Doing Nothing Is Hard Work

By Arlene Shovald

If you asked what is the hardest work I ever had to do, it would be a toss-up between doing “nothing” and being a waitress when I was 15-years-old.

My parents were “old school” and did not believe in buying clothes for fashion. Two pairs of shoes, dress and school, were all that was necessary and two skirts and two sweaters was a big enough wardrobe in the 1950s. It didn’t matter if the length or the style was wrong. So my first job as a waitress was strictly to buy school clothes. But it came with a price and not just the price of the clothes.

Working as a waitress, I always had at least three bosses – the owner, his wife and the older waitress –  plus the customer who was always right. And almost always each of the three bosses had different instructions on how to do the same thing. Having been raised to “respect your elders,” it was a nightmare trying to please everyone.

As for the customers, I still believe some people go out to eat just to harass the servers! Like the “regular” I encountered my first day on the job. He wouldn’t come out from behind his newspaper, and when I introduced myself and asked what he wanted, he said “the usual.” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what “the usual” is. This is my first day. He snarled – “Then find out.”

It turned out “the usual” was a steak with a fried egg. And of course there was no tip in those days. You were tipped only for exceptional service and sometimes not even then.

But as difficult as that job was, “doing nothing” was almost as bad. I’ll never forget the first day of my “retirement” (which didn’t last long). As a newspaper reporter, working from home, I always got on the computer first thing in the morning, but that first morning after my retirement party I suddenly realized I had nothing to do! It was awful. I began by tearing the house apart, cleaning closets and drawers and organizing things I hadn’t had time to organize in years.

I’ll never forget the first event I went to alone that I wasn’t “covering.” It was the 85th birthday of a friend, and I went alone since my husband was never one for social gatherings. People were friendly and said hello but no one invited me to join them as they had when I was working. It was a very lonely feeling. After about 30 minutes of holding a painful smile on my face and carrying my 7Up around like I was actually enjoying it, I eased toward the door and made my escape.

I should have known! I’d been through this before. After working for a newspaper in Michigan before moving to Colorado I’d had the same experience. The month between leaving that job and moving I wondered what I had done that people were no longer friendly. People who used to go out of their way to greet me suddenly acted like I was invisible! It took awhile to realize it was because I no longer had anything to offer them.

Since then, I’ve learned the same thing happens to a lot of other people after leaving rather high profile jobs or political positions. Suddenly you are nobody special and you’d better get used to it!

I hated doing what I considered “nothing,” and gradually I eased back into my newspaper job on an as-needed basis until my husband died, and it was either go back to that job or find another one to pay the bills.

Fortunately I’d spent the last 12 years of my newspaper career working on a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology with the focus on clinical hypnotherapy and past life regression therapy so I had a second career waiting for me, and I love it.

If anyone were to ask my advice about retiring (unless you don’t mind doing “nothing”) it would be to decide well in advance on something you’d like to do when you’re done with your first career, and then go for it, even if it means starting school when you’re old enough to be the grandmother of some of your classmates. There are loans, grants and scholarships available, and if you begin saving a percentage of your check during your working years there will be money to pay off the loans when you’re done. I put mine into a special Education checking account and used it only for that. So if you don’t like “doing nothing” there is still time to become an artist, play an instrument, become a therapist or do whatever else you’ve always thought about doing and thought it was “too late.”

About this writer

  • Arlene ShovaldArlene Shovald lives in Salida, Colorado, and has been a newspaper reporter and freelance writer for about 40 years. She is also a clinical hypnotherapist and past life regression therapist.

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2 Responses to “Doing Nothing Is Hard Work”

  1. S. England says:

    I liked this article. I am no where near retirement age. However, I often wonder what happens to people that look forward to retirement and then realize that after retirement…What now? Of course, some people travel but what happens to those that are on a fixed income or the ones who die (literally from boredom).
    Most teachers that I know that have retired within the last few years have ended up going back into the school system as a specials teacher on a p/t time basis or teaching in a private sector or perhaps tutoring. I guess the question is… Is retirement a thing of the past?

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Great advice, Arlene. I enjoyed your story.

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