In retirement, time is short. Don’t waste it on things you hate.

Retirement, some say, is a grand time to try new things. As Chip Conley, founder and chief executive of the Modern Elder Academy, recently asked in his Wisdom Well blog: “If Dick Van Dyke can learn the ukulele at 97, what can you pick up?”

Here’s my question: What if you pick something up in retirement and then decide you’d rather put it down?

That’s what just happened to me.

Giving up on my plans to do voiceover work in retirement

Soon after “unretiring” in January 2022 from my job as managing editor of Next Avenue, the PBS website aimed at people 50 and older, I thought one of the things I’d do was learn to be a voiceover artist. I already co-hosted a podcast and felt comfortable in front of a microphone. I also thought it might be a kick — and possibly lucrative — to record audiobooks, museum guides and such things.

So I signed up for virtual courses, bought a few hundred dollars’ worth of equipment to convert part of my home office into a studio — a new mic and stand, audio-interface gizmo, insulated hanging blankets, a portable recording booth — got a home studio certification and even made a demo.

Read: How retirement heaven became retirement hell

But after all that, I decided to quit, because I learned that doing voiceover work really meant becoming an audio engineer. That was something I felt I had neither the skill, temperament, time nor passion to do. I moved the mic stand and booth to the basement.

I felt like a failure.

Quitting is hard at any age

Julia Keller, author of the recently published book “Quitting: A Life Strategy,” said I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself.

Quitting, she said, is always hard. “It’s hard when we’re 16, and it’s hard when we’re 60. In fact, it may be even more challenging to change course when one is retired,” she told me.

That’s because in retirement, “we understand as never before that time is short, and we want to spend our time well. We want to get it right. And each occasion of giving up and starting over feels fraught, because we are acutely aware that we have less time today than we had yesterday.”

But the Modern Elder Academy’s Conley believes that choosing to quit something you start in retirement is actually one of the benefits of growing older. He calls it “a growing discernment of what habits or activities nourish us, versus punish us.”

Read: How many more years will you live? Here’s how to make an educated guess.

Seeing more peripherally

An older brain with its crystallized intelligence, he told me, “thinks more holistically and can see more peripherally.”

In other words, my brain let me realize that doing voiceovers would mean spending a lot of time doing audio engineering in order to produce professional-quality work.

“Your ability to discern whether that would nourish you brought you to the conclusion this was the wrong path for you,” Conley said. He also thought my decision was an example of “environmental mastery” — our ability, as we age, to better understand which environments we’ll flourish in.

The ‘not doing’ list

For advice on how unretirees can have an easier time saying no without feeling guilty, I turned to Alexander Bant, author of a 2021 book titled “Not Doing List.” In his day job, Bant is chief of research for CFOs at the tech research and consulting firm Gartner.

Bant explains in “Not Doing List” that he wrote the book to help professionals celebrate “every low-value thing you delete, skip, dodge, cut, avoid, and don’t do.” Create a list of the things you could do but won’t, Bant suggests, to make the best use of your 168 hours of the week.

Turns out retired people need to draft a not-doing list, too, Bant told me.

In retirement, he said, “the not-doing list is really about winning back precious time.” 

Unlike a not-doing list aimed at allowing you to be more successful when working full time, the retirement version is “less about what you need to do and more about what you want to do with your time and energy,” he said.

His advice: Think about things like, “Where am I going to travel that I don’t need to travel? Where am I going to try to make some money in retirement that I’m not going to get a good return on my investment? What committee do I not need to join?”

It’s about forecasting “out” times during the week ahead where you might get pulled into saying yes, and instead saying no.

His retired dad’s struggle to say no

Bant sympathizes with retirees struggling to say no and living with themselves afterward. His retired father is dealing with this, he told me.

Bant said his dad told him: “Hey, they want me to be the treasurer of this organization and to join the library board and this and that, and it’s really tough.”

Fears kick in when you’re considering saying no in retirement, Bant explained. The fear that you’ll be missing out on something. The fear that other people won’t like you as much for turning something down. The fear of looking like a slacker.

“Defaulting to yes can really be a drain on us and places a lot of undue pressure,” he said.

If you feel queasy about saying no, Bant recommends a technique called “time boxing” that allows you to say a partial yes. To do this, “set time limits for yourself up front,” he advised.

He also suggests not being so quick to say yes when asked to do something. 

“Always take 24 hours to reflect on what you’re going to say yes to,” he said.

Creating a not-doing list for retirement

But if you want to go all in on a not-doing list in retirement, Bant said, sit down at the beginning of the week and write down five things that would put you in a bad mood, wouldn’t be a good return on your time or would drain your energy. Then find the path to navigate around not doing them.

You might think about whether a project you’re considering will be something you’ll even remember in five or 10 years, he said. “It is really important to keep having that perspective about what really matters,” Bant noted.

Bant also suggests taking a step he concedes is “kind of touchy” and “kind of brutal” — determining who you want to stop spending time with, or at least who you want to spend less time with.

“I think there are a lot of people in retirement who default to saying yes to somebody who always wants to grab coffee or play golf,” he said. “Figure out who the people are who are draining your energy or not giving you energy.”

If we have the wrong connections in retirement, Bant said, “it can really deteriorate how we feel about the rest of our day and week.”

Once you have your not-doing list, Bant advises sharing it with an accountability partner. That could be a spouse or a friend. The accountability partner will become your Jiminy Cricket, an external voice that will remind you what you promised yourself. 

“Quitting” author Julia Keller believes it’s actually good not simply to quit in retirement, but to quit often.

“Have the courage to do what feels right, no matter how distasteful you find the idea of quitting,” she said. “Even when you’re down to your last day on earth, you’ve earned the right to spend it precisely how you choose.”

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