Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What do you do?

Possibly the most dreaded question in retirement is, “What do you do?” Many of us fumble when answering this question. We try to talk about something that feels important and significant. As a retired school principal said, “I feel like I have to keep talking until I see validation in their eyes.”

Instead of talking about what we’re doing, it’s easier to revert to what we did. “I’m a retired teacher.” “I’m a retired dentist.” People understand these jobs and the socio-economic status that comes with them. But in most cases, they are not what we’re “doing.” And by not talking about what we’re doing—what we’re aiming for or creating—we miss an opportunity to build that next thing.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about what you did. It’s certainly a part of who you are and what you bring into your retirement. But I also want you to say, “… and now I’m doing ______.” It’s the and that gets you and others excited about getting out of bed in the morning. People want to support and encourage your next thing. They’re eager to “add logs to the fire” and play a part in your success and happiness. They can’t do this if you don’t tell them what you’re thinking about—your dreams and goals for this next chapter in life.

Author Paolo Gallo shares a message from his dad in The Compass and the Radar: The Art of Building a Rewarding Career While Remaining True to Yourself. Because of his dad’s job, Paolo saw him only a few times during the year. At a certain age, his dad stopped asking what had happened since the last time they were together. Instead he said, “Son, starting tomorrow, don’t talk about what you did, but ask yourself if you love what you do, what you have learned and if you’ve managed to help others: nothing else matters.” Perhaps this message applies to us too.

Do I love what I do?
Am I learning something?
Am I helping someone?

So what do you love to do? Make a list. If you love baking big gooey chocolate chip cookies, do it. Don’t let your education, former status and impressive accomplishments keep you from doing what you enjoy. Get over yourself and be good to yourself.

What are you learning? It’s important for your brain’s health to keep learning and stimulating new connections between nerve cells. Mentally stimulating activities such as taking courses, completing word puzzles and math problems, as well as activities that require manual dexterity such as drawing, painting, and other crafts contribute to brain health.  

Who am I helping? We know from studies in Positive Psychology that being involved in something “greater than ourselves” contributes to happiness and life satisfaction. Where can your skills and talents make a difference? What cause do you care about and how can you get involved?

Starting today when asked, “What do you do?” talk less about what you did and more about the life you’re creating.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Discover Possibilities by Doing

I’m aiming to make 2019 my Best Year Yet. So on January 1st I made a list of goals and wrote down detailed action steps. On July 1st I reviewed my goals and progress to see how I’m doing and where I need to put forth extra effort. I know what I’m aiming for. I have a clear path of what I want. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life with this approach. Set a goal. Outline steps to achieve this goal. Work tirelessly to accomplish it. Celebrate. Set next goal.

This method of working back from a goal usually succeeds when we’re really clear about what we want and how to accomplish it. But sometimes life isn’t so clear. This is especially true in retirement. At this stage of life there are questions we didn’t have time to consider or that weren’t applicable when we were working—Who am I without a job title? What can I do that will bring more purpose, direction and meaning to my life? What’s next? When we don’t have answers, a good place to start is with what we already know.

According David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, “we learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” Epstein quotes Paul Graham (computer scientist and cofounder of Y Combinator) stating, “instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations….don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.” One thing I need in retirement is a greater sense of community. Today I was asked to help support the women’s ministry leaders in my church. This is a promising option that’s available now. I’m going to take it and see where it goes.

Along the same lines, Herminia Ibarra (professor of organizational behavior at London Business School) reasons, “We learn who we are only by living, and not before.” Instead of having a clear path of what we want before acting, Ibarra suggests, “first act and then think….we discover the possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” Epstein encourages us to “flirt with your possible selves.” We don’t have to know the grand scheme.  

So where can we begin to act? What options do we already have available? Let’s approach each situation with a beginner’s mindset, being open to learning and growing. We can quit if something doesn’t fit, and move on to the next experiment. We’ll discover possibilities by doing—we’ll learn by living—and not before.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.