I was talking to a friend the other day about her decision to retire from teaching at the end of this school year. This is a big change for her, and naturally she is a little apprehensive about exactly how retiring from a full-time job will impact her life and her family. I was listening to her concerns with genuine sympathy right up to the moment when she looked at me and suddenly said, “You haven’t worked full time in years, and I’ve always wanted to ask you….what exactly do you DO all day?”
Now I can be just a wee bit of a snarky bitch at times, so the immediate answer that sprang to my mind was, “Nothing much. I spend my days sitting in the recliner, watching TV and drinking Diet Coke. Every few hours I get up to go the bathroom, but that’s about it.” Of course, I didn’t actually say that, but I was definitely taken back by her question. I honestly didn’t know how to answer. I could recite a list of the things I am doing with my days or remind her that it is quite possible to work very hard without actually being paid, but I was afraid that would sound defensive, and I know she didn’t mean to offend me. But if I didn’t explain exactly how I spent my time, then I risked confirming the implication that I was simply wasting my days away. I felt judged, and not in a good way.
I remember a young woman who lived in my college dorm, who was very pretty in that Farrah Fawcett style that was all the rage back then. She always hurried past me when I met her in the hallway, barely acknowledging my presence, even though most of the other women were usually willing to stop for a chat. Frankly, I thought she was stuck-up. But then one day I met an obviously confused, middle-aged woman in the lobby who was asking for her, and later heard the young woman on the phone, patiently repeating the same information over and over again. I found out that the confused middle-aged woman was her mother, who had suffered brain damage in a bad car accident years before. And the young woman I thought was a snob was really just too busy to stop and talk, what with constantly dealing with her mother’s issues while she was trying to earn a college degree. I had judged her very harshly, and I was completely wrong.
And I think that’s the problem with judgement: it is so often completely wrong. We don’t know what other people are going through; we don’t know what their hopes and dreams are; we don’t know why they make the choices they make. And as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, we don’t need to know.
I’m sure the fact that I don’t have a real job anymore does strike some people as odd, but I know that I am living a life that is both productive and worthwhile, and the arrangement works for my husband and me. I also know that as a former stay-at-home mom who spent a lot of time and effort on books that were never published, I am a bit sensitive to questions about how I spend my days. But that’s beside the point: I really shouldn’t have to explain my life choices to anyone. And I don’t have the right to judge other people’s choices, even when what they are doing makes no sense to me whatsoever. As long as there is no neglect or abuse involved, I really do think that the old “live and let live” advice is right on target.