Empty Calendar Syndrome? Time to Draw up Your Bucket list?

I’m just stunned as I write this. It’s a Friday, and Monday will be my official retirement date. This is not a surprise — I gave my notice (as academics do) almost 11 months ago. But I just opened my calendar to the coming month and what did I see?

Absolutely nothing.

It really gave me a chill — which is bewildering. Because, duh! That’s what retirement is, right? No job. No meetings. No assignments. Just — to quote some of my retired friends — complete freedom.

Problems for organized “achievers”? 

I used to live by my “To-Do” lists. I’d write items on paper, then keep adding new ones as I crossed off completed ones. Soon I’d have to start a new list and transfer over the unfinished items.

One day I got fed up with the endless, never-finished lists. And I resolved to complete every single item on my current list. Which I did.

Quickly I learned that was a HUGE mistake, never to be repeated. There I sat — with absolutely nothing I needed to do. It was the same untethered feeling I just got from the empty calendar.

What will you do with your time? 

I’m in awe of a blogger Donna Pekar (RetirementConfidential.com) who says she doesn’t miss her work at all. After reading her blog for years, the main things she seems to do with her time (in order of how many hours/day she appears to spend on each):

  • Play golf
  • Swim laps
  • Hike
  • Work out
  • Cook
  • Make art
  • Grow cannabis

Okaaaay. I’m now up to a reliable 8 minutes/day on exercise (her first 4 items). Let’s see. That leaves 1,012 hours/day remaining to fill. Gulp!

Is a Bucket List the answer?

Have you got a bucket list? Or even just a couple of “I really wish…” ideas? Retirement may be a great time to start checking off some of them.

For years I wanted to take a river cruise in the South of France. Last year, I decided it was time to do it.

  • “Don’t be putting it off,” advised a friend, whose husband was lucky enough to get his terminal health news when he still had a few good months where they could travel together before he couldn’t.
  • COVID-19: A reminder from the universe that we don’t have forever to do some things? Do it soon — or you might not be able to.


Above was the view from my bed on the Avalon Poetry II as we traveled to the next city (was it Arles or Avignon?) along the Rhone. The last time I visited these cities I was in my 30s and on a bike tour. On the boat you unpack once, then each day you have new adventures in new cities. We had biking tours, kayaking, tutoring in expressionist painting, lots of wine tours/tastings/caves, hiking, and perfume museums. And shopping (yikes!). And, oh, the food(!)


I even took a tour of CNZ (a 100% renewable energy company) that uses dams on the Rhone to create energy for France.

My sister and I went to Paris first — to recover from jet lag before starting the cruise. In Paris, I finally (after 3 previous visits) got to see Montmartre. It’s 360 degree views of all Paris were wonderful. In fact, it was the first of many times on the trip I decided I would love to have an apartment in the area. In Montmartre. In Arles. In Avignon. In the Camarague — a wild, windy, sandy place on the Mediterranean between Arles and Marseille — where horses run and campers park. (Maybe I could get my RV to France??)

Many people are dreaming of international travel vacations — for 2022 or beyond. When, hopefully, there’s a COVID vaccine.

So… how to fill up your calendar?

Beyond the big bucket list items, how much structure do you want in your days? Personally, I don’t want any specific times for anything — no alarm clocks, no worrying about if it’s “time” for something specific.

But I do like a routine or a typical order of things on “normal” days. “Think work” like writing or researching needs to happen in the AMs. Volunteer work, chats with friends, book reading are all good for afternoons. Nights in the summer are for Mets games — I actually got tears in my eyes when MLB started its precarious short season.

Just plan for many “somethings” to do. You’ll need it for reassurance — when you first glimpse that empty calendar stretching in front of you.

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