Retirement isn't a contest to see who's the busiest or whose bucket list is the longest. It's okay to be unbusy and relaxed.


One of the biggest payoffs for me when I decided to retire early instead of returning to work, was the chance to wind back on my commitments and to spend less time "doing" and more time "being". I loved the idea of being un-busy and avoiding being over committed and stressed all the time. The serenity I have in my life these days has been hard won and I wouldn't swap it for the world. But......

The interesting thing is that sometimes (maybe often) I feel a little bit judged by those who are still working, or those who feel that retirement should be all about ticking off bucket lists and being busier than ever. My friends who like a quiet life totally get where I'm coming from and are hugely supportive, but for others, there's a sense of wanting to accomplish as much as possible with the extra time they've been given, and not wasting it by letting it unproductively slip by - and they want to "help" me to do the same. The trouble is that I just don't want to be part of that full-on version of retirement.


There's a lot of choices for women in their 50's and 60's these days. Some are immersed in their careers, some love their jobs, some are working to build their retirement funds, and some choose to retire early. A lot of my friends IRL and online have moved on from the workforce for various reasons... some took a redundancy, some chose to retire when their husbands did, some had more than enough funds to not need to work any more, and some left awful jobs behind and didn't ever want to repeat the experience (that would be me!) Lots of different reasons, that lead to lots of different interpretations of what retirement looks like.

I love watching what others have done with this new phase of life. Some have jumped into travel and are always planning new trips to new destinations (until covid interrupted things). Some have taken on study and learning new skills. Some have taken up new hobbies or discovered their artistic side. Some have started fitness programs, yoga, running, hiking, or cycling. Some are learning new languages or taking cooking classes. So many choices are available and I totally understand why all these activities appeal after spending decades working and raising families. But it's not for everyone.


For some of us it's a different picture. There are those of us who don't want to leap into filling our days with activity after activity, who feel it's perfectly okay to just coast along until something attracts our attention. We're not being lazy, we're not being boring - or maybe we are, but we don't really care? We're just taking things at a slower and gentler pace. The busy workers and retirees would be bored silly if they lived our lives, but that doesn't mean that it's a less satisfying choice for those of us who enjoy taking a simpler, more relaxed path.

Maybe self worth is not defined by how we fill our space and time but by the fact that we don't have to

I think there's stages of retirement - first there's the adjustment to no longer working and not having the commitment to a regular schedule. Then there's the phase where you start to figure out how nice it is to be free of commitments and expectations. Then things start to diverge - one path is to start filling your days with lots of different, interesting pastimes so that boredom never creeps in and you remain interested and interesting. Another path is to return to the workforce because retirement wasn't what you thought it would be. And yet another alternative is to continue on with a relaxed free-form retirement where you decide what interests you, and where you toss out anything that feels like an over-commitment.


Maybe I'm choosing to live more slowly because I'm still in the early stages of retirement and adjusting to the freedom and flexibility it offers. Leaving a very traumatic job behind has meant being kind to myself and not taking on too many commitments. It feels like an ongoing, organic recovery process where I need days of peace and quiet to savour. The idea of being really busy or taking on too much still brings stress in its wake, so I want a slower pace - and I feel like I deserve a simple, steady life after the many, many years of working, and the turmoil of my last job. Who knows how I'll feel in 5 or 10 years time, but for now slow living is really pleasant.

What hurts my heart though, is the subtle criticism that leaks through from those who see being un-busy as being lazy, or boring, or less-than. It's kind of the Southern "Bless Her Heart" syndrome where busy people say things like "I'm sure it's fine for you, but I could never have my days not filled with activities and challenges...." it's almost patronizing (or whatever the female term for that is) kind of....... "look how boring your life is compared to my amazing life". I'm sure it's not intentional, and I'm probably being overly sensitive, because I still want to be interesting and occupied, but it feels like a little jab in the heart when my choices, and the reasons behind them, are under valued.


That being said, my life isn't only made up of days stretching out with nothing to do (well... occasionally it is). It's full of lots of little things that make my heart happy - coffee dates, volunteering, reading, exercising, blogging, and being free for the family to visit whenever the whim arises. It's a lovely life and I know it looks small compared to the fuller lives of others, but it's not Less, I'm not in a competition to see who can be busiest, it's just a different choice. 

You be as busy as you like, and I'll cheer you on, and I'd love it if you could cheer for me too - instead of assuming I'm at risk of becoming less of a person because I don't have a bucket list that I'm working my way through. We should be each other's cheer squad, not mean girls judging each other's choices. Let's all be careful about how we look at what others are doing (or not doing) and try to support them all the way.

Call me crazy but I love to see people happy and succeeding. Life is a journey, not a competition.


Are you a busy retiree or are you taking a slower path? Am I the only one who hears the undercurrent of comparison and competition? Is there still the need to prove ourselves to others, or can we just live and let live now we've reached retirement? I really don't want to hear veiled criticism from those who think differently ....every choice is valid and worthy and as individual as each person who makes it. Even if we're on different paths we can still enjoy the journey together.

Retirement isn't a contest to see who's the busiest or whose bucket list is the longest. It's okay to be unbusy and relaxed.

Retirement isn't a contest to see who's the busiest or whose bucket list is the longest. It's okay to be unbusy and relaxed.

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Cresting the Hill - a blog for Midlife (Middle Aged / 50+) women who want to thrive
Retirement isn't a contest to see who's the busiest or whose bucket list is the longest. It's okay to be unbusy and relaxed.
Repeat after me - I don't need to do what everyone wants me to do