“What do you do with yourself, now that you are no longer working”?
I hear this query over and over again. I answer in a non-committal fashion. Later, I agonize over this query and whether I should indeed be working. It is almost as though the only way people see me defined as a worthy person, is through work. There is nothing worthwhile that I could possibly be doing if I am not employed. Part of me agrees. Mostly, though, I relish the time to change direction.
It was my choice to resign. I took a long service leave to give myself some time for reflection. As it happened, a series of visits to the doctor, a series of tests and treatment for a condition that remains somewhat unresolved, firmed my resolve that I needed to leave work and give myself some space and time. I was drained and totally burnt out. I had been in the same position for a decade, and dealing with the same poor management judgements, the same lack of proactive vision, and the same mundane day to day routine. Also, four acquaintances of my own age or younger had died recently and had not had the time to have a different life. All of these factors had taken their toll and spurred on my resolution.
I am in a fortunate position. I no longer have to work for the sake of our family finances. Our children have both finished school and are on the cusp of finishing University studies. School fees and mortgage repayments are no longer an issue. I juggled those early childhood years whilst working, as well as the toils and vicissitudes of high school stressors and exams. After working for more than thirty years, albeit part time, I feel I need a break from a work routine. What I perceive as the attitude of others and my own niggling self-doubts, however, bother me.
Is it wistfulness that makes people ask this question? Because they themselves cannot perceive having the luxury of time themselves? Or is it because they believe that work is the only true occupation that gives a sense of identity? Or, is it a combination of all these things? An elderly friend has been telling me for years now, that people should keep working until they are in their 70s. She, herself is in her 80s and is busy all the time with clubs, committees, and community activities. Each time she comes over, she asks the same question – “what are you doing with your time, now “? And on occasion has suggested various voluntary positions or activities that I might be interested in. Her identity and sense of worth are maintained by continuously being busy and by belonging to her groups, admirable in every sense.
Six months into my self-proclaimed retirement, I have yet to act on her advice. I am not sure if or when I will. Each time that half -formed niggling thought, that I should be doing something worthwhile arises, another feeling of complete flatness, weariness and disinclination overwhelm me. At these times I think ‘Not yet’. Not yet do I want to have to do something on a regular basis. Not yet, do I want that set routine reestablished. Each time, I surprise myself anew, as whilst working, my work routine, the school routine and the set regularity of each day was my salvation.
My days at present, are filled with activities that I have not done for years. Many would describe these activities as frivolous and trivial. I finished a quilt wall hanging that I had started a decade earlier. I am knitting, which I have not done in over twenty years. I plan craft projects. I cook and experiment with new recipes. I host friends for lunch. I bake. Along with my husband, I plan and plant in our new garden. I bask in the sun, go for walks, listen to the radio and read extensively. I train and spend time with our new dog, and my husband says I am learning to communicate in Whippet language. I visit elderly relatives, and I still write letters to elderly or infirm friends overseas. We plan our first overseas holiday, sans children, and look forward to going away, just the two of us, no longer restricted to semester breaks or school term holidays. I cannot answer in one sentence, ‘what do you do with your time now’ because each day is different and varied and filled with different activities.
What I do now, sounds self-indulgent and to a large extent, it is. This feeling of indulgence contributes to my feelings of self-doubt and I do have the occasional pangs of guilt. However, I would not change things now, despite my uncertainty. It is giving me the necessary time to reflect, to recuperate, and to appreciate the luxury of not being bound to a routine. It is giving me the space to develop, learn new skills, to intensify non-work related friendships, to seize the opportunities, and to spend more time with family. It is giving me the time to grow as a different person, and not one who is solely identified by their occupation.