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“So, What Do You Do All Day?” Retirement Question #1

By Ardith Bowman September 12, 2023 Lifestyle

Many retired women tell me they get asked this question. The reaction to it can be a negative one. I have heard comments like, “Well, they wouldn’t ask me that if I were still working!” One of the most common responses I hear is, “Whatever I want!”

The inner voice is often reacting to being asked the question at all. Notice your own response. Are you thinking, “You tell them!” or “It is not their business?”

Let’s take a look at what might be meant by that question in the first place. It might not be about you at all, but more about the person asking. Perhaps there is a way to help others better understand retirement and what is possible. We are their role models!


One interpretation is that the question means, “What is retirement really like?” Some people may be authentically curious about what retirement is like. They may just be beginning to think about it or have not been able to come up with a vision at all for themselves.

Admittedly, the “What do you do all day?” question may not be the most considerate way to inquire, and let’s take the high road. You could say that retired people have many ways of spending their time. Then offer to share your experience so far if they are really interested. You could even ask what they think they would do and exchange ideas.

I’m Anxious

Another interpretation is that the question is about what there is in life when the day isn’t spent working. In other words, they have some fear of retiring. One clue that this may be the motive is if the question comes from a workaholic. You could acknowledge the concern by saying that it can be hard to imagine retirement when still focused on professional life.

One idea is to share that it does take a while to determine retirement lifestyle. You could share your own journey into figuring out how you want to spend your time, and that it is a work in progress. Again, turn the focus toward helping them explore possibilities for themselves by asking them what they see themselves doing in retirement.

The Jokester

Of course, the person might be trying to be funny, without realizing the question can sound discounting and represents a form of ageism. Probably, this is what we tend to assume is the motive, and thus we react. Then, if the person is making a joke, what is a constructive response?

One suggestion is to just say, “Why do you ask? Is there something you are especially curious about?” That puts the discussion in an entirely new frame. That gives them an opening to get in touch with the real question behind the question. Then the discussion can unfold in a more constructive way.

Of course, how to manage this question depends on how close the person is to you. If a friend asked me this, I would respond as though they were truly interested in what I am doing. If someone I am speaking with casually asks the question, I would try to determine if they are curious in general, anxious about retirement, or simply hoping to be funny.

See if you can determine the motivation behind the question… or simply ask them what information they would find most useful.


We represent this phase of life. This question about “what we do all day” can open a conversation about the opportunity and freedom to create after our lives of employment. We can respond to these kinds of questions with understanding… and help to inspire others to make the most of their lives after they stop working.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What kinds of questions do you get asked as a retired woman? What ideas for responding do you have?

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I had a friend years ago who was the embodiment of busyness. She once asked me in a condescending tone, “What DO you do all day?” I replied, “Live my life,” said with a smile. She said she’d go crazy with nothing to do all day. Well, not me. But, I didn’t bother to tell her this. We’re all different. Some of us enjoy time with our thoughts and taking life easy, just finding things to do as they come. No reason to ever apologize for this. I worked extremely hard earlier in my life, far harder than many people. Now is my time to take it easy, enjoy life.

Ardith Bowman

Exactly. The whole point is that each of us has a different of idea of what makes us feel satisfied and fulfilled. Good for sticking to what matters to you.


Lori, I am with you! I am adjusting to retirement over last 4 months. Yesterday was the first day I felt out of sorts…but that happens even when not retired. Trying new things-different types of exercises, free classes on a variety of things. But not feeling like I need to apologize-worked since I have been 12 and now at 68 think it is time to not be on a strict schedule! lol


Yes. I found this was a very tough adjustment at first, but now I’d never go back to the way my life was. I enjoy being free to explore each new thing that comes along.


Since I retired, I wonder how I ever fit a full time plus job into my life. Haha. I’ve gotten very involved in the artwork that I had to put on hold many years ago upon entering into the workforce after an empty nest and divorce situation. And although, financially things could be better, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was working in a fast paced corporate position and a 2 hour commute every day at the age of 70. Right now I am loving my life and spending hours on my artwork everyday. I am hoping to eventually do commissions, but if not, that’s ok too. I don’t see many people these days, so I don’t get asked the question a lot, but in the event that I do, that would be my answer.

Ardith Bowman

It sounds like you’re doing what you love. That’s the whole point and part of the freedom we have at our age. It sounds beautiful


Haha well I’d like to know! I can’t imagine how I would fill long days so wonder “what DO retired people do all day?!” I think people can’t imagine easily, if used to working 30-40 hrs pw. I think it would be rather rude to say “”why do you ask”? What about something along the lines of “I never imagined I’d be so busy” if you don’t know the person and don’t want to be rude. Otherwise an answer such as “I follow a schedule every day that includes exercise, nature and cooking” or “I don’t have any schedule and just see where my feelings take me”.

Ardith Bowman

You are right that it’s hard to imagine what leaving full-time work is actually like. The whole idea is to listen to your own inner voice and what it is that you choose. Another question might be regarding”what is it that you’re free to do now?”

The Author

Dr. Ardith Bowman is a woman-centered coach, advancing the positive aging movement. Her mission is to empower women aged 60 and beyond to live with fulfillment throughout life. She will walk beside you, providing unwavering support and guidance as you navigate your path into more fulfillment and vitality. Find her at Becoming You After 60.

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