While we’re actively working on “careers,” there’s rarely a question about whether we need to make something happen or whether we’re better off waiting for it to happen. If it’s your job and it’s supposed to happen by a certain time, you’re on it. If it’s a goal you set for the business, even if it’s your business and you’re the only employee, you get it done. At home in support of the person earning the paycheck, you still get it done because money you need to live is on the line.
But once you leave that world behind, knowing when to act and when to wait is far less cut and dried.
To some extent, this notion that we’re all supposed to sit around doing nothing in retirement is to blame. There’s no expectation that you’re supposed to get anything done. So it’s no big deal if you do that thing or not. It’s almost heresy to think you should be “getting something done.”
If that lifestyle is working for you, great. But if you’re frustrated that you don’t do the things you say you want to do—or worried you won’t once you retire, look a little deeper for what may be getting in the way.
- Are you convinced you need (or want) to do it? Well, maybe you are today, but then tomorrow it doesn’t look quite as important. Unless there’s a strong sense of purpose at your core, whether or not you want to put effort into any given action will change day to day. Find your purpose.
- Do you believe you can do it? If it’s something new, your confidence about whether or not you can pull it off will also waiver. Right now, I am shying away from setting up a new piece to my blog. It’s very doable, and I need to get it done. But I’ve found an unbelievable array of ways to avoid it—day after day after day. My inner wimp is afraid of that work because I’m going to have to be a beginner to do it. When it’s new, you’re going to feel like a beginner. Get over it.
- Are you afraid of something about doing it? Most of us don’t face physical dangers every day like our ancestors did. But our brains are still wired for that. Current day fears are more often based either on things that have already happened or things that might happen. The part of our brains that triggers fear doesn’t differentiate. So we are ginning up a lot of fear of non-events. Now is the only time we have for taking action. Decide based on what’s real now and get on with it.
There’s another piece to this that’s equally frustrating once we retire though. After so many years where we had to make things happen, it’s harder to see when it would be wiser to wait. Sometimes, waiting for things to fall into place is a much better solution. At the moment, I need to find a house. I’ve been at it for two months; it feels more like ten because I haven’t found anything close to what I want. Sure, some people really do knock on the front door and ask the owners if they want to sell the house. But that’s not what’s called for here. At least if I am wise.
Every time I go out with my realtor (who is a saint), I learn more about what I like, see features—or issues–that I hadn’t considered, and discover solutions to problems my eventual house might have. I’m still getting educated on this. Making the decision before I know all I need to know is not in my best interest. But that doesn’t stop my ego from throwing a tantrum every once in a while.
How do you know when to not take action? If you want to take action because it gives you a feeling of control when the situation isn’t yours to control, your action might be a bad idea. Acting as General Manager of the Universe usually just makes things worse. Are you desperate for control? Simmer down and see what else you need to discover about what you’re trying to do.
The time to act is when you’re avoiding what you know you want to do because you’re afraid. The time to wait is when you want to take action in a situation you can’t control. And please, please, please keep working in firming up and fleshing out your sense of purpose.
Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love (which she wrote for those who want a better life than the current retirement stereotypes suggest). Her first novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014. For more, see her website, www.mining-silver.com.