Ahhh. You’re finally retired. The first few months after you left the working world were a delicious, less-stressful, less-structured series of days. It felt like a well-deserved vacation.

You turned off your alarm clock, caught up on your sleep, lingered over coffee and the morning news, relished the extra time spent with your family and retired friends (either virtually or in person), read the books that had been collecting dust on your night stand, cleaned out a closet or two, took a long-planned trip (or maybe had to cancel one), and binged on your favorite shows. You did what you wanted when you wanted to do it.

One day last week you didn’t even get out of your pajamas.

That’s the joy of retirement, isn’t it? You get to make your own schedule. You are finally your own boss. And your still-working friends envy your freedom and flexibility.

But now you’re getting a little itchy and boredom is starting to creep in. You feel unsettled—something’s missing. There’s too little structure and too much flexibility. You feel like you should be doing something more. And if you’re someone who likes some structure to your days, you set out to get some.

Perfect timing! Your neighbor wants you to volunteer with her at the food pantry. Sure—that’s a good cause!

Your daughter needs you to babysit the grandkids more. Terrific—you get some quality time with them and they’re growing so fast!

Your best friend asks you to join her garden club/book club/investments group. Great opportunity—maybe you’ll meet some new people!

And because you’re retired and people assume you’re not busy, your working friends and family members start asking you for favors, to do this or do that for them.

The requests flood in—so many people have suggestions for how you should spend your time. You accept more volunteer gigs because they’re worthwhile and make you feel valued. Isn’t staying busy the key to happiness?

And once you’re known as a joiner, everyone has a request. It’s easy to say yes—after all, you now have more time than you used to.

Until you don’t.

You end up overbooked, overcommitted and resentful. You’ve added one commitment after another and become busy with activities that may not be the right match for you. You actually heard yourself say—out loud—to an acquaintance you saw at the grocery store, “I’m so busy now. I don’t know how I ever found the time to work!”

Yes, you’re busy. But are you fulfilled? Happy? Is this how you envisioned your retirement?

When we retire, it’s easy to overcommit. Some of the women who responded to the questionnaire for our book shared this predicament.

One, a former director for a large electric utility from The Woodlands, Texas, said,” The first few months were terrifying. I really missed the structure and social aspects of work. I was compelled to keep my calendar loaded up with tasks, appointments, activities and trying to stay connected to former co-workers. I spent a lot of time doing volunteer work to replace the time I spent working.”

We’re used to having daily obligations and are comfortable with that. We feel important, valued, needed and purposeful if there are commitments on our calendar. Without the structure of a job, we often try to re-create that structure in our retirement. And we can easily overdo it.

Why? Because too often, we just can’t say “no.” Kathryn Lively, PhD, said in a Psychology Today online article dated 11/2/13, “Most women have a difficult time saying no, especially if they think someone’s feelings may be at stake or if they think they’ll not be liked. It’s actually a socially learned coping mechanism that can, with a little time and attention, be unlearned.”

There are a variety of reasons we have a difficult time saying no:

  • It seems rude
  • We like to help
  • We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings
  • We don’t want a negative reaction
  • We don’t feel good rejecting something or someone
  • It’s easier to be agreeable
  • We don’t want to feel guilty—or have to explain ourselves
  • We don’t want to disappoint someone
  • As girls, we were raised to please

Saying yes can make us feel good—and valued. But saying yes to too many things means we can’t say yes to other new hobbies, projects or business ideas that are also important to us—because we don’t have time.

One of the lessons retirement can teach us is how to find balance between boredom and an over-scheduled calendar. And to do that we have to have a clear reason for saying yes.

A number of women who responded to our questionnaire spoke of how they had to clarify what their priorities were and, in order to do so, they created a personal mission statement to guide their decisions about how to spend their time in retirement.

We also have to develop the ability to say no—and to do so without feeling guilty. We don’t owe anyone an explanation (“No” is a complete sentence!). We must feel empowered to say no to things that don’t align with our plans, desires or personal priorities. And to say no clearly and upfront without apology.

 How good are you at saying no? How have you learned to balance your time in retirement? Please share!