I had lunch with a friend recently. He’s a little older than me — a couple of years — but he’s still working at a variety of things. It was clear he had no intention of stopping. I talked about my plans, which largely consist of getting ready to retire. He asked me what I intended to do in the next stage of my life. I said I planned to keep dabbling at writing, travel and generally take it easy.
“But what are you going to DO?” he insisted.
I have to say I was taken aback; I thought I had laid out a fairly comprehensive plan. I suppose I could have added that I was planning on taking in a few baseball games and improving my skills in the kitchen but I don’t think it was quite what he had in mind.
I finally replied that I would do something — one has to in order to fill the space between now and death after all. And, I added, I’ve never been someone who was particularly driven by work or by considerations of the future. I’m not stupid about it — I’ve planned carefully to make sure I don’t have to eat dog food while sheltering in a cardboard box — but mostly I’ll let things unfold, doing whatever takes my interest and fits my budget — both of money and energy.
As I thought about it, I realized that this question has come up again and again, among my friends and colleagues who have reached the age where they can choose to do or not do — in the sense of either having big goals or aspirations or being willing to simply let life happen.
Some have leapt at the opportunity to stop working. They usually have some money or a decent and secure pension, though sometimes they just have enough, and feel they have actually done plenty already. Others can’t imagine sitting in idleness and continue to work well into their seventies. The type of work may change or the intensity but for some people being outwardly productive is a necessity — it is how they define themselves. Even if they retire they sometimes go back.
What about those who choose to set aside the yoke of productivity, who no longer feel the need to do big things out in the world? Most of them seem to have opted for inner productivity. They pursue their own interests, not caring whether anyone notices or cares. Sometimes it is a matter of returning to the basics of life — hiking, maintaining their house, foraging for gourmet food, looking for beauty, reading books or just thinking thoughts. For them it is enough to create something inside themselves or simply to consider all that has gone before.
I suspect I will be among the latter. I’ve achieved some things for which a few people might remember me. I have a small shelf of my works to remind me of those efforts and a horde of memories of the more ephemeral accomplishments.
So that is what I am going to do. I’m going to practice the art of doing nothing. Who can say what wonders I might achieve?
And that’s ten minutes.