There are two extremes when it comes to retirees; those who breathe a sigh of relief, collapse on the sofa and start to enjoy the emptiness of their days and those who say ‘yes’ to absolutely every opportunity that comes their way, leaving no gap in the diary unfilled.

Now I know we live in an ocean of motion on a planet that never stands still.  We were born to move, to hustle and bustle, but not every minute of every day.  We also need stillness and calm.  I live with one foot in both camps and encourage others to do the same.

Il dolce far niente

It is said that the Italians are masters of ‘the sweetness of doing nothing’, so much so that they even have a phrase for it.  Long carefree days chatting with friends on park benches, playing chess in the streets, and making one drink last for hours as they simply watch the world go by. Ahh, I can picture it now… a Campari in hand, the sun on my back…

Even here, in London, on this freezing cold day, I see people idling around doing a very British version of the above… a hot cup of tea, the morning paper, and a quiet snooze when they think no one is looking.  Coffee shop baristas here bear witness to this every single day.

For some, il dolce far niente is ‘wasting time’, ‘idling away’; for others, this is heaven.

Well, heaven at first… until boredom sets in.

For me, this is a wonderful approach to take from time to time, but certainly not every day.

Let’s focus on the busy bodies…

I’d love to talk more about long Italian summers, but I digress.  Today, I want to focus on the second camp of retirees; the ‘busy bodies’, the people who can’t seem to say ‘no’ to anything.

A client recently told me that when she retired, she was given a piece of advice she has treasured… “Whatever you do, when you retire, say ‘yes’ to everything, whether you think you want to do it, or not.”

Now I get this sentiment, I really do.  It’s great to be challenged and ‘pushed’ out of your comfort zone, especially in retirement when opportunities do start to dwindle and social events become ever-sparser (apart from funerals, of course).

To those whose diaries are fuller than ever, I ask, “Why are you doing this?  What is it you are afraid of? What – or who – are you running away from?”

Many of them look at me bewildered.  Thinking that a retirement coach, of all people, should not be questioning their zest for life or encouraging them to slow down.

I’m not, I’m simply suggesting that they take ‘time out’ to figure out what it is they really want before it’s too late.

Stay still and take stock

If you almost need a PA to take care of your retirement schedule, I ask you this… are you happy and fulfilled?

Do you jump out of bed with delight, itching to go to the gym, do your volunteering stint, look after the grandchildren, your dog, or your spouse?  Is your weekly book club a treat, sailing club sublime?  Did you enjoy last night’s wine-tasting session, your weekly dinner with friends, and your hike in the hills with Hilary?  Have you signed up for candle-making, cross-stitch, and crochet lessons because you want to or because there was capacity in your diary and your mind for more?

And finally, I ask, when were you last alone, or still?

Being still may sound dull, especially to people who have always powered on through and surrounded themselves with others, but it is essential.  It allows us the time and the space to listen – and I mean really listen – to our inner voice.  You know, the one we are sometimes afraid to hear.

Addressing your inner voice takes courage

If we fail to listen to our inner voice in good times, it will resort to shouting at us through adversity.  And believe you me, it is far better to deal with your inner wants and needs when you have the capacity to, instead of when a crisis hits.

Of course, doing this takes courage – lots of it, but so does doing anything we fear.  When we find the courage to stop, listen to our hearts, and expose our vulnerabilities, we almost always move forward into a better way of living – the life we were meant to lead.

As Thucydides, the Athenian historian and general, said:

“The secret to happiness is freedom…and the secret to freedom is courage.”

Ask yourself this…

So, if you’re looking down at a packed social schedule, a diary without space or time for you and you alone, ask yourself this:

  • On your death bed, will you have any regrets about the life you have lived, the things you have not done?
  • In what activity do you lose all sense of time? The answer to this is key to fulfilment.
  • What is your biggest fear? As right behind that fear lies the adventure you seek.

Learn to be alone

I’m not suggesting that you cancel everything and live a life of solitude – not at all – but having been a retirement ‘busy body’ myself I speak from the heart when I say: learn to be alone, to love yourself and to listen to your heart, as well as your head.  Be your own best friend and take time to figure out what it is that you really want to do.  Retirement is the time to start a new adventure, one you experience both inside your body and out.

If you would like some help in working out what you really want from retirement, please get in touch.

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