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