When I was working, and was rushing from one building to the next to meet some deadline of my own making, I often found myself having to reduce my speed when I got to the automatic doors. Having to function in sync with the speed of the doors became a gauge for me that indicated I was trying to do too much in too short a time. But, it’s a lesson I’ve had to relearn thousands of times.
The problem is, I really have no idea how long most things actually take. I think I know, but I base these calculations more on all that I want to accomplish rather than the length of time it really takes to do something. The perfect case in point was how I felt when I first retired. I was smart enough about myself to know that I would need a plan and a bit of a schedule to adjust to the lack of an externally created one, but in my self-created list of “How Long Things Take,” I figured I’d have adapted to my new life in about a month. Imagine my surprise when I still felt at odds three (and then 12) months later.
My only consolation is that I used to be much worse. If I had saved my lifetime of to-do lists, we would see evidence of days I imagined I could perform the tasks of several people—all of whom were super-intelligent and highly skilled socially (to rid themselves of human interruptions), and completely at the top of their game. I remember once in graduate school when I was studying conflict management and learned that most clashes occur when there is a perceived shortage of resources. This struck me because I’ve always been a bit in denial about my scarcity issues. When I make financial budgets, I create them based on how much I want to spend rather than what I have. Obviously, the same is true with time. When I have a cold and there are things I want to get done, I’m always a little shocked that I’m still blowing my nose the next day.
Now that I am much more the master of my time, it occurs to me I am fighting the real battle for the first time. I can decide for myself how I want to fill my days, which sounds luxurious and fun. But it’s a little like asking an alcoholic to be the bartender. I’ve had to tell myself the truth more times in the last two years than I probably did in the 30 before this. What do I really want to do today? How do I want to feel about this day or this week or this month at the end of it? Is anything a real game changer—if I didn’t do it would I feel substantially worse?
Without a boss or an externally set schedule to set the basis of my days, I am building each of them from scratch. I am learning that it takes many months to adjust to changes, and more days than I imagined to finish a project to my actual satisfaction. Without forcing something inauthentic on myself, I realize a cold can last for a couple of weeks and that I’m not a bad, unhealthy person if it does.
So much of retiring is seeing myself in the stark light created when the shelter of work and structure is removed. All those parts of me that I didn’t look at closely because they were hidden behind that huge clock on the wall are now plain to see. It’s a little like meeting a whole new person—one I know I like, but whose habits are frankly a little annoying.