April 28, 2024

When Enough is Enough

When Enough is Enough

Not long ago, the mere suggestion that I would enjoy tidying up my gift wrap would have earned you the death stare. Yet, there I was yesterday, happily admiring my meticulously arranged new organizer. Unwieldy rolls of wrap, the countless stash of stick-on bows, ribbons, cards, scissors, tape — each in its own perfectly designed compartment, all fitting together in a simple tote. Just right and just enough.

It had been years since I felt the quiet contentment of decluttering. Like discarding junk mail, I had dismissed these kinds of ordinary pastimes. Their once lighthearted luster had dulled to a bad retirement cliché I could do without.

So why my change of heart? Perhaps it was triggered by a quote in a recent article in Next Avenue from Prof. Teresa Ghilarducci, a recognized expert in retirement planning and financial security, about what she sees as unique to Americans in retirement:

If you ask a 67-year-old woman if she’s retired, she hangs her head in shame and says, ‘Well, yeah, kind of, but I really am doing something.’ Then, she makes a list of all the productive things she does. Whereas a French woman at 67 puts on her red lipstick, her scarf and says, ‘Yes, I’m retired and I’m going out to lunch.’

The professor made a point, but besides wishing I were French, I also realized something else: that my retirement isn’t about only one way — I want to enjoy a great lunch but still do something fulfilling.

But that’s not how I entered retirement. I made it one or the other without meaning to. But perhaps that's no surprise. Since day one of my 40-year career, doing more and pushing aside simpler interests was my default approach and a surefire way to fend off failure. Most times, I loved it; other times, I hated it, but I got swept up in it.

But that was then. The race is different now. That’s a notion that my brother-in-law Eddy raised at a family gathering over two decades ago. As we sat outside enjoying his famous BBQ chicken over Chablis, my siblings and I talked about our work and the skill of managing in the corporate trenches. Eddy, ten years my senior and then in his late fifties, listened to everyone’s comments when he calmly added that it was no longer about striving for him. Instead, he felt comfortable, content, and happy with where he was, and “that’s enough.” Those words stayed with me, and now I appreciate their wisdom.

Striving in a meaningful direction is essential to me. But that requires a balance between aspiration and contentment. Even the thought of surrendering time to something trivial still makes me a bit nervous. Will I lose my spark? Get too comfortable and slack off? The fire of ambition fuels not only the pursuit of success but also a zest for life, and I don’t want to lose that.

But there I go again, making it all or nothing. C’est la vie.

Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash