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Reflections On My Retirement: Year Three

By Jerry Ziskind

In thinking about the past year I believe I am beginning to come to terms with an ongoing issue for me - time spent doing productive activities versus time doing more pleasurable activities. Before retirement the issue for me was work versus play. Now that much of what I do is my own choice I still feel some discontent if I don't do enough productive activities, that is, activities that contribute to others needs and/or accomplish something useful.

The beginning of my third year of retirement, that is July, August, and early September (I still plan and think on a school year calendar), my productive activities included volunteer tutoring, interviewing my Mother, editing my Father's story, working on the Ethical Society's Long Range Plan of which I was chair of the committee, serving on the Commission on Aging, as well as everyday chores. Fun activities included needlepoint and reading, which I did primarily evenings, and weekly outings with my wife Rosemary. I also enjoyed short breaks during the day to play computer games.

As school started early in September I felt that I needed to be doing something more productive, more useful to society. I was in the middle of serving a few weeks of jury duty on September 11, 2001. The extraordinary events of that day exacerbated my feelings of unrest. Coincidentally a few days earlier I had gotten a phone call from our school system social worker that there was a need for someone to "home school" a family of three children. I eagerly accepted this part time teaching job.

I greatly enjoyed working with these children, one of whom I had taught in first grade and was now 12 years old. She had been a favorite student of mine. Her sisters were equally delightful. I taught them three days a week for two to two and a half hours. Though the hours were limited, additional time was needed to gather materials and prepare lessons. I continued working with the family until the end of December.

My working with the children was a compromise worked out between the family and the local school system. Specific details would be inappropriate other than to say that at times it was a difficult, frustrating experience. I enjoyed having the few extra dollars I was earning and feeling purposeful and useful, especially at this difficult time for our country. However I chose to stop working with the children at the end of December because I felt they needed to be in (public) school and my presence was enabling the family to avoid what I perceived what was in the best interests of the children. In addition I found the demands of teaching, along with the commitment of chairing the Long Range Planning Committee, which culminated in November, filled more of my time than I wanted. I did not have any time for my writing.

From January on, I focused my productive time energies on finishing editing my Father's story and learning how to build this web site. I have always considered learning a "productive" activity. I believe that I need to learn and grow if my retirement years are to be satisfying to me. I felt no need to work with children - apparently my "home schooling" experience satiated that need. I completed the web site in May, just in time to meet my goal of being able to announce my web site at a family reunion.

Since May, by choice, I have had no major "productive time" commitments. In addition to Tai Chi practice session about three times a week, I began to work out in a semi-supervised exercise program two days a week. I enjoyed working more regularly in my garden. I continued to deal with some of the accumulated papers in my office. The pace of my life is much more relaxed. I have fewer self-imposed deadlines and don't seem to worry as much about what I am getting done.

Have I finally adjusted to retirement? Have I learned to relax and take it easy? Not really. I still do "fun" activities like needlepoint and reading fiction in the evenings. I have started to take little chunks of time during the day to do something fun, but when I read during the afternoon it is still non-fiction. Rosemary and I still take our weekly outings and on occasion get away for a few days on short trips. We took a wonderful week vacation to Hawaii during February.

As the third year of my retirement concludes I realize more than ever the diverse possibilities retirement offers. While I still work at balancing productive and pleasure activities, I am definitely learning to relax more. My need to be productive and useful remains - I agreed to serve for the next year as President of the Board of Trustees of the Northern Virginia Ethical Society. This is a major commitment of time and energy. Filling the responsibilities of this position will help me grow which I think is important in a successful retirement. However I will need to be more aware of keeping balance in my life.