When you have the potential for endless leisure, how do you create a satisfying balance of work and leisure?
In today’s world of downsizings and reorganizations, where retirement is often not completely by choice, how do we mark the transition from full-time work to retirement? The big dinner and gold watch are fast becoming things of the past. When the concept of a hard stop between working life and fantasy days of leisure is no longer the norm (or even what a person who is “only in her sixties” wants), how do we acknowledge the accomplishments of a lifetime of work and support the transition to the next stage and its different way of accomplishing?
Last year, after more than forty years of working, my company reorganized for the umpteenth time and THIS time eliminated MY job, offered me a package and sent me on my way. I can tell you that I had been seriously thinking about retiring anyway. I was tired of commuting over an hour each way, tired of bringing work home on nights and weekends and frustrated that the company had shifted priorities and no longer gave their full support to the work/life strategy I managed. At 62, it might be time to move on.
All of that is true, but only partly. While I wasn’t one of the super-driven work-is-the-highest-priority types who lead big companies, work did define me in many ways. It also gave me status and kept me interested. So now I had a lot of time to think about. Ironically, time was what a good deal of my work at the company had been about. I had worked with others on how to balance work and family, how to implement flexible work arrangements, and how to manage overwork. Now it was my turn to rethink time as I transitioned from full-time work to retirement, or something like it. I began to realize that one of the central questions to answer in successfully making this shift continues to focus on aspects of the elusive work/life balance: “When you have the potential for endless leisure, how do you create a satisfying balance of work and leisure?”
There are two ways in which concepts central to Judaism provide wisdom and useful tools to help manage this change and to support new choices. The first is our relationship to time. While I am not someone who regularly observes Shabbat in traditional ways, I appreciate Shabbat’s central place in our religious practice and our tradition’s emphasis on the importance of both work and leisure. With a recurring focus on how we manage our time both individually and as a religious community, our tradition provides us with tools for doing so with daily, weekly and yearly cycles and rituals. The other is tikkun olam. When I made the decision, at 50, to take a corporate job with a long commute, I gave up most of my community activities including social action work, and I missed them! As I prepared for retirement, I made plans to renew my involvement with my synagogue’s social action committee, political campaigns and causes and organizations devoted to women. I am pleased to say that one of the best things about this year is that I’ve been able to do that. It has taken a bit of trial and error deciding which things I find satisfaction doing. I’m sometimes in danger of saying “yes” to too many things, but now I have that choice.
One of the joys of not having others dictate how you will spend the largest piece of your waking hours, is slowing things down, taking the time to do little and big things that both give you pleasure AND make a difference. You learn that unpaid work can be no less impactful than paid. You begin to create new routines: reading the paper thoroughly before starting the day’s activities, cleaning the kitchen before you leave the house, regularly going to a yoga class with a dedicated group of dear friends. And replying that you are happy to help when someone asks you to help with a program at the synagogue, bake for a community event or call your representatives in Congress. Nowadays the boundaries between work and retirement are not as clear and I am not always sure that I have left the work world for good. Not every day is fulfilling – but then it wasn’t when I worked either! What I do know is that there are other good ways to spend your time when you leave the 9-5 behind.
Andrea Moselle retired from her position as a human resources manager specializing in work/life and diversity. She has been a leader and consultant in training and education, strategy development and program design in business and non-profit settings. Andi lives in Mt. Airy and is a member of Germantown Jewish Centre, where she serves on the Social Action Committee.