It’s a question I often get asked, especially by ex-colleagues such as at the Genie reunion. The “what do you do” (WDYD) question is one that pervades all working life, and is indicative of our need to categorise and define people by their employment. When I was a full-time employee the answer was easy – “I work for O2″. “Oh,” would be the response, in a sort of not-knowing way. I used to add things like “in the group technology team” if I thought the inquirer could handle that level of detail with eyes glazing over.
Now that more people have portfolio jobs, with fingers and toes in many different part-jobs (sorry that sounded judgemental, I meant real jobs but not necessarily all full time) it becomes a dilema. Which job to say first, how to make it sound like things really are going well without adding too many added extras to the apparently “main job”, how to avoid it sounding like you’re “busy doing nothing”.
And it’s the same with being retired. No longer is there a single defining job that I can easily respond with when confronted with the WDYD question. And if I start listing all the things I get up to in a typical week, it sounds like I’m trying to justify my existence, to prove that I have a valid place in society, to prove that I’m still a worthwhile person. Sometimes I simply say “Nothing!” It’s quite effective, and is probably all the enquirer really wants to hear.
One thing I can say is what I don’t do with my time. Working folk have this perception that retired people spend all their time on the golf course, or gardening, or reading the paper, or washing the car, or going to the library to search though local planning applications, or even watching daytime TV. And the answer is no to most of those. I don’t play golf, the garden is as scruffy as ever, we don’t get papers (other than the free one that’s used for guinea-pig bedding), the cars remain dirty and I certainly don’t turn the TV on until the evening. Mind you I have been known to check the planning applications website a few times.
One rather sobering thought about having the WDYD question lobbed at me is that I now realise and understand more clearly how women who “give up” their job to raise families feel. I’ve always appreciated that raising a family is all but a full time job, and was always amazed how so many women (my wonderful wife included) juggle full or part time employment with the very real job of Managing Director of the family unit. Doing nothing? I don’t think so.
For me it’s now all about putting something back into the local community. In a world where it seems too many people are on the take all the time, trying to get something for nothing, having the chance to reverse the trend just a tiny bit sounds to me like a worthwhile way of spending my time.