Filling slow days

YOU’VE still got to fill every day, the 35-year-old Sydney computer whizz said to explain why he hadn’t retired after selling his website and software for many millions, and I was struck by that as I read of his new endeavours this week. In one form or another it’s a statement or a question that is put to me when anybody past the apex raises the subject of retirement.

The apex? I believe people are either on the up or on the down in terms of ambitions and expectations, in terms of life itself, and I recall a youngish Herald reporter writing years ago in a television review that people are either youngish or close-to-deathish. Sorry.

After we work through the questions of when I’m going to retire, and that’s no time soon, and why not, and that’s not enough money, I ease their disappointment by telling them I’d love to be retired, and that’s true. But, they ask, how would I fill my days? The question is posed by people who are retired or who are planning to retire, and it always puzzles me that anyone could think I would not.

I’d always thought about it the way I think on my way to work of all the things I could be doing if I were not going to work, and so I rattle off a few things that could fill my day. The retired people are always unconvinced, and a few lately have asked a simple, clever question at this point. Then what, they ask, would I do today?

Oh, I’d go for an early-morning bike ride, I say.

‘‘You did that yesterday and the day before,’’ they say, ‘‘but, anyway, what would you do after the bike ride?’’

I’d weed the garden and plant a few rows of seed.

‘‘But you did that yesterday.’’

And I get their point. Retirement is not just an unbroken series of weekends, which is, I’ll admit, how I’ve always seen it. Perhaps more as a series of very long weekends or annual holidays.

It has occurred to me that filling in the day, not advancing age, may be why retired people seem to take so long to do something. Take the mowing of the lawn. If I’m mowing the lawn on a Saturday I want it done inside an hour and a half, with as early a start as possible so that it doesn’t eat too much into my day. Retired people are in no such hurry, and many will extend the mowing of a lawn much smaller than mine to half a day, at least until lunchtime, which itself seems to assume a new importance. In the afternoon there may be a trip to a supermarket or a shared pot of tea on the porch.

Need retirement be busy? What’s wrong with a slower life? I’d imagine that there’d be a certain enjoyment in not having to force the pace as I usually do over the two weekend days, that there could even be a contentment to be found in mowing the lawn at a leisurely pace. But no, says an energetic friend of his retirement of five years, it is boring, a slow death. Many other people I know warn me that retirement is not all it’s trumped up to be, and a couple say they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.

If these men have anything in common apart from the tedium, it is that they had busy, senior jobs, and while those who don’t know them might assume that they had few interests away from work the reverse is true – they were as busy with projects and passions away from work as they were at work. But for reasons I don’t understand, the projects and passions didn’t expand to fill their days.

Some men – and I’m writing about men because women never seem to retire – seem to become busier in retirement, jamming volunteer work into a schedule of exercise, mowing neighbourhood lawns, and family projects. I can hear and see them now, cheerful and bustling, always with a story about the problem they’re sorting. I start my annual leave in much the same state, working my way busily through a to-do list, but it’s all downhill and weeks later I can barely get out of my own way, let alone my wife’s.

Just as well I won’t be retiring until my super has quadrupled.

Is retirement what you expected? Or what do you expect of it? Are you sure you shouldn't keep working?

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