I shared a confession with my friend Jackie over coffee today. I go to her for counsel, because some years ago — well before the normal retirement age — she got sick of work and quit. I find it helpful to talk to one who has gone before me into this new world of freedom from long days spent in not-nearly-solitary-enough confinement. Now she and her husband do a lot of traveling, which is the subject of her blog and articles she writes for the local paper.
My confession was that only 2 and 1/2 months into retirement I seem to have taken on many projects. Dare I say too many? I’m on a non-profit board and chair one of its subcommittees, teach ESL, work on my church’s website and serve on a committee there, and serve on two other committees related to the topic of equity in education. Recently I offered to help my minister organize/catalog a few zillion letters written by his mentor, which he had inherited, and only saved myself from full-time volunteer work by quickly deleting an email I received asking for someone to help a Korean ESL student through one-on-one conversation. Thus far I haven’t felt stress about anything I’m doing, and in fact still feel quite content, but I know that I’m close to crossing the line into the familiar, panicky, “I have no time. Where did all my time go?” rant.
Recognizing my obvious inability to say no, another friend, Roberta, gave me a refrigerator magnet (available online) that says, “Stop me before I volunteer again.” Regrettably, my days of putting magnets on the frig are over and these wise words are sitting on a bookcase upstairs where they have done me absolutely no good. Other friends just tell me it’s payback time for all the “volunteer opportunities” I’ve given them.
I felt some relief when Jackie assured me that this was just a phase, one that occurs in the first year of retirement. She knows, because when she left her job she stayed on a board in the city where she worked and also tutored there, wrote a church newsletter and did various other volunteer jobs. When her husband reminded her that she had quit work so they could travel yet had no time on her calendar to do this, she slowly divested herself of all but one commitment.
I’ve begun my own 12-step recovery plan, starting with an admission that I am powerless when someone asks me to volunteer. In case this isn’t enough, I’m going to bring that magnet downstairs and place it next to the telephone and my computer, putting it to work as a talisman against any more offers that “will hardly take any time.”