Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Expanded Life

The first six to twelve months of retirement are known as the “honeymoon phase.” This is because you’re likely to feel a blissful sense of relief from not having the pressures and stress of work. But like most honeymoons, this phase will come to an end. After it does, you may feel as if the days are getting longer and your life is getting smaller. The hours start to drag on. . . .

By 10:20 a.m., if you’re looking at the clock hoping it’s time for lunch, then you know what I’m talking about. If by 1:20 p.m. you’ve no idea what to do with yourself for the rest of the day, then you really know what I’m talking about.

Getting a “smaller” life means that instead of doing more than you have in the past, you’re doing less. The world seems smaller as the range of activities you engage in narrows. If this experience sounds familiar to you, then read on! I’m going to show you how to change your retirement years from a longsmall life into a life that is big and expanded.

In her book, “The Right to Write,” Julia Cameron asks readers to envision an “expanded life” by thinking about how they’d respond to questions about their “ideal life.” For example, she asks, what does your ideal life look like in terms of the following:

your spirituality?
your friendships?
your work life?
your living space?
your vacations?
your creative projects?

Try this exercise! It is similar to writing a clear, compelling vision for your future, with the added benefit of offering a few specific ideas to help you focus your vision.

When your days as a retiree start to feel just too long, it’s easy to wish you were back in your old job. At least there you knew what to do all day. But before you go running back to the safe world of work, ask if this choice will create opportunities for expansion. Being back in the workforce (full-time) can be an outside force that will limit such opportunities. (It’s true that work also relieves you of the responsibility to create an expanded life.) 

Here are 5 tips to help you enjoy an expanded life:

1.Make peace with work. If you choose to work, then make something of it. To quote the Hewlett-Packard commercial that aired during the 2012 Olympics, “If you’re going to do something, make it matter.” In creating my own expanded life, I see that I need to expand my consulting business, to make something more of it, and “make it matter.” If I don’t bring my personal values to this business, I’ll continue to look for “real” work and step back into a box that limits expansion.

2.Place value on the things that matter to you. If a beautifully groomed lawn is something you value, seek to truly enjoy the hours you invest in caring for the lawn. Claim it as an important part of your expanded life. If your grandchildren are what make up your expanded life, don’t apologize for spending “too much” time with them. Be excited about the time you make and the closer relationships you will develop.

3.Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Expansion is hard to experience if you are not willing to try new things, even things you may not feel like doing. When I’m practicing yoga, the way to create expansion is to relax and breathe into the pose. It may not feel good at the moment, but with time and practice the yoga poses get easier. The same is true for the expanded life. Push yourself past your comfort level, knowing this is how expansion comes about.

4.Consult your map daily. That is, use your description of an expanded life as a map for what to do all day. Refer to it when the day begins to feel long instead of big. For instance, if you want to cultivate more friendships in your expanded life, consider what you can do today to make this come true. Do you need to plan a party? Invite friends over for dinner? Make chicken soup for a friend who is sick? 

5.Wake up expanded! Wake up in the morning with the expanded life on your mind. Savor this stage in your life when you have time to explore what is on the other side of the “walls” that once surrounded you when you were working. You’re free now—breathe deep!

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