You know how at the end of a vacation, especially one you are really enjoying, you start to dread going home? I used to count the days I still had left and then when it was down to one or two, I would start to get depressed about the vacation being almost over. I would try to enjoy what I had left, but there was always that growing feeling in the pit of my stomach, the dread of returning to reality.
I always thought this was because I had to go back to work.
So then why did the same thing hapen to me this time, at the end of my month in Manhattan? And why am I still having trouble getting out of this post-vacation funk nearly two weeks after being home? I don't work anymore, so why would I mind being back to the daily grind when the daily grind doesn't include any hard labor?
You'll often see advice to retirees to get into a daily routine, to add some sort of structure to your life. The thing I hate about people giving me advice is that it's usually wrong, and here's a perfect example.
I hate routine. I hate structure. That's probably the reason I was so anxious to retire. I was sick of the routine: wake up early, get ready for work, go to work, go to the gym, go home and eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, and then wake up and do it all over again. Add to that a job I held for 18 years and that's being stuck not just in a routine, but a boring one.
I couldn't wait to retire so I could decide each morning what I felt in the mood to do that day, and then do it. Whatever it was, wherever it took me, each week would look different than the week before it.
Except it doesn't.
Monday is lunch with one friend, Tuesday is walking with another, Wednesday is writing class, Thursday is hiking with Doug, and then yoga, homework, housework, yard work, and social engagements are squeezed in over the remaining hours.
It's not that I don't enjoy these activities, these are exactly the things I like to do. It's the structure of having an actual schedule that has me feeling like a zombie again. I wind up going through my week on autopilot, much like I did when I was working. Without being totally engaged in it.
On vacation, decisions like what to see or where to eat, or the constant attention it takes to figure out how to get from point A to point B, where to transfer, even which direction you're facing upon leaving the subway station, keep you totally engaged in the moment. It's impossible to just drift through your day in a trance in New York City--if you stop paying attention even for five minutes, you'll find yourself on an express train to Harlem when you meant to get off at 86th Street.
All those years I spent fantasizing about retirement, I always thought I was attracted to the promise of an easier existence. I see now that what I really wanted was a more complex one. I wanted to escape the sameness of each day, the monotony of the structured workweek.
So for me, the retirement challenge isn't to find a structure to my life without a job, it's to find ways to break out of the routine that has replaced it, so that I can be more engaged, less zombie-like. Because what's the point of having the life you always wanted if you're not even paying attention?