Saturday, December 2, 2017

Living Whimsically

Who would travel 3,641 miles to cook Thanksgiving dinner in a country where you’re not even sure you can buy a fresh turkey? I know this sounds crazy. It sounded crazy to us too, which is why when I was looking at flights, I assured Dave, “I’m just playing.”

This crazy idea came up because our son, Steven, and his business partner, Lance, have been awarded a startup grant to pursue their interest in bringing technology to the houseplants industry. They’re not living and working a few hours from home. They’re not even living and working on this continent. Dave and I were talking about cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Holland! When we learned the cost of a round-trip ticket from NYC to Amsterdam was under $500, we said “why not?” 

Other than having our son pre-order a fresh turkey from the local  Dutch poulterer (a butcher who focuses on the sale of poultry), and slipping a can of cranberry sauce between sweaters in our suitcase, we made no advance preparations. Instead, Thursday morning we walked into the city in search of the best cheeses, breads, vegetables, desserts and flowers. No rush. Discovery was part of the experience. Once back at the apartment, we found ways to prepare the food with a sparsely stocked kitchen. (Butternut squash cooks quite well on an aluminum lined oven rack.) Everyone got in on the preparations. No American football to watch on the BBC or CNN channels.

Over the years I’ve hosted many Thanksgiving dinners, spending weeks in advance looking for creative decorating and menu ideas. And yet, this Thanksgiving, with no preparation or linen napkins, was extra special. Why? Because we experienced what Bob Goff, author of Love Does, calls whimsical living—being creative, impulsive, playful and unpredictable.

Goff believes most people plan to live a life full of whimsy, but he says, “along the way they just kind of forget.” He encourages us to “find a place where the stuff of imagination, whimsy and wonder are easier to live out.”

I believe retirement is the “easier place” to live whimsically. Freedom and unstructured time allow us to be more creative and impulsive. We don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. We don’t have to prove ourselves; we’ve already done that. (My family knows I can produce a nearly perfect Thanksgiving dinner.) Living whimsically opens doors to discovery and surprise, where we’re fully engaged in living.

What can you do to experience the joy of whimsical living? 

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Living Engaged

I’m driving home from Boston when my iPhone pings, pings again, and once again. Must be something important so I pull over at the next rest stop. The message is from my son. Three images, no text. I zoom in. I think I see a diamond on her finger. I write back, “Is this what I think it is?”

Yes, we’re engaged! Call you later.

News travels fast. Within 24-hours we receive phone calls and emails from friends congratulating us on our son’s engagement. Everyone loves to share in the joy of a newly engaged couple.

Fortunately the excitement of being engaged isn’t limited to a marriage proposal. Author Bob Goff reminds us that, “Being engaged is a way of life, a way of living and loving.” Perhaps a good place to learn about living engaged is to think back to what it felt like to be newly engaged.

Dream Big. You don’t enter marriage with the thought that your life with this person will be good enough. Instead, you make big plans for your future together. You imagine the best and are willing to put forth the energy to make it happen. Retirement is no different. Just because you might be downsizing some areas of your life, don’t downsize your dreams.

Totally Committed. Before you propose marriage, you feel a need to protect yourself incase things don’t work out. You have one foot in, one foot out. Once you’re engaged, you’re all in. Totally committed. Do the same when designing your retirement engagement. By getting involved in significant projects, committing your time and talents to meaningful organizations, and investing in authentic relationships, you experience life fully engaged.

Involve Others. Newly engaged couples express feeling excitement and bliss when they share their news with loved ones, friends, and coworkers. “Hearing that our loved ones were just as excited about our decision only served to reinforce my own happiness.” Share your engaged-life with others. Expand your social networks. Share your dreams and goals. Soon you’ll find that they want to add logs to your fire—supporting and encouraging you to live fully engaged. Do the same for them.

Experience Wonder and Comfort. Engagement brings a sense of wonder that you can spend so much time together, see each other at your best and worst, and still feel prepared to build a life together. There’s comfort in the fact that this person, your very favorite person, reciprocates the depth of feelings that you have for him or her. Where can you find wonder and comfort in retirement? Be curious, open to new experiences, and approach life as a great adventure—fully engaged to life and with life.

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Bigger Garden

My husband’s 92-year-old uncle was on hospice care. He had lived a great life. Done several things that many of us only talk about doing—started a new business, hiked the Appalachian Trail, appeared in movies and advertisements, won awards at the NC State Fair for his photography, chutney, and jams—all after the age of 65.

Even though Uncle Tom’s family had no expectation of him living another year, he had other plans. At our recent visit he said, “Next year I’m going to plant a bigger garden.” Tom wasn’t delirious. His body simply was worn out. He really did want to increase the size of his garden. I suppose he woke up in the morning thinking about heirloom tomatoes and rows of sunflowers. Uncle Tom believed in expanding his life, even when the end appeared imminent. He passed away two weeks later.

Retirement is often viewed as a time to downsize, expect less, and gradually slow down. People expect us to “act our age.” If we suggest something BIG, they think we’re confused or fantasizing. They chuckle behind our backs. 

Why think about a bigger garden? And yet, why not?

I’ve decided to follow Uncle Tom’s example—to plant “bigger gardens” through my attitude and actions, and experience life as an ongoing adventure. 

How about you? What will be your “bigger garden?”

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Back at the Wheel

At art festivals you’ll find me intently observing a potter at the wheel. I’m mesmerized for hours as the artist works the clay, drawing it up and back down. Starting with nothing and ending up with a beautiful bowl that has her touch, her fingerprints, her distinct design.

My interest in watching other potters led me to believe that I’d like to learn how to make pottery. I thought I’d love to work with clay and create beautiful bowls. Even more than making pottery, I wanted to look beautiful while making pottery, like the pictures that often appear in magazines of an attractive woman at the wheel with lovely bowls and other pieces stacked on the shelves behind her. The lighting is perfect. The bowl is perfect. Her hair is perfect.

I thought if I could experience this, I could be passionate about making pottery, which is why I signed up for a 7-week pottery class. And then another 7-weeks. And after that, yes, another 7-week class. I didn’t keep signing up because I was feeling passionate about making pottery. In fact, when the instructor asked me if I loved making pottery, I said, “I want to love making pottery.” Until now, I was mostly frustrated and discouraged. I didn’t have much to show for my time and expense. So, after finishing up three 7-week classes, I decided that pottery is not my passion. 

When I speak to audiences about planning for retirement, people often say, “If I was passionate about something, then I’d know what to do in retirement.” People feel pressured to find a passion, and fast. The problem is, for most of us, passion doesn’t happen fast.  In fact, scientific research suggests passion can’t happen fast.

For some subjects, passion only surfaces after gaining a certain level of skill. Once we get further along on the learning curve, then we can experience a psychological state referred to as flow, where we are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. That’s what I want—to be so absorbed in the process of making pottery that I lose track of time and all that’s going on around me. I want to emerge from the experience feeling refreshed and revitalized.

Other potters tell me, “It’s hard, until it’s easy.” Not much in-between time. I’m still at hard. But knowing that passion only comes after I gain more experience and skill encourages me to keep at it. To get back on the wheel—to give pottery a second chance to become a passion.

Retirement is a perfect time to pursue new interests. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the first time you try something, you’ll find your passion. Sometimes you only need to be passionate about the idea and keep showing up to the work. Then one day what was hard and frustrating may become rewarding and engaging. You may have found your passion.

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Changing Seats

Dave and I walked into an upscale, Brooklyn-type food establishment looking forward to celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. The maître d welcomed us and then asked if we had a reservation. I assuredly said “yes” as my eyes scanned the room for a preferred table—hopefully something in a private corner with soft lighting. Yet, from where we were standing, I could see only one available space, the large communal table in the middle of the room—the type where several unrelated parties are seated together. Surely there was another place they had tucked away for us, after all, we had reservations and we were celebrating a 32-year commitment.

I was wrong. With all seriousness, the maître d proceeded to escort us to the middle of the room and graciously pulled out a chair for me to sit at the communal table. After he walked away, I looked around the room once more to see if another table had opened up. We weren’t in a hurry so if I saw a guest about to bite into a dessert or order coffee, I was willing to wait it out. No luck. It seemed that everyone was there to enjoy a leisurely evening of good food, drink, and friends.

As our table began to fill up with other dinner guests, I had an option—be agitated about not having the choice seat in the restaurant or embrace the communal table. I decided on the latter and I’m glad I did. The extra tension I felt from being outside of my comfort zone disrupted our customary dining out experience and brought new energy to our conversation.

By the time our entrees were served, I’d transported myself to a European brasserie, where communal seating is the norm. I imaged other dinner guests admiring our lively conversation, laughter, and obvious enjoyment of being together. After all, we were on display. Maybe some were wishing they could appear so comfortable and confident at the communal table.

Just two days later, I experienced another seating predicament. My husband and I arrived a few minutes late for church so we were ushered to the remaining available chairs to the left side of the room and three rows from the front. We always sit in a certain section, center back. My first thought was we’re supposed to be sitting over there. We have come to know the people in those couple rows. But on this day, we experienced church from the left, met new people, and still had time after the service to connect with our familiar friends.

Two seating changes in one week should have been enough to teach me the value of shaking up routines and stretching beyond comfort zones. But, on Monday morning when I walked into my local Starbucks to write for a couple of hours, I was still disoriented when overnight the small tables with 2 or 4 chairs were replaced with, you guessed it, a long center upholstered settee with seating on all sides. My favorite corner table, the one that always makes me feel like I have the room to myself, was gone.

This blog seems it’s simply about changes in seating, but it is much more than that. It’s sitting with changes. Retirement is all about change. So if we can’t adjust to something so small as feeling displaced in a restaurant, then how are we going to manage major changes such as feeling displaced in society?

Instead of avoiding change and disruption in our well-established patterns and routines, we need to seek it. This week I was reminded how challenging even the smallest change can be, and I was encouraged when I realized I can adjust, accept, and even embrace these changes.

Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll reserve a seat at the communal table.

Copyright 2017. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.