I went to the library a few weeks ago for the first time in a long time. I’ll bet I hadn’t been there in two years. With a little more (retired) time on my hands to read, I decided to see what was on the shelves.
When you think to yourself, “I want to spend more time reading,” you have to address the next question, “What do I want to read?” I don’t know. Best sellers? Great writers? Classic novels? Biography? A real page-turner? I really don’t know.
I put my library card in my wallet and drove to the library, a couple of miles from my house. The sign on the automatic-opening front doors read, “Masks recommended.” Lol. No one in the library was wearing a mask, except for the front desk staff who stood behind plexiglass shields. Just an observation.
I immediately went to the new arrivals shelf. They were filled with a large selection of fiction, non-fiction, young adult, biography, and audio books. I remember someone saying that I should be reading biographies, so I started there. I scanned the shelves and spotted an autobiography by Dave Grohl, a musician with Nirvana and Foo Fighters. He wrote it during the Covid-19 concert shutdown. It looked interesting. Why not?
New fiction was two steps to my left. James Patterson? Plenty of those. Right next to his, a new crime novel by Thomas Perry. The main character was all about being chased, disappearing, and going off-grid. Looks good to me.
Two books should be plenty. I don’t want to overdo it. Wandering out from the stacks, I paused to look at some of the other people in the library. This was the most interesting part of the day.
Who spends time at the library? I saw a sheriff’s deputy filling out a multipage application for something. A woman used one of many computers to look up something online. A young lady texted friends on her phone. A mother walked her young son to the children’s library.
I also noticed a man sitting at a table doing absolutely nothing. He wasn’t reading. He wasn’t looking at a phone. He wasn’t having a hushed conversation with a friend. He wasn’t studying for a test. He wasn’t writing. He was just sitting.
Then, I saw a second person doing the exact same thing. Just sitting, at a table, in the library, doing absolutely nothing.
I was fascinated. I can’t remember the last time I just sat and did nothing. Actually I can’t remember anytime I sat and did absolutely nothing. I’m always looking at my phone. I always bring something to read. I write. I draw or doodle. I have hushed conversations. I eat snacks.
But I never, ever just sit and do nothing.
I’ve spent a lot of time the last few decades reading about and learning how to be productive. I know how to get more done in less time. I’ve mastered the 1-3-5 system to get important stuff done first. A Kanban board in my office kept me on task each week, filled up with “to-do,” “doing,” and “done” sticky notes.
All that has changed. I have retired. I no longer have to be productive. I have no weekly deadlines, presentations (sermons), scheduled meetings, classes to perpare for, phone calls to return, visits to make, or conflict resolutions to worry about. For the first time in forever, I don’t have to do anything. In others words, if I so choose, I can do nothing.
Nothing? Oh, come on. You have to do something. You need a hobby. Friends. An avocation. A purpose. A direction. A mission. You’re not dead yet. What are you going to do?
That’s the question everyone asked when I announced and embarked on my retirement. “What are you going to do?” My answer then was, “I don’t know.” In a sense, I am still answering that question.
About five months into retirement, my days have not consisted of “nothing.” My daily to-do list is filled with gardening, painting, grand-parenting, and travel planning. I spend time each day exercising, reading, writing, and playing music. I have more time to talk with my wife, try a few new things in the kitchen, and sell things on eBay.
When you are young, everyone wants to know what you want to be when you grow up. But then, for most of our lives, we identify ourselves by what we do. Once you leave the work world, though, it’s now about who you are. It is very interesting when you start thinking about yourself untethered from a career.
I haven’t done that for a long, long time.