Managing the Free Time that Comes with Retirement

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Dear Rivkie,

 I recently retired from a long and, I like to think, successful career. While raising a sizable family and working full time, I managed to squeeze in some volunteer work here and there, but I wasn’t able to volunteer as many hours as I would have if I were unconstrained by work and family. Now, however, I am constantly asked to do projects for organizations in the community, and I don’t know how to say no.


I feel like since I am no longer working, I should have all the time in the world to volunteer, in addition to the million things I always thought I’d do during my retirement. I am lucky to be relatively young and in good health, with no kids left at home, but I still find myself very busy with a lot of obligations (husband, grandkids, friends, house, and shiurim [classes], to name a few) and I don’t want to do that much volunteering. I am happy to help out, but the requests outpace the hours I have in a day! How do I say no graciously? Can’t I just write a check and call it a day?


(Happily) Retired Raizel


Dear Raizel,

 As a mostly retired person myself, I totally relate to this. On the one hand, we feel like now that we are not in the office full time, we can give our time to worthy causes in the community. On the other hand, it starts to feel kind of icky when other people just assume we are readily available day and night for these causes. I mean, who are they to tell us what we should fill our days with?

Here’s the thing, though: From my own personal experience, volunteer work gives us back a million-fold what we put in. Plus, as you might have noticed, not going to an office every day cuts back on our human-to-human contact quite a lot; if you are a social person, volunteering has that as a built-in feature.

But, and this is a big but, it is important to only volunteer for things that you think you will enjoy and will make the most of your talents, which will benefit the organization more anyway. For example, cold-calling people on the phone is a nightmare for me and I get super stressed just thinking about it, but I enjoy writing press releases for organizations, because, well, I am a writer. Do you like to decorate? Help plan decor for an organization’s fundraising dinner. Like kids? Volunteer as a reading buddy. Like hospitals? Deliver food for Bikur Cholim. You get the gist.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s both work on learning the following words: I would love to, but I am really involved with X organization and my plate is full. Let me ask my friend if she would be interested and I will get back to you.

Then, make a sincere effort to find someone to fill this post. If you cannot, get back to that first person and say, “I am sorry, I haven’t managed to find someone to help, but I’ll keep my ears open.” Then sleep well at night.

Also, give yourself time to figure out your own rhythms in your newly retired state. Make sure to prioritize your health by exercising, eating well, and socializing with your friends. (As my shvigger [mother-in-law] says in a heavy Brooklyn accent, “If you don’t got your health, you don’t got nothing!”) And yes, do those things you didn’t get to do while working full time all those years.

Finally, yes, I am sure those worthy causes will not say no to your check. I have found that the people who run the organizations our community needs the most are selfless, big-hearted, and work super hard. They appreciate any help you can give, be it financial or boots on the ground. Enjoy your retirement and stand firm in your decisions. Learn to say no, gently, and to say yes when it feels right.

 Hatzlacha (good luck) on this new stage of life.

All the best,