Transitions

2015 has so far been a most unusual year.

Last Fall, I made a declaration that I would be “retiring” from my employer at year end.

I use “retire” in quotes because I’ve never much liked the word. Heather at Shedders suggested “advancement”, and I much prefer that – but it always requires so much explanation!

Today I’m thinking of it as a Declaration of Self-Actualization: a declaration that I’m no longer going to organize my life around earning money – safety, on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – but instead around expressing creativity, a quest for spiritual enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to contribute.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy, by FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I made this declaration with pained awareness that Cheryl and I had not yet reached our targeted level of financial independence. Being younger than I, and still at the peak of her career, she volunteered to go on working for the time-being. What a woman! That may add to the complexity of my new situation, however.

As I was contemplating how to make the transition from job to no-job, a friend recommended I read “Transitions” by William Bridges. As I had yet to complete the decluttering project begun last Spring, there just happened to be a copy unread on my bookshelves. It spoke to me.

Bridges writes about the need for a three-phase process: Endings, the “Neutral Zone”, and the New Beginning. But it was the Neutral Zone he stressed: a seemingly unproductive “time out”, the most frightening stage of a transition, yet a really important time for reorientation.

“Transitions” by William Bridges

I could sense the value of quiet reflection even as I knew I’d struggle with it at times. Realizing there’d be a pull to fill the time with time-wasters, I made a few rules for my next few months: limit Internet usage – email, social media, and news sites – to four evenings a week; similarly for videos (we’ve never had TV.) At the same time, I pledged to continue my Younger-Next-Year exercise program – at least 45 minutes at least six days a week – as well as Yin yoga weekly. I signed up for a five-evening course in mindful meditation with my son and his girlfriend. I even enrolled in a five-day silent retreat at the end of March.

I also resumed and ramped up our decluttering project, seeing it as a perfect physical metaphor for clearing the mind in the Neutral Zone. And I found it much more challenging that way than I’d expected. Every little trinket seems attached by sticky threads: this one was given by a dear departed relative; this one reminds me of that time in Rio or Venice or Perth; this book reminds me of my thought of returning to the study of architecture some day; that one was meant to be read by my kids when they got older. Eventually, I developed an ability to look at the stuff, thank it for its service, and let it go – mostly to charity stores and the like. In meditation, we learn that, when we have attachment to a thought, we just need to notice it and let it go. Decluttering must be a form of meditation: notice an attachment to something, let it go, notice an attachment, let it go, …

Perhaps unsurprisingly, decluttering seems much easier now than it ever has. Last month I sent off 30 boxes of books to a book sale – some of them had survived over a score of moves from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia and many points in between. I guess my growing detachment from physical things is a sign of approaching elderhood. In “What Are Old People For?”, Dr. Bill Thomas

“What Are Old People For?” by Dr. Bill Thomas

talks about how, after an adulthood centered on Doing and Having, elders return to the earlier childhood emphasis on Being. Sounds like fun to me.

Last week, there was a crisis. I started the week by awaking one morning and, for the first time, strongly feeling that my time was my own. But by the end of the week, I was updating my resume. Whoa! What happened here?

I’d made a promise to Cheryl that I wasn’t going to worry about my lack of salary for the next few months, at least, and here I was breaking it already. We had a serious tête-à-tête, and she re-enrolled me in the wisdom of my original intention. I trashed the proto-resume. There will likely be another one before too long – but it will be for volunteer positions, and much more fun to write.

Now I could really embark on building my retirement, whoops, self-actualization lifestyle. I dusted off my bucket list. I signed up for the mid-week hiking group and an online course on gratitude. I ramped up my efforts to complete my diplomas in Leadership and Conflict Resolution – I’d been working on the latter for over five years, but the goal is now close at hand. I had some of the completion conversations I needed to have about coming to grips with my last job. And I continued to plan some of our trips for this year. With the complexity of our current situation, we decided to defer European travel for a year and concentrate on local trips with our outdoor club this summer: kayaking in the Salish Sea, cycling Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, hiking on Mount Baker, and cycling from Oroville, Washington into British Columbia’s wine valley.

“The One Thing” by Gary Keller

And, ever so tentatively at first, I began to think about that New Beginning. What’s next? (I should have known I couldn’t do nothing for too long.)

To save me from overwhelm, another friend recommended I read “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. “By focusing on your ONE Thing, you can accomplish more by doing less. What’s your ONE Thing?” I’ve found it a good question to live into. It may save me from new mental clutter as I take on those aspects of self-actualization: creativity, enlightenment, learning, and contribution.

What transition are you making?

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8 thoughts on “Transitions

  1. Louise Machinist

    Hi, Paul and Cheryl,
    So timely! 2015 is also a big transition year for the MHOH trio. I’m almost retired now, still feeling kind of guilty about it after 6 months despite doing a lot of worthwhile stuff. For example, putting on my son’s wedding and getting certified as a Certified Senior Advisor.
    I like the term “advancement” (good for Heather!) Way better than the awful French “Faire la retraite;” I do not like the thought of retirement as “retreating.” Personally, I’m headed for new life adventures, just haven’t figured it all out yet. Karen and I remodeled a condo in Sarasota with aging in place features incorporated, and are in process of moving things in and getting organized. Jean will be staying in Pittsburgh, looking for partners for another shared household. Our 3-woman house is for sale, which is quite wrenching after 11 wonderful years. Sad but happy transitions. Best of luck with yours. Sounds like a dynamic start to a cool new chapter.

    Reply
  2. Darlene

    Good post. We are having trouble making this transition. Yes, we are in Spain and it is exciting but I keep feeling I should be doing something. I am actually bored for the most part. I miss the social interaction of work and what I did was so people centred. Also some things didn´t work out as we planned so there has been some stress. I am in the neutral zone I guess. I know for a fact if we were still in Canada I would be sending out resumes fro part-time work. In the meantime I am enjoying the new culture. Good luck with your transition Paul.

    Reply
    1. "No Pension, Will Travel!" with Cheryl + Paul Post author

      Bridges would remind you that there is a New Beginning after the Neutral Zone, but the best thing to do is to “savour” the Zone while you’re there:
      • Find a regular time and place to be alone.
      • Begin a log of neutral-zone experiences.
      • Take this pause to write an autobiography.
      • Take this opportunity to discover what you really want.
      • Think what would be unlived if your life ended now.
      • Take a few days to go on your own “rite of passage.”
      You could do worse than picking up “Transitions”, and perhaps the second & third book as well. Stay with it and I’m sure you’ll prevail. I imagine you already did your decluttering before you moved to Spain. All the best, and keep in touch. We’ll be dropping by one of these years! After you’re out of the Zone.

      Reply
  3. healthfulsave

    Good food for thought an all fronts.
    My Grandma, in her 90s, is someone I think of often when I think of letting go of things. She lost her husband, then (her ability to be in) her home, then her ability to cook, then her ability to read cookbooks. It feels so sad, but yet she doesn’t complain and keeps moving forward into each new day.
    Her skilled nursing room is the size of a dorm room. No more “stuff” but she still has joy and interests. She is showing us how to walk the path at the end of life.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Transitions – Part II | No Pension, Will Travel

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