Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Is leisure something we have to earn?

If after leading his country’s fight against apartheid, after spending 27 years in prison, after serving five years as his country’s president, if after all that, Nelson Mandela had just wanted to retire and relax; would he worry that he was lazy and unproductive? Would his legacy remain intact?

Tuesday, I wrote about the wonderful, accomplished, generous Sharon. But now I’m going to add a little more to the story. When Sharon saw the post I’d written about Shirley Mae, this is what she said, “She is such a force! I am now feeling completely inadequate to even being interviewed by you. I do nothing in retirement but sew, have dinner parties, a little gardening, and make gifts for people.”

Do you recognize yourself in a headset like this? I do. Almost every woman I know does.

There are two directions my mind goes when I think about this. There’s the general legacy question – and why I added the Nelson Mandela example: when can someone rest on his or her laurels? In retirement, do the accomplishments of our previous Thirds give us a pass to just enjoy our Third Third? If we work hard, do we get to play? (Listen to me! I know I sound like some rigid Puritan debating whether we’ve earned enough points for heaven, but it’s a real question.)
And then there’s the self-esteem question, which is particular: do I feel like I’ve personally done enough, contributed enough? If things count, do my things count? Did I earn my play time? And if my things don’t really count, that means any leisure on my part is just an excuse for deep and unrelenting laziness.

Yes, even I know this sounds very hair-shirt-ish – I’m starting to think these last two paragraphs are grounds for seeking therapy – but that’s the extreme version. I think the question goes to our sense of “ought” and “should” and worthiness.

It reminds me of the annual Women of Achievement Awards, an annual YWCA event. Hundreds of women would listen to the stories of the awardees: they saved lives, started businesses, raised kids who got Ph.D.s, baked their own bread, won elections, and – oh, by the way – built their own houses. These are incredible women and we applauded them … and then walked away feeling mediocre (at best).

We are supposed to be inspired by these stories, and we are. But … then we catalog our deficiencies.
My friend Connie and I were noting how we are so generous when we look at other people and their value in the world and so un-generous with ourselves.

As my friend Linnea was preparing to travel overseas – as she was hustling to get it all together – she took the time to write me a note. I’d been in one of my “I am a value-less time waster” phases, and she wrote a note to tell me how I’ve made a difference in her life. My reaction? Delight and pleasure and … why wasn’t I as thoughtful as Linnea in showing appreciation?

We have to stop doing this!
    (Uh, oh – has everyone else already stopped and I really do need therapy???)

A long time ago, a friend was into enneagrams, which (near as I can tell) are like some new age Myers-Briggs personality categories. I was a 4. She said I could see how something would be really terrific … if just this change was made. Fours look at a room and say, “It’s decorated beautifully; it just needs a lamp over there.” Supposedly, we notice what’s missing.
We can’t all be 4s when it comes to ourselves!

When I was pregnant, I thought about what life lesson I would want to impart to my daughter. I summed it up as “touch the world with care and when you leave, leave love behind.” I haven’t been a good poster child, but I still get shivers when I think the thought, and I see it clear as day when I reflect on Sharon and others who demonstrate kindness in their lives.

So maybe today’s thought is to extend that same kindness to ourselves.


  1. I am sharing this post with my group of law school friends. I often worry that I should be doing something more than playing bridge and quilting and going on cruises, and I am glad that you have chosen to discuss the nagging "shoulds" and "oughts."

  2. And I'm one of those law school friends of The Noodler.

    Your work is terrific and I've started to subscribe to your blog

    Apologies if this is answered somewhere on your site - but do you do your own drawings? They're WOMDERFUL.

    1. Yup, rediscovering art is one of the victories in my Third Third. Glad you like them. I was surprised by the positive reactions; I'd thought they were doodles....


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