I am motivated to write after reading an article in the Guardian today (16th Jan 2017) about older people in West Somerset who seem unable to retire. It also chimed with something said at one of my yoga classes last week about having an aim – the assumption being no-one wants to be aimless.
I retired from full-time office work in September 2016 and since then I have done very little – or so it seems to the outside world and to others using the traditional definitions of constructive activity. In response to enquiries about what I was going to do I told people that I would give it until Christmas and then review in the New Year – perhaps find a part-time job or do some volunteering. Deep down I knew that another job was out of the question but I continued to flirt with the idea of volunteering.
But I have changed my mind – or finally accepted what my real plans were. I no longer pretend that I am ever going to do anything ‘constructively active’ again. Instead I am going to live my life selfish – doing what I want to do, to my own timetable without responsibility. Only the usual sort of responsibility to my nearest and dearest – I am not a complete monster.
So the Guardian article…I was irritated by the ‘aren’t they marvellous’ tone of the thing and even more so when I read this particular quotation: ‘When retirement came, it made me feel old to be not doing something constructive and active..’ How about just live your life without the need to be constantly ‘doing’ and being ‘constructive’. I suspect this is more about failing to find an identity outside the workplace and the fear of losing status and credibility. And so this retired headteacher is working with the old and young, those vulnerable in her community who ‘…need people like me to do things for them.’
What is wrong with just being, just getting on with stuff. I blame the industrial revolution and the development of the protestant work ethic for this ‘need’ to be constructively active. Without employment we are expected to feel incomplete and without purpose. This is one of the myths of capitalism that prevents us contemplating a life without work (or purpose). For it is only through recognised work that we are deemed to be truly functioning. And now this has been extended to not only paid work but also volunteering. The Big Society may not have taken off but there is an insidious assumption that those of us who have worked and are now retired will somehow take up ‘constructive activity’ within the community. Volunteering in charity shops, walking dogs, befriending those less fortunate. Anything and everything.
Well I call foul. My constructive activity is making sure that I remain active and full of life; that I get to do the things, when I want to do them, that being at work prevented. If I want to watch TV in the afternoon I will, without remorse or guilt. If I want to donate money or time to a charity I will do that also. But back off with the assumptions and the pressure and the quizzical looks when I say I am doing ‘nothing’.
This nothing that I am doing is living a life without paid employment and without the status that it can bring. But it is with lots of other stuff that compensate for those losses – joy, sleep, yoga, cinema, dance, cycling, walking, ironing, housework, blogging…