Recently, I talked about the distress I experienced due to excess work. I felt exhausted, working day in and out, and was in severe need of some me-time. I had been “at it” for two years since the start of the pandemic, and I was close to burning out.
Thankfully, I got some time out recently – when my manager went on vacation. I was ecstatic at first. There was no urgent work; it almost felt like I was also on holiday. But then I started experiencing something that I had never experienced in my two years of pandemic-induced erratic work hours – the insufferable boredom that comes with having no work. Was it a withdrawal symptom, a side-effect of having burnt a copious dose of after-work oil? When you finally get some breathing space, you have no clue what to do with it. You are left grasping at straws.
The first few days of zilch micromanagement felt like a dream to me. But by the second or third week, boredom took precedence, and I started actively looking for tasks to self-initiate. A few questions that crossed my mind –
- Is this what retired people go through? They are relaxed and happy the first few weeks of retirement, but many develop a sense of despair later on.
- How can I stop myself from feeling this way?
- Why do we always have to be on the move? Why are we so averse to relaxation?
- What is the optimal amount of work you need daily to keep yourself happy?
Of course, I do not have the answers to all questions. I am not a researcher or scientist. I apologize if you came here looking for answers. However, I can tell you something from my personal experience:
I am happiest when I have at least half a day’s worth of solid work. The type of work that requires my complete attention, work that takes my mind off all kinds of distractions. When I am consumed by an optimal amount of work that meets my skills, I enter this state of flow that ignites my happy hormones. This “work” that I am talking about is not just restricted to office work; it can be anything – cooking, playing a sport, writing, learning, dancing, singing. The point is that it should be something that is immersive and consumes your entire interest.
It might be why experts recommend having a passion outside work. Once you’re retired, this passion will keep you alive and kicking. For workaholics, finding that excitement outside work might prove challenging. They hardly get the time to pause and seek activities that may have the potential to improve their quality of life in the future. One possibility for such plodders is to go part-time post-retirement in context to their work (maybe consulting). But if you have decided to step away from office work, as most of us plan to do post-60, finding yourself a cause or a passion becomes imperative.
We feel our best when we are in service or when we can provide help in some way. Finding your “Ikigai,” as vouched by the long-living Japanese, is essential to one’s overall well-being and happiness. I am not yet sure what my Ikigai is. I enjoy writing, but I haven’t yet sat down to see if I could write for half a day, nor do I know if this exercise would cater to my emotional health eternally. I did some sewing the other day. It made me feel alive. Maybe Ikigai can be a bunch of things – a heady concoction of multi-colored magic beans that contribute to our general well-being. You can embrace each of them as per the mood and season, mix and match, exercise portion-control, and tuck them away in your customized, personalized happiness jar. All it takes is some time to figure out what those magic beans are.