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facts & arguments

PETE RYAN/The Globe and Mail

Tell people that you are having a baby, starting a new career, getting married, taking up ice climbing, running a marathon, studying to be an iguana trainer, and they will all say, "How fantastic – congratulations!" But tell people that you are getting off the hamster wheel, selling everything, including your business, and moving to Mexico, the collective response seems to be, "But what will you do?"

I happen to think that regaining my sanity, my health, my sense of humour and my joie de vivre is doing plenty, but I now realize it seems a bit like "nothing" in our fast-paced, accomplishment-driven society. Which is why I'm doing it. Nothing, I mean. And moving to Mexico.

Things get done a bit differently in Mexico. For one, people move more slowly. Partly because it's hot. But it's also because the culture appreciates making time for the little things in life – like stopping to chat to an old friend on the street, then going for a cola instead of the meeting they were headed to. Or popping in to see if the old abuela across the calle needs anything from the market.

What I have also noticed is that people spend time doing the things that give them joy. I suppose that is why retirement is referred to as jubilado, which appears to be based on the same Latin base as "jubilant." Even though I have left my job, I have neither ceased to use my brain nor crawled into a cave, so jubilado suits me just fine. Or in my case – jubilada.

Which brings me back to that pesky, puzzling and self-esteem-denting question I get asked by everyone I meet –"But what will you do?"

Although I am unsure of what I will be doing with the rest of my life, I can tell you what I won't be doing. I won't:

Put my personal health and well-being behind everything else.

Forget to kiss my husband in the morning.

Say "I don't have time."

Rush through lunch with a friend because I have something more important to do.

Neglect to brush my dog and clean his ears.

Wait two weeks to phone my mom.

Wake up five times a night worried about work.

Do anything I don't want to do.

Worry about money, even though I probably should.

Care if I don't make the bed in the morning.

Wait until 10 p.m. every night to read my book.

And most important of all –

I won't feel bad because I'm not "doing" anything.

Right now that means leisurely coffee in the mornings, maybe breakfast at the local mercado, a yoga class with my sister and her pals, lunch with someone interesting or fun, walking my dog, cycling for groceries, studying Spanish, checking out galleries, collaborating virtually with people I like to work with, cooking dinners for new friends, taking road trips with my husband.

So far, so good.

But I know I haven't quite grasped this doing-nothing stuff. I've already started to get a bit twitchy and wonder at what rate my brain cells will start to dissolve, now that I am not multitasking like a demon or working 12 hours a day.

This became clear during my recent week spent gardening.

I think the Tae Bo dude should take a page out of my gardening book. Whoever thinks "gardening" is an innocuous pastime, like reading a book or doing your nails, never tried it here in Merida. What looks like dirt is actually a mountain of rock masquerading as dirt. There is a reason the houses here are built out of boulders and there are huge Mayan temples. They had all that rock and nowhere to put it.

My sister, who is a lightweight to my welterweight, warned me there was going to be some heavy lifting involved. "You'll probably dig up a few rocks," she said, "but I cleared my whole garden myself so this should be a cakewalk." After four days of shovelling and trying to dig my way to China with a 20-pound (nine kilogram) iron sniping bar, I realized a) I was way too old for this, b) my sister could kick my butt and c) I could pay someone to do this. So why didn't I? Pride, pure and simple. I was not going to be beaten by the elements or my 100-pound hermana. So I tucked in, toughed it out, and one week, 75 bags of dirt, 50 bags of rock, 11,000 pesos ($900) worth of trees, shrubs, pots and plants, and a 12-pack of coronitas later, I had myself a garden. And a pretty nice one to boot.

Building that garden was a big challenge, but it also showed me that my biggest challenge will be to not fill up every nook and cranny of this new, unstructured life. To leave enough space for something really meaningful to happen. And when you've been a doer all your life, doing that is a pretty tough gig.