Saturday, February 12, 2011

Retirement Planning - What’ll I Do?

Most of you know that what I hope to do when I retire is write. This blog is a first step. It helps me hone my skill and forces me to write on a regular basis. What I did not expect is that it also gives me pause about what I really want to do when I stop working.

For several months, I’ve diligently posted every Wednesday and Saturday. Most weeks, this has worked fine. Occasionally, I struggle to come up with a topic. Sometimes I have a topic but have to force myself to start writing about it. It’s as though blogging has become a chore. Oh, not often, to be sure, and not like changing the cat litter every week, but it’s forced me to think more deeply about what I mean when I say I want to be a writer.

What is it about writing that interests me? Is it the process? I certainly enjoy fine tuning a phrase, tweaking the words until they express exactly what I want them to, making them dance. I also enjoy using my writing to entertain people. (That would be you, dear readers.) But does any of that mean that my great desire is to be a writer? How can it be, if it’s sometimes a chore?

Perhaps it’s the medium that’s the problem—the blog itself. A friend recently wrote that the only difference between working and retirement is that you have no boss and no fixed schedule. Blogging is more like work—your blog is your boss and you really should keep to a schedule.

As I mull this over, it occurs to me that there’s a pipeline of our activities that runs from chores to our true passion. We should aspire to follow our passion when we retire. To do this, we need serious introspection on where our interests lie along that pipeline.

Let’s walk through an example using cooking in the broadest sense. That word can mean many things. Every night, I make our lunches for the next day. I might aspire to be a cook (remember, this is just an example,) but preparing lunches is a chore. If that were all I had to look forward to, I would never claim cooking as my passion.

Next stop on the pipeline is a hobby. I might enjoy baking cookies now and then, but unless I become a cookie specialist, that’s a hobby, not a passion. Were I to become a fabulous baker (like my mother was,) I might choose to make some money off my hobby. That would move my baking along the pipeline toward a vocation.

People fortunate enough to enjoy what they do for a living, to get up every day saying “Can’t wait to get to my office” (or into the kitchen) may be following their passion already. They don’t need to retire to do it. Raise your hands if you can say your vocation is your true passion. Just what I thought. (OK, sir, you can put your hand down now.) Like so many of us, dear readers, you have a vocation—otherwise known as a job.

A short hop up the line from vocation is avocation—what we do in addition to our paid employment. We rarely make much money off of our avocation, but we enjoy it immensely and are often passionate about it. If baking were my avocation and my ginger cookies were the snappiest in town, I might promote them at local fairs. If we lost our primary employment, we could probably make a living off our avocation (my cookies not withstanding.)

We’ve reached the opposite end of the pipeline, which is true passion. If I’d been baking cookies as an avocation, by the time I retired, I might realize it was my passion and be ready to invest in an oven that actually bakes at the temperature it’s set at. I might even make my mother’s hermit cookies for my brother—he loves them. (His avocation was photography, by the way, and once he retired, it became his passion.)

Back to my writing. I considered that writing might not be my true passion, since it’s sometimes a chore. Having a talent for something doesn’t make it your passion. Likewise, just because you’d continue doing something even if you no longer got paid for it doesn’t necessarily move it along the passion pipeline. (It’s a good indicator, however.) If you see satisfaction as more desirable “payment” than money, that’s a good sign, too.

I’ve decided it’s not fair to judge where writing sits on my pipeline while I’m still working full time. And juggling contractors’ schedules to get the house ready to sell. And chopping ice in the driveway every time the temperature rises above freezing. It’s enough for me right now to have the discipline to keep the posting pipeline open. I hope it’s enough for you, too.


Anonymous said...

I have the same struggle - though I've never really considered writing full-time, becuase it's more a chore than not. But when it's good, it's really good :)

Elaine M. Decker said...

You are so right. When it's good, it's awesome!