“It seems extremely boring to me. But to each his own.” That’s what one woman said in a retirement forum recently, about our island lifestyle. And it got me thinking about boredom (maybe I was bored?). Boredom is an oft-talked about topic in the early retirement community. You can read many comments like this one, such as “if I retire early, I’m scared to death I’ll be bored”. Or: “If I retired early, I’m sure I would die of boredom”. I guess this is related to the questions Deb and I often get along the lines of “What do you do all day?”, which can be interpreted as “How do you not get bored?”.
In the heart of adult life, in the midst of the work grind, many people can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea of not doing it all. It’s exciting to have that personal calendar filled with work appointments, business travel, medical appointments, kids’ games and events, the PTA, your own workouts or sports, and if you can squeeze it in, a get-together with friends. There’s true excitement in trying to maximize your time to make the most out of life. I get it, because I did it. We both did it. But this kind of excitement can also wear you down, going from one thing to the next to the next. If you look at the calendar below, the worst part for both of us were those regular calls to China late at night. I never felt like I was really off the clock. Exciting? Yes. Exhausting? Also yes.
I understand that people don’t see how they could just pull away from all that. And some don’t, even after retirement. They fill their days with the tennis club, the twice weekly golf foursome, lunch with other retirees, medical appointments, visits with the kids/grandkids, grandkids’ games and events, babysitting grandkids, volunteer work, hobbies, workouts, gardening, a weekly card game, or maybe clubs and political parties. Deb’s Dad once told us, “I don’t know how I had time to work before I retired”, and that’s not an uncommon sentiment.
So those people are not bored, that’s for sure, but how free are they? One of the keys to retirement for us was the freedom. The freedom to do what we want, when we want. Nowadays, our calendar has only a few things in it. Birthdays, a weekly disc golf game, football games on TV (actually streaming online for us), an occasional Amazon.com delivery, and the monthly reminder to give the dogs their heart-worm medicine. That’s about it, and that’s they way we like it.
After breakfast each day, one of us will ask, “What do you want to do today?”. Often, there will be something that needs to get done, like laundry, yard-work, making dough for pizza that night, or going into town to get cash. But those don’t take all day so there’s always time for fun. We are free to do what we want every day; maybe not every last hour of every day but that’s just life. Those busy retirees may say the same thing, but they make different choices than we do, they fill many more of the waking hours. They choose to be much busier than we are, and that’s exactly right for them, but we appreciate more freedom than that.
The comment from the woman about our boring lives was based on what I’d told her about going to the beach, a lot. It was about paddle-boarding, kayaking, swimming, exploring, snorkeling, fishing, and sitting in beach chairs to chat with friends. It was also about not spending a ton of money on eating out, and buying a bunch of stuff like a big TV, and a satellite connection to go with it. She, on the other hand wanted to live a more cosmopolitan life with fancy restaurant meals and nice cars and nice stuff. Our life looks boring to her, and no surprise, her life looks boring to us.
I do agree with her on the part about “to each his own”. We should all live our own lives. I told her that it sounds like we are complete opposites, and that’s completely fine. What a boring world it would be if everyone did and enjoyed the same things! And so I say this to all of you kneedeepers: don’t live our life, you probably wouldn’t like it. Live your own life! Live the life you’ve been dreaming, not the one we’ve been dreaming. Retirement gives you that freedom, or it should, so you may as well run with it.
So we stay “busy” exploring on our kayaks and paddle-boards, and one thing leads to another. We will always see some amazing water and interesting underwater spots. We might go back with beach chairs to enjoy an afternoon in the places we found, and we might bring along our snorkel gear to check out the most interesting dive spots we noted. Then, when we find one with fish (real fish, edible fish, not just the beautiful little aquarium fishies that we see so much here) we come back with fishing gear. Future plans call for free-diving with lobster snares and spearguns so we can gain new skills and feed ourselves even better as we go. I also want to get good enough on the paddle-board to be able to surf some of the breaks we have on Vieques. As the man said, “It’s hard to get bored when you’re havin’ a ball“.
Back to the retirement worries around boredom, if you think about it, boredom is all in your head. Completely, entirely in your head. Of course it is! It’s the same with happiness, all in your head. “Happiness comes from within”, we all know that, right? It’s not just an old saying, it’s an absolute truth, and it’s also true with boredom. In place of the conventional thinking that happiness and pain are opposites, many philosophers claim it’s happiness and boredom that are the true opposites.
On the other hand, Robert Pirsig (author of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’) once said, “Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity”. If that’s true, then maybe the “pain” of boredom has a real benefit, not only to the individual but to society as a whole. That’s because creativity can bring about great change, great inventions, great lines of thinking, and great happiness.
I told Deb at the beginning of this retirement journey, “I want to be bored for a change”. Maybe not for a long time, but I’m a fan of boredom in measured doses. And Deb said she wanted to be bored enough to find time to read more books. It gives you an appreciation for when things kick up and all of a sudden you are a little too busy. Yin and Yang. The hectic life we led had run it’s course (see calendar above – they can have it); at that point boredom sounded pretty good, and I still think it can be a good thing. That is until it takes you to Facebook, Twitter, and the continuous, mindless scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. That’s the definition of boredom to me, in this modern world. But if it turns you to a good book, or a foreign language lesson or a youtube video showing how to clean a spiny lobster, there’s real benefit in boredom!
One of the recipes to counter boredom is continuous learning. It might be reading a book and learning that way, it might be a skill like free-diving or disc golf, or it might be learning a new language (I’m starting to get jealous of my smart wife for her excelente español). Maybe it’s learning a better investment strategy to make the nest-egg last longer. I think the learning really just falls into the category of “new challenges”. If we keep challenging ourselves, we can continue to grow as individuals, and that’s not boring at all, it’s fun. There’s a bonus too, challenging the mind and body is good for health and longevity.
And personal growth isn’t all consumption of new things or skills. This entire Caribbean adventure, with or without hurricanes, was a way of expanding our universe, i.e. the space between our own ears. Writing this blog engages our minds and gives us a purpose beyond just ourselves. We’ve made several excursions that we probably would still be procrastinating on had we not wanted to report on them for the blog. The Vieques Beaches page alone forces us to go out and explore more and more beaches. I know, such tough duty!
Then there’s Deb’s volunteering at the Vieques Humane Society, which contributes to the pups, to the island, and to her own well-being. And for the same reasons, we both volunteer on beach cleanups whenever we can. There’s only goodness in this, and it’s no coincidence that it’s all fun too.
Making new friends is another recipe for less boredom, improved happiness, and a brighter mind, especially when these new friends aren’t “just like us”. It’s good to struggle a little with cultural or language barriers, it opens the mind. We’ve gone to a couple of local friends’ (and many statesider’s) events since we’ve been here and even though we are natural introverts, we always come away from them happy. We’ve got a big day planned in a couple of weeks over on the mainland of PR with a Viequense couple, thanks to our personal pledge to always accept invitations. It’s a great way to expand our experiences. All of this benefits us in bigger ways than one might think.
Ultimately, there is an entire continuum from very busy all the way down to sheer and utter boredom. On that continuum, there is a perfect middle for everyone, if they strive to recognize it. Some people thrive at the top of that mountain, maxed out on busy. Others are happier in a valley that the busy people would call boring. This is not tied to retirement either, people should be honest with themselves and strive to find the level of busyness that brings them real happiness. It’s not an easy task in the work life when someone else has their hooks in you, but maybe you can try to make it better, or at least not make it worse!
We feel we are somewhere near our own perfect middle, spending a lot of time at the beach, taking care of the house, making friends, working out, volunteering, growing and cooking food, going to events here and there. It’s very low stress, just the way we like it. And from where we sit (in our beach chairs looking at crystal clear Caribbean blue water), that’s a long way from “extremely boring”. But to each his own.
TODAY’S SPECIAL: “Laid Back and Key Wasted“, by Jim Morris. “Kinda hard being upwardly mobile, when you’re laying in the sun all day”.