September 12, 2019

Psychologically Managing Extended Time Off

Just a few years back, I was the last person to think that psychologically handling retirement could be a challenge. For me, it was a non-issue and talking about it seemed a waste of time. How could you feel bad being on vacation all the time?

Now with a couple leaves of absence under my belt, I must admit that to my complete surprise, my mental wellbeing has been somewhat put to the test. A lot more than expected because to be honest, I anticipated zilch, nothing, no problem at all. With experience, I now know better. It’s kind of ironic because many know me as the one that plans everything. But I did not plan what may be considered obvious.

I have to confess it has been much more trying than I thought. Again, during this year’s extended time off, I mostly battled with guilt and having too much time to think. It may appear silly but, choosing what to do with all that free time can become a burden. You probably won’t feel sorry for me and I know, another great problem to have…

More than the fact that it will help me cope and process it, I hope talking about all of it may also help some of you. At some point in your life, there’s a good chance you will have a lot of time on your hands, to the least, when your retirement days come by. So, please don’t be too casual about it like I did and try to think and prepare for it at least just a little. Let’s get right to it!

Feeling Guilty About Not Doing Enough

Many times, guilt invades me while I stay home, sometimes even in bed and my spouse is getting to work early, so early. I know she loves and is devoted to her work. I know I am doing a lot at home to make her life easier. I know I often stay up late and try to make sure everything will be OK…

Still, some mornings or even during sleep-reduced nights, I think I may not be doing enough. Before I managed to get control over it, those guilty thoughts came to me over and over. They usually get more intense a couple weeks after I stop working. It’s less frequent these days but I still get these guilty-filled moments every now and then. 

In the same sense, I also was feeling guilty about enjoying life while so many are struggling so much. If I don’t make the most of it, it’s like I’m wasting what’s most valuable and what most people don’t have: precious time.

Sometimes, it can be tough when people ask me questions about all that time off. Despite the fact I managed so well and because I presently don’t work, to some of them, it’s like I’m not contributing enough and it’s not acceptable in our Society. I often get asked what I do during my days. It’s curious because they would never ask about my weekends when I used to work.

I suspect some of them are jealous but, protect themselves by disapproving. I rarely get open and direct comments but a lot of insisting questions with awkward looks and smiles. My harsh interpretation of it all is probably somewhat tainted by my own guilty-filled spirits.

A few curious ones inquire on how I achieved it. They primarily question about money matters or the technicalities of taking a leave. Despite a few sparks in their eyes, sadly, most of them won’t change anything to get to it. To my knowledge, none of them took a leave so far. Maybe I’m not that inspiring. Out of about a thousand employees, only a handful are taking or even considering a leave of absence. And probably all those few lucky ones were already doing it before me.

Changing mentalities takes time so we must remain patient. We still have a sense that the upcoming generation may not be willing to go all-in on work and work all the time. Let’s hope they can get accommodating conditions and realize at least some of their aspirations in a not so distant future.  

Let’s get back to my guilty frame of mind and how I manage, partially at least, to cope with it.

It may sound strange but sometimes, it’s easy to feel guilty about doing more of what you like. Other times, you can feel guilty about not doing more for others. But like anything, you’ve got to find some balance in all of that.  

You’ve worked hard or at least, you’ve thought hard, so you’ve earned all that extra time. Feel free to enjoy and cherish it. Accept that, time to and for yourself, is permitted. Some of you are already enlighten and thrive by it, but those like me that don’t should remember to experience and acknowledge that time with and for others can also be quite fulfilling.

In the end, not doing something all the time is not a crime. You’ve earned the right to more quality of life. Even if others may think you are crazy, don.t hesitate to admit you are struggling and not necessarily having fun or doing something helpful all the time. You also are not obligated to tell everyone like I’m doing now in this blog post. Confiding in at least one trustworthy person may just be what you mean to get thru it all. And please don’t hesitate to get additional help in you need to.

Free-Time Mode Triggers Troubled Inspiration

Inspiration often gets to you with awkward timing. You’ll have plenty of it when you are busy doing something else or even trying to sleep. But you’ll get into the blank page or the more modern blank screen syndrome when you are actually dedicating time to writing. It’s funny how you get no inspiration when you are alone to write and lots of it when you are busy with others.

From experience, more available time won’t necessarily mean better inspiration. You’ll still get the blank screen woes when you have a lot of time and especially too big objectives. For instance, you probably won’t get anywhere when you envision writing a hundred pages at a time.

But most of the time, free-time mode will translate into too much inspiration. You’ll get hit by an overflow of disorganized thoughts. In my case, I often was overwhelmed by new ideas in the last few months, sometimes even losing sleep over it. Luckily for me, a little extra sleep in the morning or afternoon naps are available options. In some way, it can be very exhilarating but also, somewhat disturbing. You have to learn to cope with all that effervescent information and somehow tame your mind.    

In those instances, having a system to sort ideas out is crucial. You have to be careful that noting a few emerging ideas doesn’t transform into an all-night writing session. You can deal with inspirational spurs by briefly recording brut ideas and polish them afterwards. You still have to make sure you don’t lose particularly good phrasing or wording in the process.

Using shorter or intermediate objectives you can attain more easily can help. For us, writing about 12 lines each day works like a charm. With more free time, simultaneously tackling two or three writing projects becomes feasible. 

Having Flexible Plans

Even if you have extra time and money, you’ll soon realize that many of your activities depend on other factors. For instance, our plans often depend on the weather. We don’t know about your corner of the world but ours can be quite volatile and unpredictable. If often looks like our local meteorologists have flunk their course. Or maybe it’s just the actual limit of science.  

Your plans also depend a lot on the availability of others. Even if you have all the time in the world, it doesn’t mean significant people in your life also have it too. In many ways, you’ll have to adapt to their schedule for your common activities. Time is a very precious and rare commodity not necessarily available to everyone. Sometimes, it can be ridiculous how some people won’t even find time for you to help them. So, remain patient and adopt flexible plans.

I didn’t realize this before, but despite a not so productive work environment, a fairy rigid work context still allowed to get some things done or to get somewhere. In the end, you have to sit at your desk for the better part of the day and superiors can always compel uncooperative co-workers to at least get into some meetings. Dealing with people outside strict work settings and being on extended vacation mode is an entirely different ball game. Getting anything done can become quite a hassle. Another aspect of retirement life you’ll have to adapt to.

If possible, we try to avoid getting groceries or shopping on the weekends or at night. So, if you have time, please do your shopping when stores are less busy. Don’t become like one of those seniors that always seem in the way when the stores are so crowded. Find another way to meet people.

For us, children always had and have to be a priority. In fact, they are the priority. Even if you have more free time from work, you still have to adapt you plans to your children’s and grandchildren’s needs. Again, flexibility is a key here. In a sense, all things should evolve around our children. So, maybe golfing 36 holes every day like you always dreamed to won’t be possible. Your body may not even be able to follow anyway.

Lending a helping hand to other parents can also be very gratifying. Just make sure all your spare time doesn’t turn out into a free taxi business for the entire neighbourhood. Most young family especially lack time, money and experience. Maybe younger busy parents in our extended family could use some of yours. Helping out my wife’s cousin with her three young vivid girls has been quite an experience in the last few months

Speaking of wives, consider that having you at home all the time may cause some frictions with her. Some of you may go through a repair-everything-at-home phase. An even if she loves you, you may get into the dreaded you-are-always-in-my-way or you-are-always-there phase.

By nature, I always have been more solitary. It’s strange that it’s now Lady N that requests more alone time. Again, the secret may be to talk it out and balance your time together. Another free-time hurdle that you should navigate through with your life partner.

As you can see, there’s a lot of matters that can potentially boggle your mind when you get extended periods of time off. I don’t want to discourage you, but I think I just barely scratched the surface of it all. Hope my words can still somewhat resonate with you and help you prepare in some way. As usual, don’t hesitate to comment or question.

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