Working Harder: Passion vs. Pastime

I enjoy golf.  I wouldn’t call it a passion; it’s more of a pastime, which is an interesting word in itself.  We all know what a pastime is, but when you parse the word, it loses some of it’s meaning.  It almost sounds as if we are killing time or even wasting it, but the actual meaning is a way in which we pass time agreeably, such as recreation, and golf is most definitely recreation for me.

When I sat down to write, I intended to think about my golf game, but I find that leads me to a wider topic: how I pass time.  I do so in many ways: I love to read, I want to learn new things, I can enjoy both a walk and a beer and find combining the two a satisfying pastime, I actually like tv, sports are both fun to watch and to play.  Now that I’m retired, I find I not only have more time to do these things, but I have the freedom to choose which pastime in which to engage . . . and therein lies the dilemma.

When most of my time was spent working, choice was rarely an option.  I was fortunate to have a career with some autonomy, but I still knew I would be teaching 12th graders English from 7:45 to 9:10, every morning.  That lack of freedom chafed, but it also provided security.  I felt that what I was doing was productive; I was providing a service to both those students and my community; I wasn’t just passing time, I had purpose.

So, golf.  Does it equate to my teaching career?  Or is it just passing time?  I’m thinking neither.  Teaching, for me, was a passion for a long time, but that passion was part of the package.  It came with the job.  It’s one reason I chose to engage in it for so long; however, it is not necessarily more fulfilling or even more important than golf.  In some ways, it was much more limiting, because the significance was built in.  As long as I was teaching, I was automatically doing something important.  How can a game even compete?

Unlike teaching, the game itself does not hold the importance for me.  I have friends for whom golf is a passion.  They work at it; they practice; they improve, they lower their handicaps.  For me, the passions are really not about my score.  It’s about being with friends, enjoying the outdoors, getting some exercise.  It is also about improving myself.  Hitting a shot well takes focus and mindfulness.  Even more importantly, accepting the outcome means observing, not judging, so there is learning in hitting a shot that is not as successful, as well.  And that learning involves much more than just the game of golf.

For me to be “in the zone,” I need to be mindful, not judgmental, observant, not critical, calm, not agitated.  My friendships are foremost in my mind, and my success is gauged through smiles and laughter, rather than frowns and depression.  If I remain focused on what brings passion to my golf game, I remain focused on what is important in my life.  It’s what I bring to it and what I take away that counts.  I’m not sure I always approach a round of golf with that intention, but I really should.  It’s what changes a pastime into a passion.

Being retired challenges us to find purpose in what we choose to do.  It is a much more creative process, and to enjoy it takes effort.

Imagine that: quitting our jobs means we have to work harder.

Not an End

Retirement is an odd word.  This morning, I began to wonder where the current meaning originated.  When we tire, we grow weary: from work, of people, of complications in our lives.  Yet, we do not think of re-tire as growing weary again.  Many of us view it as that time in our lives when we will relax, kick back, enjoy life.  It seems almost the opposite of growing weary again.  How could we possibly tire of all that freedom?

We can.  Statistics show that a lot of people hate retirement.  They feel useless, another interesting word.  Retirees are used less and many of us feel irrelevant because of that. That freedom from the work week can come with a heavy price, and I’m not talking about a reduction in income.  I’m talking about a loss of identity.

Our self image is often related to our jobs.  Our career is how we not only see ourselves in the world, it is the way we present ourselves to other people.  What do you do?  I’m a teacher; I’m a physical therapist; I’m a plumber . . . I’m a retired person?  It doesn’t have the same punch.  Retire is something we do at the end of the day, but we look forward to rising the next morning ready to go, ready to accomplish something, ready to un-retire for the day.  I find myself answering the question of what do I do with, “I’m a retired high school teacher.”  That seems so much more important than “I’m retired.”

I’ve written about the difference between self-esteem and self-respect and that seems to be what is at work here.  When I feel the need to introduce myself as a retired teacher, that’s self-esteem at work: the way I want other people to view me.  If self-respect were the guide, I would answer differently, because I don’t teach anymore and I don’t miss it.  My answer to that question should be,  “I enjoy my freedom.”

I must admit that that’s how I feel inside, most of the time.  In the end, I think my problem lies with the word retirement.  In past writings, I’ve considered the idea of using the term redirection, instead of retirement, but today I’ll take it a little further.

Regardless of our age, or where we presently see ourselves in the work cycle, it is time to define ourselves more by what we believe, what we love, what we enjoy, than by what we do for a living.  If we are lucky enough to believe in, love and enjoy the job that pays our bills, more the better.  I thoroughly enjoyed being a teacher. It provided tremendous satisfaction in my life, but, although it was part of who I was at the time, it was only a part, and it was a mistake to define  myself in such a limited way.  What we have come to call retirement can seem like an end, but, in fact, it is just another stage in who we are, and who we are becoming.

And if what we enjoy, love and believe in changes over time, we need to see that as life . . . not the end of life.

A Great Deal

The best deal in New York City is, without a doubt, the Staten Island Ferry.  It’s fun, it takes you right past the Statue of Liberty, and the view of Manhattan on the return trip is incomparable, especially at night.  It is also absolutely free, and that’s the reason it has popped into my mind tonight.

There are many people who insist there is no free lunch — you get what you pay for, while others say that the best things in life are free.  I’ve always believed that quality costs more, and maybe when we talk about material goods, that’s true, but not when we talk about experiences.

Manhattan is an expensive city, and yet some of its major attractions cost nothing: riding the ferry, exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wandering the paths of Central Park, or crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  It costs a lot to live there, but almost nothing to really enjoy it.

One of the major reasons many of us put off retirement is because we think we need a lot of money to support our retired lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s true.  Certainly I have interests that cost money.  A round of golf is not cheap, nor is a day of skiing; however, I can sit on the beach and watch the waves crash against the shore for no cost.  I can take a hike in the mountains or just sit in my back yard and watch the squirrels fight with the blue jays.  I can ride my bike downtown, drink a cup of coffee and read a book I’ve checked out of the library, and how much money I have rarely is part of the equation.

I’m not discounting what money can buy so much as I am suggesting that it isn’t at all what retirement is about.  There may be much upon which we can spend our money, but the time to spend it costs nothing, and without that time, the money is worthless.

The Staten Island Ferry is a great deal, because it’s free; retirement is even better, because we are free.

Moving On

Let me tell you about my friend, Kevin.

Like me, Kevin was an English teacher. Unlike me, he retired at an early age, because he looked to the future, anticipated life and chose to prepare for it. When he reached that moment where teaching no longer satisfied him as it had in the past, he was financially ready to move on.

His financial preparation was important, but It’s the moving on that has impressed me so much more. Kevin’s passion for bicycle trail riding led him to begin a website dedicated to becoming a forum for those who shared his passion. I have watched that site develop over the years into a library of useful information about trails, equipment, and supplies.
He has become an activist, who advocates for a network of trails nationally, as well as adopting different rules across the nation that will make biking more accessible for everyone.

This summer, he is riding a series of trails in Europe and adding them to his network. I just read his summary of bike trails in Iceland (he was there for one day!), and it made me want to fly there and explore them. I am eagerly waiting for his reviews of the 8-9 other trails he expects to ride in the following months.

My purpose for this entry is not so much to push Kevin’s website or his cause, although they would be worthy goals (http://trailsnet.com) in themselves. I wrote this because my friend is a wonderful example of how we can redirect our lives. Retirement should not bethe end we seek; it should be the beginning we need.

We all need to move on, and to do so with purpose.

No Apologies

It’s been awhile since my last post.  I won’t go into details, but life has a way of pulling us in different directions, with interesting results.  My intention when I started this blog site was to create a habit of writing as a vehicle for both thought and potential conversation.  One avenue that I have been experiencing more often over the past few weeks is real conversation, rather than this rather one-sided attempt, and my life is better for that.

I have discovered that, although writing helps me to both generate ideas and clarify them,  it is not a real conversation.  I found myself using my blog entry ideas as talking points with other people in my life, which is okay, but I guess I was hoping to have that kind of conversation online.

What I am beginning to see is that, although meaningful discussions can be had through the internet, it’s not the same as sitting across from someone, especially someone you care about, respect, and enjoy, and having that same conversation.  There is a give and take that cannot be replicated by writing.  You can’t see the smiles, hear the laughter, acknowledge the frown or glimpse the tears that real live conversation generates.

So, I have no apologies. Although I have not been writing lately, I have been engaged in conversation, and it has changed my world for the better.

I highly recommend it.

Shadow in the Closet

I used to think that being anxious was a weakness.  Because I didn’t suffer anxiety, I felt stronger than those people who did.  I was better because I could control my fears and not let them take hold of me.

I was wrong.  Anxiety is a human quality.  We all feel it, and sometimes we are unsure as to why.  When that happens, fear takes over, and fear is hard to combat.  The fact that we don’t know why we are feeling so much worry compounds it.  It’s like that shadow in the closet when we were kids.  We can’t quite make it out, so it becomes even more threatening.  That unknown world is a scary place.

What I am learning is that this is all normal, human, inevitable.  And, like any fear, the only way to combat it is to face it, be aware of it and accept it.  That’s not possible if we believe it is something we can conquer, or at least avoid.  If we see it as part of us, rather than a monster lurking beyond us, acceptance becomes easier.

There is a link between anxiety and control.   At first, that seemed counter-intuitive to me, because I believed control was the key to quelling anxious thoughts.  Once I began to understand that we have very little control in life, it freed me to see that being aware of what was happening is the one thing I can do, and with awareness comes understanding and acceptance.

The next time you fear something, or begin to feel anxious, look it in the face.  Not in a challenging way, but rather just to acknowledge its existence.  It is not a shadow in the closet.  It is real; it is human; and, like all other emotions, it will pass.

Trimming My Waste

Looking back at my last post, I realized that I may have sounded disillusioned about being a teacher all my life.  I’m not.  Teaching is a great profession, with rewards that far surpass the salary, and a satisfaction that, albeit somewhat delayed, is hard to replicate.  The people with whom I worked were some of the most ethical, compassionate, creative people I have known in my life, and it was a joy to work in that environment, among other teachers, surrounded by so many great kids.

But there were many aspects of the profession that were not satisfying.  One reason I became a teacher was to try to change the system.  It had not worked well for me and I felt it didn’t work very well for many other students either.  I am still of that opinion.  There is so much wrong with how school systems operate that I am overwhelmed.  I think I touched students lives in meaningful ways; I think I did the same with fellow teachers, but I certainly did not change the system, and that was ultimately frustrating.

In the end, it was struggling within and against that system that wore me down.  Now that I’m retired from teaching, I can look back, appreciate the many ways in which the job was worth doing, but also see that much of it was a waste of time, for me and for my students.  That’s a hard memory to hold, but it’s important that I don’t look away from it, and it’s equally important for me to see that memory clearly, without the bias of having “owned” it for so long.  I guess that’s what I meant when I wrote that it is no more important than many other jobs.  Although teaching can be joyful, productive and satisfying, so can many other careers.

It was necessary for me to acknowledge that fact to myself.

The first step toward creating a new life is to become aware of the old one, attempt to understand it, and then let it go.

I need to move on, and I really don’t want to waste anymore time.