So, there you are at work, thinking about all of the other things you’ll need to do when you get home to take care of your other job… you know, the one that really matters to you, your activist job. If only you didn’t have to plan around the paid employment that keeps you otherwise occupied for eight hours every day, not to mention the time needed for travel and unwinding once you get home. IF ONLY YOU WERE RETIRED!
That is precisely the situation I found myself in for the last 3 or 4 years that I was gainfully employed at a job I held for over 25 years. In my last few years there, I became more and more frustrated over not having enough time for the other things that had taken on great significance to me. I envisioned life after retirement as easily managed, comfortably paced and enriching not only in terms of my activism but also in terms of all the other aspects of my life that need attention. I had the chance to discover that first hand when my department was eliminated and I was handed the very chance I had craved for so long.
I had often heard that retirement doesn’t just fall into place. It is something you have to adjust to. For most people it comes following decades of work and a lifestyle dictated by external factors that no longer apply. Retirement draws on internal controls and decisions. This wisdom became apparent fairly quickly.
Someone is needed to plan an event? Sure, I can do that because I’m no longer working and I have the time. Meetings are being planned on 5 different social activist topics that I care about? Sure, I’ll plan to attend all of them because I’m no longer working and I have the time. Meetings, conference calls, marches, rallies, etc? Sure because… This scenario might just be the proverbial tip of the ice berg for those of us who feel compelled to tackle it all. My list of priorities has grown over the past year or so since I’ve retired. What started out as dedication to the GMO/Monsanto issue has grown to include Fast Track/TPP, social justice issues in Hartford and more. In preparing to write this article I looked at my calendar going back three months. Commitments included in-person meetings with various coalitions, conference calls, attendance at lectures, scheduling and presentation of community education events, writing and following up on press releases, meetings with a congressmen or their aides to discuss Fast Track and TPP concerns, attending a fast food workers’ strike and more. In between all of these activities there was the ever-growing need to be on line to stay connected with new developments, plans and requests for responses to current events. I understand that ultimately we are in charge of how much time social media gets to soak out of our lives but in truth, much of it is very important. It’s been a busy time!
What I seem to have accomplished is to replace the stress of not having enough time while I was employed with the stress of not having enough time because I over estimate just how much time is available under different circumstances. In my darker moments I feel overwhelmed. In my lighter moments I laugh at myself for allowing this to happen.
So, I’m working on a plan to find some balance. My first resolution is to define my new work in many of the same ways I did my employment work with set numbers of hours each day or week that I will devote to them. If, at my former job, there was enough work to keep me in the classroom or in my office until 11:30 PM that didn’t mean I would stay at work until that time. The day was officially over at a particular time and that was that. I am also working on learning how to say “NO” to additional commitments. Just this afternoon I sent an email with regrets about having to back out of an out-of-state Civil Disobedience training for a particular environmental issue. While I wasn’t happy about doing that, I did so after realizing that no one person can attend to everything that needs attention. I am also concentrating on my appreciation for everyone else in the community who is working on various fronts and believing that there really are enough of us out there to cover all the bases (although we can always use more people to join our efforts!) Perhaps the biggest and most helpful readjustment would be one of self-satisfaction for what I do accomplish rather than emotionally slapping myself for not doing more. Another would be to embrace the idea that meaningful retirement doesn’t require driving ourselves to the extent that “down time” eludes us. I’ll do my best in the coming months to find the balance. I’ll let you know a bit later if I find any secrets to success.