Life imitates the Stock Market

Since the declaration of the pandemic, the stock market has dipped lower and lower. Being a recent retiree, this has created considerable anxiety as I have watched my life savings plummeting, then recovering, only to plunge downward once again. My financial advisor has made several sage suggestions – don’t track your investments daily; recognize that you haven’t lost anything until you sell, and above all else – practice good self-care to reduce anxiety.

New routines, acts of incredible compassion and kindness along with the beginnings of adjustment to our new normal seem to be accompanied daily by tragic circumstances and chaos. The past few weeks have felt like we have either been travelling on a wicked roller coaster or that our lives have been mimicking the drastic swings of the stock market. It is disconcerting to say the least. Thankfully, we have also seen many high points…

We have seen an outpouring of appreciation for so many in our communities as we work collectively towards a common goal. We are appreciative of our health care workers who are guiding us through this pandemic and working hard at preparations in the event that this pandemic becomes worse than it already is. Many homes in our community sing, pound on pots, ring bells when the health care worker shift change occurs each evening at 7:00 p.m. For some people, it is also a time to safely say hello to neighbours.

There are so many unsung heroes that are worthy of our gratitude and appreciation. It is heartening to see the recognition being given for those in our world who previously have been the “invisible” work force. The collective awareness of work being done by our grocery store clerks, those who maintain our water, power, and sewage systems, our sanitation engineers, transit workers, and so many others whose work is essential and often unappreciated whose contributions are now being celebrated.

These moments of positivity, though are punctuated at times by sadness. From learning the daily death tolls that come from around the globe, the devastation this virus has had on the elderly in nursing homes, and the constantly shifting information that we hear about this virus day to day. Some of the lows also come from the politicization of this world challenge, having to watch protests over stay at home orders, and all of the game play that world power brokers and politicians indulge in at our expense.

The events in our lives seem to be moving from high points to low ones in a similar manner to the current fluctuations on the stock market.

This past week our country sustained another devastating crash as we have had to bear witness to what has been the worst mass murder in our nation’s history. Everyone has been stunned by the senseless killing compounded by our current experience of collective grieving. Our nation is moving as one and sending heartfelt messages to the victims of this crime and that has caused such searing pain to so many families. This has been further complicated by the physical distancing measures still in place.

How do we make sense of the many highs and lows that we are living through right now?

We all need constant reminders that just like the stock market that we will indeed, recover. This can only be done when we stand together. We each have a role to look out for one another and look after ourselves. Stay well and safe!

Emotional SeeSaw

It occurred to me this morning that there are some similarities to our current world which requires everyone to practice social distancing and the beginning weeks of my retirement. Clearly, the magnitude of what we are experiencing globally really has no comparison, but every once in awhile I have a strong sense that I have recently experienced something similar in the past couple of years.

Upon reflection, the period of time leading up to retirement included a low grade level of fear – to be expected when we encounter a life changing experience for the first time. When I have a moment of deja vu, I recall having felt like I was stepping off a sharp cliff with no real sense of whether or not I had a parachute or where I might land. This feeling has resurfaced for me from time to time during the pandemic. No one knows when this will be over, what course it may take, and what the long term impact on our lives may be.

Now, to be clear, retirement was my choice, and was within my control. There were also many moments of excitement, and positive anticipation. However, change is anxiety provoking and as with what is occurring now, I did experience some trepidation about what the future would hold.

When I first left full time work to join my husband who had been retired for many years, it seemed we were running in a three legged race. Spending all of our time together, day in and day out, typically only happened during vacation times. So we had to adjust to this and I’m certain it was harder for my husband than for me. Definitely not the smoothest transition, a few steps forward accompanied by several steps back.

Fast forward to just prior to the pandemic and it is worth noting how far we had come. We had managed to achieve a wonderful place of balance between being able to spend much more time together doing things we had always hoped to do as well as to pursuing our own individual interests and spending time with different groups of people.

Social isolation has moved us right back to that same place. So occasionally, we find ourselves negotiating a three legged race. I suspect that because we have navigated these waters just a couple of years ago, that we will soon find ourselves back in balance. This concern is one that several people have mentioned to me recently and it takes some strategizing to find the right rhythm that works for a partnership.

The largest challenge I find at this time, is the looming sense of the unknown. I struggled with this for awhile during my transition into retirement and had moved into a place just before the pandemic of my own design. Now I find myself trying to once again find my footing as some of my current favourite activities have ceased. At times, it feels like being on a emotional seesaw and to avoid tumbling off, I am trying on different strategies to find a sense of equilibrium.

Rather than focusing on the things I am unable to continue to do, I find it helpful to ground myself by acknowledging daily all that I still have in my life. Being patient with myself and my husband, and by reaching out to those I care about, I feel more able to manage the ups and the downs. It has become a new routine for me to build in time at the start of each day to reflect on what my needs are and figure out how to meet them.

The one aspect that I have realized that is the same as my recent experience of transitioning into retirement and this new world of social distancing, is just how important it is to maintain a sense of optimism and hope. Perhaps you have found strategies that work well to keep you in balance during this time. Please feel free to share them. Stay healthy and well!

Let’s Talk about…

One of the things that I never included on my “to do” list when I was getting ready for early retirement were strategies to manage my “mental health”. I had a long list for all of the ways that I was going to improve my physical health once I had all of the time I envisioned that I would have once I left the full time work world.

Recently, I reviewed that “to do” list, which essentially was a wish list, and realized that I had somehow inadvertently believed that once I left full time work, my life would instantly improve. On an emotional level that is. And of course, whenever we engage in magical thinking, we are avoiding the hard work that is required to make a life change of any sort.

Transitions, really any life changing experience, will tax the best tools that we may have in our resilience tool kits. And resilience is about having positive mental health. I am now realizing how critical it is to think about all parts of being healthy from a holistic perspective.

And to talk about all of the many ways we are experiencing the ups and the downs in our lives. Or to write about them. The stigma that surrounds mental health may prevent us from reaching out to connect with others, or to seek out needed supports. It seems fitting to reflect on our mental health today.

January 29th has become an annual date for Canadians to engage in dialogue and conversation about mental health. Bell Canada, along with numerous national partners, has created a social media phenomenon to help reduce stigma about mental health. And to provide resources and funding for community based programs across Canada to enhance our mental health. Check it out at https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Take care of all aspects of yourself. And talk, think, read about mental health. Work to reduce stigma about mental health. Really, it is such an important and kind thing to do for ourselves and others. We have the ability to cultivate happiness in our lives and to create more opportunities for the aspects of our lives that help us thrive and reach whatever goals we aspire to. Happy Wednesday!

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.

How the concept of “Mattering” Matters

Approximately thirty years ago, Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, counselling psychologist at the University of Maryland, wrote a seminal paper outlining the impact of the concepts of “mattering” and “marginalization” on the lives of people during life transitions. Specifically her research looked at the impact of significant life change on students transitioning from high school to college or university and retirees who had left full time work. Dr. Schlossberg developed a theory of transition that suggested the importance of mattering to ourselves and others and illuminated the possible challenges that many of us may face during any life changing experience through marginalization.

Drawing on a concept that was originally developed by sociologist, Dr. Morris Rosenberg, “Mattering” could be described as being dependent on several aspects being in place:

1. Attention – Whether or not we feel that we matter to and are noticed by others;

2. Importance – A belief that one is cared about and that what we are doing is considered to be of some importance to others or ourselves;

3. Dependence – Feeling that we matter if we are needed by others;

4. Ego-Extension – The feeling that if we succeed or if we fail that others will notice and will support us;

5. Appreciation – That we are in fact, appreciated for what we do, whatever that may be.

The concept of “marginalization” results when some of these factors are not met and we may become marginalized when we transition from one stage of our lives to another. Schlossberg’s theory of transition and her research suggested that retirement could be a time when we feel like we continue to matter to others or ourselves or it could be a time when we begin to feel like we are resting on the margins of our lives. Any time we make or experience a significant change in our lives, we often feel somewhat off balance and need to devote time and energy to become grounded again.

Strategies that I have found helpful as I move through this time of transition have been to take advantage of having more time for friends, family, and making new acquaintances. I have been pleasantly surprised by a whole world of people who no longer work full time but take lifelong learning courses, exercise classes, and are available during the daytime. Continuing to work part time allows me to use skills that I have in new ways and with new people and allows me to continue to feel like what I do is important, meaningful, and matters.

Finally, learning what it means to experience being a beginner all over again as I learn new skills and pursue new interests. Being able to appreciate what others have done or are doing has enriched my experience as well. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to be kind and patient with myself as I work to avoid feeling marginalized while I am building this new stage of my life. How about you? What strategies might you have used when experiencing life changes to continue to feel as if you “matter”??

Retirement Reinvention – Moving beyond golf and pickle ball

We each carry around a picture or visual schema of what people are supposed to do once they retire. Often this is based on the kinds of retirement activities we observed our family members engaging in and the social constructs that have existed for decades about this chapter in the life course. Stereotypical activities such as golfing, playing pickle ball or bridge populate our thinking about this stage of life.

The process of aging, which permeates these societal expectations and also may create stigma, complicates this.

So, what types of activities do you pursue when you retire and begin the process of reinvention?

The answer to that question seems to be elusive for some and easily addressed for others. It is critical to recognize that for some people, there may be as many as 30 plus years ahead of them. That is often the same length of time that many people have worked in full time jobs. Perhaps this is what makes some people nervous when they contemplate leaving work. That horizon ahead, may represent decades in our lives. This can be intimidating or exhilarating or both.

Individuals who have well developed plans for reinvention when they leave work often seem to move full throttle ahead. To some, this might seem like the last opportunity to recreate your life, leaving the past behind and pursuing new possibilities. This can be daunting and no one has a crystal ball that tells them how long they have.

Setting clear intentions may help guide your direction, whatever that is, whether it actually is golf, pickle ball or something else. Developing a focus with an actual plan helps. Trying out new pursuits and creating a passion based on a life long love of learning has helped me navigate the first couple years of my retirement. Narrowing down my list of activities and what I truly wished to pursue, has helped propel me in ways that have moved my quest for reinvention forward.

Discovering when something doesn’t resonate or fit my new lifestyle and feeling free to release it by discarding what no longer make sense. All of this has occurred in a trial and error kind of way. When you make significant changes in your life, what approaches have proven to be most helpful for you? This has been a pivotal aspect of reinvention and I will continue to revisit this in the future on this blog. Your comments and input would be appreciated.

Time Becomes Elastic

How did it get so

late so soon?

Dr. Suess

One of the most intriguing discoveries that I have made about the transition to retirement has been my experience with time. On one hand, time seems to extend over entire days like an elastic band being stretched farther and farther, and then on the other hand, it snaps and goes by far too quickly. The topic of time is by far one of the most curious aspects of retirement that others ask about. “What do you do with all of your time?” is now a question that I have come to expect when someone inquires about my transition from full time work.

When I was preparing for retirement, boredom was a state that I was certain I could avoid. After all, during the busy and exhausting many years that I worked full time, I often daydreamed about time. Having more of it to do what I needed to do and more importantly, what I thought I truly wanted to do. It didn’t occur to me that time might slow considerably and that it was in fact, possible for the state of boredom to emerge in my life.

I had left work at the end of May and found that most of that first summer was like being on an extended vacation. Once the calendar rolled over to September, I began to flounder somewhat and found that in an effort to stave off boredom, I scheduled far too many activities into my life. My sleeping, eating, and exercise routines remained much the same as they had been during my full time work life. These routines were designed to manage the overcommitted aspects of that world.

Much of that first year was spent busily exploring this new reality, visiting with family and friends that previously there was never enough time to connect with. Leaning on friendships of others who were retired and had more experience with this stage of life than I did. Taking classes, committing to volunteer projects for worthy organizations, developing small contracts using my professional skills, enjoying day time yoga classes, starting a book club, and many other activities. All of this “busyness” certainly fulfilled my psychological need to manage the change impact of this transition.

As I moved into the second year of retirement from full time work, I became more discerning about what I was willing to commit to and began the process of unravelling previous routines and developing a new understanding of what I wanted to be doing with my life. I seemed to be learning to spend more time in state of relaxed reflection in order to consider what I needed either more or less of in my life. This continues to be a work in progress and as I alter my relationship with time as well as boredom, I am starting to appreciate that time is truly the ultimate gift that we have. What is your relationship with time?

The Tyranny of Transitions

There’s nothing harder in life than transitions. For most of us, being in-between is just plain uncomfortable

Sage Cohen

All major life changes have challenges for us. This past weekend, I was out walking and met a young man trying to coax a very tired and very old dog to keep moving. His dog was refusing to go any further so I stopped to talk with him. As we began chatting, I learned that this young man was experiencing what he called the tyranny of transition. He volunteered that he had just completed a university degree, his summer employment had ended, and that there were no immediate employment prospects on the horizon. He said that he now felt like he was adrift and we then shifted our conversation to talking about the emotional experience of life transitions.

One of the initial surprises I had in retirement was the sensation of being emotionally off balance. Although this is a typical response to many types of life change, it seemed particularly unsettling as it was unexpected and I thought I had done a sufficient amount of pre-planning prior to leaving full time work. By the time your career has reached a three decade milestone, you have achieved a degree of mastery over many tasks and skills so beginning anew in this next stage of life can create some cognitive dissonance.

To complicate matters, many people in your life may assume that this is a wonderful time for you so to express the emotional manifestation of loss and uncertainty seems somewhat taboo. After all, how do you share with someone who is taxed and stressed by the many demands of a full time work life, that you may be struggling as well. Needing to develop a sense of equilibrium along with the dawning recognition that you are starting all over again, can seem daunting.

Beginnings can be difficult in and of themselves, but there is also the emotional work of acknowledging the ending of this chapter in your life. Saying goodbye to wherever you retired from is not a one shot deal that culminates with a final celebration. There are a number of things that we must let go of which may include relationships with former colleagues; the identity and roles you may have held, and learning that the manner in which you may have viewed the world may shift. To move forward, there is a need to recognize and let go of what you are leaving behind.

Being able to acknowledge and have some type of plan for any transitional period can be helpful. I learned that creating a routine, structure for my days as well as writing about my experience was helpful to integrate this new and at times, unsettling way forward. Developing a network of supportive connections and learning as much as I could about the psychology of transitions became anchors that helped me feel grounded during this time. I am interested in learning what others have found helpful during any type of life change or transition. Please leave a comment below about what may have worked for you?

Elusive Introductions

What changes take place when you need to introduce yourself to new people after you have begun the transition into retirement? Last month, I met a woman who arrived at a course I was instructing, who seemed to be evasive when it came time to introductions. I wondered why she had come to the course and if I would learn more about her over the next two days.

We connected for a brief but illuminating moment at coffee time. I learned that she had retired from a long and illustrious career just seven months ago. She also revealed the struggle she was experiencing in searching for the next steps of her path. What resonated for me, was the tangible and felt sense of both anxiety and anticipation in what might come next. I was startled by my own recognition of the mixed emotions she described and the fear I have had that no one else will understand this aspect of the experience.

Resting on the laurels of a stellar and brilliant career that may have spanned anywhere between thirty and forty years matters not to anyone but you once it is finished. I have noticed some people tune right out as soon as you utter the word, “retired”, and others launch into a diatribe about why they could not even think about leaving the work world at this time. Some people are curious, though, and express genuine interest in what you might do with the time during your day. Conversations either end at this point or move to safer topics. This often leaves me with a vague feeling that unless I can define for myself a role that clearly projects future contributions, I am somehow less than I used to be.

Ironically, the anchor of my past career seemed, at times, more like an albatross while I was working and while I knew this transition to retirement would bring some identity challenges, I have yet to figure them out. I find myself paying much closer attention when someone who has retired also introduces themselves in any social setting. I realize that I unconsciously rely on learning about someone’s professional or vocational role when I meet someone. My search for better strategies for social introductions continues.

Retirement: Naming the beginning of the journey?

Retirement. Reinvention. Encore Career. Next Chapter. The Good Life. These are just a few of the many terms that are used to describe “retirement”. The list of these terms continues to expand as more and more individuals are making their way forward in this major life transition. When I first began the process of thinking about making this major life change, the only word that came to mind was in fact, the term retirement. My energy in the beginning was firmly focused on the financial aspects of this next stage in my life and most of the research that I came across was focused on finances. To be sure, outliving your monetary resources is a state no one wants to face. However, it is only a piece of the puzzle.

I soon discovered that the emotional upheaval that I was about to experience was not discussed in any of the books that I had been reading. Observing what family members and friends were doing once they left full time work, provided little insight into what my experience would be. It never occurred to me to probe the emotional aspect of this transition until after I had retired from my full time work.

The purpose of this blog is to explore the journey I have been on, and hopefully, to learn from others about different or similar experiences in their pathways to retirement (still not certain what the best term is!). Writing through this transition has been helpful to me so anticipating and seeking an opportunity to connect with others has led me to the development of this blog.

I have always enjoyed researching any question that arises in my life, and this major life change sent me off in a number of directions trying to find information and people that I could seek out for assistance with my many questions. It quickly became obvious that the term, “retirement” was only one of many that would help me navigate the information highway as I searched for answers. It also prompted me to reflect on what I thought the best term might be. Since I am still doing short contracts as a professional person, I have landed on “semi-retired” at this point. What do you think the best term is?