Not happening

If you think being retired will be easy work, think again. I’m on a four-month leave of absence from my job and if I want to do more than watch TV and surf the Internet, I have to get busy.

When I am at work, I have two principal destinations: work and home. In those places I have meaningful activities, stressful responsibilities, casual conversations, enjoyable social activities, interesting research, inspiring conferences, challenging opportunities, routine meetings, satisfying projects, important committee work—a million things that all are natural outcomes of my job.  Most of my friends are people I met through my work, and most of my out-of-work activities have some work-related influence. I don’t have to plan most of the activities. They just happen.

Now that I am on leave, I have to make things happen. If I don’t fill in the spaces on my calendar, nothing happens. It has to be a conscious choice for me to plan an activity. When I am working, going to the gym three times a week is fit into my schedule and I just follow the schedule. When I am not working, I don’t have a schedule.  So guess what? I don’t go to the gym. When I am working, I squeeze in time to write and read. When I am not working I have unlimited time to write and read, and guess what? I don’t write and read.  Well, I do a bit, but not as much as I could… or should.There is no office assistant sending emails that automatically put meetings on my electronic calendar. There is no committee sending minutes that I must read before the next meeting. There is no pile of paper requiring my attention—no, wait. That’s a lie. There is a pile of paper waiting for my attention, but there is no-one who will care if I don’t attend to it.

So now, instead of wishing I had time to go to the theatre, a cinema, or a gallery, I have to tell myself that I will go to go to a play, a movie, or an exhibition, and then decide which one. This means I have to get the free newspaper that lists all those things, and I have to figure out which ones I want to see, where they are, and when I can go. I have to see if I can find someone to go with me, or decide whether or not I want to go alone. I have to buy tickets and put the appointment on my calendar. It’s a multi-step process and I’m responsible for every step.

Now, instead of routinely going to the gym, I have to remind myself that I haven’t been for a walk for a few days. Then I tell myself that it’s not raining, or snowing, or hailing, so I could go outside. Then I have to turn off the computer and/or the TV and actually go outside.  Usually I start small. I tell myself to check the mailbox. By then I’ve already got my shoes on, so I just keep going. Then I tell myself to go to the coffee shop and give myself a coffee break. After all, I deserve it. Then I tell myself that while I’m at it I could walk to the park or a store, and I keep on going some more.  That’s a lot of “telling myself” to do things.  It’s like quitting smoking. You know you have to, ought to, and can do it, but just doing it feels like awfully hard work and you doubt it is really worth the effort.

Now, because my busy-ness is self-imposed, I have to consciously vary my activities.  My day is not naturally interrupted. I have to interrupt myself. I have to stop surfing the web, writing, reading, sewing, or shopping, or I will do it all day and my mind will fog over. I have to make sure I engage in some social activities if I don’t want to be a recluse. The month, the week, and the day have to be considered in segments not just in terms of activities, but also in terms of solitary or social times. This requires some serious planning. I never realized before how much of this is already done for me when I am at work.

I thought that I wanted to be free of all that, and at first I enjoyed the relaxation of being on leave. Hooray! No daytimer! No waking up in the night remembering something I’d missed. No keeping lists of important tasks. No more rushing to appointments. After about six weeks, though, I started to need some structure.  I had gone from too much organization to not enough. It turned out that I found I wanted to put some busy-ness back into my life.  So, I had to make a lot of decisions about what that would look like, and I had to summon up a lot of determination to turn those decisions into actions.

If you think that when you retire you will have the chance to volunteer, or travel, or play the piano, you are right. What you may not have considered is that while you have the chance to do all of those and many more things, you don’t have the urgency. Not only are they not urgent, but just doing one or two of those things is not enough. You will have to invent many more interests in order to vary your days, and you will have to establish new relationships so that you have people to do them with. In addition to doing all that, you will also have to become your own office assistant. Mostly, though, you will have to put your shoes on.


  1. Anne, prior to beginning my Sabbatical Leave and while on a business coaching course, I met a guy who coaches people who are on sabbatical. An interesting coincidence, but I thought, “Nope I’m pretty organized and have my 5 goals written down; I don’t need to pay someone to coach me.” I have found the past 6 months an unsettling time – away from family and friends, I am making new friends but re-establishing the same structure to my day that I had back home. And now, with only 4 months left before I head back home, I’m in a strange stage where I’m both wanting to relax & enjoy whatever this experience is and frantically trying to think of all the things I could and should do while on leave. If I have done anything really smart to break out of my “same old” routine prior to the sabbatical, I have put on my runners, have dropped 12 pounds, and am getting in shape.

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it, to see our lives/selves in a completely new context. Challenging, too. I’m impressed with your diligence in maintaining a fitness regimen!

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