Lately, I happen to run into quite a few people I used to worked with, at Intel corporation, that have been separated from Intel in a “voluntary” manner over the last year. This, as part of an Intel effort to reduce its HC, especially the costlier (and experienced) part of it. Most are in their fifties, a few older, all of them worked hard and contributed a lot over the years, but became too expensive to the company. Some of them started appearing in Facebook, some in the "real world" outside the Intel's Haifa industrial park campus.
Almost in all these meetings, one thing stood out: the need, sometimes desperate need, for all of them to emphasize how busy they are, how hard they are working, either for no income or for way less than they used to earn. This is more or less the first thing they tell about themselves. Maybe this is not so odd.
At work place like Intel or in the high tech jobs, it is forbidden to be viewed as non-busy person. Just sitting in the office pondering things, thinking about stuff, work related or otherwise, is a signal for idleness. You always need to look as if you are in a middle of a thing. Preferably an important thing. And you shouldn’t be distracted. In a meeting, it is ok for you to sit and ponder things if you manage to do that while you pretend to be interested in the meeting subject or answering to very important email. The key word is: I am busy.
And then you stop working, and it implies that you don’t need to look busy anymore. But this vacum is scary. All of a sudden the entire day is handed to you free of any restrictions. There is not a single meeting in your calendar. Your inbox has gone from 100s of "very important" emails that you need to read and even answer some, to near empty. Facebook is only a partial short-term answer, as it takes time for a person to convince (fool?) himself that Facebook interaction or blogging are worthy substitutes to invest time in.
As an interim measure, for a few weeks/months, you can be really busy fixing and organizing things around the house. Maybe digitizing all those analog photos, maybe fixing that lamp that broke down half a year ago. Everyone has enough tasks like these to fill the initial spare time. But this is temporary. Soon enough you realize that you cannot fill your life with boring maintenance chore, not even by maintaining your body (gym etc).
School/study is a good answer for a while until you exhaust this option or get tires of it. Besides stimulating your mind, lectures are given at fixed times and locations, and they do provide a good way to fill up an empty calendar. If you also follow the off classes assignments then it further fills your calendar.
Parkinson's law: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion" may help. But this could be dangerous and you could easily deteriorate as a person.
So what is the correct answer? Being not-busy.
It is ok not to be busy (or not busy is ok). Memorize this.
This why when people ask me (retired from Intel almost 6 years): “so what do you do?”, I usually answer: “nothing”.
It is a very similar answer I give as a vegan person to the question: “so, what do you eat?”, I usually answer: “Humus”.
I answer that way, as I don’t see a point to detail the rich variety of food I can eat and do eat as a vegan. The same goes to the answer to the “what do you do?” question. I don’t need to detail the incredibly rich tapestry of activities that I, as a non-busy person, do.
I am not going to list them here either. Hebrew readers may be able read my other blog posts (almost all are in Hebrew) to get a better idea. But I would proudly mention one activity: I take a 40 minute afternoon nap in most weekdays. I am not busy, and I like it.
This blog post was translated to English by a friend, a former co-worker and a proud non-busy person these days. Apparently this post resonated with quite a few people in the same phase in life as me, trying to cope with the anxiety of not being busy.
The Hebrew version is here.