Overcoming Inertia in Retirement

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In retirement you can do whatever want – if you’ve have the drive. Otherwise you do what you feel. That distinction might be meaningless to many. (I imagine old hippies replying, “If you’re following your feelings, you’re doing what you want.”) The difference defines ambition.

All too often I feel like kicking back in my recliner to daydream about writing while listening to favorite songs on Spotify, rather than actually writing at the keyboard. Just now I was lazing in my La-Z-Boy when this essay occurred to me. I told myself this morning my number one priority was to finish the essay I’ve been working on weeks for Book Riot, and then finish an idea I have for Worlds Without End. (I do have growing guilt over not working on them, but writing this is what I’m feeling.) The trouble is both Book Riot and Worlds Without End each have an essay in the can waiting to be opened, so the pressure to write another isn’t that driving. (BTW, I’m not blaming my laziness of them.)

countdown to ecstasy

In the middle-third of my life, I hated being trapped in the nine-to-five world of work. Before that, in the first third, I hated being imprisoned in the K-12 school system. But I’ve got to admit without that outside pressure I never would have learned much, or put in my 35-years of work. (At least I’m honest about my laziness.)

If this sounds like I’m wishing for someone to crack the whip over me, I’m not. Na, I’m just whining about my own lack of drive. I didn’t have it then, and I don’t have it now. I’ve always admired people who live like guided missiles, always on target. And that’s the confusing thing about retirement. It feels like I’ve reached the target. The social security years can feel like being in the queue for nonexistence. How we fight that is important. It defines the game in the last third of life.

Don’t assume I’m depressed. I’m never bored. I go to bed every night near midnight, regretting the day is over, and wishing I had more time. Every day I do get a few things done I want, but mostly I overindulge my whims. And that’s quite satisfying too, in a heroin kind of analogy. My problem is I have too many things I both want to do, and feel like doing. My lament is I spend too much time with Ben & Jerry’s, and not enough with broccoli. (Not literally, just another analogy.)

Being the puritanical atheist I am, I’m hung-up on doing productive work in my existential random existence.

Most people think retirement is all about not working – not me. I might have a minor guilt trip about being unproductive, but I’m not about to get a job, paid or unpaid. I won free-time millions in the retirement lottery, and just need to figure out how to wisely spend them. This means creating my own definition work. Right now, I gauge productivity in essays. Any day I finish an essay, feels like a productive day. Even if I write a navel-gazing one like this.

If I actually write a hard-to-conceive, hard-to-implement essay, that takes great effort and research, I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain. That’s when I believe I’ve won out over inertia. It’s how I redefine rolling my rock.


10 thoughts on “Overcoming Inertia in Retirement”

  1. I retired about 5 years ago and I’m just now getting used to it. I used to feel like I had to be productive and I feel a lot better when I’ve got something done, but I don’t have to be. Some days are like that. lol – I have one review I’ve put on the back burner. I’m okay with leisurely days – I cook and clean the kitchen, I read awhile and write awhile and drive to the city (40 miles) to see friends and get supplies. I keep busy enough and I’m getting quite satisfied with it usually.

    1. Sometimes Becky, I tell myself, “Chill out, go with the flow, just enjoy reading books, watching television and listening to music.” There’s lot to be said for just enjoying life. But then my guilt kicks in. Actually, being somewhat productive just feels good. Wouldn’t want to go overboard, though.

      1. I just retired the end of June and after catering my son’s wedding and rehabbing an old house for him, my workload, to do list and hyper-busyness came to a screeching halt. I wondered “now what do I do? I’m used to going a hundred miles an hour all the time and the instant stop was really hard on my brain. I didn’t have any pressure for a whole three weeks and felt lost. I always wanted to concentrate on my art and I had an art show close, which gave me a jolt to find new place to put my piles of art. I picked up my pieces and drove to the nearest bigger city, Lacrosse, Wisconsin and found a new gallery. Now I have something to keep my busy as they want my cards and art and it looks like they sell things.

        1. Collette, it sounds like you will always find something to do, and keep yourself busy. It’s a matter of pacing. What’s fascinating is how we feel about retirement changes over time. I’m approaching finishing my third year. It feels like I’m in a new settled routine, but that might not be true.

      2. Now that my summer in ND is coming to an end, 44 days but who’s counting, I’m thinking of what I can do when I get back to CA. I have several projects in mind including some lawn remodeling (kinda-sorta) and getting more involved with the actual activities of a group I’m associated with – stuff like that. There has GOT TO BE more to retirement than living as my 92-year old mom’s assistant – keeping her out of assisted living. I’ve been retired for 5 years. I’ve given myself permission to retire from that job and hire some folks to come in and help her if necessary – it ain’t me anymore. 🙂

  2. “Every day I do get a few things done I want, but mostly I overindulge my whims.” I bow down to the master. I have frequent days where I’m not sure I get anything done nor do I have any memory of particularly indulging my whims.
    I’ve read a lot of your essays on this subject–they interest me because of my own spectacular underachievement in retirement–and it occurred to me that, although I don’t get anything like as much done as I want, I’m more content now than I have ever been in my life. I suppose I should be glad to have something to complain about until something more serious turns up….

  3. Interesting post Jim: I think I already appreciated a few of those, especially the one about work. If you are in a job that you only do for the money it is a huge sink of time and energy.
    Further to my last, it occurred to me that there may be another essay for you here: ‘Contentment: the enemy of progress.’

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