A serendipitous prod from WordPress has Paul taking a new perspective on an old problem.
Forty years ago, perhaps when I was more impetuous or simply less experienced, I ran for major political office with a fringe party. We had some good ideas the country needed to hear, but that’s not my focus today.
While speaking at all-candidates’ meetings, or responding to interviewers’ questions, I noticed something very troubling. Now that I’d put myself forward as “the one with the answers,” I was reluctant to admit that I didn’t have them all. In fact, I wasn’t even close. Yet I soon began to speak and answer as if I did. It was becoming less than OK not to know, not to have it all figured out. (This realization has been an eye-opener through the years as I’ve watched our political process at work. I don’t think I was unusual.)
I began to notice a few weeks back that I was feeling the same way about this blog. Having made our declaration about what we were up to, I entangled myself in a pretense that No Pension, Will Travel was unfolding exactly as it should. In recent weeks, it became apparent that I was shying away from the parts of that declaration that weren’t working so well. I felt “broken,” and I was resisting it. This culminated in a case of writer’s block for today’s post.
For the first time, I turned to the WordPress “Daily Post” for inspiration. There it was: “Breakdown!” Backed into a corner of my own devising, I had no choice but to tackle this subject. Having made the decision to proceed, my mind started to turn over once more.
Years ago, I learned of a new way to think about “breakdowns.” Developed as part of “Conversations for Action” by a Chilean engineer named Fernando Flores, and popularized by Landmark Education, this new context treats a breakdown as something one can creatively declare as an opening to a revised commitment to new, effective actions towards a goal. Declaring a breakdown becomes the prelude to a breakthrough. So, instead of hiding my “brokenness,” I’ll declare a breakdown regarding part of our declaration.
While I could declare breakdowns in any of several objectives we’ve set for ourselves, the one I’m focusing on is this: I have yet to make financially measurable progress towards “post-retirement career options – part-time consulting, telecommuting, and making money from travel.” The plan that I’ve been working with is focused in the same general areas as this blog, but despite hard work and considerable effort, I’m no closer to a sustainable income stream or “business model” than I was when I wrote Draft 1 of the plan about a year ago. I haven’t figured out how to be “useful” to the people in my prospective market. The even bigger breakdown is that I’m broken up about it. I’m letting it bother me to the point where it’s taken some of the
fun out of the whole project. That’s the habit I need to break. It’s not sustainable! And it’s driving Cheryl crazy!
So, now what? I’ve declared the breakdown, and recommitted to the objectives. Now all that remains is to look for new ways to deal with the issues I’ve identified, and discover new actions to take. Perhaps I need to develop some tighter focus, eliminate some possibilities, clear away some of the time-wasters and other clutter in my life. I’m looking at ways to increase my confidence, and push my willingness to take some uncalculated risks. With a renewed focus on taking actions to deal with the breakdown I’ve declared, a post like this one in my inbox offers me some ideas to pursue. Having admitted that the way I’ve been “broken” has been generating some marital discord, we’ve agreed to find some more productive ways to work on this “breakdown” together.
As I write these words, I see how past declarations of breakdowns – some made more consciously than others – have led to breakthroughs. Our “travel crisis” while cycling Provence in the rain led to a decision to put together a group cycle trip the next time; now we have 16 to 20 friends signed up for a biking trip in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands next Fall. Finding our friends feeling despondent about retirement prospects led to our starting a Meetup, which has brought new ideas and friends into our lives. Running low on friends to hike with led to us joining an outdoor club – and now we hike and bike more than ever – and that’s where we’ve met most of our Croatian cycling travel mates.
Sometimes declaring a breakdown seems to have an almost magical power.
Not two months ago, we were unhappy with the unemployed status of one of our sons, a recent graduate still living at home. After worrying in silence for some time, I chose to declare a breakdown. Cheryl and I wrote down very specifically what we were saying wasn’t working, and what we wanted to see happen. This led to a couple of deep conversations. Next thing we
knew, our son had a full-time job, a part-time job, and an unpaid internship in his field. As I said, … like magic!
Not every project goes like magic. This income project may take some time. I may find myself stuck again. You can bet your car that, as I work on some of these new ideas I’m generating, I’ll once again reach a point where I don’t want to admit that there’s “No Pension and Not Enough Travel.” If you happen to notice, would you remind me to declare another breakdown?
Postscript: while writing this post, I discovered that Flores’ work on Conversations for Action had been collected into a book: “Conversations for Action, and collected essays.” I’ll definitely check it out. Once more, a breakdown has led me to something new.