The question I’m asked most often in retirement is, “What do you do all day?” Sometimes, the person asking is just curious. Sometimes, they are comparing their possible retirement activities to mine in order to gauge whether or not they have enough in the way of hobbies, volunteer work and other passions to replace their work life upon retirement. Sometimes, the questioner thinks I’m sitting around on my hands breathlessly waiting for someone like them to come along in need of a volunteer for their organization of choice. They are more than happy to fill my time for me. Whatever the motive, it’s the question most asked. Getting to the answer was a lot more complicated, at least for me.
Like most people headed into retirement these days, and, like many who are decades from leaving the work place, I started out with a bucket list. The bucket list was loaded with travel, painting, volunteer work for charitable organizations, gardening, growing fruit and vegetables on my hobby farm and much more. I also started out with what was probably the best retirement advice I received. While working on a volunteer project one Saturday morning, a co-volunteer who had been retired for several years, said, “Guard your time jealously.” Why? Well, bucket list notwithstanding, retirement is a little bit like Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fame chasing the white rabbit down the rabbit hole. Just as Alice plaintively asks the Cheshire cat, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” many retirees start out with the much touted bucket list and perhaps a passion for a hobby or two but end up chasing various white rabbits in an effort to find direction, purpose and meaning in retirement. Nearly 18 months into retirement I can attest to being no different when I started my adventure. But, my journey of the last 18 months has revealed an unexpected truth in the chasing.
Yes, I made my bucket list. To be more specific, it was filled with ideas like expanding my passionate love of gardening into a hobby business growing produce to sell at the farmers market. Raised by a mother who painted in watercolor, I longed to follow in her artistic footsteps. So, add watercolor artist to my bucket list. I wanted to travel. Certainly not in that perennial style of sightseeing for many a retiree, the RV, but, still, I wanted to see the parts of the world where I had yet to venture. And, I wanted to write. Short stories to be exact. The surprising truth is all of this has happened and, at the same time, none of it has happened. How is that possible, you ask? Well, let me tell you.
To be sure, I still love gardening, spending hours upon hours growing all kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs as well as beautiful landscapes around my home. While the idea of growing all kinds of goodies to sell seemed like a fun thing to do, in the back of my mind was a little voice that kept reminding me I would have to deal with…ugh…customers. Now, don’t get me wrong, thinking I’m some awful human being who doesn’t like people. I’m a social butterfly who loves the art of engagement. But, after 47 years of working through everything from customer service disasters to people who never seem to be pleased, the idea of voluntarily putting myself in that arena again was anathema. In order to satisfy my need for social interaction and, at the same time, be part of the farmers market scene, I took the Master Gardener Course and now volunteer at the farm extension booth. There, I get to answer all kinds of gardening questions, hand out information, smile a lot, chat with lots of people and send any complaints straight to the extension office.
Remember watercolor painting. I’d saved this one in my heart for a long, long time. Raising a family, making time for my spouse and working long hours didn’t leave a lot of spare time. What extra time I did have always went to gardening. So, painting topped my retirement bucket list. Time at last, excited to buy my brushes and colors, I started class with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in decades. It was exhilarating. That is until our instructor told us to draw a picture to paint. Draw? What do you mean draw? I didn’t have a clue how to draw. Frustrated by how an ability to draw wasn’t mentioned in the prerequisites, I muddled through, complaining (you know like the people who can’t be pleased, as sited above) about said lack of mention and how I thought watercolor painting was more ethereal and so on and so on. I must have been a real pain but I’m also an action taker.