One of the delights of my current age and stage is the oodles of time I have for selfish pursuits. Yes, I realize that this word is off-putting, that some people will immediately judge me as a less-worthy person because I claim the right to be selfish. To those people I say: Pooh! Also balderdash, rubbish and hooey!
During the half-century I’ve been alive, I’ve learned that no one will ever care as much as I do about my well-being—and that’s as it should be. Taking care of me is primarily my job, as long as I’m of sound mind and body. It’s up to me to know when I need rest, exercise, a snack, a day to myself, an outing, etc. And sometimes I have to insist, even though my needs may conflict with loved ones’ desires or plans. If I need to sit and have a coffee right now, then that’s what I shall do. Go on and do what you’d like to do, dear; we’ll meet up later.
Fortunately, I’m blessed with a husband who loves me and wants me to be happy, and thus respects my little outbursts of selfishness. I do my best to respect his as well, and we succeed quite well most of the time. Alas, this was not always the case; previous partners expected me to follow along with their plans regardless of my “selfish” needs or desires. That’s why they are previous partners.
In our culture, we sing the praises of selfless people—especially women—especially mothers. Well, I don’t believe that I would have been a good role model for my daughter (or for my son, had I had one) if I’d devoted all my talent, passion, and time to nurturing others and neglected to nurture myself. What does such an attitude tell our girls? That they were put on this earth with talents, passions and smarts, but they may only develop these until they have children? And then all their gifts must be used in the service of nurturing their children, half of whom will never fully develop their passions, talents and smarts? This is not good. We’ve produced some fine young men, but their contribution alone is not enough to carry us forward amid all the challenges we face as a nation. We need the girls’ contribution too, and the women’s.
OK, writing this feels a bit silly. There are few people, and even fewerer female people, who would disagree with the previous paragraph. But why, then, do we continue to beatify selfless parents, especially mothers, and criticize each other for being selfish? Perhaps it’s rooted in our own selfish nature. See, if Mama’s off doing her own thing, she’s not taking care of me. How selfish of her.
I’ve just read a long and interesting chain of comments on Facebook. A retired DoDDS teacher (that’s the school system on overseas U.S. military bases) posted advice for newly retired teachers. Most of the respondents mentioned the joy of having time to pursue their own interests, including just hanging out, relaxing, and sleeping in late. Many wrote about their volunteer work, and suggested that new retirees look for opportunities to volunteer in local schools. One former teacher—a man, by the way—said, “Sorry, I’ve done my time,” and mentioned how he enjoyed driving past schools and not having to go in.
Now, I’m not a follower of any religious doctrine, but I do believe that we have a moral obligation to somehow leave the world a better place because we were here. So, have I contributed enough to society by teaching for 26+ years? Must I continue to volunteer my time in my community, or is a selfish existence justifiable? Actually, I did some volunteer teaching during my first year of retirement—because my spouse was volunteering there and enjoying the experience, and because of nagging feelings that I really ought to be contributing something to my community. I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I’d hoped to, but a purely selfish life seemed, well, selfish. Hmm.
I suppose it’s a question of balance. I’m going to follow the rhythm of the school year and take the summer off from volunteering. After that, I’ll look for other, non-school programs that need help. Surely there’s an activity out there that would be both enjoyable and useful to my community. But I must agree with those retirees who warn us newbies not to overschedule our time at first. I’m going to enjoy being selfish.