The “shoulds” tried to get the best of me this past weekend – the ones that try to decree what I should be doing with my time now that I’m retired.
My usual fall and early-winter Sunday routine is to get the day’s newspapers, go for a walk by myself or a hike with my husband, and then settle in for an afternoon of watching football on TV and reading the papers. This has been my way of operating for decades, and it’s actually more than a routine – it’s a pleasure I build my schedule around.
When I was working, this was an easy routine to justify: a day off that I’d earned by working 40-60 hours and commuting another 10 during the previous week. Phew. I was exhausted from my job and needed a down day. No guilt over vegging out and not accomplishing anything. Just a lazy, cozy day in my sweats.
Now that I’m retired, however, sometimes the “shoulds” ambush me. There’s this wee part of me that feels I get plenty of time off now. And makes me feel guilty if I haven’t done “enough” the previous week. That’s what happened this past Sunday. I should finish cleaning the house. I should decorate for Christmas. I’m running a little behind on my Retirement Voices work and I should catch up, so I don’t let Roxanne down. I should call my sister. I should be doing something other than “just” watching football.
Even three years into my third retirement, I haven’t yet fully conquered the “shoulds.” And I’m far from alone. Many of the respondents to Roxanne’s and my retirement questionnaire said that the “shoulds” haunted them too.
Our internal “shoulds”
“My time is very unstructured, and I grapple with self-discipline – a conflict between the ‘you shoulds’ vs. ‘I don’t want to, I’m retired,’” says a former independent clinical social worker/psychotherapist, now a writer, from Homeland, California. I can relate.
Retirement offers us freedom from the grind and time commitment of a job. Time is now less structured (maybe even totally unstructured), and the choices of how we spend it may seem endless. And that can feel uncomfortable. I should be spending my time more wisely.
Time is now ours to do with what we want, when we want. For many of us who spent years giving to others – our spouse, our children, our boss and co-workers, our aging parents – having time to ourselves not only feels different, but sometimes selfish. I should be helping someone else.
In retirement, we have the time to stop and reflect. To focus on being, not just doing. To think about how we want to spend our time and with whom. We can slow down and enjoy another cup of coffee in the garden, or dive into that book we’ve been wanting to read, or have a long conversation with a friend or sister. I should be more productive.
“My time on the whole has been less structured than before. There are times when I wonder if I am spending my time wisely and whether I should be taking on more responsibilities within some of the organizations to which I belong,” says a retired trainer of adults in youth ministry from Nashville, Tennessee. I get it.
Coming to terms with the different structure to our days and settling into the unique pace and freedom of retirement – however you craft yours – is one of the major challenges and adjustments during this phase of life. And it’s one of the keys to conquering our internal “shoulds” when they arise.
Other people’s expectations and “shoulds”
You should come volunteer with me. You should spend more time with your family. You should start that business you’ve always talked about. You should downsize and reduce your expenses. You should take up your photography/writing/ quilting again.
The word “should” is loaded with expectations and implies obligation. It sounds and feels negative – we’re apparently not doing something right if someone says we should be doing something else. And some of the worst culprits imposing their “shoulds” on us are our loved ones.
Most of us will receive unsolicited advice from others about what we should be doing in retirement. Paying attention to their “shoulds” can cause confusion and guilt. What’s more, if you follow their should-ly advice, you might end up living someone else’s version of your life. You may please others by acquiescing, but what about pleasing yourself?
How to combat the “shoulds”
It takes self-awareness and practice to withstand the “shoulds.”
A retired professor from Austin, Texas, says, “My time is less structured by external forces and more governed by things I choose to do and by my intuitions aligned with my core values and priorities. I am listening more to what seems best to be doing in any given moment vs. feeling driven by the “have to’s, ought to’s and shoulds.”
She seems to be in control of her ”shoulds.”
My first step in taming the “shoulds” is to recognize them the moment they appear. Whether they come from within or from one of my well-meaning friends or family members, I’ve learned to pause before responding. In fact, I’ll often say to a “should” (quietly, to myself), “There you are. I’ve been expecting you,” as a way to be consciously aware of it and to suspend an immediate reaction.
I’ve learned to ignore many of the should-suggestions – just because someone says I should do something doesn’t mean I have to respond. And I don’t if it makes no sense for me.
I spend time identifying the things I value and enjoy, and I constantly evaluate how I want to spend my post-work years. I’ve learned to give myself permission to do what I want, regardless of what others think.
I’ve become better at saying no to the “shoulds” that pop into my head if they don’t align with my retirement dreams. And also to the “shoulds” that come from others if they persist in pushing them.
I’ll continue to battle the “shoulds” because I know they’ll continue to come up. But I’m now a firm believer that the only “should” in my life I’ll adopt is the one that says I should be creating a retirement that gives me joy and is meaningful and fulfilling to me.
Do the “shoulds” pop up in your life? How do you deal with them? Please share!