A very good friend of mine is one of the lucky/unlucky in these turbulent economic times. She’s secure in her job, but is now doing the work of 3.5 people. It’s a dawn-past-dusk reality each and every day and, as far as the eye can see, Sisyphean. The good news is that her retirement glitters ahead like an evanescent sighting of land after years at sea. She knows just what to do when she hits her magic number.
“I’ve already told my husband that, when I retire, I want a year of ‘nothing,’” she says wistfully. “I’ll just wake up in the morning and figure out my day as it comes—and after my year, I’ll think of something constructive to do with my life for the next phase.”
A few years before we had that conversation, I had toyed with my dreams of one year with nothing scheduled. Working hard for 30 years and addicted to the pace, “nothing” sounded pretty good.
How many books could I devour during a deliciously slow afternoon with cooling cups of tea at the table beside me? I thought about the luxury of watching a Bette Davis movie at 10:30 in the morning and topping the day off with Humphrey Bogart before bed. And I had detailed fantasies about wearing my comfy bathrobe until 4 pm and eating improper food groups. Wednesdays would impersonate slowed-down Sundays. How envious my working friends would be! How nice to slow down time and not be hooked up to my Blackberry as though it was a mobile feeding tube.
In the end, I didn’t exactly schedule my “nothing” year. It was, (not to put too fine a point on it), planned for me. Like so many others who had the misfortune of unfavorable timing and changing agendas, I was suddenly without endless meetings, the company car and my ubiquitous but suddenly beloved communications devices. “Nothing” had arrived unscheduled and stark naked—and it did not resemble the Christmas package fantasy I had cultivated during my hard-driving, calendar-filled years.
Tumbling unceremoniously into my year, the idea of a 10:30 a.m. movie was, all of a sudden, so unsavory that 12 months passed without a single viewing of Dark Victory. Indulging in my love of reading was wonderful, but the ticking of the clock grew more pronounced in an Edgar Allan Poe kind of way. The phone didn’t ring. No one envied. Everyone I knew complained about their jobs but hung on to them and didn’t let go. And “nothing” lingered about me like an invalid, malodorous aunt with nowhere to go but my guest room or eternity.
But, in the end I did have the year I had long wondered about. And I can tell you, my experiences were not the epiphany-fest as the ones often shared on Oprah. But I was able to glean some tiny grains of insight as a result of my unique 365 days:
- It really is better when your year of nothing is planned—-by you. It’s a lot less fun when it catches you by surprise. I made lemonade from lemons, but it was still pretty tart at times with an often bitter aftertaste.
- Routines are good—even with a very relaxed format. There should always been a small amount of something in your nothing. Regular Pilates and Rotarian meetings worked very well for me.
- Reading as many books as you can is delightful—ignore the Edgar Allan Poe sound effects in your head. Sometimes you should simply give in and have the day unfold without guilt or uncertainty. Let the clock slowly tick on!
- Make sure that your circulation doesn’t get cut off by lack of friendships. Your work friends are a lot more important and vital to your well-being than you may think. It helps to keep your good friendships alive and mix them up with new people, some who work for themselves and can guide you through the unknown.