Remember when Goldilocks of fairytale fame tested three bowls of porridge? One was too hot, one was too cold and one was “just right”? So are you too busy, not busy enough or just right?
And that’s what I’m exploring with myself as well.
For those of us who can afford to retire fully or partially, when is our amount of post-retirement (or semi-retirement) activity “just right”? And how do we achieve that desirable status?
Confession: I like to be busy and maintain a daily “to do” checklist. For me, this means my life has purpose, filled with meaningful pursuits and relationships. It keeps me happy and moving forward. But how do you know when you’re the right amount of busy? And is “busy” even the right concept? Does it include leisure and social activities, or is it primarily about being productive and purposeful?
Of course, when you work full-time, you’re generally plenty busy and have less time to fit in your friendships, hobbies, travel and other pursuits. Likewise, if you are raising a family, your life is nothing but super full and busy. But what about afterward? When you are no longer employed and/or an empty-nester? How are you spending your time? Are you still busy, and if so, how busy? And busy with what? And are you the right amount of busy for you?
Since I’ve recently left full-time employment, the question of how to manage my time is naturally paramount as it is for many others I know who are either fully or semi-retired. Just recently I have had conversations with friends, some of whom are either too busy or not busy enough. In the “too busy” category are those who are drawn to many different activities involving adult education, seeing friends and generally being pulled in a lot of different directions, but perhaps lacking adequate focus. Also in this category are those who continue to work part-time but question the ongoing volume of the workload they are undertaking. Those who aren’t busy enough tend to have recently left paid employment and are feeling a little lost, often missing either the structure of the workday or the social interactions of the workplace.
Let’s face it: The vast majority of us aging baby boomers struggle to varying degrees with facing up to our own mortality. We feel forever young and find it hard to see ourselves as anything older than 39. Some of us suffer from “FOMO,” or fear of missing out. As children of the 1960s, the world is our oyster and we are still striving to take advantage of all of life’s endless bounties until we drop.
But time is of the essence, and making decisions about how best to spend it is critical. I, for one, miss the structure of the workday. But I don’t miss the pressures and occasional aggravation that go along with job responsibilities.
I relish the freedom to engage in volunteer activities that are the most meaningful to me and the ongoing opportunities to have a positive impact in the world. I cherish the freedom to improve my Spanish skills and to take up the challenge of studying spoken Arabic. I am passionate about writing personal essays and have recently completed a professional editing assignment. I very much enjoy mentoring the next generation of 20-somethings who are seeking ongoing support as they learn to navigate the world of work, and I love having the time to cultivate long-standing relationships and to make new friends, primarily with Israeli graduate students in Cambridge through a volunteer outreach venture I founded with two friends. Travel has slowly returned to my life, though sadly COVID-19 is still a significant factor. Last, but by no means least, I have precious time to care for my new grandson and my centenarian-plus mother, not to mention more quality time with my husband.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the growing adult care responsibilities and health challenges that we baby boomers face. Whether it’s our own health issues or those of a family member or dear friend, there’s no doubt that these responsibilities take time and are a necessary part of our lives, which obviously effect our possibilities. Moreover, many of us have faced (or will inevitably face) painful losses of family and friends that impact our choices going forward. For some, growing consciousness of mortality may induce a greater desire to slow down and relax, while for others it can have the exact opposite effect. It’s all about self-knowledge and what works for each of us individually. And since it’s a new phase of life, it’s all about trial and error!
So, I’m trying to achieve the “just right for me” amount of busy, obviously a subjective standard. For those of you aging baby boomers who feel too busy or not busy enough, I encourage you to talk about this openly with your peers. Indeed, when I posed this question on Facebook recently, the responses were enlightening and thought-provoking. Maybe I should start a virtual support group on this topic in my spare time!
What I’ve come to appreciate is it’s an ongoing journey and a dynamic process, and I’m sure each of us will continue to re-calibrate over time. While I’ve never believed in personal strategic planning for myself, I would encourage mapping out your current activities, as well as other priorities you may wish to pursue (I actually did this!). See what you may wish to subtract or add.
As was so wisely stated in the Jewish wisdom text Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Sages: “Don’t say when I have leisure I will learn, lest you never have free time.” Carpe diem, and may each of us find balance and inner peace by striving to become our “just right” busy, happy and hopefully healthy selves.
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