I wonder what you lot out there think about the benefits or otherwise of setting ourselves challenges in our retirement. There will of course be a number of us who will think the whole notion of setting challenges, is code for causing ourselves unnecessary stress and hence, ridiculous. You worked for 40 years, now relax. There will be others among us, perhaps those less fortunate, who have a number of unwanted / unlooked for challenges who certainly are not looking to add to their burdens with further challenges. Those with financial, family or health (mental or physical) difficulties, may think they have enough on their plate without adding artificial stressors. So I’m talking about those retirees, who many may regard as rather spoilt, who feel the need to make their retirement more interesting, in a sense more like their working days, by adding in challenges that take us out of our comfort zone. Trying to prove what, I confess I’m not really sure. Probably it’s something to do with self-esteem or a feeling of self-worth. It usually is.
I don’t think that the challenges we ‘spoilt’ retirees set ourselves necessarily have anything to do with learning new skills but, in my case, there is a connection. I say all of this by way of introduction to this blog about reviewing my jazz activities. Currently these comprise a weekly jazz piano workshop an advanced version of the introductory one I did last year and a fortnightly jam session. As I wrote recently, I contemplated repeating the introductory sessions for no other reason than I felt I was the best in the class rather than the ‘worst’. Staying well within my comfort zone felt quite nice. I have to say, I hadn’t anticipated being in my comfort zone, I thought that even the introductory classes would prove a challenge but I have to admit, already have in fact, that having found myself in relative comfort I was in no great hurry to leave it.
And yet I did, for a variety of reasons I signed up for the ‘advanced’ class – all 15 sessions of it. We’re about half way through these sessions so a reasonable time to review the experience thus far. Reasonable but not easy. Last night most of the session was conducted in French, at least that’s how it felt. Or maybe a better metaphor is weather-related. There were times throughout the hour and a half that the sun shone through but more often the sun disappeared and the clouds (mist) rolled in.
Or what about a medical analogy. I spent much of yesterday’s lesson in a coma, coming back to consciousness, listening for a while and then suffering a relapse. True last night (probably about a week ago by the time you read this) was particularly difficult, at least so it seemed to me. It’s hard to judge how the other four members of the group are finding it because each of us only surfaces for a comment or question occasionally, the rest of the time we are trying to translate what our tutor has said onto the keyboard, mercifully the results are hidden by the fact we’re all wearing headphones, except, and this is quite a big exception, when we are asked to demonstrate our understanding by playing the scale / chord / mode / inversion etc. etc.
So this kind of learning challenge ranges from taxing to why the f— am I here. We have another 7 or 8 weeks before the course finishes so time for me to achieve my objectives as stated to my tutor when he asked us what we wanted to get out of the course. I stated that I wanted to learn how to get by in a performance setting or gig as we musicians call it. I needed to know just enough to fit in and not make a complete arse of myself. Unfortunately and understandably our tutor sees his role as teaching us, if not quite everything, then most of everything that makes up playing jazz even though chances are we won’t ever use it.
So I couldn’t honestly say that what I’m learning in one place is smoothly transferring to the other. Never mind I’m doing OK in the group setting as I’ve reported before, not getting in the way, as one of my fellow band members put it. I told my tutor about this comment and he seemed to suggest that this was the lot of anybody playing in the rhythm section – piano, guitar, bass, drums. That may suit my ego for a while (below the radar kind of thing) but I can’t help but think that one of these days I’m going to rise to my feet shouting look at me, look at me, I’m playing a solo. I want to be noticed. I will of course keep you informed about any such developments. For now I’m fine in my obscurity.
So my retirement challenges are, at least being coped with, rather than met. My learning is spasmodic and a bit inefficient, kind of hit and miss, comes and goes, the mists clear, you get the idea. Anyway whatever I’m getting out of it, it seems to be enough to keep me going back for more. Is this random and periodic reinforcements, as we ex-psychologists used to say, contributing to a feeling of a fulfilling retirement? Just to really run the flag up the flagpole, can I say, without fear of contradiction, that spending time in retirement, outside of one’s comfort zone, promotes a feeling of achievement as a retired person? Could I go as far as to say that this kind of stress (for that is what it is) contributes to my good mental health, to my well-being? The answer is simple, now that’s a surprise – only if you give yourself sufficient credit for the process rather than the product, for trying rather that achieving. And this is where I somewhat hit the buffers because my capacity to give myself credit in any area of retirement is legendary in its absence. But I’m still going, one way or another, which means there is still time to change. At least so it is to be hoped.