Retired: But Currently Working…

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been asked on several occasions why I am still working (part-time) when I am “supposed to be retired”. In a teasing type of manner, I have replied that I’m not dead yet and still think I have things to share and contribute to the world around me. And the responses that I have received back have been eerily similar.

Each person who asked me this question, told me that they thought that retirement was to be a time of rest and relaxation. And I had a strange sense that they thought I was doing something wrong by working. Perhaps they thought that it would interfere with my new retired lifestyle.

Many folks who leave full time work continue to work part-time, or try out other types of full time work that differ from their previous careers. It seems unrealistic to imagine a life where for, perhaps, as long as thirty or more years, one stops contributing in some way to the world in which they live. And, there are so many ways to continue to have purpose, provide value, and to feel like a valued member of our communities. Working is only one such strategy.

I often feel as though I am in a situation where I haven’t yet decided what to do with my life. I have been setting some goals, learning new skills, pursuing my passion for writing but I still have a strong sense that my next chapter has not yet to become fully formed in my mind’s eye. Working part-time, gives me the flexibility to earn some income while the vision for the next steps takes shape.

There are differences in my approach to working life now. I have the good fortune to choose when and if I will take on some work and can structure work to fit within my new lifestyle. I can work more at some times than others. I truly feel as though I am no longer a part of the long working hours culture and am able to achieve a level of happiness from my occasional work opportunities.

The badge of “busyness” that many of us ascribe to does not have the meaning it once did, nor do I have the desire or inclination to just be “busy”. Learning to meet other needs such as focusing attention on my health, spending more time with family and friends, choosing to take classes that teach me new skills and further my current interests are now my priority. I am able to pursue what really interests me and I find that just being able to do that, in and of itself, can be a joyful surprise.

But, I still like to work some of the time, and will continue to pursue professional development opportunities that I ironically I actually used to be too busy for. Many of the skills that I have developed over my career are easily transferrable and have allowed me to move forward to new opportunities. This transition has proven to be dynamic and multifaceted in ways that I hadn’t anticipated.

When I was ready to retire a couple of years ago, I had already begun a process of disengagement. Following a period of creative reflection to explore what I want to be in this part of my life experience, has led me to re-engage with the work world on my own terms. I appreciate that I am now able to take the time I need to re-develop my identity during this period of transition. When I pause to think about some of the conversations that I have had recently, I realize that I am quite content to consider myself, Retired but currently working.

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.