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.)
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.