You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

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The Ups And Downs Of Retirement

Here comes the sun!

Here comes the sun!

A few weeks ago I posted “The Joys Of Not Working”. I wrote about both the joy and the responsibility that comes with being retired. Having to fill your time with activities of your own making is the responsibility part. Creating an invigorating, satisfying retirement is up to you. It is like the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness. It does not guarantee happiness; only its pursuit. In a similar respect, a financially secure retirement doesn’t guarantee happiness; only the freedom to pursue it.

To be sure, there are many people who are not financially secure in retirement, yet they enjoy much more happiness than many a well-heeled retiree or working person, for that matter. They take advantage of free or inexpensive activities and joys at their disposal. They get out and DO things. They pursue retirement happiness.

It costs little or nothing at all to:

Watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset
Take a walk in a local park or garden
Borrow books and movies from your local library
Join a book club
Attend free events like music evenings at your local library
Write your memoir or family history
Invite a friend over for coffee and a chat
Volunteer to help out with the maintenance of the local garden
Become an usher at a theater and watch plays and shows for free
Go for a wine tasting
Look for an Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI) or University of the Third Age and join
Browse a flea market
Volunteer at the farmer’s market, a hospital or any other organization
Keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day
List the fifty things in your life that are positives for you – yes, you do have fifty (at least)
Look for a Senior Center in your area and go have lunch, meet other retirees, be active there
Look for other free and low cost activities in your area and do them!
Google “Activities for seniors in ________________” (fill in your city and see what you get)
While the financial part of a happy retirement is important, the emotional aspect is even more important. I listed the activities above mainly to point out the fact that there is plenty to get you started on enjoying your retirement with or without money.

One of the downs of retirement is feeling down! Especially if you are newly retired, as in the last couple of years. In this case, inertia is not your friend. Get moving by looking at the list above or better yet, making your own list.

There is not a list of the ‘five most important things to do in order to have a happy retirement’. Believe me, if there was, I would write a book about it. Each and every one of us has a unique path. Different strokes for different folks. One of the other downs of retirement is people who sit around waiting for someone else to figure it out for them. No one is handing you a happy retirement. Get up off the couch. Turn off the TV. Go. Do.

Another down is retiring before your friends do. Martin and I retired young. Most of our social group was still working. Since then some have also retired. In the meantime, we had to make other friends. We sought out venues such as OLLI where we knew we would meet other retirees. We made new friends. Start saying, “Hello” to people and SMILE!

For some, it may be a down if your spouse continues to work. That can keep you tethered to the work clock, work world, wishing you hadn’t retired and living in the past. Make a day schedule that gets you out of the house. Have somewhere to go. Do not sit around waiting for your spouse’s return. Look at the list above and start with some of those activities. On the up side you will have something to tell your working spouse about your day. You may discover a new passion and make new friends.

Retirement started out as an up for me and quickly became a down. It took time, effort and perseverance to finally hit my stride. The biggest up is the adventure of not working if you choose to make it an adventure. I am happier than I ever imagined being. As in my youth every day is filled with possibilities. There is now an excitement to my days. I cannot wait to get up in the morning and get going. There are an unlimited number of new things to try. Work rarely felt like that. I feel like I am re-defining retirement. Now, that is definitely an up!

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

Since I was traveling this week, I’m reposting a previous post from July 2014.  I hope you enjoy it a second time around.  I’ll be back next week with a fresh post.  Until then…

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.

Six Ideas For Finding Your Retirement Life

Part of my retirement identity

Part of my retirement identity

Research in several western countries tells us that people who enjoy the most success in reaching retirement happiness are also those who enjoyed a work/life balance. In other words their entire identity did not hinge on their work or work title. They were deeply and passionately involved in their off time with hobbies and interests. When they retired, they had a safety net of activities to continue full-time in retirement.

In our “what do you do” society, someone who hitched their identity to their work title may have a tough time kissing that title goodbye because with it goes their sense of purpose and worth. I’ve written about the importance of finding a new purpose and meaning in your retirement life. Some of us can be totally happy doing whatever life dishes up each day. Most of us need a sense of purpose. Something we care about deeply and passionately.

For example, wherever I lived I built and left a beautiful garden. Even after putting in a ten-hour day at the office, there were times when you could find me at work in the summer garden when darkness fell. Martin would teasingly ask if he should bring me a flashlight or was I coming in for the night. Decades later, I still feel the same passion for gardening.

I’ve talked to many, many retirees who have a full calendar. Yet, they are still not happy. That’s because busy work doesn’t cut it for them. They may be the ones who, if asked “what do you do?”, will surely tell you all about what they USED to do. They will trot out their old work identity like a trick pony, bragging about all their accomplishments, living in the past. These folks need to get a life! A retirement life.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “If you haven’t found your passion yet, you probably never will.” However, there’s another part of me that believes people who were workaholic probably focused so much on their work they never saw, or perhaps ignored, their cues for passionate work. Now, they are stuck. Stuck in retirement with no place to go.

If you are stuck not knowing how to go about finding your retirement life, here are a few ideas to get you unstuck.

1. Most people have a bucket list of activities they wanted to do in retirement. These are usually the things they always wanted to do, but never took the time to do, because they were too busy working. Then, they retire and still don’t make the time for these activities. I’ve listened to several people who tell me chores gets in the way!!! What!? You have time to do the dishes but none to smell life’s roses? Be brave, macho, you go girl or guy, pretend you’re Nike — Just do it! The dishes can wait.

2. Learn to recognize self-imposed limitations and send them packing. If you find yourself saying things like, “I don’t think I’d like that” or “I know I’m not good at _________ (you fill in the blank)” or “my friends and family would think I was crazy to try that” or any one of many other forms of self-imposed limitations, stop the negative talk in your head. Kill off the “yeah buts”. Replace them with “YES I CAN!”

3. Go back to your childhood. You spent the first eighteen years of your life trying something new and learning all the time. Learning and experiencing was a full-time job. What did you like doing as a young person? What got you excited? What got your heart pumping and put a smile on your face? It’s no secret I loved writing. That’s the passion I reignited in my second childhood also known as retirement. Revisit your early years for clues about what might rev your engine now.

4. Realize it’s never too late. There are people out there in their eighties and nineties who are living their dreams. You, too can become one of them if you follow your heart instead of your head. Change your attitude to one of seeking your passion. Then, invoke numbers 1, 2, and 3 above.

5. Stop trying to fill up the calendar with busy, busy. Sometimes, the most important activity we can do is nothing. All stop. And listen. If you are constantly creating white noise in your life, how can you possibly hear your own heart beat? Sometimes I just be. No reading, no writing, no gardening, no classes, no working in the woods, no lunches or dinners with friends, no visits with family, just nothing. Nothingness. Just sitting with myself, me, my real self and letting whatever comes in, come.

6. Get yourself some business cards and put your new title on it. I got cards when I started this blog shortly after retiring. I listed myself as a Writer/Blogger. Be inventive. You could be World Traveler or Life Adventurer or Seeker of Fun or RV Road Warrior or Golfer Extraordinaire or Textile Artist or History Buff or Second Childhood Experiencer or whatever you fancy yourself.

Ultimately, you are the only person responsible for your happy retirement. You can do this by living with purpose to find purpose. Research has also shown us the happiest retirees are self-directed, self-motivated. No one has to tell them what to do with their day or their life. I like that. Retirement is a gift. Unwrap it. You might be surprised by what you find.

After A Long Winter’s Nap

Dancing in delight

Dancing in delight

Spring. The vernal equinox when day and night equate each other. The season when Mother Nature dresses up her children to dance across the warming earth after a long winter’s nap. Tree buds swell in red only to open in more shades of green than we knew possible and flowers in yellows, pinks and purples herald the coming of longer days.

Perhaps it’s because I was born in the spring or perhaps it’s because I’m a third generation gardener or perhaps it’s the lengthening sunnier days, but spring is by far my favorite season. Spring is a time of new life, of rebirth, a time of renewal for mind, body and soul.

Though my winters are not as long, and certainly not as harsh, as they were when I lived in the north, South Carolina dishes up enough winter to make me yearn for spring. Fortunately, by the time the calendar announced the vernal equinox this week, signs of spring were already here and in full bloom. Daffodils bobbing their heads alongside forsythia and azalea blossoms make me want to celebrate this season of new beginnings.

Here are some things I do to celebrate spring:

1. I get outside! After being cooped up for the last few months, nothing feels as good as the release of doing physical work in the garden. Even my sore muscles from shoveling, hoeing and raking make me feel alive with the joy of spring. I welcome the dirt under my nails. Even if you don’t garden or don’t like to garden, go for a walk, try hiking or riding a bike. Plant a pot of spring flowers for your front porch or make a wreath for your door _ do it outside, of course.

2. Speaking of making things, in honor of the season of renewal, rebirth, new life, take up a new activity be it a hobby, exercise or pastime. Do something you haven’t done before. As lilies poke up through the soil and the maples unfurl their leaves, I seed flats with vegetables and flowers in anticipation of April 15, our last frost date. As part of my summer garden planning, I always choose something to grow that I haven’t planted before. This year it is two varieties of hot, hot, hot peppers. Whew! If they are too hot for my palate, I’ll string them up and dry them for fall wreaths or swags.

3. Go someplace locally you have never visited before _ a park, museum, historical site. We often forget to vacation in our own backyard. Spring is a great time to discover local attractions before summer crowds gather. Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’m never at a loss for parks, trails, waterfalls or art studios to visit. There are historical sites, such as the Cowpens Revolutionary War Battlefield and old plantations, along with museums and city, county and state gardens and arboretums. There are farmers markets and outdoor concerts, which start in April. These are just a few ideas. What’s in your backyard?

4. At the very least, visit a garden or arboretum. It is a great way to relax, de-clutter your winter weary mind and refresh your spirit. For me gardening is meditative, almost mindless. Always my goto de-stressor, working in the garden clears my mind so I’m ready for what life throws at me. With bees buzzing around my fingers as they work the flowers and birds calling to potential mates, it’s hard not to feel a certain calm. I often visit public gardens to get ideas for my garden, but if I’m on a mission, it’s to sit on a bench, breath in the sunshine and watch the bees joyfully harvesting after a long winter’s nap.

These are some of the ways I celebrate this glorious season. Hopefully, they will give you some ideas of your own or perhaps you already have some you’d like to share. I’d love to hear from you.

Happy spring!

Putting Your Dent In The Universe

 

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The universe as seen from the Hubble telescope

Everyone has unique potential because everyone has innate talents just waiting to be used by the universe. For example, while cleaning out a box of keepsakes a while back I looked at my second grade report card (yes, I still had it) and noticed how I excelled at spelling and grammar, not so good at arithmetic. Spelling abilities later led to A grades in English, which led to Journalism classes and a stint as copy editor of my high school newspaper. See, even as a child my gift for verbal acuity was clear, innate. Retirement is a time to discover or rediscover talents, passions, gifts. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. If you haven’t done that to date, your last third of life is your last opportunity.

A couple of weeks ago a reader, Paul Wilkes, sent me a copy of his most recent book Your Second To Last Chapter. Paul has written some twenty books so writing a book isn’t unusual for him. However, what he writes about in Your Second To Last Chapter is in keeping with much of what I spout on this blog.

Paul’s small but insightful book chronicles his feeling empty and unfulfilled in retirement until he found, yes, I’m going to say it again, new meaning and purpose. The cover catch phrase “Creating a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms” sums it up nicely. Paul already had a very enviable gig as a visiting professor at a university, a supporting role to his wife, Tracy’s volunteer work and the ability to travel to far off destinations. Yet, he felt something was missing in his life.

Then, on a month-long trip to India he serendipitously met a former street beggar at a home for girls. Her story and the conditions at the home would tug at anyone’s heart strings. But, Paul decided to take a small step to help the girls’ home. What began as a quest to obtain mattresses for the girls, so they wouldn’t be sleeping on straw mats laid upon a concrete floor, turned into a full-fledged passion to change their lives completely. In doing so, Paul changed his own life, filling up the empty place inside him.

While we are not all cut out to raise huge sums of money and wend our way through the logistics to transform a home and educate children living in deplorable conditions, we are all cut out for something bigger. Oftentimes, in my life, while going on my merry way, something happens out of the blue, something unexpected, which if I stop and listen, may change my life or someone else’s life or both.

I call this a personal Black Swan Event. Technically, a Black Swan is an unexpected, surprising event with huge cultural changing influence on the world in general. Behind a Black Swan Event is an outlier. For example, Bill Gates is an outlier, a person, who through their actions, brings about a world-changing event, such as Gate’s software to run personal computers. We all have events in our lives that, in hindsight, changed our personal trajectory.

I’m no Bill Gates, but I have done a few things in my life, which changed some other lives. For several years I helped raise money and planted garden beds at a domestic abuse shelter. I pleaded with friends and neighbors, business connections and anyone who would listen to give. I called and emailed state and Congressional legislators to support bills to thwart domestic violence. A starving cat eating bird food off of a rock wall behind my house led to my rescuing many, many cats.

I did not seek out these causes. They just knocked at my door and I chose to open it and let them in. There are others I turned away from because they did not speak to my passion.

Another event that knocked at my door was the creation of this blog. I know from your comments and emails, I have helped more than a few of you figure out some things about retirement or, at the very least, know there is more to retiring than having enough money. Writing a blog was not even a tiny seed of a thought in my mind when I retired. My personal frustration with finding answers to what I was feeling led me to dust off my innate writing talent and launch the blog. Then, you found me. Thank you for the following! I humbly hope I continue to offer insights and ideas of value.

Finding our passion is not easy. Even if we approach this quest with an open mind and heart, the answer can elude us. Our society is one of accumulating stuff, spending money to make ourselves feel better about the emptiness gnawing at us or to add a moment of pleasure or excitement to our lives.

That moment, however, is a flash in the pan as the feeling, the newness of our purchase quickly wears off. Ditto for retirement adventures such as traveling the world or buying an RV to see the country. I’ve spoken to plenty of retirees who spent years in the retirement honeymoon stage of enjoying themselves with travel, golf, tennis, book clubs, art or whatever. Then they woke up one day like Paul Wilkes and said, “I feel empty. Now what?”

None of these leisure activities put our dent in the universe unless, of course, we take them, somehow, to creating something meaningful, purposeful. All they do is take up a patch of time and temporarily fill the hole in our soul and help fuel the economy, making Wall Street happy, but doing little to permanently fill any personal void. With the possibility of living to be one hundred becoming more and more likely, you could spend ten years playing and still have twenty years or more left to put your dent in the universe. Then what?

If you are one of the people voicing disillusionment with retirement, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there something I did as a child or teen that excited me yet I never thought it possible? We all had childhood dreams. You may have an adulthood dream but backed away from trying it for fear of failure. I met a man last year who didn’t go to college until later in life because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. He thought he would fail. Conversely, some people back away because they fear success. How will they handle their dream if it actually materializes? Will they be able to step up to the plate and keep their success afloat?
  2. Do you give up too easily? Paul Wilkes talks about the obstacles, the set backs, the mistakes. His passion for what he is doing moves him forward. We never know what we are capable of doing unless we try.
  3. Speaking of trying, are you willing to try new activities until you find your passion? Or, do you place self-imposed limitations on yourself? Being open is imperative to finding your passion. Remember the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’? Keep going until you find the activity that sets your soul on fire.

If you are spending too much time on busy work, if you are spending too much time meeting people for coffee or lunch, if you find yourself watching too much TV, if you find yourself depressed in retirement, if you spend money on stuff you don’t need, if you find yourself bored, if you’re complaining a lot, if you don’t like your life, if you don’t have an activity that feeds your soul, then take the leap.

 
Get out of your comfort zone. Be open to finding your passion. Be open to listening to life as it whispers to you about how to use your unique potential. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. Don’t blow it!

TOP 10 AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS

A few weeks ago a reader commented, “I would love to read about your top 10 listing of things that have filled your time during retirement that you love!!” Hmmm…Did I even have a top 10? Especially a top 10 that I loved? This reader’s comment definitely sparked my thought process. Years ago, when retirement was but a dream, I read an article advising retirement wannabes to have at least 14 different activities to fill their time or face an unhappy retirement. I remember thinking, “How can anyone have that many hobbies, volunteer organizations, games or sports, family occasions, travel or whatever to add up to 14 different activities?” It seemed fantastical, unrealistic, to say the least.

Retirement today is not what it was for our grandparents or even our parents. I believe we are in the forefront of a cultural shift in the way we view aging (stay tuned for another blog on this subject). I read again and again at https://www.growingbolder.com how people are breaking the mold by pushing the boundaries and limitations our society has set for its aging population. As people eschew the notion that retirement means relaxation and seek, instead, to find further meaning and purpose in the last third of life, yes, I do believe there will be less busyness to fill our retirement hours and more personal evolution. Each evolution is very personal. The way you stretch yourself is different from the way I stretch myself. And, as always, the activities with my husband, Martin and our family is at the top of the list…wife, mother, grandma. That said, below is my Top 10 List.

1. When I retired, I asked myself, “If you were not afraid, what would you do?” So, number 1 on my list is this blog. It was a leap into the unknown, which, because of you, my readers, has returned so much more than I give.

2. A lifelong love instilled in me by my parents, is gardening. Landscape gardening, vegetable gardening, fruit gardening, herb gardening, gardening, gardening, gardening.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

3. Another newfound love in retirement, a surprise of surprises, is drawing. Trying new mediums, attending art classes, enjoying the company and community of other artists has opened a new vista.

Pencil Drawing of Portia

Pencil Drawing of Portia

4. As a Master Gardener volunteer, I found a volunteer organization where I truly enjoy being involved as it uses my skills as a presenter and teacher. A fun Saturday morning is working the Clemson Extension Master Gardeners booth where I tell people how to improve, grow or manage their gardens.

5. As you read in my last post, being a student at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Furman University is another retirement discovery leading to learning new skills or just plain having fun like the felting or card making classes I took. It’s also led to new friendships and engagement with other retirees.

6. Well, here’s an out of the ordinary activity. Bush Whacker is what I call myself when engaging in the endeavor to clean up our jungle of a woodland. With pine beetles destroying our Virginia Pine and pine blister taking care of anything they fail to chew, I am clearing the small pines, thousands of them. Taking my battery powered chain saw into the damp, dark woods and releasing the oak, maples, beech, dogwood and hickory from their pine prison has proven to be a form of meditation for me. As sections are cleared and apparently dormant wild flowers spring up beneath the remaining canopy, I am awed by the beauty of Mother Nature.

7. I am an admitted foodie…growing, cooking, canning, wine tasting or anything else which has to do with ingesting yummy stuff. Martin and I even tried winemaking and may give it a go again in the future. Like many other things in life, it isn’t as easy as it looks. On our first try, after the hydrometer slipped from my hand, shattering on the kitchen floor, we admittedly just gave up. Last year, the harvest from my 90 feet of planted wine grapes helped feed the wildlife on our property. No wonder the raccoons sported such beautiful coats this year!

Homemade Peach Pie

Homemade Peach Pie

8. Taking a cue from my older sister, I took up knitting as a winter hobby although it’s now extending into the warmer months. Amazed at what I can create with a ball of yarn and two needles has inspired me to create more lovely things. Occasionally, I join a sit n’ knit group, along with a neighbor, at a local Alpaca farm and knit shop. If you join one of these groups, don’t take anything too complicated to knit as it’s more of a social meeting with not so much knitting accomplished.

9. I cannot leave out my role as a cat lover, rescuer, caretaker, spoiler. I LOVE cats! Also known as the Zen Masters, cats are brave, loving creatures who just want to be loved in return. No, I have never met an aloof cat. I am the self-proclaimed ‘Cat Mommy-Slave’ even taking our three indoor cats outside for a 30 minute walk every day that weather permits, which is most days. After about 30 minutes, everyone heads for a door to the house (who says you can’t train cats?) and then it’s snack time followed by nap time. See, Zen Masters.

10. Last, but (sigh) should not be least, is exercise. I now walk an average of 4.33 miles a day either in my neighborhood, on my 6 acres or hiking in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and working in the garden and woods. While I love the views and seeing nature on my hikes, I can’t say this is an activity I really love but it is an activity I do out of love for myself.

After thinking about all the things I do, I could probably get to the fourteen activities I read about years ago. I also love to read, take an occasional trip someplace, go to trendy little towns with trendy little main streets and browse their trendy little shops. And, I love having lunch out with friends or going to a wine tasting at local wineries or visiting public gardens and arboretums for inspiration. So, there you have it…my Top 10. What’s yours?

LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD

In 1969 Richie Havens sang the song ‘Freedom’ at Woodstock. The lyrics, which as of late will not stop playing in my head, “Freedom, freedom, freedom, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from my home” have a different meaning for me than they did when I was 17. Back then, in fact, I don’t think I really thought much about the lyrics. It was the blues feeling of the tune more than the lyrics, which attracted me to Havens’ song. And, after all, it was sung at the crazy, crazy song fest, love-in of Woodstock. Today, however, it’s how I feel about the lyrics, which has them spinning over and over again around my brain. With my mother’s passing in 2008, I truly am a motherless child. And, the years, the travels, the distances, the sheer experience of life itself, have taken me a long way from my home. Shoot! I’m not even remotely like my 17-year-old self. That person is gone. But, with the luxury of retirement, I am free after all those years.

Between the time when we reach adulthood to the time when we reach retirement, we spend our lives dancing as fast as we can to keep up with career plans and demands, family responsibilities, community involvement and a host of other concerns like how to afford retirement. Before reaching adulthood, we spent our youth with everything we learned, did or perhaps, even thought, being orchestrated by parents, teachers, church leaders, scout leaders, coaches, maybe even older siblings or other relatives and, of course, there were our friends. Retirement is a sort of crossing the finish line where we have gobs and gobs of time to ourselves, free time to do whatever we want, whenever we want. There are no bosses breathing down our necks all day making sure we are not wasting company time and producing results with our efforts. The kids are grown and, hopefully, out of house. Our spouse or significant other may also be retired and have their agenda of activities or they may still be running on the treadmill of work. At last, we are free.

But, therein lies the catch. At first, in retirement, we may feel like a motherless child who can run wild in the streets. We can sleep late, play golf or bridge or whatever, party with our friends late into the night. Hop into our RV or travel the globe. In our society we have been conditioned to think of retirement as a perpetual vacation where we’re going to enjoy endless relaxation and fun. I remember my mother’s trepidation about my father’s impending retirement. Her fears began when they received one call too many relaying the news of yet another retired male friend dying of a heart attack on the golf course. Those were the days when retirement was a time to party hardy because our life spans were much shorter. It made sense to act like every day was Saturday. However, with present day longevity, the idea of spending 20 or 30 years playing every day is no longer desirable. As human beings we have an innate need to strive onward and upward toward something meaningful. The retirement dream of our parents is not a valid dream for us. In fact, 20 or 30 years of doing the same ol’, same ol’ can become a downright nightmare.

Retirement is the one time in life when we have real control over our time and what we do with it. Yet, many of us squander that freedom by clinging to the retirement model of our grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Freedom, in and of itself, is a responsibility. One way to take responsibility for your freedom is to go home again. Even though you are probably, as I am, a different person than you were as a young adult, revisiting that person may hold the keys to what you really, really want to do with your retirement freedom. Even though, in the words of Richie Havens, I was a long way from my home, I went back to my high school years, mentally that is, and thought about what I had wanted to do with my life then. I was the copy editor on my high school newspaper and received an award from Temple University for outstanding high school journalism. Hard to believe now, considering how I don’t always know where to place a comma or start a new paragraph. But, my point is, I always wanted to be a writer but I let life and paying the bills get in the way. Being a writer still resonated with my current self so even though I was a long way from home, I retrieved that dream and made it happen on these pages. By going home again, you may find the answer to what you want to do to jazz up your retirement freedom. But, however you approach it, whatever you decide to do, don’t squander it like a motherless child just whiling away the days, all the days, each and every one of your days, with mundane busyness.

AN ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT

After writing my last post, many of you wrote telling me what gave you renewed purpose in life after transitioning from work life to retirement. THANK YOU! I enjoyed reading all of your stories, comments and notes. There were a couple of surprises from this informal survey but most of you found renewed purpose by finding a new activity, which struck a personal cord. There was an undeniable thread of joy, which ran through all of your stories of self-discovery. Now, I’d like to share the results with all my readers. Since many of the writers asked for anonymity, I’ve decided not to post any comments received on the previous post nor give too much detail.

Most of you retired as I did, cold turkey. No part-time work to ease into retirement like my doctor suggested as the ideal scenario. In fact, a few wrote about leaving work due to stress. For the most part, it wasn’t clear what type of stress but a couple of people wrote about age discrimination and being pushed out by a younger supervisor and/or co-workers. One writer mentioned feeling an urgent need to find new purpose in order to fully move forward in life and leave the stress behind. There was only one writer, but it’s good news we had one, who chronicled a five-year transition into retirement, working three-quarters of the month, including some telecommuting for the company that employed them for 37 years. This writer’s spouse enjoyed a similar arrangement with their employer. So, I guess we can count that as two who were able to transition into retirement the way my doctor suggested. Even after this transitional period, the employer still wanted to keep them around for special projects. Smart employer! Since this person did a lot of pre-planning and transitioning into retirement, when the moment finally came, it was more of a non-event with little transitioning left to do. Most of us, however, do not have the luxury of such an accommodating employer.

The big surprise for me is how most of you found renewed purpose in arts and crafts. While there are a few of you who fell in love with gardening, even a couple who have hobby farms, it seems most retirees are part of an arts and crafts movement. And, gardening can even be considered a type of art form for it requires a certain amount of creativity. Far from unusual, I am not the only one to discover artistic talent after a career in a vastly different environment. After life as attorneys, accountants, bankers, realtors, office managers, manufacturing jobs, medical technicians, teachers, IT administrators, nurses and more, most of you found renewed purpose in painting in all mediums…watercolor, acrylics, oil, jewelry making, sculpture in both clay and metal, glass bead making, knitting and felting, stained glass, photography, weaving, quilting, wood carving and collage art. Two of you mentioned supplementing retirement income with the sale of your art work and one is even teaching an art class. Some of you spoke of travel but it was almost always in conjunction with your ability to photograph new scenes or explore local art and culture. You also spoke of making new friends within the arts and crafts community, joining clubs and social networks centered around your chosen art or craft. I recently spotted a sign in an art shop. It said, “Artists never retire.” Perhaps that’s why we are drawn to our creative sides in retirement. We have now created a job for life.

Another surprise was how no one mentioned volunteering as an activity, which offered renewed purpose. Only a couple of you mentioned any volunteer work at all and even that was as an aside, an “I also do this” type of remark. As a volunteer for the Master Gardener Program, I fully enjoy working the booth at the local farmers market where I answer gardening questions and hand out information to all kinds of people from all walks of life. It makes for a fun morning. However, it’s not something I want to do everyday. Yesterday, at lunch with a friend, I asked for her thoughts on this as she, too, does volunteer work, but, it’s not her focus. Her not-so-surprising comment, “ I don’t want to be scheduled.” I believe, for most of us, volunteering is too much like working a job. It comes with time constraints, supervisors and work-like responsibilities. Many of us want to give back to our community in some way but in retirement, we also want to enjoy a less structured, more relaxing life. If anyone has other thoughts or ideas about this, please chime in.

To all of you, no matter where you are, no matter what your circumstance, I thank you for all of your heartfelt responses. I hope this post inspires those of you who have not yet found a renewed purpose in life to explore the possibilities, explore your wants and needs and perhaps ignite a spark within, which you didn’t know was there.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.