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.