We’ll be sailing on the Polar Star for 10 days; four of them getting to and from the Antarctic Peninsula and six of them visiting Antarctica, hopefully boarding zodias a couple of times a day for land visits. I’ll keep a good record (in words and photos) of all that we see and do and I’ll share that with you when I get back (if you’d like).
It’s been over a month now and I’m surprised to find myself still walking around much of the time in what feels like a fog, or as it was called in Joe Vs The Volcano … a brain cloud. People keep asking me how I’m enjoying retirement (and what I’m doing) and I’m pretty sure that they are all expecting to hear that it’s terrific and that I’m busier than ever. Understand that I’m not really complaining; I’m just struggling. Struggling to make this transition which is proving to be more challenging than I’d anticipated. Somehow I guess I thought that since I was giving this a lot of thought beforehand I’d find the actual change quite easy. Not! I’m also not ready to settle on what I want to do yet … still tossing around the many many wonderful opportunities I could follow up.
So, why is this hard? I think that basically it’s because I no longer know what a successful day looks like. I knew that once, or at least thought that I did. I can’t measure a good day by how much I achieved any more because, at least for now, I’m not sure what I want to be achieving other than figuring this transition out. I certainly can’t measure it by how much I’ve ‘made’ or produced, or created, unless – of course – I count making my bed or producing a good meal as evidence of a good day … but then I did those things even when I was working full-time. It isn’t about what I’ve acquired for sure; if it was then the majority of my days would be in the negative part of the “good” column since mostly I’m still purging and unloading.
This question – what constitutes a good day – seems (for me at least) to be closely linked to those big questions about the meaning of life and how we should live our lives. This morning, in a lecture that I was attending, it was pointed out that if you were to ask a group of young people today “What do you want to be when you grow up” you’d get answers about careers and acitvities: I want to be a doctor; I want to be a teacher; I want to win a Nobel prize or the World Series. However, if you asked this same question in ancient Greece you’d more likely have heard answers that focused on human qualities: I want to be brave; I want to be honest … and so on. This was of some comfort to me because it enables me to move away from the notion that I have to achieve something to have a good day. It lets me look at how I’ve “been” over the course of a day; to measure myself more through Aristotle’s notion of eudaimonia – a cross between happiness and human flourishing – than through the more modern lens of achievement. It isn’t a concept that exists in a vacuum however; eudaimonia is well-being that comes through activity that is in accordance with the excellence of the best part of us.
I started to feel a little bit better about this struggle when I was talking with a friend who retired 6 years ago. She said that it took her a long time to figure out that she needed something scheduled each day to feel alright. Something more than just taking the time to sit and look out the window at the changing profile of the trees now that it’s winter.
Wait! But that’s just what I want to do. I want to stop the rushing around and spend time just sitting and thinking and noticing things and experiencing things. I want to do that and not feel guilty about it; not feel that this is time wasted. Is the secret, then, to schedule this contemplative time each day? I’ll try that and see how it works.