Really, What IS Work?

What do you call the act or process of working? Whether it’s income-driven or as a volunteer, is your work a necessity to live? To express? Is it an addiction? Or is it to avoid doing other things expected of you?

My husband and I now call the avoidance tactic “hide work.” We’ll sit in our offices in front of our computers for hours sometimes, just to avoid doing house repairs or yard work or unpacking from our move. I’m also well aware that excessively working has been one of my chief addictions for years. Balance is an ongoing challenge.

Being busy, working, started out in childhood as a way to stay in the good graces of my mother. If we were busy, productive, or doing chores, we were less likely to be tasked with things we didn’t want to be doing or suffer the punishment of the day. We might even hear an occasional compliment. There was no such thing as boredom in our parents’ home. We could play “after the work was done.” But it never was… done.

I brought that incessant productivity mind into adulthood and years of employment. Employers loved it! I volunteered for overtime when I could. I worked through lunches. I honed my administrative skills, took classes, and learned to do tasks more quickly (and accurately). There was a time I was commended for doing the work of two or three people. Unfortunately, that recognition did not often translate into a higher salary, so I would move on to another place that was more appreciative of my efforts… until it wasn’t.

Making the transition from that productive, working mindset to a more relaxed and less demanding pace in retirement has been difficult. I find or create projects that require weeks of list-making, sorting, processing, creating, and that, finally, end up with a pleasing result… before coming up with another idea and starting again. It’s what I’ve always done, up until now.

As I’m about to finish a two-year volunteer project (with others thrown in between), I look over the list of ongoing ideas on my whiteboard and think about what I want to do next. The answer is, “Nothing.” Shock! At least not for a while.

The other day I decided to “take a day off” from my busyness and just read a book. It’s been on my desk for over a year. I promised myself I would stay out of my office and off my computer for at least the one day. It was extremely difficult to keep that commitment, but I did it. It was also a wake-up call… again.

While my mind thrives through structured hours and project deadlines, and I will never give them up entirely, I would now prefer such schedules be the exception rather than the daily expectation. I’m “retired” for goodness sake! I’ve traded my time with the world and a myriad of organizations throughout my life, for income and a sense of serving society. And though I continue to serve as a volunteer for a couple of organizations, I have stronger boundaries in place. This allows my life to be filled with creativity and friends and love and seeing sites and being with family… all the things society promised when a person retires. More of that, please.

As I “rewire” my brain and daily address this workaholism, I already sense a shift in how I’m being in the world. I’ve done much personal growth, healing, and self-development through the last twenty years, and yet, I know there is more to do in these final decades of life. I’d really like to learn how to play and not feel guilty about it. My husband has this down; he’s a willing teacher, too.

Perhaps my efforts are only a shift in perception or I’m simply calling it by a different name. However, it’s enough of a shift inside to create a new set of feelings. Calm. Joy. Abundance. Peace. Awe. Love. Oh, to make those a priority for one’s whole life; truly that would be success. As long as I still have time, I’ll work on that.