Our friend Jeff came over last week for dinner. He just got a new job after a period of unemployment. He’s happy to be working again, he told us, “I really like working. You and Doug are really good at filling your days without work, but I had real trouble with that.”
I thought about that for a second and told him that actually, we all have the same 24 hours in a day to fill, so really, he did fill the time when he wasn’t working. It’s just that he didn’t fill it with something ___________ enough. I asked him what that blank was for him.
For Jeff, the thing he loves about work is the problem-solving. He develops customized database applications tailored to the unique business needs of his clients. His whole day is filled with a series of problems that need to be solved, and he is engaged all day long in solving them, like puzzles. He loves this about his work.
I love the days that I don’t work, I have no trouble filling them, it’s true. But one thing I’ve learned about myself, just from adding a few hours of work each week, is that I like doing things that are a little bit hard for me, just a little out of my comfort zone. In retirement, I don’t really do things outside of my comfort zone because, well, I’m not comfortable doing them. I get to choose whatever I want to do, and so I tend toward things that are easy.
But at work I have to do a few things that don’t feel comfortable to me, things that I wouldn’t really do if I didn’t have to, like meeting with people I don’t know, or choosing the right insurance coverage, or sorting through the provisions of complex legal agreements. But after I do it, I feel good about myself that I had it in me to figure it out. Getting out to an office, even for only a few hours each week, also gives me a little social outlet that I’m not getting when I’m home writing, working in my garden, reading, or exercising.
Neither of these things has to do with money. That’s the thing about retirement. When you leave your job, it’s not just the salary you are leaving behind. You are leaving behind other things that you may have enjoyed, things that may have engaged and fulfilled you. In retirement, you have to figure out what it is besides money that you got from your job and find a way to get that on your own. Of course you’ll need to accumulate an adequate nest egg to retire. But having enough money will not be enough to fill your days in a way that makes you feel fulfilled; you’re going to need to find something that is ___________ enough.
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