Retirement, writing…and the beginner’s mind

Life changes of any kind often leave us in an emotional limbo where we may experience strong sensations of being off balance. Navigating this anxiety provoking tightrope can be challenging indeed.

The old saying, be careful what you wish for, has popped into my mind more than once over the past couple of months. Dreaming for years of having both the time and the freedom to become a writer seemed to be a beacon along the path of a busy life full of family and work obligations. Fantasizing about creating a writer’s den where creative thoughts and activities would abound when I retired was one of my favourite pastimes.

Now that time is here. The part of this new life that never occurred to me was the fact that I would be starting to learn a new set of skills and would have to cultivate a beginner’s mind to appreciate both the learning process as well as the inevitable stumbles along the way.

At a writing workshop I attended not long ago, the instructor spoke of how irritating it could be to hear people state that they intend to write a book in the future as though it would happen with ease. The instructor revealed that most people practically have no concept of how demanding and taxing the work of writing can be. Writing, both art and craft, requires all of the activities you find in learning any new skill. Practice, learning to fail, and developing micro skills one step at a time are all in play on your road to any type of writing success.

When you read a strong piece of writing, it often does little to reveal all of the sweat equity and investment that have to coalesce in order for the writer to arrive with a successful finished product. Learning to have patience, to practice with no end or deliverable required, spending more hours rewriting than actually putting words on the page, are all a part of the beginning writer’s reality.

So how do you cultivate what is often referred to as the beginner’s mind?

Reflecting on past new beginnings in our lives can be helpful. What were my emotional and psychological experiences when I entered high school, university, got married, started my career, had a family? Using a journaling approach to answer questions about these previous life transitions, taught me that I have forgotten how hard life changes can actually be. They are scary, feel threatening, place you on very steep learning curves, and require you to reach out for support at times.

They also mean that you have to become kind and compassionate with yourself as you are learning new skills and going through the trial and error process that is all part and parcel of the beginner’s state of mind. Most importantly, I think I am beginning to accept that it is okay to experience many different emotions as I navigate this new stage of life and struggle to develop new skills as a writer. And that this is okay.

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