What’s the longest vacation you’ve ever been on, intentional or otherwise? For me, it’s ten weeks. Many years ago, when I was nineteen, I moved from my hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin to St. Louis, Missouri.
At the time, I worked in the retail industry. I had been an assistant manager of a J. Crew and for weeks after my December 27th move date, I went store to store in three different malls. I wasn’t picky, I passed out my resume and filled out countless applications. I had experience, references, letters of recommendation from past managers and coworkers, and looked presentable. Yet, I couldn’t find a job. Retail in January and February isn’t a prime time for hiring.
I wasn’t worried or desperate yet. I’d saved my money for this possibility. I could hold out for three or four months before finding a job became an imperative. In the meantime, I was going to enjoy my hiatus.
Or so I thought.
Over those ten weeks I slowly and increasingly went out of my mind with boredom. After I’d exhausted all my options within a forty-five minute drive, I ran out of things to do. Without a job I had no reason to get up in the morning. No reason to get dressed and leave my house. There were days where I will admit, I didn’t bother to do either. I slept all day, stayed in my pajamas, and watched entirely too many movies.
Eventually, I became so bored that I started applying to places I would have never otherwise considered working. This is how I ended up working for QuickTrip, a gas station, on the early morning shift. Not my ideal job by any stretch of the imagination. I hate mornings with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. A job that required me to be at work at 4 and 5 a.m., well that’s just borderline cruel in my opinion.
Yet, I dove into the work. The physically demanding and often gross work of: lugging full milk crates, moving pallets of beer and soda, emptying the pump trash cans, and the dreaded cleaning of bathrooms. Even spending hours working inside the cooler and freezer, stocking, was better than the boredom I’d faced while unemployed—and that’s coming from someone who hates the cold.
That was my worst job, my least favorite (followed closely by Sara Lee—did I mention I can’t stand cheesecake anymore because of this job.) Yet, faced with another long break from work, I’d gladly do it again. I hate boredom that much.
These days, I have more to keep me occupied. With a husband of nearly ten years, and an almost-five-year-old, my evenings and weekends are often too full. Add into that my writing and I’m sure, if placed in the same situation, that boredom wouldn’t stand a chance. But what happens when my son is grown and out of the house? When my hobby of writing fiction is no longer my escape from my working day? What happens when it comes time for me to retire?
Being bored in retirement. Rudderless without motivation to do anything. That’s my biggest end-of-working-life fear.
I don’t think this fear is unique to me. In my experience, it’s pretty common. I knew many pharmacists in my previous job who worked well into their seventies because they didn’t want to “get fat and bored.” They saw their friends and co-workers retire, and their active lifestyles drop to sedentary and dreary. After all, what do you do all day when you’re retired? That’s eight hours, five days a week of time to fill each and every week.
Some people can’t handle it. It makes some people miserable. So they put off retiring. Or maybe they don’t plan on it at all.
An old co-work, Robert, was that way. He worked into his late seventies, until he was forced to retire. His friends and neighbors had retired, promptly gained ten pounds, and become the clichéd busybody with their binoculars pointed at the neighbor’s house. They were bored.
I honestly doubt there were as many of these people as Robert claimed, but he worked the fear up in his mind. That this was going to happen to him if he retired. It didn’t matter that his wife desperately wanted him to retire. And sure enough, when he was finally forced to retire, he hated it. He gained 19 pounds and was bored out of his mind—until he decided to volunteer at a children’s hospital. Suddenly, retired life wasn’t so bad anymore. Now he wishes he would have done it sooner, when both he and his wife were healthier.
My dad was lost his job when his lead machinist position was outsourced to Mexico. At fifty-five, my dad found himself retired early, being offered a severance package that he would have been foolish to turn down. But at fifty-five, he wasn’t ready to retire.
What did he do? He became the super for my sister’s six-unit apartment building. Every one of his siblings, all five who were still living, got a new roof sometime in those first two years. He remodeled both his bathrooms, the kitchen, repainted his entire house. My dad ended up busier in “retirement” than during his working years.
My mom just retired a few years ago. It took a little over a year before she joined her neighborhood’s homeowners association. Then she let herself be talked into a board position. Now she’s the treasurer and a member of the welcome community. Besides all that, she also watches my son twice a week. Basically, she’s found ways to fill her time.
If you are like me, like my pharmacist friends and my parents, and you fear retirement boredom, here are a few ideas to help stave off tedium.
My dad golfs. My aunt makes gorgeous quilts. And my friend’s mom is trying to clothe the world in hand knit sweaters. (Seriously, you should see her yarn room.) Retirement is the perfect time to adopt a new hobby.
Is there something you always wished you could do? Or something you already enjoy, but never had the time to do? This is the time. You have unlimited time in the day to devote to your new pursuit. So take up piano, or painting, or learn to speak French. Whatever tickles your fancy. In fact, pick up a few hobbies. Try them on for size, discard what doesn’t work and keep what does.
Meetings and spreadsheets used to occupy your time. Now it can be something you enjoy. And there’s a world of options to choose from...
Including volunteering… We all have causes that are close to our hearts. Soup kitchens, humane societies, charities, awareness groups, churches, foundations. Pick a cause, any cause that resonates. Become involved. Donate your time and volunteer. You’ll find something to occupy your time that might just make your heart a little lighter.
You can also make your brain a little smarter… Did you know that in most states you can go back to school for free, or for a discounted rate? In Indiana if you are at least sixty, have a high school or general equivalency degree, are retired and not employed on a full-time bases you can receive full or partial reimbursements for your tuition. You can learn more here.
Home zip code not in Indiana? This site lists at least one option for every state.
Now might be the perfect time to learn something new.
There are many options available, things to keep you busy and happy. Retirement can’t be one long vacation, for most people. A set income and budget designed to make your money last prevents this for the vast majority. But even if it could be, it would most likely lose its appeal at some point.
Retirement is a great time to explore. Try new restaurants. Make new friends. Learn parts of your city you never knew existed.