by Joe Casey
Remember when you were a kid? A frequent question from adults was “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you remember your answers? A favorite of mine was “An astronaut”. (My wife tells me being a space cadet is close enough). Odds are that your answer was not “I want to be really busy when I grow up.” Yet many of us have managed to accomplish just that.
It’s easy to get caught up in being busy. Busy is rewarded. If you’re good at getting things done, you’ll get promoted (and get even more to do). Beyond the workplace, there’s also a certain status to being busy. An article in the Financial Times this week noted that “People used to boast about leisure — now they boast about being busy.”
Going from the busyness of the workplace to retirement comes with the gift of freedom. But it’s a transition that has to be managed well. Many people are surprised by how quickly their time becomes filled with a mix of activities – and new commitments. There’s value in a cultivating an active retirement, but there’s a difference between one that’s busy and one that’s meaningful. It turns out that too much of a good thing can be a problem. Activity, if it’s not done thoughtfully, can be one of those things. Being busy can keep us from confronting big questions we’d rather not address, such as what is my identity now since I’ve left the world of work?
Two of our podcast guests come at this issue from different perspectives – but offer similar recommendations.
Yvonne Tally is the author of Breaking Up with Busy. I came across Yvonne reading an interview she did with The Street.com’s Retirement Daily. While her book is focused on the issues working women face, in my view, many of her principles apply to men as well. She highlights the double-edged sword of technology in our lives today. It helps us to be more efficient, but it can be a constant distraction. And there are reports that it’s changing our brains – and not for the better. A recent New York Times article noted how parents working in Silicon Valley are limiting their kids access to devices and screen time because of the growing awareness of the downsides.
I first encountered Dr. David Ekerdt in an article he penned for The Wall Street Journal In Defense of the Not-So-Busy Retirement. Eckerdt advocates being aware of how we are influenced by cultural and marketing messages about retirement and busyness. His counsel is to be mindful about what type of retirement we want to have. He points out the benefits of slowing down and recommends “letting retirement be retirement.” But he emphasizes that it’s a matter of choice. If pursuing a purposeful retirement is more appealing to you, that’s great, but he advises pursuing “purpose at your own pace.”
A takeaway from their writing and our conversations are that there is wisdom is going against the crowd. It’s one of the things I admire about the FIRE movement. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Step back and think about what’s most important to you and pursue life on your own terms.
In my corporate HR career, I was stunned once in meeting a new internal client I was to cover. He was a senior executive responsible for six subsidiary companies – he had a lot of responsibility. Right away he explained that he made a point not to be busy. Unlike his peers, he strictly limited the number of meetings on his calendar to free him up to concentrate on strategy and leadership, his highest value activities. I always thought he was rare in that regard and it gave him a different pace and a clear edge. In retirement, we can do the same. We can create the space for our most meaningful activities by learning to say No to busyness.
You can listen to our conversation with Yvonne Tally here.
You can listen to our interview with David Ekerdt here.
Joe Casey is an executive coach, who also helps people prepare for the non-financial side of retirement, at retirementwisdom.com