While I was working, the calendar didn’t really measure the rhythm of life. Even in a job that isn’t “seasonal,” per se, there are seasons. There are different times of the year when we concentrate on different types of work. There are different events for which we prepare and execute. There was a certain momentum that these “seasons” provided to my life. Time didn’t just pass, it propelled towards a larger picture.
Once I retired, it seemed like I had lost that momentum. Days just sort of floated amorphously from one to the next. I rarely felt like I was accomplishing anything. I couldn’t tell you what day of the week it was. Time passed pleasantly enough, but without a sensation of rhythm. Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, one of my goals in retirement was to discover what it felt like to waste time. After a full career of activity, always bolting towards the next goal, I needed to rest and let life just wash over me like the tide. It is kind of pleasant to go through life regularly feeling as languid as you do when you lay in the sun next to the pool on vacation.
Some people are perfectly happy in retirement, savoring whatever miracles happen along their paths and not thinking too much about creating a life. For them, it is enough to just live the life that tumbles before them randomly each day. I, on the other hand, am sort of pathologically unable to just take each day as it comes. When I realized I was measuring the seasons of time by when Survivor came back on TV, I thought it was time to reassess.
I found that I missed momentum. In a strange way, it felt like I didn’t have a life. It wasn’t that I was bored, exactly. When I looked at my days, they were filled with activity. I was actually much busier than I expected to be. It wasn’t even that those activities were all drudgery, either. Yes, I did housework, errands, and caretaking. To be fair, though, my days did include plenty of fun activities. I was also getting regular exercise, fresh air, and relaxation. I still had this vague feeling of disorientation. Days were passing me by without me feeling like I was engaged in that passing of time in any way. I felt like I was watching a movie (a really, really boring one!) of someone else’s life.
In musing over what I needed to do to get back that sense of ownership over my own life, I remembered that feeling of momentum I had while I was working. How do I get that back?
After contemplating the matter for a while, I did some experimenting and figured out a few things. If you, too, need a bit more structure and foundation to your life in retirement, it might be helpful to consider engaging in at least one or two “powerful projects” that will serve as cornerstones for the way you organize and spend your time. I think of these “powerful projects” as the beams that will hold up your life. You can change a lot in your life and can decorate it with whatever activities you feel like doing on an ad hoc basis, but you might feel more like you are living instead of just spending time if you build and maintain strong beams.
After about a year of retirement, I found two such “powerful projects” to help me get into a satisfying rhythm of living…. My book club and writing this blog.
What makes something a “powerful project” rather than just a bunch of activities? For me, there are four components that identify a set of activities as a “powerful project” in my life.
Initially, I thought the problem was that my life lacked purpose. However, that theory didn’t totally hold water. Much of what I was doing did have purpose- I think taking care of my mother is a very purposeful activity. It might actually be the most important project I undertook when I retired. I organize my time to take care of her needs and her wants. In addition to just making sure she is safe and comfortable, I also plan and strategize to think of activities that will be fun for the both of us, keep her feeling engaged and happy, allow her to contribute to and have an impact on life, and make memories for us together. Still, I found that just having purpose was not quite enough to make me feel like I have a vibrant life.
Does your heart leap and your eyes light up when you talk about your “powerful project?” Do you feel a burst of energy when you think about what actions you might take next or what you want to accomplish over time? Can others tell that this activity is special to you, just by the vibe that radiates from you when you tell them what you have been doing? If you answer “yes” to these questions, chances are you have a passion for the activity. If working hard on a project and strategizing about how to overcome barriers feels burdensome rather than exciting, chances are you don’t have a passion. I have had a love affair with words, especially the written word, for as long as I can remember. When I speak about books and the music of language, I can actually feel the endorphin level rise in my bloodstream. When I write the blog or participate in the book club discussions, I feel almost as if a basic need within me is being met. My soul feels well-fed. Passion feeds power and power feeds passion. The more you invest in a passion, the more you will want to invest and the more important and powerful it will feel to you.
Do the activities build on each other? Are there moving parts that you juggle and accomplish that work together to get you to a completed product? Does what you decide to do today impact on what you will have tomorrow and how satisfied you will be? To produce this blog every week, I work on a variety of activities that require some strategy, planning, and timing. I write my posts, contact others who might help me build readership, notify folks when I post new content, work on a retirement lifestyle program that I plan to present at a local library to publicize the blog, monitor the metrics of the blog, and educate myself on blogging and publishing opportunities. All of these activities work together for the weekly blog “season” that revolves around the Wednesday posts. In the larger propulsion, I also work towards the possibility of using the work to publish a book.
Finally, the “powerful project” must feel fun to you. Being pleasurable is not enough, as I found when I realized I had plenty of fun activities in my days but still didn’t feel like I had a life. On the other hand, I would never want to have the beams of my life be something I did not enjoy doing. Creating content for the blog is so much fun for me. It just rocks my world. Not every part of the “powerful project” has to be fun. There may be parts of the project that you don’t love, but the old 80/20 rule might be a good rule of thumb. If you love the “powerful project” activities that you do 80% of the time, but are less enamored with the activities in the other 20% of the time, you have some choices. You may decide that the 80% pleasurable activities so far outweigh your dislike of the other 20% that you are perfectly willing to do those less-than-lovely activities. You may decide to use the 20% activities to enhance skills that you would like to have but don’t. You may decide that you can get away without even doing those other 20% activities. You may decide to outsource the 20% activities. I do not love marketing my blog, as I am very shy. I decided that I wanted to embrace the marketing, at my own pace and comfort level, to help me grow in this area. In my mind, it is no longer an activity I don’t like because I am choosing to “play” at it. I may not be great at it, but that’s okay. I’m not great at doing water aerobics, either, but I still enjoy it. On the other hand, I really hate the idea of dealing with technology, just because I do. Instead of trying to force myself to figure out website hosting and all the mechanics that go into maintaining a blog, I pay a very nice company about $10 a month to do all that for me.
Finding the “powerful projects” that will give you a life in retirement may take some experimenting. It can be kind of fun to try different things without having to worry if they will be a success. When we experiment and try different things on the job, there is always the worry that they won’t work out well. This worry need not trouble us as we experiment in retirement. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work.” In retirement, you can be free to keep building “powerful projects” that speak to you until you find your life.
So what are your thoughts? What “powerful projects” have you found to occupy your time in retirement? What makes an activity a “powerful project” to you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com. Also, thanks to a suggestion by new reader Carole, you can now sign up for email notifications of new content and/or comments by checking a box on the comment form.
Have a powerful day!