I recently decided to cut back on my hours. As welcome as this change is for my family it has caused me to think about a future where I could potentially be retired. I mean I can’t even decide what to do with the two extra days that I’ve freed up in a month, let alone an entire life of blissful leisure. Or is it really blissful?
For as long as I can remember I have either been in school or have been working. I have never had any idle moments where I didn’t know what I was going to do the next day. I’ve always had a “thing” to do each morning I wake up. I was a day time attending after my residency and then switched to nights. I realized that nights afforded me the opportunity to homeschool which had always been something I had wanted to do and believed was a better way of learning and growing for my kids. This I believe was also a way for me to find something to do with my time while I was home all day and didn’t have work most nights in a month. Twelve nights with the potential to get called in an additional two nights is considered full time employment as a nocturnist physician and so I have been home for most of the month since being a night time physician. Did being more available was the only reason why my kids are homeschooled? No! But yes the amount of time available definitely made the decision a lot easier.
My mom calls me a glutton for punishment but that’s not true. My sisters think that I practice some heavenly form of altruism by being truly productive and contributing all the time. My husband thinks that I’m one of those people who’ll sleep when they’ll die. None of that is true. The truth is plain and simple. I’m not used to not being involved with something tangible every awake minute of my day.
But I’ve wondered like many of my friends have. What will happen when we will retire? This question haunts all of us. Stay at home moms and working moms. Self-employed people and salaried people. People who work from home and people who live away from their families to work.
This question has probably scared my artist friends the least. They truly see a longevity to their career just by virtue of their career being so unconventional and they’ve never really relied on their body to be occupied in order to feel their day well-spent. I can’t say that about myself. I keep such a strict account of what I did with how much time that if I wasn’t a moderately carefree person it would’ve become a constant struggle to justify all the times I did nothing but hang from the edge of the couch, a candy in my mouth, deep in my mundane thoughts, trying to find more purpose to my life.
And my concerns aren’t really invalid. There is mounting data on depression in retired individuals and empty nesters. The purpose of our life is defined so early on that living a life without any perceived purpose is difficult to do. People who have kids or jobs have usually lived such a strictly time-managed and task-oriented life that they can’t imagine living another type of life.
The lack of a hobby is also something to analyze when it comes to all the “free time” that we have after ending a professional career. We never make hobbies when we are young or employed or have kids at home. We usually explain not having a hobby with being busy. But is anyone too busy to pursue a hobby? We all have some time on our hands usually to pursue something that makes our heart happy. Hobbies count as self-care in modern terms so having one is likely good for our mental health at all stages of our lives.
May be if we have a well-established hobby that could evolve into a job that might not necessarily pay but occupy enough hours of a day to help us miss our work less, it would prove as a means to have a more meaningful life after retirement. May be?
But whatever the way to a happy retirement may be, our general attitude towards retirement and retired folks will have to change also. We see retirement as the end of life when it could easily be the beginning of an adventure. We don’t care for our healths for most of our lives thinking that we will make all the pending doctors’ appointments when all the kids are in college and the mortgage is paid off. We don’t pursue hobbies because “that’s what I’m going to focus on when I’m no longer working”.
Frankly, we don’t prepare for the psychological parts of our retirement. We continue to assign a dreary, waiting-for-death quality to retirement and that’s not fair to us. We are much more than just our day jobs. We have much more to look forward to. Much more than our kids getting married, having kids, having careers of their own. We have to plan the leisure hours of our retirement like we prepare for the financial aspects of our retirement. That’s going to hopefully make all the difference.