Doing Isn’t Feeling

Little by little, I am escaping the confines of my four walls.  I am doing more and more “normal” things. We go to restaurants once a week.  We have gone to outdoor and indoor malls. I have attended some real-life meetings for church committees. We have been to Disney Springs and even to the Magic Kingdom. I rode in the same car with two friends and stayed with them in the same hotel suite on our overnight trip to Amelia Island.  It was a big day when Max and first sat inside a Starbuck’s with our beverages and pumpkin bread. 

It is tempting to believe things are “getting back to normal.”  That is not the case, though.  Doing isn’t feeling. 

A weird sinister vibe accompanies our furtive ventures out of the house.  We do not do anything without analyzing the risk/benefit factors. No matter how you look at it, life is certainly painted in a vibrant shade of “weird” when the notion of going to Starbuck’s is a potentially dangerous activity. Everywhere we do go, there are reminders that the world is still considerably off-kilter.  While we are trying to right ourselves, our entire culture is working up quite a sweat from the effort of playing “let’s pretend.”  No hugs or handshakes.  Masks covering smiles.  Following one-way directional arrows in the supermarket. Learning to speak up because no one can hear me from an appropriate social distance.  Fitting rooms closed at department stores. Strangely quiet and empty streets, stores, and other venues.

There is also the “social acceptability” factor of returning to previously normal activities.  Watching the news and social media, reactions to real life are mixed.  There seems to be one camp of people insisting that the virus is taking over the world and we are all going to die.  There is another camp that is insisting that there is no danger and taking any kind of reasonable precautions is unnecessary.  I know I should not care, but I do tend to worry about what people will think if I post pictures of us at Disney World or suggest an in-person meeting for a church group.  I want to be respectful and comforting.  I also want to not be judged. 

All in all, things in the area where I live and are doing fairly well.  News media and prayers for full annihilation of the virus aside, causes for concern seem to be receding. People are aware that the world is not normal, but they also are beginning to feel the need to live outside the box… literally.  People are beginning to stop waiting for things to return to normal to continue with their regularly scheduled lives.  There are adaptations and adjustments we need to make, but society is restarting some form of regular life. That is a hopeful sign.  The more we can do that, the more doing will be feeling. 

It is another weird transition time that we are experiencing now.  When the world first went on lockdown, the changes we had to make to our normal lives were so massive and intrusive, many of us felt our sanity sensors wobbling.  I know I felt like I was kicked in the gut back to the last twelfth of Never. Now, we have adapted very effectively to zoom meetings, social distancing, and avoiding non-essential human contact. We might be having a hard time starting to climb back from Never.  We may have become a little lethargic and rut-bound. In some ways, it is easier to remain securely in hunker down mode.  It is a bit like COVID-19 spooked the horse of our lives and we got thrown out of the saddle. We toppled to the ground and hurt ourselves.  For a time, it made sense to stay off the horse and heal.  We could even decide to stay off the horse permanently if we did not enjoy riding.  On the other hand, unless we want to give up riding forever, we must get back on the horse at some point.

I know that point will be different for everyone.  I know that everyone heals differently.  I know some horses are gentler than others. I know some people are better riders than others.  I am not here to advise or judge, just to hope and pray that, someday, I can hug people again.  And that I will feel “normal” doing it!

What activity or condition would help you to feel “normal” again? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. Alternatively, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a normal day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Normal

Normal is a tricky concept these days.  Now that states are starting to reopen after the coronavirus quarantine, it is hard to know how to view life.  Reopening commerce is not a free-for-all for freedom.  Wisely, reopening processes are gradual and tentative.  As the process plays out, it does so on a social canvas that is chippy and uneven.  Some people are declaring victory over the virus and bustling to be the first one in line to regain “real life.”  Others are certain that everything is happening too quickly, with public health being thrown to the wind in the name of economic health.  Everyone is sure that their position is the reasonable one.  Many people are also trying to validate that their perspective is the reasonable one by advocating for their position on social media.  It can feel a little judgy and a little self-righteous.  It is hard to know what to do.  I struggle with the questions of legality, safety, and risk/benefit.  I also struggle with the question of what is socially acceptable. 

It is particularly difficult because one of my great fears about this whole quarantine thing is happening.  I have lost my grip on social interaction and how to do it.  As I explained in my post Social Distancing  ( http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/03/social-distancing/ ), I had a tenuous hold on that skill at the best of times.  Now, I just feel weird. The energy required to maintain social connection in new and different ways during the quarantine has been a bit draining.  I have worked hard to mold my social interaction needs and skills to fit a virtual world, but it has felt awkward like learning to write with your non-preferred hand. Now, I just want to return to writing with my dominant hand, but it feels rusty from disuse.  It does feel good to go out and about a little bit.  It is not that eating in the dining room of a restaurant or looking at clothes in person inside a store is that big a deal. The giddy feeling of normalcy is a big deal, however.  On the other hand, that normalcy is clearly just pretending.

“Normal” has not started in today’s world.  “Normal” is sputtering.  As with an old car in need of a tune-up, I am never quite sure what will happen when I turn the key of “normal.” I may be delighted and pleasantly surprised to see that Outback Steakhouse is open.  I may be jumping out of my skin at the chance to go to Disney Springs.  I felt like a real thrill seeker visiting a fancy home décor specialty shop in a cute little local downtown area.  Truthfully, though, the experiences are still far from normal.  The “normal” car started, but I still have that nagging sensation that there are things going on under the hood that may portend disaster.

There are the big, visible abnormal differences. We wear our masks, sucking in trapped humidity with every breath.  We avoid hugging and shaking hands. We project our voices when we speak to friends across a six-foot barrier.  Fitting rooms, jewelry counters, and other more “hands on” experiences in stores are still unavailable.  Starbucks, along with some other big chain dining and retail establishments, are still closed to walk-in business.  Church services are still coming to us via the Internet instead of face-to-face fellowship. There is still a wistful stillness and vacancy in places that are open.

There are also the less concrete barriers to normalcy. I have said from the beginning that I was not too worried for my physical health or safety.  It is not that I think the virus is not dangerous or that we should just go about our everyday routines without employing safety precautions.  I just had a feeling that I, personally, would be okay no matter what happened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  Given that perspective, it makes sense that I have a little less trepidation about returning to normal life than some other people do.  Just as I have been careful to adhere to the public health guidelines and limitations in place out of respect and compassion to other people, I want to be respectful and compassionate to other people as we climb over the other side of the quarantine curve.

Reading people’s posts on social media, it is hard to get a good take on what the socially acceptable level of comfort is. I’m okay starting to patronize the physical world again now, but I suspect many other people are not.  I do not want to be insensitive to other people’s feelings. I also do not want to be thought reckless and irresponsible. I do not want to endanger other people’s physical or emotional health.  I also want to spend time having fun and improving mental health with friends who are also comfortable venturing into the great unknown of public dining rooms, stores, and theme parks.  I have been enjoying small gatherings of friends at outdoor picnics for the past couple of months, sitting more than six feet from each other.  When is it okay to move those gatherings into enclosed spaces without risking the health of those I love or freaking anybody out?  A couple of friends and I have an overnight girls’ trip planned in a couple of weeks.  Are we all comfortable riding together in the same car for three hours?  What precautions should we employ to be respectful and polite? 

I guess the answer to all of these dilemmas is communication- communication about comfort levels that has nothing to do with judgment, trying to convince other people of how they “should” feel, or vilifying people who feel differently.  The goal of communication is to preserve relationships and stay close, not erect dividing walls based on “comfort” level. 

How “normal” do you feel at this point?  How are you transitioning back to real life?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a better-than-normal day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Adaptable

I’ve never been a very adaptable person.  I don’t handle change well. I am hard-wired to avoid it.  When I was working, people often called me “stubborn” because I was usually the last to let go of an old philosophy or procedure. I clung to the last scrap of past practices like a drowning woman clings to a life preserver.  It wasn’t stubbornness.  It was sheer terror.

In the years since my retirement, I’ve thrown caution, if not to the wind, at least to the strong breeze.  I plowed my way through the numerous changes involved in retiring, moving to Florida, caring for my mother, and other such challenges of life.  Most of the time, I survived by closing my eyes and pretending it wasn’t happening.  Kind of like a root canal.  At least with the root canal, they gave me laughing gas. 

Despite my best efforts, I have learned a few things about responding to change in my post retirement life.  The other day, I experienced living proof of my increased ability to adapt.  Actually, it was a bit too living, if you ask me.

I was outside spraying the weeds around my house with Round-up.  This is a routine summer activity.  In fact, during the summer months, spraying weeds is something like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.  By the time I circle the house once, more weeds have sprouted and I could just go around again.  If I didn’t call a halt to the madness, I’d be spraying perpetually.  I limit myself to one circumnavigation of the house per spraying episode.

What I would not call exactly routine is that I saw a snake outside our lanai. That never happened in California.  In Florida, it isn’t exactly abnormal, but it is not an everyday occurrence.  It happens a couple of times each year.  This guy was a big fellow, though.  He was about six feet long and about as big around as a garden hose.  I don’t think he was a poisonous variety, but seeing any variety of snake around the house always creeped me out in the past (please see  http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/07/the-great-snake-chase/ and http://www.terrilabonte.com/2019/01/snakes-why-did-it-have-to-be-snakes/).

The evidence of my new adaptability is that the noise I emitted when I saw the enormous black snake was more like a startled “eek” and less like the screeching gurgle of someone whose throat has just been slit.  I was immensely proud of myself when I realized the progress I’ve made on the adaptability front. 

Really, though, does a more measured reaction to a snake sighting mean that I’ve learned to adapt to change?  Or is it just that seeing the occasional reptile no longer constitutes “change” for me?  That is a frightening thought. 

I’ve always thought that “adaptability” meant “flexibility.”  That may be going too far.  I don’t think my “startled eek” demonstrated any Gumbyesque ability to morph effortlessly into whatever shape is necessary for survival and thrive-al.  Truth be told, I’m still not very good at adjusting to new situations.  Gumby and I have little in common.  My approach to adaptability is more like the little boy who sculpted animals from rocks and sold them on the side of the road.  A lady once marveled at one of his cute little renditions of a donkey.  She asked him, “How do you make these beautiful carvings?”  He replied, “I pick up a rock and chip away anything that doesn’t look like a donkey.”

That’s me.  My ability to adapt is not immediate and beautiful.  I don’t transform myself gracefully and fluidly and effortlessly.  I just doggedly chip away the parts of me that don’t serve my new reality.  The new version of me I create is fairly rough and primitive.  So far, though, I seem to be able to churn out the donkeys when I need them. 

What pieces of your life have you chipped away because they “don’t look like a donkey” in retirement?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a flexible day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

The Stealthfulness Of Grief

Nobody tells you how sneaky grief is. 

For the first five months or so after my mom’s stroke, I rode the emotional roller coaster all the time.  It was understandable.  So much was happening and changing on an hourly basis.  Of course my emotional reactions fluctuated. 

After about five months, my mother’s condition plateaued.  She was not improving, but neither was she undergoing stressful medical procedures.  I got her settled in the nursing facility.  I resolved the financial side of things.  I sold her mobile home. Once her status quo seemed to be pretty stable, I thought I might be able to begin to stabilize myself and start learning to cope with my own feelings. 

For the most part, I thought I was doing pretty well.  I was figuring out how to accept the new reality. I was even starting to carve out a “mini life” for myself.  I was regularly spending some time without being engulfed in my mother’s condition and care.  None of it was easy.  I certainly can’t say I was truly “okay,” but I felt I was gradually repairing my shattered psyche.  Both my mother and I seem to be living in the now with a little more good grace and good cheer.  Our relationship is certainly not what it was in the pre-stroke days, but we are starting to find our footing in our new one.  We both seem to be recognizing each other again and are acting more like ourselves.  Things are far from “okay,” but, for right now, they are better than I can expect.  So there is every reason for me to put on my big girl panties and get on with life.   

Still, every now and again, I am just floored by sadness.  There isn’t even necessarily a reason or a trigger I can identify.  I’m fine…  and then I’m not.   

The other day, I was walking up to the door of the nursing facility.  I was carrying my purse, a case containing a portable DVD player that I bring to show my mom home movies, and a milkshake.  I don’t quite know how it happened, but I tripped on a warped place in the pavement. I might have been trying a new technique for long-jumping, except that I think you are supposed to land on your butt when long jumping, not forward onto your face.   It was as if I really believed I was Tinker Bell and had sprouted wings.  News flash- I had not.  

Luckily, I didn’t really hurt myself.  As I lay on the sidewalk, stunned, all I could think about was the milkshake that was now spilled all over the cement and the DVD player that might have been much more disabled by the fall than I was.  For some reason, that milkshake spill just demoralized me beyond almost anything I’ve experienced in life.  I felt so defeated that I kind of just wanted to lie there and hope the world would end.  It was a weird sensation of knowing that I was reacting beyond all rational thought but not caring.   

I knew the reaction wasn’t really about the milkshake.  It wasn’t about the DVD player (which, remarkably, was unharmed by its flight).  It wasn’t even about the fall.  It was the same old grief and stress that I thought I was conquering.  The reaction was about the fact that my mother is so compromised and I can’t fix it.  I thought I was coming to terms with that reality, but the sadness came crashing back out of nowhere.   

A very nice gardener guy helped me to my feet.  I stared at the mess I had left in my wake.  The gardener guy asked if I was all right and I said, “yes, but the milkshake is all over the ground and it is ruined.  Besides, there will be bees and people might slip on it.”  The gardener guy looked at me strangely and mumbled some sort of embarrassed response.  Still a little in shock, I made my way into the facility and into my mother’s room, where I greeted her sans milkshake.  I burst into tears when I saw her, apologizing profusely for the lack of ice cream.  I think I kind of alarmed her.  She kept telling me to go home but I wouldn’t.  I didn’t want the fall to win.   

When I did leave the nursing home, still feeling unspeakably sad, I noticed the milkshake mess was mysteriously gone.  I am sure that my nice gardener guy cleaned it up for me.  Thank you, nice gardener guy.   

I read somewhere that sometimes you don’t have to get over things; you just have to get through them.  Maybe the “getting through them” isn’t always by a straight path. 

Has grief ever “snuck up” on you?  How do you cope?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a thoughtful day!

Terri 🙂

Still Alive and Kicking

Based on the Holmes Rahe scale, I’m lucky I’m not dead yet.  The Holmes Rahe stress scale is a list of 43 stressful life events that can contribute to illness.  These stressors are not limited to negative events, but simply represent situations that typically cause change or a need for readjustment in a person’s life.  They range from the relatively benign (experiencing a major holiday, for instance) to the more cataclysmic (such as the death of a spouse.)  The scale assigns each event a weighted score and measures the combined score of all the identified life events a person experiences in a year.  Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe conducted a scientifically valid study that resulted in a correlation between life events, as measured by stress scale scores, and illness.   

A score of over 300 indicates a significant risk of serious illness.  Even before my mother’s stroke, my score was 344.  In the year that included my retirement, the life events I’d experienced included but were not limited to:  changing jobs twice, retiring, moving across country, changing my entire financial situation, and taking responsibility for my ailing mother’s care, along with a few other more garden variety stressful life events like Christmas and a vacation.  And my elevated stress scale score doesn’t even include any events not included in the good doctors’ research…  like selling a home, moving my mother 3000 miles across the country, or finding snakes in the garage.      

Even with this empirical evidence to explain my feelings of stress, it still felt vaguely shameful to talk about that stress with family and friends.  After all, I RETIRED.  That should have been the end of my need for sympathy from them.  Obviously, if I am no longer working, I must have nothing about which to feel stressed.  It’s like I’ve lost my membership card to the Forever Frenzied Federation and am no longer entitled to vent about the frustrations and fears of my existence. 

When I think back about what the pace of life was like before I retired, it does seem silly to even think about my post-retirement stressors, especially before my mother’s stroke.  When I was working, I was constantly tossed and tousled by a hurricane at sea.  I was always struggling against drowning.  For some time after retirement, I waded at the edges of a still ocean.  Sometimes, a wave lapped a little too high on my leg and my pants got wet.  Certainly, not much comparison.  Still, the events in the year after my retirement truly were significant in their own right.   It would behoove me to pay attention to their impact, especially now that the cataclysm of my mother’s illness has caused a whole new type of storm in my world. 

So, what do I do?  Obviously, I can’t undo the life events and spread them out over a more reasonable time period. The damage is already done.   But maybe it is time to stand still for a while.  It is tempting, now, to invest any time and energy I can muster into pleasurable and fun activities.  When I take a day off from visiting my mother in the nursing facility, I tend to want to go somewhere and do something to divert my attention.  Running off in search of amusement whenever I have a spare moment may not be the healthiest strategy.  I think the situation calls for a little boredom to quell my overactive nervous system and dilute the overabundance of stress hormones in my blood stream.  Constant excitement, while entertaining, may not be all it is cracked up to be.   

So let’s hear it for monotony!  Sometimes it is better to lie down and yawn rather than to stand up and cheer.

Did any of you have a hard time responding to stress after you retired?  Did it feel like you somehow weren’t “entitled” to feel stressed once you weren’t working?  How did you cope with the situation?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a reasonably stress-free day!

Terri 🙂

PS I hope I didn’t throw anyone off by this early posting for the week.  I have a date with a dolphin tomorrow and must be on my way very early, so I thought I’d post tonight and save some time in the morning.  More about the dolphin day soon, I promise!  In the meantime, I’ll be back to posting on the regular day next Wednesday.

 

 

Springing Forward

The hospice nurse says my mother no longer experiences time in the same way most people do.  Do you think it might be contagious? 

Never before in my life have I messed anything up because of the beginning of Daylight Savings Time.  Last Sunday, I was getting ready to go to church.  I happened to look down at my phone and noticed it said the time was an hour later than I thought it was.  I wondered what was wrong with my phone.  As it turns out, nothing. 

I went to church, still operating firmly in Eastern Standard Time despite all iPhone indications to the contrary.  I thought I was arriving early for Sunday School and was surprised at how full the parking lot already was.  I noticed some folks going into the church and wondered at that.  By Terri Time, it was just about an hour before the service was to start and people usually don’t arrive that early.  Finally, out of nowhere (or, maybe, out of the numerous hints that my brain was consuming but apparently not digesting very quickly), I realized that Daylight Savings Time might just have started at 2:00 o’clock that morning.   

So, I did not have a spring forward this year.  It was more like a stumble forward.  Maybe I was actually pushed directly into the path of an oncoming time change.  I think there might be a message for me in this. 

I think I may have become a little stuck in flux during this past season.  Is that an oxymoron?  Can one be “stuck” if one is in a state of “flux?”  All I know is that I think my brain has been wallowing in some sort of disagreeable sludge ever since my mom had her stroke.  I have become used to living in a nearly constant mood of sadness, anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. It has become a comfortable ooze, if not a pleasant one.  I tend to sink deeper into it rather than exerting the effort to lumber out of it.  Yes, this whole journey started back in the last Daylight Savings Time.  Theoretically, I’ve had a couple of time changes to adapt to my new circumstances. I’m not sure my transmission is that good, though.  It tends to slip.  Given my sinister slide into the emotional muck, I’d say I had no trouble at all “falling back.” 

Now that spring is here (whether I sprung with it or not), it might be a good time to recognize and acknowledge new birth.  There has been a lot of growing inside me recently.  I’ve graduated from my perception that retirement is simply well-earned rest.  I’m now seeing how retirement can and should be enriching, as well as restful.    More than two years after my move, I have started thinking of Florida as “home.”  It no longer feels disloyal to prefer my life in Florida to what I was experiencing back in California.  I believe I have learned more about myself in the past two years than in the prior 30 plus “career” years put together.  The best news about that self-education is that I am figuring out how to appreciate myself.  I’m not saying that I am all that and a bag of chips, but I think I can now safely say that I am at least the bag of chips.  

In addition to recognizing and acknowledging the new beginnings I’ve birthed since my retirement, spring seems a good time to nurture the seedlings that are beginning to sprout for other changes.  I know I’ll never be okay with my mother’s condition, but I do sometimes feel the stirrings of acceptance and reconciliation.  This spring, I want to be a gardener.  I want to tend to my mother’s heart- to fill it with beautiful flowers and plants and lovely scents to remind her how much she is loved.  I also want to tend my own heart- to heal it and love it and remind it of how much I love. 

Is spring growing season for you?  Any particular “gardening” you are planning for this year?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Happy almost spring!

Terri 🙂

Practice Makes Perfect

Awhile back, I happened to look at the calendar and realized, with a start, that I was attending a wedding exactly 35 years ago that day. My own.
I remember that period around the middle of 1980 through the end of 1981. It was the last time, before my recent retirement and move across the country, that I navigated multiple life-altering changes in a relatively short period of time.

My parents sold the house where I grew up in mid-1980. They always wanted to sell the house and travel around the country when they retired. My younger brother had moved out on his own (well, on his own and about a hundred roommates, but that’s a story for a different day), but I still had a year or so of college to finish. My parents, two basset hounds, and I moved into a 27-foot travel trailer. We lived in the trailer full time in a campground across the street from Disneyland. I went to school, studied, worked a job part-time, tried to apply for and interview for post-graduation “career type jobs,” and planned my wedding from that travel trailer. We all lived together, ate together, watched television together for a year. There was no place to put anything (which was a special challenge when one considers the incredible amount of paraphernalia involved in organizing a wedding). Most of my worldly goods resided in a storage facility. There was no privacy. My “bedroom” was the dinette area that converted to a bed once any of the three of us decided it was time to go to sleep.

People thought our living situation was kind of weird, but it did make some sense in the big picture. My parents were beginning to live their “live in a camper and travel the nation” dream, albeit without the “travel the nation” part of it… yet. “As soon as we get rid of Terri,” (as they told anyone and everyone for the entire year of this limbo), “we are going to take off and be on our way.”

Between the end of May and the middle of August in 1981, I graduated from college, started working full-time at my college job, got married, and switched jobs to an extremely responsible “career type” government position (which, despite the fact that it involved constantly making decisions that impacted on people’s actual lives, paid virtually the same amount as my college “undersecretary clerical gopher” job). My parents hit the road, literally and figuratively. These were the days before cell phones, social media, and email. For about six months, my only communication with them were occasional letters (you remember, with the folded paper and envelope?) and cassette tapes we would make to send each other.

By the end of 1981, I think I already knew my marriage had been a horrible mistake and I was absorbed in the exhausting work of trying to pretend I didn’t already know it.

That interlude in 1980-1981 was the last time I went through multiple major changes in my life. Yes, certainly I navigated changes since then- a divorce, two moves, a couple of different jobs. All those changes, though, came more-or-less, one at a time. Each change was more like someone throwing a pebble into my life and watching the mild ripples rather than having changes crash unrelenting like waves on the shore of my life. The good news about singular changes is that they can become the focus of your life for a time. You can cogitate, analyze, grieve, and strategize about how to deal with them. You can reach out for sympathy. You can even turn your life into your own little soap opera for awhile, if you want. The bad news about singular changes is that you can also obsess over every little detail and become the object of pity.

When you find yourself in the tornado alley of change, you don’t really have the time to analyze and react to each one individually. Sometimes, the more you try to get your feet back under you and control things, the more changes seem to occur. Instead of focusing on the individual change and figuring out how you feel about it and how you are going to react, you tend to focus on the general whirlwind. Your brain begins to feel like a tornado itself. You feel too dizzy to see any way out. You have to seem pitiful, even to the point of tedium, to your friends. Let’s face it, even the best friends have some point at which they can no longer stand doling out sympathy and advice that doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.

Interesting that I’m finally able to “compare and contrast” the single change experience with the multi-leveled change twister. It has been over a two years since I plowed my way through the tornado alley of retiring, moving, and taking over my mother’s caretaking. I’m starting to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Maybe, in some small ways, I’ve finally come through the storms and the house of my life has landed back on the ground. I’m wary when I say it, but I think I’ve managed my way through the worst of it. It has been an exhausting ride. Even though most of these changes were the result of my own choices, the stress has been way more than I ever imagined.

Why has it been so difficult? I think I’ve just figured it out. The last time I handled this sort of life-altering multi-level change was 35 years ago. When it came to facing the changes of the past couple of years, I clearly lacked practice!

So what do you think? Have you gotten better at managing change with practice? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can leave me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Hope your topsy-turvies don’t leave you upside down today!
Terri

The Next New Job

People ask me what it feels like to be retired. The closest analogy I have come up with is that it is like the experience you have when you are pursuing a new job.

At one point in my career, I was preparing myself to compete for my first job in middle management. You could say that getting the job was sort of the pinnacle of my career. I had several other jobs after holding that position, but all the subsequent positions were offshoots of that first middle management job.

Before I got the middle management position, I spent literally years developing myself for consideration. I was doing all kinds of things to build my skills and to enhance my visibility within the organization. I wanted the folks above me to recognize my name and think of me as a strong candidate. More importantly, I wanted to have the talent and experience to actually BE a strong candidate. I was a first line manager for almost twenty years and I spent all that time growing my skillset.  I learned from my experience and from my leaders.  I tried to take the best of myself and my various managers to create a quirky cocktail of a leadership style that I employed in all my first line management positions.  When I began preparing for the next level in earnest, I took classes, read books, took on extra assignments, and put myself in challenging situations to grow my abilities. I applied for, was accepted into, and graduated from a “readiness” program- which is sort of like rush week and hazing for management jobs in my agency.   In short, trying to get the middle management job became nearly as much of a job as my “real” job at the time.

Ultimately, I succeeded. I competed for and got that first middle management position. There may not have been a ticker tape parade exactly, but there was celebration and rejoicing.  I seem to recall balloons being involved.  Everyone congratulated me and wished me much happiness. Colleagues and mentors who had been helping me in my development breathed a collective sigh of relief to finally be able to wash their hands of me and let me float on my own.  It was thrilling and I was quite giddy.

For the next several weeks, I became engrossed in the practicalities of getting a new job.  I finished up projects and tasks that I was doing in my current position.  I prepared the person who would be acting in that position until the agency selected a new permanent manager.  I packed my stuff and moved to the new office.  I did the administrivia necessary to get authorized on the new computer systems I would need in my new job.  I explored the lay of the land in my new office.

Once I completed all this “changing of the guard” work, I found myself in a difficult situation.  I had held the front line manager position, in one form or another, for such a long time.  I realized that I had become a master at it.  It wasn’t that it was easy for me or anything, but I certainly had developed a certain facility and confidence and momentum in executing my responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.  By the time I was selected for the target middle management position, it could even be said that I had become a master at the job of getting this job. Now that I had it and the novelty had worn off, I was back to square one. I was faced with the whole new challenge of actually having to DO the job!

All of sudden, “routine” tasks and decisions were not routine.  Instead of tumbling through a day of problem solving and getting things done, as I had for years in my front line management position, I found myself stumbling over each step because I found all the steps to be new to me.  The steps were all in unfamiliar places now, steeper, and made of different materials than I had experienced in my former job.   In my front line position, I easily contemplated the possible strategies for addressing each issue of the day and experimented with reasonable confidence that I would find a way to success.  In this new position, my mind felt tight and restricted when I tried to percolate new ideas.  The stakes were higher and I seemed to have less mental resources and agility to propel me towards success.  As certain as I had been that I would succeed as a first line manager, I was often as certain that I would fail as a middle manager.  After all, you can only use the excuse “I’m new” for a short time.  As I struggled with problem-solving and fueling effective operations, I was well aware that I couldn’t just try any strategies.  I had to try the right strategies to produce results.  I knew that, as some point, I would have to produce the results expected of me or I would have to face the fact that I had failed… no matter how hard I had worked or how many creative strategies I tried.

Retirement was kind of like that for me. I aspired to retirement for years. I thoughtfully and strategically set up my life to prepare myself to retire. When it finally happened, there was all manner of celebrating and well-wishing. For a few weeks, my life was a whirlwind of “getting set-up.” Just like when I changed jobs and had to deal with the pragmatics and tactics such as getting on necessary computer systems and arranging my office, I spent the beginning of my retirement packing and moving and making sure the processes of my new life were in place.

After that first flurry of activity, I came face to face with the same reality I did when I actually started my first middle management position. I had no real idea of how to “work” retirement on a day-to-day basis any more than I had any idea how to “work” the middle management job on a day-to-day basis.

It wasn’t that I was unhappy in either case or that I regretted my decisions to pursue the career-defining job or to retire. In both situations, I was excited and joyful. It is just that, in both situations, I was disoriented and lacked confidence that I would ultimately right my ship and sail somewhere wonderful.

In the middle management position, I may not have hung the moon and the stars, but I think I did succeed. I am proud of my little legacy.

As time passes in my retirement, I find myself experimenting with numerous strategies and approaches to craft a success of my retirement life. I think it is working. I am less disoriented and my confidence is growing all the time. I feel like I am clicking along well on all cylinders now.

I have learned that, in retirement, unlike in that next new job, the creative strategies I employ to succeed cannot fail as long as I satisfy myself.

 

So what do you think?  Did your retirement feel similar to transitioning to a new job?  Or was your experience different?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you an email me at terriretirement@gmail.com. Have an exciting (in a good way!) day!

Terri

 

I’ve Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart

Easter reminds me that my race is not yet run.

 When I started working, I did not select my career with my Christianity in mind. To be honest, I’m not sure I selected it at all. I had just finished college with a fresh out of the oven degree in English. I was working at my minimum wage college job. I had a brand new husband, who was a full time graduate student.  He needed brand new food every brand new day. When the chance for federal employment was offered, I took the job for purely temporal reasons.

That doesn’t mean that, for the 33 plus years I worked, I left my faith at the door. While my job description wasn’t particularly missionary, I believed that God expected me to live a mission. I spent my career purposely, consciously, and genuinely trying to make each decision from a place of goodness and to be a light in the world to the people I encountered. The fuel for that light was Jesus. I often fell short. I was not always a good example or a beacon of Christ’s light. I simply trusted that, when I did succeed in my mission through the wisdom and grace God granted me, the Lord would use that work to let others see Him and His love.

 When I retired, I was tired and worn down in my very soul. I looked forward to my retirement as a period of rest and relaxation, my years of work being done. I did rest and it has taken a very long time for my spirit to relax. Now, I realize my work is not done. My workplace is different and the conditions are unfamiliar, but I am sure God still has a mission for me.

 I believe I am called, like St. Therese of Lisieux, to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love. There is still some life left for me to fill, using God’s grace, with extraordinary love.

 I am writing about reinventing myself in retirement. This Easter season, I have been journeying towards a spiritual reinvention, or, at least, a spiritual reinvigoration. I’ve been participating in a Best Lent Ever program.  It is a series of daily email video reflections. It is offered through www.dynamiccatholic.com.  You might want to check it out. Even non Catholics might be interested.  Really, anyone with a spiritual orientation that includes Jesus, even tangentially, might find it useful.

 In working on my spiritual reinvention this Lent, www.dynamiccatholic has helped me remember some valuable lessons.

 When I give in to shyness and avoid people, I put my Jesus light under a bushel and miss potential opportunities to provide comfort and extraordinary love.

When I get impatient and rushed, I miss the opportunity to be absolutely present in the moment, to cherish the joy that God gives that moment.

When my heart flashes with irritation and anger, I miss the opportunity to gain understanding and closeness. 

 Moving forward, I know that I will forget these lessons and will fall short. I also know that God has more lessons for me.  I will try to keep an open heart and be available to His teaching, as I strive to be a carrier of extraordinary love.

The real lesson of Easter, though, is that, no matter how many times I fail, I am forgiven. Jesus saw to that.

Happy Resurrection!  I know that not everyone believes as I do, but Easter seems like a great time to remind ourselves that reinvention can be sacred as well as secular.

What do you think?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a happy and blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂

Domestic Deity

I really rock at cleaning floors.

 To understand the full impact of this statement, you need to understand that I grew up in a home where cleaning house meant company was coming.  My mother has many, many wonderful traits, but she was a homemaker and not a housekeeper. My childhood memory of “home” is warm and loving and fun, but not clean, neat, or tidy.  I don’t think anyone would ever describe my mom as a “domestic goddess.”

 It wasn’t that we were too lazy to clean house.  It was just that there were way too many more interesting things to do than dust, wash, polish, or sweep anything that needed dusting, washing, polishing, or sweeping. We didn’t live in squalor or anything, but having clean floors wasn’t ever a dream that seemed worth pursuing.  Dog hair tended to be part of the décor.  If there were too many dirty dishes in the sink, we could always use the oven to whisk them out of sight.   We also were the kind of people who formed sentimental attachments to just about everything we touched, so there was always souvenirs of vacations, questionably adorable figurines, crumbling old furniture, children’s art projects, clothes worn for momentous occasions (like my first day of second grade or something), etc. hanging around creating clutter and dust bunnies. 

My mother was a working mother before it was fashionable. Before that, she volunteered with the Parent Teacher Association for more hours a week than most people spend at a real job.   While I think she enjoyed working outside the home, I have a sneaking suspicion that part of her motivation for getting a job was to have a socially acceptable excuse to not do something as boring as housework. 

 When I began living on my own, I intended to replicate the housekeeping habits of the women I saw on reruns of 1950s television shows.  Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that I was failing miserably.  I either missed the housekeeping gene or just never learned how to do housework in a way that would efficiently and effectively result in a clean, tidy house.  Who knows if it was nature or nurture, but I began storing dirty dishes in the oven within an embarrassingly short time.  I spent most of my adult life trying to do better, with almost no success.

 When I retired and was getting ready to move, I was a little worried.  I was going from a tiny one-bedroom, one-bathroom 600 square foot condominium to a 1500 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house.  Since I was never very successful in keeping 600 square feet clean, how would I cope with so much more space?

 As it turns out, the answer is pretty darn well.  I have found that having the extra space is actually helpful.  There are more places to put things.  Our clothes actually fit in the closets and bureaus and don’t end up on the floor.  The garage can not only house two cars, but has shelving for items such as Christmas decorations.   Being retired also means that taking half an hour to clean a bathroom or an hour to dust isn’t anywhere near as onerous as when I was working for a living and really resented housework for eating up my few moments of unscheduled time. 

 And the floors.  In my little condo, I had carpet through most of the rooms.   There is very little satisfaction in vacuuming carpeting.  Pretty much, the floors look the same after you vacuum as they did before.  You never really know if the carpets are clean.  My new home has hardwood in most of the rooms.  When we first moved in, I was a little intimidated by those floors and put off doing anything other than sweeping them.  Finally, I decided to just throw caution to the wind and try to do a deeper cleaning.  I swept, dust-mopped, applied hardwood floor cleaner, and, ultimately, hardwood floor restorer and polisher.  Those floors absolutely glowed when I was done.  I felt soooo accomplished.  I was taking pictures of the newly cleaned floors and sending them to everyone who knew me.  I faced my fear of housework and prevailed. 

 The really big lesson in my journey to becoming a domestic goddess is something I learned in the workplace years ago.  Quality is “fit for use.”  In other words, if my home is reasonably sanitary and the air is breathable and the occupants feel comfy and happy, whatever level of housework that has been done is quality.   I am the queen of my own domesticity and, if I can look out over my realm and be happy, that is the triumph.

 Maybe my mother was a domestic goddess after all.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear your perspective.  Please leave a comment and share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Have a terrific day!

Terri 🙂