While checking out at the grocery store earlier this month, the clerk asked me if I had a good holiday weekend — holiday, that is, referring to the just concluded Labor Day.
Yes, sure, I probably said, it was grand. And that statement was likely accurate, as far as it went.
I’ve noticed that in retirement, holidays are no longer the happy cause for rejoicing that they once were. Oh, there will be occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas when there’s more to it that just observing something important, but when you’re intentionally unemployed, every day might be considered a holiday.
Still, as almost any active retiree will tell you, sitting around drinking coffee and watching birds out the back window quickly becomes old.
I’m not complaining, though. I have a relaxed schedule, but it’s not like I’m completely idle. My calendar is sprinkled with “to do” lists every day through the first week of October, and I haven’t yet bothered to check what might be planned after this month’s page gets turned. The difference is that these are things I have chosen to do, instead of things a boss said are required for me to handle.
The result, as a similarly retired friend observed recently, is that a lot of those things that truly need to be done — but aren’t what you might consider urgent — get put off until another day. Or week. Or month.
The two things my wife and I identified before retiring as goals we wanted to achieve were (1.) traveling to places we wanted to see, and (2.) spending more time with family and our only grandchild. So far, we’ve accomplished much of that, but not enough. I don’t know why. No doubt, it’s my old nemesis, procrastination.
More on that later. Much later, I venture to say.
For someone whose entire career in newspapers was built around daily deadlines, not having ironclad targets has been a major adjustment. But a welcome one.
Most other workplaces also have deadlines. My first summer job was at a small factory that manufactured parts for unassembled tables that held 13-inch television sets. It introduced me to the urgency of deadlines. The company won a contract with Magnavox to produce thousands of fiberboard panels and metal legs needed for home assembly. These kits were included with televisions sold prior to the Christmas season. Our deadline was Labor Day, so college students looking for summer employment were ideal candidates to supplement the firm’s year-round labor force.
Those men and women were hard-working family folks, and they were happy to have evenings and Saturdays off while we college kids volunteered for overtime hours.
Those of us on the assembly line looked forward to the bell sounding time for a break — one in the morning, and another in the afternoon. For 15 minutes, all lines shut down. Some went outside for a smoke, while others went to the break room for a soft drink and peanut butter crackers. We talked about family, vacation plans, ambitions, and the Vietnam War.
In my early years at newspapers, breaks were similarly structured, but as the years passed, breaks turned into something else. They were taken whenever we had time. Even if we had time, “breaks” often turned into opportunities to informally discuss work.
The lesson here is that at work or at leisure, down-time requires planning and structure. In retirement, that has become my work.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.