Embracing uncertainty

“We know we are no longer who we were, but we do not know who we will yet become”

Fred Mandell

Reinvention by its very nature is captivating and exciting. The possibility of personal renewal, embarking on a new career, or beginning a new relationship often captures our imagination. Nurturing our dreams and planning for a future that we have envisioned for ourselves is an essential part of who we are. But in order to do this, we must first learn to embrace uncertainty.

Making any type of change in our lives means that we are facing some degree of uncertainty. And for most of us, we are often quite adverse to altering our day to day lives. Consider how challenging it has been for many of us since we have begun social distancing and sheltering in place. We have moments where we may experience strong emotional reactions to the impact the coronavirus is having on our lives. This is compounded by the understanding that this will be our new normal for quite some time to come. Uncertainty is part of this new normal.

Fear, frustration, and the weight of our own expectations as well as those of others, could cause us to collapse. Or perhaps we become paralyzed by the emotions that surface during times of uncertainty or change. Indeed, believing that we should achieve something, or aspire to or do a certain thing, can force us blindly down a path that takes us further away from what we are meant to do.

These types of transition are often the most challenging for us but if we are able to find strategies to remain grounded, they can in fact become the most fruitful. I listened this morning to a podcast that was about sharing stories of youth in the child welfare system during this pandemic. One young woman spoke of having to live in a group home and not being able to leave or have people come to visit. At first, she recalled, this isolation from the world, caused her to experience feelings of depression but she talked about moving through that by learning to skateboard and to knit.

These grounding activities helped her not only get through this time of social isolation but she spoke about finally getting to know who she actually is. The hardest part of living through uncertainty and transition seems to happen for all of us regardless of the age or stage of life we are in.

But in the midst of challenge and chaos in our lives comes a hidden opportunity to discover those creative moments that signal to us what we are truly interested and passionate about, and to learn more about who we really are. And it is these learning moments that help to get us excited and motivated to prepare to make changes in our lives. If we choose to acknowledge our fears and take the time we need, to sit with ourselves to figure out where we want to go, our chances of reaching our new destination will increase.

Who knows what we will discover during this time of uncertainty if we reach out to embrace it?

Stay healthy and well!

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?