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Restricted By Total Freedom: A Retiree’s Rookie Mistake

Freedom baby! Hell yeah!  No more schedules and no more stress!

These were my thoughts as I walked out of my career job and into an early retirement.  I was exuberant, ecstatic, and also naive.

Not naive about my new career or life goals, but naive about how “easy” it would be to manage my time.  That problem had been basically handled for me by my place of employment for two and a half decades.  I basically worked from 7:30am-3:30pm, Monday thru Friday, every week.  Each day, nature handled another eight hours for me in the form of sleep.  That left me with about eight hours per day to self-manage.

I hated that system.  It was too structured, unrelenting, and didn’t give me the freedom I needed to engage in and manage everything else I wanted to do (music, writing, travel, etc).

So when I quit my job, that whole over- structured thing went out the window and I managed my life with ease and perfection, right?

Well, no.

pair of red and white low top sneakers
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At first I did. It’s easy to throw caution (and finances) to the wind and basically go on vacation for awhile. That was great! Then the pandemic hit and switched me from “vacation mode” to “staycation mode”. But despite the turmoil Covid caused, time management was easy because there really wasn’t much work to do. In my case as a musician, it was all cancelled. It was like a vacation, in a sense.

When the time came to get back to work and productivity, I was all in. Music gigs and bookings were starting to come back. I pursued and played them as much as I could. I began writing more often, trying to learn how to build a career as a writer. I became involved in a few other projects both out of interest and in hope of generating income. I was busy!

“No problem though”, I thought.  Everything I was doing was something I loved. “I have all day everyday to work on whatever I need or want to do.”

As a jazz musician, I should have known better than to think that this was healthy.  And, if you’ll forgive the digression, I can explain.

Too much freedom can be a bad thing. Total freedom can lead to losing your way. Artists like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry represent that to me. I enjoy their free, avant garde approach for a time, but then it just all seems to wander around aimlessly. The same is true for me when I try to play that style.

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Big band jazz is the opposite. It’s easy to listen to because the structure of the song is so dominant, but the heavy arrangements are very restrictive to play. Soloists usually don’t get to play very long or very often. Most of the time players are just reading what’s on the page without improvising. Even though I can appreciate famous bands like Glenn Miller, playing that music is not most enjoyable to me because it doesn’t allow much freedom within the form. (For a big bands that do, check out Duke Ellington)

I prefer small group jazz, where the players have great freedom but within a recognized song or form.  The musicians can be greatly expressive, creating brand new things without going too far “out of bounds”. Players are free to leave the form if they wish, but its presence is so strong that the door is always open for them to return, and most do.  To me, this represents a good balance between structure and freedom, and has a lot to do with why I prefer that kind of jazz for both listening and performing.

As I was saying

When I quit my job and dove into my new projects, things got away from me. I was not able to manage my time as I predicted. I was so free to do everything that the freedom itself became restrictive. I felt in many ways worse off than I was in my previous career. At least there, I knew I had an 8 hour work day, then freedom. In my new life I was basically working all the time with no boundaries to balance project/work time and downtime. Even when you love what you do, it’s not healthy to overdose on it.

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I needed to add some structure to my life, just like in the jazz I love. With some self-reflection and re-evaluating of priorities, I was able to do it. I’ve become better at having finite “work periods” and dedicated downtime. I still love doing what I now call work, but I’m not letting it overtake my life. I still make my own schedule, but now I actually make a schedule, at least a framework anyway.

The whole experience was a good reminder to me of something I shouldn’t have lost sight of; structure and freedom are both critical and need to be in balance both in music and in life. Even in retirement. Even in pursuing your passions.

How do you feel about balancing structure and freedom/ work time and playtime?

For more stories follow me here at Wise & Shine Magazine and also on my personal, magazine style blog, Five O’Clock Shadow. For my music website, visit www.toddfulginiti.com

20 thoughts on “Restricted By Total Freedom: A Retiree’s Rookie Mistake

  1. Wowzers – this: “Even when you love what you do, it’s not healthy to overdose on it.” Yep, yep. I love how you wrote about freedom from the 8-hour structure…exhilarating until you realize you might overschedule yourself far more…with no one to blame but yourself. (Okay, I’m talking to myself there, TBH, but it’s what your post helped me see.) Thanks, Todd! 😉😎😉

    1. “ over schedule yourself far more with no one to blame but yourself”- Yep- my scheduler turned into a real jerk for a while🤦🏼‍♂️ You can’t get good help these days, even sometimes when the help comes from yourself 😂

  2. I can relate on some level given my shift from full-time work to being a freelancer. Time management was such a struggle for me. It took more than year to learn how to regain the structure I had lost. Thanks for posting. Great writing.

  3. Since retiring I too have trouble with time management. To much time sitting and not enough physical activity. 😊 I really need to add regular anaerobic exercises to my week. 💪
    Thanks Todd.

    1. Thanks for reading Kevin! I struggle with that too sometimes. Sometimes it’s just too easy to get wrapped up in stuff I’m doing and neglect my exercise routine..

  4. I know a dancer who sticks to his 8 hours a day bar practicing. He says that it is the only way you can achieve results. I think that structure is important to have a work-life balance, whatever job you do. Beautiful post Todd!

    1. Wow! 8 hours of bar everyday! That dancer must be super strong 💪💪 Thanks Cristiana! 🙂

  5. What a great analogy, Todd. It makes perfect sense to still need some structure in retirement, just like in jazz! I don’t have this problem right now – but one day when I hopefully do, I know I’ll remember this!

    1. Thanks Wynne- I know you have so much going on right now – I don’t know how you do it! 🤯

    1. I’m a list guy too😎 although I’m not super strict with them, I do feel better when I have them.

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