We are all creatures of habit, and changing 30+ years of fully-ingrained habits is about as easy as putting together anything from IKEA – there are always screws or bolts left over that you know should have been included, but you can’t figure out where they were supposed to go. You’re left with the sinking feeling the whole thing is going to fall apart at the worst possible moment.
The six months of semi-retirement was supposed to help me with a big part of the adjustment – or so I thought. I was wrong, and I admit it. Even working 2.5 days per week had work still dominating my thoughts and non-workday routine. No matter how often I told myself to not think about work, small thoughts, ideas and worries crept in like insects. I went through my non-work tasks with one part of my brain not fully engaged, and would frequently stop what I was doing to write a note about something that needed to be done the next work day.
Pitiful, huh? Now I know why my husband was so supportive of my retiring first. He didn’t want to have to figure this stuff out on his own.
I had gotten very used to my routine – a super long weekend and then three pretty packed work days. My first day of retirement, ironically, fell on the day I usually started my work week. It felt very, very strange to be at loose ends on a Tuesday. My habits were completely disrupted, and I was at a loss.
I initially made the mistake of going through my list of things to do, and tried to change my daily routine cold turkey. That was a mistake. I experienced an almost overwhelming mental paralysis and I couldn’t concentrate on even things I loved to do. I wondered if I had made a mistake leaving my comfortable stress-filled existence.
Ah, the angst of a Catholic-educated, Type-A ambivert. No one does guilt better.
After wallowing for a while, I told myself this was a normal reaction to change, and I need to figure out a way to get past it. The best analogy I could think of was my brain-screen was frozen. I realized a complete reboot was in order. I decided I would do absolutely nothing for as long as I needed to, and let the paralysis run its course.
I read several good books. I ran errands, and took walks. I cooked some pretty fabulous meals. I puttered in my garden. I did absolutely nothing that needed any concentration, thought, or planning. I needed that time of inactivity to reset my brain and completely divorce myself from my previous routine.
The past few days I’ve started working on a new program. I’ve been able to draw and write. My concentration is returning. My volunteer commitments don’t seem overwhelming any more. Most importantly, I’m not making the mistake of thinking I can do this all at once, or that what works today won’t change tomorrow. I’m settling in, and allowing myself to explore different things. Some will work well, others won’t, and I’m OK with that.
In fact, I think the next few months are going to be summed up by something I found in a fortune cookie recently. You find wisdom in the most unlikely places.