31.5 million seconds - ready for you to use
This week, as new calendars and pristine date books signal a fresh start for everyone, retirees in particular can savor the pleasure of all those empty pages waiting to be filled.
As one wag puts it, retirement is the stage of life when you have twice as much time and half as much money as you did when you were working.
Despite that unbalanced equation, all those extra hours come as a gift for many people leaving 9-to-5 routines. After years of making mental wish lists ("When I retire I'll ..."), they can finally begin turning dreams into reality.
The tantalizing question before them becomes: How would you like to spend the next 365 days? That adds up to 8,760 hours, or 525,600 minutes, or 31,536,000 seconds. This year, tack on another 24 hours for leap year.
Retirees can be divided into three broad groups. In one camp are the Achievers, whose calendars fill with nonstop activities. Like wide-eyed kids in a candy store or hungry diners at an all-you-can-eat buffet, they find the choices irresistible. So much to do! So much to learn! So many places to go!
"Never been busier," the Achievers say happily, repeating the mantra of American retirement as they check their watches and hurry to their next event or vacation.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Relaxers. They prefer a gentler pace, often reveling in the comforts of Home Sweet Home.
In between are the Balancers, who strive for an artful blend of achievement and relaxation. But getting the right mix of purpose and pleasure often involves trial and error.
When Drew and Shirley Potter moved from Houston to a retirement community in Tucson, Ariz., more than three years ago, they found a rich mix of activities. The community offers an average of two concerts a week, at least one and sometimes two lecture courses weekly, and a steady round of social events, including potluck dinners, coffees, and card games.
"We did everything at first," Mr. Potter says. "But after a while, we just got tired of going to everything. We became a lot more selective about what we do."
Now they welcome a few more blank spaces on their calendar.
"Some activities seemed like a waste of time," Mrs. Potter explains.
Adds her husband, "A lot of the things that go on fall in the class of 'edutainment.' By doing less of the edutainment, we have more time for other things that are more interesting and creative."
A retired NASA employee who worked on the manned space-flight program, Mr. Potter works half-time at the Lunar and Planetary Institute. In addition to attending classes and cultural activities, he makes Norwegian silver filigreed jewelry. He's also taking a course in memoir writing and is finishing a biography of his mother. This month the couple will begin a weekly course in American literature.
Mrs. Potter, a retired hospital pharmacist, volunteers for the Red Cross. On Fridays, they both deliver supplies for Red Cross blood drives in the city.
As the Potters and others combine jobs and classes with volunteer work, hobbies, and social connections, they're reshaping the later years.
Time, that universal measure, ticks at a different pace for everyone. Shakespeare observed that for some, time gallops. For others it trots, and for still others it ambles or even stands still.
Whatever one's chosen pace in the post-9-to-5 years, the new description of this period is "bonus time" - years and decades in which freedom translates into what Abigail Trafford, author of "My Time: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life," calls "a whole new stage of adulthood."
As retirees create a "personal Renaissance," the rest of us, still answering to the ABC's of work - alarm clocks, bosses, commutes - can settle for thinking about how we'll fill our annual allotment of 31.5 million seconds someday. Bonus time for sure.