Tag Archives: guilt

Finding Your Own Lane in “Semi-Retirement”

stratton mtn

On a family trip one summer to Vermont we stopped at a familiar ski area to ride its’ alpine slide.

For the uninitiated, an alpine slide starts at the top of a non-snow-covered mountain where you sit on a sled, with a control stick between your knees, and guide your own ride along the twists and turns of a trail down the hill to the bottom.

The best part about this summer slide at Bromley Mountain is that it’s a triple track – described as “North America’s first triple-tracked” alpine slide, 2/3 of a mile long.

Triple Track means (duh) that each rider has three tracks to chose from. As I remember they were labeled – Fast, Medium and Slow – or maybe the three tracks had more clever names like #1 -“Speed For Teens”, #2 – “Active Dads” and #3 – “Moms Who Are Very Cautious.”

Whatever their designations were, I chose – no surprise here  – the latter, the slowest but steady track, kind of my life mantra, expressed on the side of a mountain. My husband and teenage son picked the faster paths, then whizzed down the mountain on their own sleds.

They were waiting for me when I arrived, five minutes later, having applied my own s-l-o-w sled’s brake multiple times as I approached every sharp turn and fast straightaway.

That triple alpine track was made for me – I like to be in charge of my own ride. I love the opportunity to choose my lane. If only life was like that alpine track.

Lately I have been veering from lane to lane.

One day I am happily zooming around with multiple plans and projects, volunteering, lunching with friends, going to meetings. The next I am contentedly at home by myself – along with our trusty terrier at my side – thinking that nothing is better than being able to sit alone in a comfortable chair (I know, don’t sit too long! bad for your health. I get it) – and write.

I did not choose to retire from my law firm at age 60 – that was an unexpected decision made for me by the cardiac authorities.  All of the articles on what to do to plan for retirement were suddenly irrelevant. I was plopped into it whether I liked it or not.

Three years have passed since then and I am still finding my way in what I call “semi-retirement.” Every day I either do too much – or I do too little.  Finding the right balance, the right lane has been tricky.

I would love nothing more than to sit at a desk all day and write. I’ve written a few short stories featuring (what else) witty and worried women in law firm settings.  Do I turn one of my favorite of these short stories into the first chapter of a novel? Or do I keep writing stories until I come up with a collection of them? Haven’t I set aside my childhood dream of becoming a published author for too long?

How ambitious those plans sound. And how self-indulgent. I now have the choice to spend hours doing what I love – while my husband is very much not-retired – (he likes his job, but loving it? you’d have to ask him.)

I  feel responsible to be productive. So some of what I write is non-fiction and earns a (tiny) fee, and I talk and write about young adult mental health and get paid for that too – and next fall, if it happens and I hope it will, I may get to teach a class about the state of mental health on college campuses.

Do these small paying “gigs” add up to giving me the right to stay in the slow lane with my writing projects?

Will the guilt I feel when I sit down to write ever subside?

I think about this as I veer from “semi-retirement” lane to lane and then back again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Semi-Guilty Stage of Semi-Retirement – Women vs Men?

iStock_000044753522Large doors

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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