Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Gift and Challenge of Time

They were a study in contrasts: a woman in the locker room at the gym this morning, who gasped as she changed to run from dance exercise to water exercise class "I've never been busier than I am in retirement! How did I ever find time to work?" and the woman who lingered over a leisurely game of solitaire at the local cafe this afternoon.  She smiled when she saw me though we had never met. "Want to play cards, hon?" she asked, hopefully. "It sure helps to pass the time if you know what I mean."

We all have highly individual concepts of time.

For some of us, there is never enough time to do all we want to do. For some, energy and interests combine to create a perpetually busy schedule. For some, being busy is a habit and activities expand to fill all the hours in a day.

There are others who drift through life, bored, listless and searching for something to fill the long hours of the day. While chronic boredom can manifest itself throughout life, it can particularly evident after retirement when the old structure of commuting, working, and free time give way to a new concept: creating a new structure for your days. Time hangs heavy for some and is never enough for others.

If you find time hanging heavy, feel bored and dissatisfied and don't know quite what to do with yourself, see your doctor for a check-up, especially if these feelings are new to you. Depression can slow your days to a crawl -- and, conversely, sitting rooted in a lounge chair getting no more exercise than clicking the t.v. remote control is depressing.

What can you do when days seem endless? Discover or re-discover some new or renewed passions. Did you love making music once upon a time? Enjoy a sport? Were you handy with needlework? Dust off your equipment and try it once again.  You might also focus on giving some of that too abundant time to others as a volunteer -- in your community, in a local hospital, or schools or in animal rescue or a political cause that interests you.

If you're finding you don't have time to do all you want to do, stop and think for a moment. Are you enjoying life? Or are you feeling trapped and stressed with a lockstep schedule? If you're starting to feel stressed, practice saying "No" when you feel the need. Limit activities -- as much as possible --to those you really enjoy. Make sure you have enough time for yourself:  quiet time to read, to think, to meditate.

Finding a healthy balance between time alone and time shared, between time spent working and time to relax and replenish your spirit, is a challenge whatever your time of life. In our younger years, huge chunks of time were devoted to building our careers, raising our children, nurturing our relationships as well as our evolving selves -- and, too often, there wasn't enough time for relaxation and self-care.

As the children grow up, as our careers begin to wind down, we may find ourselves bewildered by the sudden infusion of time in our lives and the need to re-balance our priorities.  Some of us may continue to have our time filled with the need to care for aging parents or an ailing spouse -- and find ourselves struggling for a bit of time for respite and self-care.  For others, this newfound free time is a precious gift or a formidable challenge -- or a bit of both.  The challenge is to fill your days with a balance of responsibilities and pleasures. The gift is having the freedom to determine for yourself just what those responsibilities and pleasures will be -- and how these will balance in this very special time of your life.


  1. Thank-you, Dr. McCoy. This dedication to the mid-life reality is most appreciated.

  2. Amen! The new mom generation seems to either complain because grandma doesn't drop everything to babysit at mom's convenience OR complain that grandma is too involved. They seem to want to use grandma up until she has nothing left before they take her to a nursing home and dump her. That sounds harsh but it feels harsh. There's no respect for grandma wisdom in what she's learned. This generation that was raised on the Internet is sorely lacking in people skills and could benefit a lot from what their mothers have learned .