Thanks, Donna, for inviting me back to be a guest host once again on Retirement Reflections.
As some of you know, I am a recent retiree. As of the end of April, I will have been retired for ten months. In my first guest post on Donna’s blog last September, I was just making the transition to retirement, and I wrote about that transition in my guest post, Over the Threshold into Retirement. I truly didn’t know whether I was ready to retire, and I was filled with angst about it. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without work, and who I would be once I shed my work identity.
So I tricked myself into making the leap. I secretly decided to re-conceptualize retirement as my third career. (Don’t tell Rob.) In my first career, I worked in the health care field in rehabilitation hospitals. In my second career, the one I was retiring from, I was a university educator. In my third career, I decided that I would become not a retiree, but a writer and artist.
It made perfect sense. For years, I had been posting sad accounts on my blog, Dr Sock Writes Here, about how frustrated I was because I did not have time to pursue my twin passions of writing and art. I started writing projects that I never finished. I squeezed in some art workshops and classes, but rarely had time to paint outside of those scheduled times.
Often, I would feel inspired by a creative idea, but then would never even start the art project, or poem, or book because I knew I did not have the time, energy, and focus to complete it. Many great ideas fizzled out and were lost forever. There were periods of time lasting five years or longer when I did no writing, or I did no art, or I did a little of one but none of the other.
The thing about work is that it takes up a lot of time, especially the way that I did it, which was excessively and obsessively. I threw all my energy at working. Everything else in life – family, a social life, exercise, marriage, meals, travel, adventure, errands, house tasks, and creative endeavours – had to squeeze into the little bit of time that I had left over in the margins of my life. I was tired all of the time. I gave my best self to work. So it is not surprising that creative activities mostly were put in the background.
When a person retires, they trade work for time. Suddenly, forty hours or more each week that used to be filled with employment becomes available to be used in some other way. Sometimes a person doesn’t get to choose how to spend much of that time, if they are caring for elderly parents or a spouse who is ill, or if they themselves are struggling with health issues.
But many of us do discover that we suddenly have hours and hours of open time in front of us every day. All that unstructured, purposeless time can look rather terrifying to a person considering retiring. Some people rush to fill up the yawning emptiness with busywork, or self improvement schemes, or they volunteer for every committee they can find. To be sure, the minute you retire, people will be hitting you up to volunteer, and it is so easy to say “yes,” that one day you might discover that you have such a busy schedule and tangle of obligations that you have recreated the same over-scheduled life that you retired to get away from. Conversely, many people don’t figure out how to fill the time. They either fritter it away surfing the net and sitting in front of the TV, or they find it so depressing that they get a job and go back to work.
I was fortunate that I had earned a ten-month paid leave that I took prior to retiring. Although I was working on some academic projects during that time, I also had a lot of time to think through the process of whether and how to retire. Reading retirement blogs like Donna’s Retirement Reflections and Bob Lowry’s A Satisfying Retirement helped me to realize that I did not want to squander my precious gift of time.
I wanted to use my after-retirement time to shift from paid employment to a new kind of work – my own life work. In this third act of my life, my work is to write and do art. I call it “work” to give it the serious attention it is due.
Of course, there is more to life than work. I now have more time to be Grandma, present in my grandchildren’s lives, and I spend more time with my adult children. I have more time to exercise, enjoy cooking, have a social life, volunteer, travel, garden, read, and be lazy. I still do some (unpaid) scholarly work.
I have joined a group of local artists and will be showing my paintings at Nanoose Place at a spring art showcase on April 27-29. After the art show, I plan to open a studio/gallery that will be open to visitors.
I have been working on my novel, and have added 58,000 words to it since retiring. I am close to completing a first draft. Recently, I have joined a writers’ group, and am excited about spending time with other writers sharing our work and talking about writing.
So far, the only serious threat to my new job as a writer/artist is that retirement is turning out to be so much fun! I have met lots of people and am becoming involved in our new community. There are so many groups and social opportunities that already I find myself turning down invitations and having to bite my tongue when calls go out for volunteers. Too many “yeses” will limit the time and energy that I have available for my creative work.
I have discovered that I really like this slower pace of life. Slow living, savouring each moment of engagement, and enjoying the beautiful world all around me: that is the kind of life I want to have. (Don’t laugh. I know that I have never gone at a speed less than frenetic, but I can change!)
Having the time to observe, muse, and daydream opens a space for creative ideas to emerge, so that all I need to do is show up at the easel and paint, or to sit down at the computer and write. Step by step, I am learning to put writing and art at the center of my life instead of off in the murky margins. Part of that process is learning not to distract myself and fill up my time with other people’s priorities. Part of it is leaning into instead of running away from big empty blocks of time.
Jude (aka Dr Sock/Gideon Sockpuppet)