For many of us, work has been the center of our lives for years. Everything else was secondary to giving work our all. Between working all week and focusing on family nights and weekends, you might have found little time to focus on yourself. Many people find little room for “Me Time”. Now, in retirement, many of us have to step back and figure out, “Now that I’m no longer working…what defines me?”
The psychologist Erik Erikson has studied this question extensively. Erikson argues that the richest and fullest lives attain an inner balance composed, in equal ingredients, of work, love, and play. To pursue one to the disregard of others is to open oneself to sadness as the years pass. But to pursue all three with equal dedication is to make possible a life capable of fulfilment and serenity.
Bonnie, a teacher who recently read some of Erikson’s essays on the topic, felt his words immediately resonate. “With all the commitments I made as a teacher, I simply figured my personal life will always be there. I was trying to do it all: teach, do administrative work for the school, and raise my children. I found, with all the time I was dedicating to my students and my children, I was neglecting me.”
After retiring, Bonnie initially struggled because, for her entire adult life, teaching had given her a surrogate family and her source of identity. “I had to reinvent myself,” she says. “I knew for sure I needed a sense of purpose, but on my terms where I had time for family, fun and travel.” After trying part-time work and volunteering, Bonnie finally had time to pick up her lifelong passion again: writing. “I told people I’d be done writing my first book in six months. It took two years.” But she has no regrets: one reason why it took so long is because she wanted to finally have dinner with her husband every night and to travel. Lengthening the time completing the book was a price she was willing to pay.
Then her school got in touch asking if she’d be available to work on some administrative projects. When she declined the offer and gave her family as the reason, it was perfectly understood. But when she added she and her husband were Houston Astros season ticket holders and that she couldn’t miss the 50 or so games they attended each year, there was a puzzled silence at the other end of the phone.
Maybe there is something irrational in waking up happy or depressed depending on if the Astros win or lose. But after years in a career that put intense focus on work, Bonnie is now able – through her writing, time with her family, and through her passion for her beloved Astros – to have it all. She can enjoy work, love, and play. Finally, she has been able to make sure all aspects of her life are taken care of in equal measure.
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