One of the things I am finding most difficult in my transition from working to not is the loss of “need”; not that I am no longer needed because I know I am – it is that I no longer have to do something or finish something because I “need” to due to time and schedule. I can remember many vacations where I would push myself because if I wanted to finish whatever it was I was doing, it had to be done before I had to go back to work. Once back to work, the days were really long and I would be exhausted inside of three days back and anything I may have left unfinished, would stay unfinished for possibly weeks. But that is no longer true; if I don’t do it today, there is tomorrow, or the next day or the next….no need to rush.
I used to also struggle with vacations for “using” them wisely, effectively. Breakfast once, better yet twice, was hugely important to me; going out for lunch at least once was also important. And doing fun stuff – hiking, movies, doing something with the grandkids – was an absolute requirement. And I often liked to take short three day trips to the Cape or to Salem, and of course three days eats up 60% of the available vacation time assuming the typical one week vacation. I used to end up fairly stressed over not achieving an “effective” vacation – upset with myself for wasting such precious time. And now that invisible stress of the “need” is gone. And oddly enough I find that I am having trouble wrapping my brain around that. I’ve been institutionalized to the urgency of schedules and the stress associated with that for so long that no having that anymore takes pause for thought to reconcile it. If I am outside splitting wood and it begins to rain, I have to fight the urge to stay out in the rain and cut more; I have to make myself recognize that it’s OK to stop; I can come back tomorrow or the day after that.
Stress is present for all of us; regardless of the specific task for which you are responsible, the stress is very real and equally as oppressive from one to another. Certainly some people do better with stress than others; they are able to shelter themselves somehow and shed the mantle of weight when they leave work for the day. That though, becomes more difficult if your position requires responsibility for off shift evolutions and especially, high risk evolutions. The stress of that risk hags above your head constantly like the sword of Damocles. And regardless of how well you manage it, it is always there. When it is over, gone, and done, there seems to be a mandatory period of adjusting to that – at least for me. Loss is loss, even the loss of something unpleasant!
Of course, I am still not fully believing work is over; this feels like a long vacation, even though I have never had a three week vacation. It still feels like I’ll wake up one morning realizing that I need to set the alarm to go back to work the next Monday. It’s an odd thing, not having to work. After decades of doing so, not doing it anymore is…..weird. But decidedly better!! I have (I think) transitioned well into this new phase of life. I greatly enjoy staying up until 11pm every night and equally (or actually greater) not getting up at 4am!
But while I am adjusting to the unexpected loss of “need”, one thing that was very important to me was to take full advantage of getting out from behind a desk and shedding the oppressive stress that came with that. Stress has as great a damaging physical effect as it does mental; greater in some cases such as being sedentary at a desk for long hours every day. I read about it and I felt it. And I did the best I could to combat it over the last 5 or 10 years, but time was not my ally in the battle and I was losing.
For most all my life, I have been physically fit, but the last number of years eroded my fitness and silently added weight. I got fat. Well, fat-ish. I am a fat skinny person I guess. Probably gained 20 extra pounds, mostly in the middle. And loss of stamina and strength came with that. I knew it would probably kill me, or take years of my life at the least, so I viewed retiring as my golden ticket to recovering my health. I was bound and determined not to retire just to become a couch potato, but rather to regain my fitness and shed some weight. So I thought about it and planned for well over a year.
Hiking was an integral part of that plan; while it takes up a fair amount of time – 3 or 4 hours per hike minimum for positive results. But it does nothing for strength and musculature restoration and that was where the wood splitting comes in; handling logs which range from 60lbs to 300lbs is nothing but good from that perspective. And splitting is marvelous for cardio-vascular as well as exercising and building muscles. (It is o extremely Zen.) And while it is only week three, I am remaining true to my plan; I don’t hike every day and I don’t split wood every day (frankly I can’t because it has rained almost every day here since I retired!) But I do often enough to see and feel the benefits of the exercise. And as the weather improves, time on trail will increase for sure. And I haven’t even climbed on my bike yet or gone arrowhead hunting. So the future remains rosy from my perspective, my fate squarely in my own hands. There is no “need” to do it now. But there remains a need to do it at some point.
The joy in getting healthy again has far outweighed the loss of adrenaline that concerned me (and a lot of others!) It is easy to become addicted to that rush and I feared how I would react to no longer having it, but happily thanks to planning for it, that fear has proven unfounded. I think the trick to this is actually one of the fundamentals to all of life – planning. As a good friend once said, “how can you ever hope to reach your destination if you don’t know where you are going before you begin?” Planning often sounds tedious, anal, and difficult to many when in fact, it does not have to be like that at all. Surely come plans require details, steps, and phases along with considerable effort. But typically it is a relatively simple task to plan out how best to reach your goal and then execute it. And that is today’s lesson of life: “by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail” and “a goal without a plan is just a wish…” Plan to succeed and you will!