During a horse-drawn wagon tour of Charleston last year, our entertaining driver told us a story to highlight the slower paced living of the city. As the story goes, sometime in the first half of the twentieth century, a New Yorker moved to Charleston and, stuck in late afternoon traffic one day, he began to beep his car horn in an apparent effort to move the traffic along. Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, well-known artist and Charleston native, was passing by on the sidewalk. Verner stopped to ask him what all the fuss was about. Finding the man had no place in particular he was required to be and admitting he enjoyed living in Charleston, she responded in true laid back Southern form, “Well, if you’re where you want to be, what’s your rush?” Upon hearing this quote, I whipped out a little note pad I carry with me, wrote down the words, which I typed up when I got home and taped to my bathroom mirror as a reminder to slow my life’s pace.
When I say slow my life’s pace, I’m talking about taking the opportunity to savor life. I’m talking about finding a meaningful life. For those of us with the good fortune to leave the traditional workforce behind, this time in our lives is a gift. Even if we choose to use this time to continue working, whether it’s starting a business we always dreamed of or working part-time at something entirely new to us or working as a volunteer supporting a cause we care about, it is a time when we are living by terms we create. It is a time when we have the space to focus on what really matters to us. The trick is to avoid filling up the space with sheer busyness simply because that’s what we are used to doing. Part of the transition from work life is realizing the frenetic pace, which often accompanies working is unnecessary. And, it probably always was.
Many people live busy, busy lives accomplishing all kinds of things but those lives are often unfulfilled. Their lives appear satisfying on the surface. I have met many people who moved at light speed from one appointment or meeting to the next, often read emails or opened snail mail while “listening” to other people, proud of their multi-tasking abilities. They dashed from work to their kid’s ball game or a community commitment, gobbling dinner on the run. There were public accolades added to their resumes. But, sitting down with them, for a rare moment of introspection, often revealed they were largely unhappy as their success propelled them to just chase after more, leaving them with an empty feeling at the end of the day. One of the challenges when you retire, as in all of life, is stopping this busyness long enough to listen your own heart and head. This is a time for inner focus. So, I made a conscious effort in the last year to slow the pace and think about what I really found important in life. The result has been a much richer, rewarding life.
Firstly, I realized not everything is important. I can let a lot of things go, which in the past would have been a source of annoyance. When I worked, I was highly organized. Everything would be done, every item had a place and was in its place both at home and work. My car was spic and span, my hair always “done” and my outfits put together. I scheduled appointments for everything for the entire year. My life today is much more relaxed, less focused on things, more focused on people, pets and activities I enjoy doing.
Secondly, speaking of people, I realized there are certain people who are the most important people to me. While I was never in the habit of letting someone into my life just because they happened to show up at my door, I did have relationships with people who were no longer in synch with me. Conversely, I also realized I had relationships with people who were not that keen on me. In the last year, I think I’ve had the good grace to let both go. The most important person in my life is my husband, Martin, and that is the relationship I pay the most attention to. It has not always been the case. And, transitioning to being together 24/7 was its own challenge but our relationship has never been better.
Thirdly, I realized I was still acting a bit like I did when I worked, wanting to accomplish as much as I could and try everything on my bucket list all at once. But, at the end of 2013 I looked at my list and said, “What do I want to do this year?” I decided to try something new each year for as long as I can and focus on that one thing. This year is the Year of Drawing, which I first did fall 2013. Yes, I will most likely continue doing art for the rest of my life but this year I’m not muddying the waters by adding this and that on top of it. As a result, I feel more centered, less scattered than ever before. And, I’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible with this one activity. I still garden and write, two other activities I enjoy, volunteer with the Master Gardeners Program, hike, walk and do the usual, but by not adding anything else new, I have found balance.
After all, I am where I want to be…retired. So, what is the rush?