For most of my 22-year career in finance I craved more balance in my life. I spent the early years of my working life in the tax department of a national public accounting firm. The hours were long, and during tax season my life pretty much revolved around work. Later in my career, my job was nowhere near as grueling, but life was still heavily skewed toward work.
Like most people, Monday through Friday I spent most of my waking hours working, getting ready for work, or commuting to and from work. I had a few hours each night to enjoy dinner and unwind a bit, but having another looming work day meant I needed to get to bed at a reasonable hour so I could get up and do it all over again the next day. Weekends never felt long enough. I never had quite enough time for all the activities on my agenda. And much of the time my thoughts were still on work anyway. I wanted more balance in my life, so I retired.
With all the extra time that retirement provided, I found a new passion in writing. I spent hours and hours writing in my journal, writing for my blog, taking writing classes at the community college, and reading as much good writing as I could squeeze in. Captivated by my new hobby, the hours flew by. My husband often came home from biking with a friend or running some errands to find me still in my pajamas and still tethered to my computer. Sometimes he’d have to remind me to eat lunch.
It’s important to find a passion when you retire, something that not only fills the hours vacated by the 9-to-5 grind, but also something you’re really excited about. But retiring to your passion does not necessarily bring balance to your life. I was going through whole days without seeing another human being aside from my husband. That’s not balanced. Just because you have unlimited time to do whatever you want to do in retirement doesn’t mean that’s exactly what you should be doing. I needed to tear myself away from the computer and be with some actual people. I needed to use a different part of my brain occasionally. And I definitely needed to get some physical activity.
I was also looking forward to enjoying more travel in retirement. With only three weeks of vacation each year while I was working, I lusted for longer trips where we could slow down and enjoy our surroundings without racing between attractions. And I was excited to get out of town more frequently. My husband, Doug, was looking forward to it as well, at least in theory. I had us out exploring for nearly three months during the second year of my retirement. But once we started traveling so much, Doug learned that he didn’t really want to be traveling so much. He needed more balance.
It turns out that striking the right balance in life is not a problem limited to the working population. It’s a problem you may encounter in retirement as well. The good news is that in retirement, it’s much easier to set the boundaries since you call the shots now. You may have to force yourself away from your passion for a few hours each week to go learn something new, to go volunteer in your community, or to go find a new physical challenge. And it may require some negotiation with your spouse to strike the right balance for the activities you want to share together. Having so much time to devote to things you are passionate about is one of the great gifts of retirement, but don’t let it sidetrack you from the bigger goal of living a more balanced life.
Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.