the challenge of how to fill up these blank spaces is harder for women to deal with than it is for men.
Women – my hypothesis anyway – are uneasy having free time. In our minds there is ALWAYS something that we should be doing or that needs to be done. We are so used to seeing each day, work day or weekend, as an endless “to do” list.
When we had growing children, their “to do” lists become our “to do” lists (Sorry, but Dads, as involved in your children’s lives as you may have been, you didn’t internalize these kid-related tasks as we Moms did, IMHO).
So when Moms semi-retire, we keep thinking – I must stay busy! I must be productive! I need to accomplish something each and every day! All day!
My semi-retired women friends are hardly slackers. They are busily consulting, planning, teaching and writing. They’ve started their own businesses, they take care of their elderly parents, they serve on boards.
But it never seems to be quite enough. We still tell each other – proudly – how busy we are. How much we have to do.
Do men in semi-retirement feel this nagging pull to stay on schedule even now that they are off-schedule?
Having recently done a significant amount of 100% non-scientific research, I can report that no, men do not feel the same way. The semi-retired men I know who recently left long careers are now happily playing golf, puttering in their garages, taking photography classes and starting new small businesses.
These men are far less burdened than my semi-retired women friends by the weight of “I MUST BE PRODUCTIVE” every moment of my semi-retired day. They go off to golf on a Tuesday afternoon without giving it a second thought – they put in their years at the office, I deserve this! – while for semi-retired women, even taking an exercise class on a weekday afternoon can feel like a guilty pleasure.
I suspect that all newly-semi-retired women continue to feel that giant tug towards the “to do” list that governed us all of our lives.
And yes, I know what you are thinking – you don’t need to say it – I agree that staying productive in semi-retirement is definitely a positive. I am not suggesting that those of us living in this transitional stage peel off into total slothdom, as personally enticing as that sounds some days.
But I do wonder when – if? – that nagging sense that we must stay productive each and every moment of the day will begin to taper off.