Transition from the fast-paced worklife to slower retirement without panic

Reading: The Terror of Having Too Much Time


The Terror of Having Too Much Time

Getting off the uber-busy track can create a kind of panic in the afternoon

By Erica Baird and Karen Wagner

Did you retire at the end of the year? Did you enjoy the first few days of delicious freedom and relaxation? But then — did you start feeling weird about having nothing you had to do? Panicked about a feeling that comes after lunch, during a long afternoon, when you find yourself with absolutely no commitments, nothing to do, nothing planned, no obligations? When everyone seems to be busy — except you? When you wonder — what will you do for the five hours until dinner? How can you make the afternoon go faster? And how could you be feeling this way?

Well, join the club. We have all been there, those of us who are new retirees from demanding jobs, those of us who worked for decades in challenging professions and had little time to think about life outside. We have all experienced the feelings you feel now. Don’t worry, you will find your footing soon, and the rest of your life will start to take shape. But you have to work on the early days.

Mornings are easy. There is breakfast to eat, news to digest, bills and other paperwork to take care of, calls to return, errands to run. But the afternoons — that’s when the panic starts to set in. At first, we wondered whether it was just us. We quickly discovered that it was not. Everyone feels it.

Then we started to figure out what to do about it. When we were full-time working women, we reflexively chose the earliest time in the day to do personal things. We had to rethink that whole idea. We no longer had to get all of that done before 8 am. So we scheduled doctor’s appointments, food shopping, hair color — lots of things — for after lunch. Then, we did the same with the new fun stuff we now had time to do.

First, lunch. We had time for leisurely lunches in new places. With wine. We took turns inviting new people to join us. We thought together about people we each knew or could get an introduction to, and invited them to join us. New people led to new ideas, and one thing always led to another. Our calendars got pretty full pretty quickly.

Then, culture. We live in New York; we decided to make the most of it. We went to openings at the Met and the Whitney. We took boat tours around Manhattan. We went to lectures at the new Rizzoli on Broadway. We explored art galleries on the lower east side. We walked in parts of the city that we had never seen and found interesting buildings, restaurants, and shops. We met for a late afternoon coffee or a glass of wine at the One Hotel in Brooklyn or the Grand Salon at the Baccarat Hotel in midtown. We could go anywhere!

Finally, work. We found that we did need a new structure for purposeful activity, so we created one. We rented an office and we went there to think, to write, to edit, to laugh, and to talk things through. Maybe all day, maybe just the afternoon. Having a place outside of our homes to go when we wanted to figure out our new goals was a key part of dealing with incipient panic.

Once we recalibrated, we began to cherish the joy of downtime and being alone. We remembered how much we had wanted at least a little time to ourselves when we were working, and we loved having it after we retired. But it took a while. We needed to think outside our old box and use all of our creativity to come up with a new one. We are well along that path now, and you will be too after a few months of R&R. So don’t panic. Enjoy yourself and start thinking about what you want to do next.

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  1. Suzie Davidowitz

    I am about to retire after a 37 year career at L’Oreal USA. My last day is September 28 and while I go through emotions of relief, happy, sad it’s mostly scared…..scared of what I’m going to do when I get up on October 1 and have no place to go. Reading your article made me feel that my thoughts are not crazy and I am not alone. Thank you for writing this.

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