On the noontime sports show on NPR called Only a Game, one of the subjects discussed was about professional athletes and what they face when they retire. The question most of them face after years of having a coach to tell them what to do is: "What do I do now that I no longer have someone to tell me what to do?" It struck me how this would be an issue for them. It is much like after years of working for someone else who tells you what to do and how to do, you leave, either through quitting or retiring, and are faced with making your own decisions about what to do with your life from thereon. It's not unlike kids leaving home or spouses leaving marriages or many, many other situations where being self-directive was not always possible.
This question resonated with me on a personal level and kind of caught me off guard. I retired from the County six and a half years ago. I immediately found activities that kept me busy enough not to have to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I volunteered for various agencies, involved myself in relationships that tapped into my need to be a caretaker and helper, but didn't always leave room for me to be me. Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't forced or coerced. I simply thought this was what made me feel good about myself. But not leaving time for reflection and exploration of myself and my wants and needs, I felt like I was doing what retirement was meant to be. It was what good guys do.
Then late last year something began to shift. I had discovered hobbies that I really enjoyed doing with photography and writing. I also enjoyed what I call "nesting", creating a warm and welcoming home environment in my home and garden. Cooking has become a fun pass-time. And road-trips have become something I like to do, either with someone who shares similar interests or, amazingly, on my own. What I find myself realizing and now sharing with people is that I have finally gotten this retirement thing right.
Now I still enjoy time with friends and family. But I equally enjoy time with myself and my "kids". I don't mind helping friends and family out, but I also am finding saying "no" is not the end of the world...or the relationship. Boundaries like fences are good things and define territory and limits. And there is nothing to feel guilty about in any of that. And I have finally, I now know it is infinitely better to decline a request or invitation, than to say "yes" when you don't want to and end up resentful and even angry. And, truly, it is the right thing to do.
And so, there you have it. If I answer "no", it doesn't mean I don't care about you. But it does mean I care about me more than I used to. And ultimately, it means I really do care about you because I don't want to resent you or be angry with you or with anyone or anything else. In the end, I think that means we will all be a lot happier and healthier. And that, truly, is the right thing to do!