“You’re not working” and other words I don’t want to hear

tearing my hair outI can’t count the number of times each week that the words “you’re not working” work their way into sentences.  Makes me want to tear my hair out!  Happened just this morning when David and I were talking about our grandchildren and my desire to be able to help my daughter more with her kids.  She lives in Ottawa, though, which is 5 hours drive away.  I’d just said that if she lived in Toronto I could be much more available to them as back-up and he said: “Yes, you’re not working ….” and then I didn’t really hear the rest of the sentence.  Not working?  Give me a break!

I’m happy to say that a good conversation followed in which I was able to talk to him about how often I hear this message (and not only from him); sometimes it’s actually spoken and sometimes – even worse perhaps because it’s harder to catch – it just works its way into expectations.  For example, chores seem to get downloaded to me without even so much as a “do you mind”; the assumption is that since he has to work hard and I’m “not working” I can just do them during the day.  Not working;  as Shakespeare would said:  “aye, there’s the rub.”  

Okay I admit that at some level this bothers me because I’m carrying a sort of guilty, uncomfortable feeling about not being out there at a full-time job.  Why aren’t I helping others more?  How am I making a contribution to the lives of those around me?  The simple question: “When will I see you?” reverberates in my brain as: “Why aren’t you more attentive?  Why aren’t you less selfish?” and no matter how I cut it I am finding it hard to respond without feeling “guilted”.

woman at workI’ve been up – and mostly at my computer – since very early this morning.  I am not playing; I’m working.  I’m trying to build connections and line up more keynotes and workshops.  That’s working.  I spent some time finding a family physician for a friend; there’s such a dreadful doctor shortage here and I’m a good “hunter”.  That’s working.  I dropped off all of the leftover hamburger buns at a local drop-in shelter.  That’s working.  I’m made calls, sent e-mails, finished after-party clean-up … all working.  This isn’t frivolous.  It isn’t without value.  It may not pay very well – or pay at all mostly – but that doesn’t make it “not work” and it doesn’t make it “not important”.

So – here’s my request to everyone who interacts with anyone who’s retired.    Please recognize that just because day-time hours are no longer paid for on a full-time basis does not mean that the alternative is a life of leisure or indolence or sloth.   Many retired people – me included – are working hard.  For almost no money … but working hard nonetheless.  What’s changed is that the things I am working on are now the things that mean the most to me; that seem like the ways I can still really make a difference.  

Do you think, as Shakespeare also said, that “the lady doth protest too much“?   Oft misquoted those words are!  To protest, in Shakespeare’s time, meant to “declare” or “swear solemnly”.  Yup, I’m protesting here.  I’m asking for some recognition – seriously declaring that this is important to me – that I am still working hard.  Or maybe what I need to be doing is just learning to hear “bla, bla, bla” when “you’re not working” is spoken.  Or maybe a little of both.

Thanks for letting me get this off my chest.  Now …. there’s work to be done!

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6 responses to ““You’re not working” and other words I don’t want to hear

  1. Well said.

    And maybe part three is “a little jealousy” that you have accomplished what you have in your life, so you have earned the right to retire and have some balance.

  2. You’ve been heard!!

    Our society has ingrained notions of the definitions for work and what you’re hearing is someone else’s experience of your situtation, as per those definitions. It’s their experience, not yours, and if you can distance yourself this way, then there is no need for defence or justification.

    You know you’re working, hard. Better yet, you’re working at what’s important and matters to you. Bravo! Continue. And reply to the assumptions coming your way about chores etc. with full attention and recognition of yourself working.

    One day, the others may “get” it.

  3. retiring seems like a lovely so lovely idea. i want to and keep organizing to, and then the economy strikes.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      I’m grateful – in a strange sort of way – that the economy tanked just after I retired. Not sure how that might have forced a change in plans. Once I was “out” though there was nothing to do but keep moving along. Sometimes we just take the plunge and hope for the best I guess.

  4. When will David retire? That should be interesting, I can’t wait to see your posts then….

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      David’s likely to work for at least another 10 years; claims he’ll only finally leave his office feet first. By then I wonder if I’ll still be blogging?

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