Time on our hands

With vacation about to come to a close I’ve been reflecting on the conversations I’ve been having with complete strangers at food truck rallies, at local markets, in downtown Halifax, in downtown Dartmouth, at Rails to Trails, at dog walking parks, at Value Villages, at funerals, at weddings, and at local foodbanks (where work part-time as a navigator). If I could pick out the most common thread to these conversations it would be the challenge of having too much time on one’s hands. This is SO counterintuitive. What we hear in our media (social and traditional), from our family, our co-workers, our friends, is that everyone is filled with stress. At coffee shops I hear conversations double down on how stressed out everyone is; people are either waiting for their vacations, spring break (“isn’t everyone going to Florida or the Caribbean now?”), long weekends, or they are running to the spa, to play golf, heading out to a boys night out or a girls night out, anything to escape the stress.

And yet. And yet in the midst of this go-go culture, where we sometimes are pulled in every direction, there is also the issue of “time on our hands”. Middle class and wealthier people retire sometime between the ages of 55-65. When they do they’ve likely spent the last decade complaining about how busy they are, that they need more “me-time”, they are going to travel the world, rent a trailer in Florida, take up golf, spend time with their adult children and grandchildren. But in spite of this expectation and anticipation the result is often far from satisfying.

Women are often much better at this than men. I have a theory. Volunteer work has become associated in our culture with women’s work. Women have also spent more time in their younger years cultivating friendships, support systems, not taking relationships for granted. Men tend to have wonderful relationships with co-workers but when they retire they are notorious for waiting for these male co-workers to call THEM. Despite all the whining about “I go where my wife tells me” the dirty little secret is that if their wives didn’t suggest a destination the husband would be home all day. There are only so many games of solitaire one can play on the computer, crossword puzzles to be completed, talk radio ranting hosts to be heard.

The cruise is one possibility, but again unless one knows how to take an interest in others these adventures can leave that retirement void intact. There remains the hunger to be part of something larger than self and not knowing where to look, how to connect with others, and the importance of having a reason to wake up in the morning can leave one deeply isolated.

And so we come back to having “too much time on our hands”. It’s frankly a killer, this state of affairs often leads to addictions (so much for your savings), depression and bitterness. And when we hit that slippery slope the blame game becomes second nature, it’s the fault of my former co-workers, it’s because I don’t have as much money as the people to travel all the time, it’s because my adult children don’t call as much as they should. But it comes back to us, what do we do with the time we have, when there is no job to structure our days? And it is a problem.

I think one answer is to highlight role models who are finding their way in retirement, women and men who have found a balance, a connection to others and a cause that is greater than self. There are so many people who have found this joy, this happiness, this sense of purpose. And a big shout out to one organization that seems to have done an excellent job at offering programming to address this growing challenge, the Seniors College Association of Nova Scotia, SCANS for short.

I encourage everyone to give them a look.

I see that one must be age 50 or older to join SCANS. I already qualify!