Sunday, November 27, 2011

Real Stories from Real People

I get so excited when I receive emails from readers and seminar participants who write to tell me the exercises in“What Will I Do All Day?” are making a difference in their life. Recently I heard from a retired teacher who wrote:

“I emerged [from the seminar] with excellent ideas to put into action as well as welcome confirmation of my outrage at being suddenly undefined in our society since I was without employment.”

I asked Gwen if she would be willing to write a blog entry about something she was doing specifically as a result of the seminar.  Below you can read in her own words how the “Molehills into Mountains” principle is working.

“Quit making mountains out of molehills!”  As children, we were all told this when we sobbed over a skinned knee or a missed play date with a friend.  “You won’t remember it when you’re thirty,” we were reminded, “so don’t make it such a big deal.”  The thing is, however, that sometimes a mountain is a great thing to make out of a molehill and precisely because if it’s a mountain, it will be memorable!

Last summer, for example, when I found myself suddenly “retired,” not because I’d chosen to be but because my job had disappeared, I was in horror of not knowing how to fill my days.  Not that they had become empty, you understand, because there were still plenty of chores to do and even some new avenues to explore, but it was the thought of having unoccupied time at some vague point in the future that cast a pall over otherwise pleasant summer days.  What if all my friends forgot about me?  What if I suddenly ran out of new directions to take?

Just about that time, I invited four friends from my suddenly former workplace to come to my house for lunch.  After I’d scheduled the get-together, I attended one of Patrice’s seminars on retirement and it occurred to me as she talked about making mountains out of molehills, that I could make an outstanding mountain out of the simple gathering I had already scheduled.  So out came my grandmother’s lovely linen tablecloth and the handwoven placemats for the dining room table and the bright blue plates I’d recently splurged on, along with the eggplant rollitini, the homemade bread, the wine and the strawberry shortcake.  Normally, I might have opted for a much simpler menu and a casual setting, but making a big deal of it made it a big deal, both at the time and in memory.   Definitely a healthy move.

Another “taller” mountain came from the course in making socks I took one afternoon last summer at the local yarn shop.  As I was knitting away at my first pair and finding the task both challenging and fulfilling, it occurred to me that I could make socks for everyone in my family for Christmas.  Each year in addition to selections for each person, I try to find some gift I can give to everyone, male and female, old and young, with variations to individualize each present but with enough in common to make it a shared experience.  Everyone, I decided, wears socks, so this year handmade socks it will be.  

So far, this was a bit of a mountain since for past holidays I’d been satisfied to find gifts I could buy, books and pajamas for everyone, for example.  Now I was choosing to make something and giving myself a very definite deadline for completing the project.  But why not make this molehill even more of a mountain?  The first pair I made looked like colors from a Mary Cassatt painting, so I could buy a variety of yarns and make socks inspired by a variety of artists to fit the personalities of each gift recipient.  That would make it an art project as well as a knitting one.  And if I made tags to accompany each pair of socks, replicating (to the best of my limited watercolor abilities) a painting and identifying the artist, that would make the project really individualized.  

So there I was, assigning myself a dozen or so pairs of socks to knit and paintings to copy – looked like a mountain to me!  From Mary Cassatt I went to Jackson Pollock, Vincent Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Edvard Munch (“The Scream” for my niece who currently styles herself a goth), Henri Rousseau, Georgia O’Keefe, and several more.  Definitely this was becoming creative and fun for me, and definitely it had turned a molehill (another shopping expedition for some gifts) into a very pleasurable mountain, one that gave me satisfaction for months and brought my family a few smiles on Christmas day.

I’m not sure what my next mountain will be (an item for Patrice’s blog, perhaps?), but I am convinced of the necessity of having one.  It makes simple things much more memorable and fulfilling, not to mention more fun.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Do you want Ordinary or Extraordinary?

I wrote this story last August.  I'm sharing it now because it has a great message and it brings back memories of summer!

Life can be ordinary or it can be extraordinary.  The difference between the two can be very small. Let me explain.  

Last night I was trying to decide what to have for dinner.  My husband and I often order Thai carry-out on Friday evenings because it's good and easy.  I had been cleaning all afternoon so I was in jeans and a t-shirt.  Fine attire for carry-out.  Then my perspective on the evening shifted.  I asked how could I make itfeel like the start to a weekend rather than just the end of a day of work?  

I glanced through recipes and found one that all I needed from the store was fresh corn.  There's a farmer’s market only 3 miles from my house so I wouldn’t even need to deal with the weekend crowds at the grocery store.  I showered. Dressed in something nicer than I needed to for dinner at home and went to buy the corn.  I lingered at the market—appreciating the colors of the fresh produce and garden flowers.  I carefully selected the most brilliant zinnias.  I gathered the corn and a bright red pepper.  I absorbed energy from the other weekender shoppers.  There was a feeling of the start of a weekend in the air.  I loved how I felt!

I set up the simple meal prep so my husband and I could work along side each another to prepare the meal.  We weren’t in a hurry. Instead, we made it an event.  Conversation was great—the meal delicious—and the start of the weekend was sweet.  What made the difference?  A fresh perspective, a rejuvenating shower, and a trip to the farmer’s market. These three things shifted a mediocre evening into a memorable evening.  It's that simple.

Is there a new perspective you can bring to your days?  Retirement allows you the time to do it.  What ordinary event do you want to turn into something extraordinary?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wisconsin Public Radio Interview

This past week I was asked by Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss how to have a fulfilling retirement (from the non-financial angle.) The producers pegged the discussion to Garrison Keillor’s announced retirement. In an interview with AARP, Keillor said, “I am planning to retire in the spring of 2013, but first I have to find my replacement. I’m pushing forward, and also I’m in denial.” Keillor went on to say, “When I was younger, I was all in favor of it, and now that I’m at that age, I’m not sure.”

I find it interesting that even though Keillor is a well-known and accomplished writer and host of NPR’s Prairie Home Companion, he is experiencing the process of retirement very much like the guy-next-door. He is moving through stages. Back in 2006, in an article for Salon, Keillor had this to say about retirement: “It scares the bejeebers out of me.” Now in 2011 he is “not sure” and yet, still moving forward by making his intention to retire known to the public.

Retirement is a process that takes time to get used to. It is common to approach it and then back off. That is why it concerns me when people have retirement forced on them earlier and faster than they had planned. We need time to approach this major life change, hang out with the idea for a while, wrestle with it, and then take the leap after carefully considering the question: “What will I do all day?”

We can learn these lessons from Garrison’s announcement:

1. Garrison has two years to get used to the idea. When possible, allow time (ideally 2-4 years) to prepare psychologically for retirement.

2. Garrison defines himself by more than one role. Begin to add other “roles” to your identity. If you strongly identify with the work-role, then it is even more important that you start right now to develop and place value on other roles in your life.

3. Garrison has a wide social network. Relationships are one of the most important factors in retirement satisfaction. Begin now to develop a broader social network and nurture meaningful relationships.

4. Garrison made his decision public. By making your decision public you begin to get more comfortable with the idea. A public announcement also brings accountability. You are less apt to withdraw your retirement papers when other people know about your decision.

5. Garrison is bringing closure to his most prominent role as the host of Prairie Home Companion by looking for his replacement. Perhaps there is a way for you to bring closure to the identity you have with your work. What will make it feel all right to leave?