Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:
Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?
Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.
First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.
Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…
while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,
cooking and writing this blog.
Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.
One thought on ““Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers”
Interesting piece. I tend to disagree, and I don’t view the logic of “being useful” as either arbitrary or an artifact of brainwashing. Rather, following my own observations and the writings of Viktor Frankl, lives without purpose tend to be shorter. A strong sense of purpose makes one more resilient in the face of adversity, which can befall someone at any age, and usually does. Your writing here and your excellent photography may constitute a purpose for you that will help sustain you, and help others. You may wish to reexamine what “being useful” really means. You may find that you are being useful, just in a different way.