I had the delight of receiving an email today from someone who had taken my "Midlife Through Retirement" class in autumn 2015. It's always wonderful to hear from past participants of my classes and workshops, but it's particularly special when substantial time has passed since class and where the news bears outcomes, evidence of change in a person's life.
"I am well and enjoying retirement," she writes. "I have found some areas to volunteer that bring me pleasure and have taken up kayaking. I am looking at taking a course in the spring from the Wenatchee Valley Dispute Resolution Center to become a trained mediator for them. It is kind of right up my alley, having been a school counselor, and I think I would like the work. Plus I could take those skills anywhere I chose to live and find work."
She continued, “Thank you so much for offering 'Midlife through Retirement'. It has actually crossed my mind to take it again, as I am not sure I was really ready for it the first time. I am more resolved now that some changes need to be made. Anyway, you offer people many great things to think about and the courage to face the future with excitement in knowing they can control the direction they move now as much as when they were younger. (Sometimes I think we get stuck in a rut as we age.)"
I can envision this woman, let's call her June, as a strong, gracious, and competent mediator. When I first met her, she had recently retired from over thirty years as a school counselor.
As much as we look forward to the day when we are free to control our own time, retirement can be unmooring. There is loss of structure, relationships, and roles that define us. We may experience the emptiness of the home, beyond simply the "empty nest." Free time, which we cherished while we worked, may grow to lack definition without activities and meaningful pursuits. And then there are those existential questions: "Who am I now?" "What do I do with the years ahead?" "What matters to me now?" "How do I live and enjoy the years ahead?"
Perhaps, June had those thoughts in mind as she sat in my class and wondered what was ahead in class and in her life. Like many, I think she was taking her first steps outside her familiar comfort zone to explore and clarify what could be her next steps. I'm encouraged to think, through her note and others like it, that the exercises and the conversations we share in class are worthwhile and help people to move forward.
Did you also notice a sense of growth and resolve in June's words? A new sense of empowerment? Something shifted. She moved out of her rut, and new things started to happen. And it's also no surprise that June took up a new activity, kayaking. Other former students have also taken up new activities or endeavors as they step out of their old patterns and comfort zones.
Transition to the next stage of one's life (any next stage), may not always be easy and smooth, and may likely be messy, but it's good to know that you have this time, which is precious, and as June says, that "(people can) control the direction they move now as much as when they were younger." It's true: we teach that to young people, and we can practice it as well.
(Fun fact: Speaking of kayaking, another former student took up kayaking. She found a way to combine free kayaking with volunteer clean up of waterways. Check it out: Puget Soundkeepers. There are so many opportunities and experiences to be discovered out there. You just need to get out of your familiar comfort zone.)
First of all, many thanks to North Seattle College Continuing Education Program for dedicating its January 10th blog post on my class, “Midlife to Retirement: A Catalyst for Change.” I’m grateful for the individuals I’ve met through past offerings of this course (which previously had the subtitle, A Path Forward.)
My students' stories and endeavors have enriched and improved the work I do. They came from all walks of life, ages spanning decades; they were employed, retired, transitioning, single, married, partnered, widowed, separating. Some were trying to regain new balance after a major disruption like a health scare or personal loss, and others were simply re-evaluating life after decades of work -- all not uncommon in the second half of life.
However you define the “second half of life,” one seems to know it when you’re there. You’re not a spring chick anymore, life takes on different meanings and responsibilities, somehow you realize the mortal nature of our lives, and grow a sudden awareness of our indefinite time on this planet and consider changes, both tangible and external (e.g., place to live, things to do) and internal (shifts in attitudes, behaviors). New questions arise... Who am I now? What’s most important to me now? What matters?
People rarely like change when it’s imposed on them - people don’t like being told what to do and when to do it; they don’t like being told they have to change, or that change is inevitable.
But like a hardy perennial, people also perpetually want change! They want to be happier, healthier, have more inner peace, want better relationships, more confidence, new activities, renewed hope, or some other thing… and all these things require change.
So if you want change, what have you tried? What has worked for you? Do you believe you’re “too old” to change, or that people don’t change after a certain point? If you believe age itself limits you, you’ve bought into ageism, the thinking that age and various age-related stereotypes and expectations define people. Current scientific research refutes the notion that you're "too old." Take a look, for example, at recent research on Mindsets by Stanford psychologist Carol Dwek. See her TED Talk on The Power of Believing That You Can Improve.
If you want to change, you can be your own change agent at any age.
Happy New Year! Happy 2017!
How did you ring in the New Year? I love this holiday that people the world over celebrate on a personal, communal, and societal basis. Whether with fun and frivolity, solemn tradition, or a quiet night spent at home, we wish each other “Happy New Year!” in shared optimism for an opportunity to start afresh and to hope for a better future.
The New Year allows, actually, encourages us to suspend our current realities for a moment and be optimistic that the future in fact holds potential for new possibilities and opportunities. We share greetings for the New Year that we might be happy, healthy, and prosper in the new year.
In many cultures, this sense of optimism and hope is further encouraged to take form as an expressed goal or a personal resolution. With all its good intentions, resolutions may help some people, but more often than not, it becomes a burden or a disappointment or simply another thing forgotten, in matter of days and weeks.
But what if you could carry that “New Year’s Day” sense of potential and possibility, not just as a wish on the first few days of January, but in every new day or moment by moment as you recognize it throughout the year? Would your world seem different? Perhaps your outlook might change? Perhaps things may not seem so engrained, not so stuck? Perhaps your thoughts and emotions might feel lightened? You might become happier.
If at times you find yourself wondering, “is this all there is to life?” or “couldn’t I be doing something else, or differently, or in addition to…?” - listen. These are wonderful questions, and I hope you see them as opportunities presented uniquely for you. They are pointing to a window of opportunity that you haven’t explored, possibly not even seen, yet.
Welcome New Year, and welcome to a new year in your life!
If you'd like to start off the New Year with the gift of time and focus on your own life, please join me in my North Seattle Continuing Education Course ,"Midlife Through Retirement: A Catalyst for Change." This interactive workshop runs from Feb. 21 through March 27, on Tuesday nights from 6:30-8:30pm. (No class meeting on March 7.) You can learn more about my class from my Sept. 2, 2016 blog post. (After winter quarter, my next course offering will be in Autumn 2017.) Please please free to contact me if you have any questions about my class.
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.