When you were a kid did you ever go to summer camp?
As I remember, the first few days I felt very lonely. From my perception, all the other campers had friends and they were having a great time. I thought there was something wrong with me. I had been told really cool stories about summer camp—new friends, campfire songs, swimming pools, sleeping on the top bunk, art and crafts, etc. I couldn’t wait to get there, counting down the weeks and days. And now that I was there, I felt like going home—back to what felt comfortable and familiar.
But I didn’t.
Instead I stuck it out and by Wednesday afternoon I felt the shift. I was becoming part of the group. By Saturday I didn’t want to leave my new friends and familiar environment and routine. Camp was fun, but only after I made it through the first few transitional days.
I recently had my "grown-up" version of going to summer camp. I started a new part-time job with a company that I’ve earnestly pursued for the past couple years. I’d built up the dream of working for this company, imagining my new life in Corporate America, getting away from my small town and spending evenings in the city. But, just like summer camp, the first couple days on the job I felt more melancholic than joyful about my new life. And, just like summer camp, I knew I needed to give it time, believing that this new life is exactly what I want to create in retirement.
I’m sharing my recreating story with you so that you’ll be ready for your "first few days at summer camp" experience. Motivational speakers and authors readily assert that changing your life is easy. Just dream it and start doing it. I agree with the "start" part. To change your life, you have to start somewhere. You have to actively take steps to move in the direction of your dreams.
What these well-meaning folks don’t say is, "It’s going to be difficult and feel unfamiliar. You might even want to give up and return to what feels comfortable, even when you’re bored and dissatisfied with comfortable." I don’t want you to retrace all the steps you’ve taken to get your new life into motion. Instead, I want you to keep moving forward, boldly, believing that what you’re giving up is worth what you can create.
Authors Richard Leider and Alan Webber understand the "summer camp experience." In their book, "Life Reimagined" they tell it like it is: "Reimagining your life is going to be messy." You need to "start to be comfortable with being uncomfortable." And still, "It’s time for a new story to replace the old one." According to Leider and Webber, nobody gets a free pass from having to confront the hard parts of life. If you want to recreate your life, reimagine how you want to live the second half of your life, then be ready for the hard parts.
I agree with Leider and Webber: "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change their lives are the ones who do. With exploration, you begin to change your journey; you begin to open yourself up to the unknown. You begin to separate the old story—what you’ve always done, who you’ve always been—from the new story—what you’d like to learn to do, who you’d like to become."
But to do this, be prepared to experience the first few days (or longer!) of summer camp.