Rethinking Retirement  

The Importance of Leisure

My Perspective: The Importance of Leisure

By Phil Hoefer

“The gutters need to be fixed,” I heard the voice say as I picked up my pencil. I tried to ignore it as I concentrated on the picture I was attempting to draw in front of me.

“Those hinges still squeak,” the voice persisted, “and the lawn needs to be mowed, the checkbook needs to be balanced and the air filters need to be changed.” I sighed, put down my pencil, and went to pull out the ladder.

Why is it that we have such difficulty justifying to ourselves when we want to take the time to do the things we truly love to do? When I retired I had a long list of things I wanted to do. There were trips I wanted to take, projects I needed to do around the house and a variety of other things, but at the top of that list, was that I wanted to spend more time with my drawing and my art.

So why is it that every time I sit down to draw or paint, this little voice inside my head tells me I ought to be doing more productive things?

The fact of the matter is that I - along with millions of others - was raised with a strong work ethic. So strong in fact, that I now share an affliction with those millions where the idea of doing something simply for fun or relaxation often produces a terrible sense of guilt. Every time I try to do something just for fun this little voice in the back of my head constantly reminds me that there are more productive things I could be doing. Even now that I’m retired, I still can’t completely shake the voice.

So how do you calm the voice? Devote a portion of your time to the things that make your heart sing.

In today’s world, the hectic pace of our jobs reinforces our work ethic. With what seems like more and more work to do along with fewer and fewer people to do it, many of us adopt the mantra, “whatever it takes to get the job done.” It’s not hard to work from sunup to sundown and fill every waking moment devoted to our jobs. When we retire we may leave the job behind, but we don’t necessarily leave the work ethic with it. The secret is to find balance between work and leisure during both your career and retirement.

The first step is to identify those things that make your heart sing. Some will find this so easy they’ll assume it should go without saying. But a surprising number of people devote so much of their time to work that they’ve forgotten what it is they truly love to do just for fun. Whether it’s physical activities like running, hiking, lifting weights, playing tennis, or fishing, or craft activities like drawing, painting, photography, sewing or knitting, find those things that create joy and contentment in your heart. There’s a great interests exercise on the website that will help you discover what makes your heart sing.

The second step is to recognize that leisure activities are as important to your quality of life as your work is, and therefore devote time to those interests during your working career. Over the years I’ve watched several people go year after year without ever taking a vacation while working 50-60 hours every week. While some thrived on schedules like this, many of them wound up burnt out, exhausted, or experiencing health problems at a relatively young age. Actively participating in the things that make your heart sing relieves the stress and anxiety that build up from the daily pressures of our jobs. Several studies now confirm that balancing work and leisure actually makes us more creative, productive and efficient when we do return to work.

In addition to vacation time, try to build leisure time into your daily schedule. It may take a while to get into the habit of making time to do these activities, and you may need to force yourself at first, but it gets easier. Lunch breaks are a great way to get your mind off work. If you can run, read a book, walk in the park, or even meditate, these will all calm your nerves. Remember, there is sure to be pressure for you not to do these activities. Colleagues may ask you to do other things and there are always a million things to do at work, but now is the time to say, “No, I’ve got something else scheduled.”

The third and final step takes place after you retire, and that is to recognize the opposite of step two. In other words, once you retire, recognize that continued involvement in purposeful organizations and activities (sometimes also known as work) is as important to your quality of life at retirement as spending time on your leisure activities. If all you do when you retire is spend your day on the golf course, the little voice inside your head can become a screaming monster. We’ve got to stay involved and connected with other people in a meaningful way. Doing so not only makes us feel good and productive, but also satisfies that voice that tells you what you “ought” to be doing.


Phil Hoefer retired from the Colorado State Forest Service in 2001. He now spends his time volunteering on several boards, stays involved with his professional societies, speaks on a variety of forestry topics, and has bicycled from coast to coast and from border to border. He is still trying to find more time for his art projects.


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