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You are More Than What You Do

original art by June Shatken at juneshatken.com

“So, what do you do?” someone asks when they meet you.

That’s certainly easier than asking “Who are you?” Less threatening, less intrusive. And this is how we pigeon hole each other. An unconscious categorization. We get assigned a Dewey Decimal System number and get filed into the card catalog. We create categories for our work, profession, industry, the things we do for a living. Oh, okay, so now I know who you are.

What are you missing out on?

We often do the same thing with ourselves. But, when we identify ourselves as what we do, we begin to believe that that’s all there is to us. We lose sight of the layers of wonder that are just below the surface. Our essential, multidimensional selves cry to come out. We miss out on a whole lot of awesome

I know this to be true because I have experienced it myself. My Dewey Decimal System number fell in the category of fiction because what I did was truly not who I was.

This knowledge, this truth, led me to create a Multidimensional Life I could never have imaged had I continued with the fictional version of myself.

Oh, and another caveat: You may not always do this thing that has defined you for so long. What will happen then? You will feel lost.

You are so much more than what you do every day.

So, who are you beyond what you do?

But this little loaded question is everywhere.

One example: turn on Jeopardy and you will be introduced to the contestants with “Jane, a blah, blah, blah from anywhere, USA.

Now it’s not that I don’t’ care how Jane spends her time, but I know that she, too, is so much more than that. I wonder who she is.

So, who are you?

Questions to ponder

  • What makes you laugh so hard you snort diet coke out your nose?
  • Who makes you do that?
  • What makes your eyes well up?
  • What color are those eyes? Who had them before you?
  • What is a mannerism that is so you? Or do you see someone else in it?
  • Who do you love? What is it about them that you love the most?
  • What do you love? Why?
  • What brings you delight? What does that delight feel like?
  • What do you dread? Why?
  • What do you avoid? Why?
  • What route do you take each day to get home? Why?
  • What do you have for breakfast each day? Why?
  • What is a favorite book/move from childhood?
  • If you could time-travel, where would you go?

A challenge:

  1. Buy a notebook – the wide ruled, not the college ruled. The college ruled is too tight and a little intimidating.
  2. Put these questions in the notebook. Add more of your own as they come to you.
  3. Put the notebook in your cabinet with the coffee or tea. Or with your cereal or in the fruit bowl. Put it anywhere you will be guaranteed to visit each morning.
  4. Each morning (or most mornings), pick a question. Jot a few answers to a question, maybe just a few words. That’s all. If you’re inspired to go further, that’s fine. But you only need a few lines to get the thinking engine started.

Leave a comment below and let me know how you do with this challenge. Or contact me to explore taking this process further.

What you’re doing is beginning a blueprint of the multidimensional person you are.

Because, you are so very much more than what you do each day.

Deep in the Work Phase of Life

Deep In The Work Phase

Years ago, when I was deep into the work phase of my life, I began to feel an underlying discontent. It was like an itch that you can’t find to scratch. It was distracting but I became adept at putting it aside. Instead I tried to figure out what else I could do. I moved around within the company and the country trying to find a better fit. It would work for a while; the newness and challenge would distract me. But eventually that was too exhausting.  Why was I so unhappy? Was I not doing enough… what else can I do… is it true that if I “change the way I look at things, the things I look at change?” I just couldn’t get that last one to work.

I had been a round peg in a square hole for many years. I can see it now but back then I didn’t understand how, as an introvert, I should deal with people who seemed like vultures picking at my soul. I kept myself on the firing line rather than realizing that my skill set is best utilized when I can think and strategize on a higher level and with a few people at a time; when I have the luxury to nurture people rather than always be on high alert for the next fire drill. Some thrive on that. Not me!

What was for me?

What I was craving was a more expansive, suitable satisfying life where I could flourish doing the work I was called to do. I was looking for what I now call a Multidimensional Life.

I would look out and see people doing all these fun, creative things and feel sad that I couldn’t do them. It took all of my bandwidth to succeed in what I was doing. I told myself I wasn’t creative and felt bad about that because I mistakenly associated creativity with creating something tangible.  A real pity party. It took me a while to realize that those other folks might also be struggling even while they were working at their creative dreams, or that they might be putting on a good front. Or that there was a healthier way to look at my creative possibilities. It took me a little longer to understand that I needed to stop looking outside.

So, what did I need?

I needed to wake up, ditch the angst and find my smile.

I needed to step out of my work driven world and become the navigator of this one big beautiful life that I’d been given.

The question was: What do I want? What was my dream? Who was I without all those old stories?

How would I get it?

I decided to live in the process of becoming, rather than stay attached to a concrete outcome.  Not an easy task in the beginning. But I came to understand that the creative process was just as satisfying as the end result. Writing was transformational even when I wasn’t working on a book. Learning for the sake of learning was enriching even without the goal of a degree. Going into a new venture and being open to the winding ways of entrepreneurship has been life changing. Through trial and error, big and small discoveries, new possibilities and the fun of imperfection I was led to places I’d never expected. I never would have gotten there without freshly opened eyes and the help of other creatives and coaches.

I learned how magical small questions, deep listening and the subsequent small steps made a world of difference. How they reduced the overwhelm and stirred the creative pot. I began to get an expanded view of me, what I wanted and, most importantly, what would make me come alive.

My Multidimensional Life

I began to re-imagine my life. I started to unravel the tight, work-based persona as I realized that I wanted a richer, more colorful and diverse life. And, lo and behold, underneath all that was the multidimensional me that had been waiting all along.

I let myself spend more time outdoors. I let myself become immersed in writing. I turned down the volume on the harsh taskmaster inside that shouted you aren’t getting enough done and was able to hear that quiet voice that taught me that inspiration and creative work isn’t always done in front of a computer. (Mind you, that is an ongoing lesson!)

Over time, I began to feel the freedom of choice that a Multidimensional Life life provides. Yes, there are priorities and deadlines. I don’t live in a bubble. But sprinkled among the have-tos are the get-tos. And that makes all the difference. I sense into the day, construct it around my themes and dreams. I still work hard, but it doesn’t always feel like it.

What do you need?

Part of the joy of my MD life is coaching you to unfold your Multidimensional Life. Helping you ask the questions and live into the answers that will make your life rich and beautiful, that will soothe the part of you that has been restless for something more.

If you sense a MD life knocking at your door, contact me and let’s talk for 20 minutes about what isn’t fitting right and what your next steps might be. We can also talk about what it might look like to work together on the great creative project of creating this next phase of your life. Hey, we all only get this one!

Ideas, Dreams and Threads (Pamela)

Ideas Dreams Threads

She was fresh out of college, full of ideas and dreams. Pamela didn’t have a specific career in mind. She had majored in Liberal Arts, studied Spanish and comparative literature and later taken English as a Second Language (ESL) courses.

While in school she had the opportunity to spend a summer in Spain and France. She got to immerse herself in the local culture and observed how she really enjoyed the mundane everyday bits of life, like going to the market. She found it and liked the challenge. It took her beyond being a tourist and allowed her to be a local, to sop up real life.

Her someday dream was to live overseas. But, in the meantime, like most of us, she needed a day job.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” *

Pamela started at one of the Bell companies in sales. They had an international presence and she thought that might be an avenue to get overseas. This was part of her  “someday” dream.

She also got married and had a daughter. The young family had a five-year plan, but, as so often happens, life took over.

And, as women are wont to do, she made compromises. She adapted.

A successful woman

In retrospect, Pam readily acknowledges that she had a great career. She is a smart and savvy woman. Not surprisingly, her favorite role was one in which she needed to become an expert in import/export regulations and procedures. It gave her the opportunity to learn international law. She had to deal with international trade across multiple countries. And, yes, she got to travel.

But, the more successful she became, the less freedom she had. It gradually ebbed away and she became a workaholic. There was a time when she was able to work from home and that helped bring some balance into life. But that didn’t last. It became increasingly apparent that work was beginning to interfere with life.

Sometimes that realization comes as a gradual awakening; other times it’s a whack on the side of the head. Either way, it gets our attention. If we are awake and paying attention, solutions present themselves.

Now what??

Like many large companies and retirement eligibility, Pam’s had certain formulas in place that took into consideration age and length of service. At the same time, a favorable interest rate environment presented Pam with an attractive pension opportunity. The decision to retire was a quick one. She grabbed it.

However, she was not mentally prepared. After all, “how does one go from a 24/7 work environment, fast paced, “married to my job”, high energy to retirement”? Now what, she wondered.

Old ways of being are carved deep on our souls and Pam was faced with a new challenge. Learning how to learn to relax battled against the habit of being busy. She grappled with the shock of going from an intense work/social environment to nothing. She certainly knew how to fill her time – three book clubs, the YMCA three days a week, some classes. Loading her calendar was a familiar – and comfortable – pattern.

Listening to her heart

It took a long time to find a level of satisfaction. Eventually, Pam was able to articulate what she wanted:

  • A good ongoing volunteer opportunity
  • Someone to play with
  • Places that contributed to health, relaxation, exercise and socialization

Oh, remember back to Pam’s college days? ESL? And about solutions presenting themselves when we’re paying attention? One day a friend suggested she look into Literary Volunteers of Morris County. It piqued her interest and she went a little further.

She followed her intuition; heeded her natural creative process. She volunteered and organized a conversation class. She got to select news articles and themes to discuss. She researched and presented cultural and historical subjects. Election day inspired a class on the American election process. She used other current events and “mundane” everyday things to stimulate conversation. There was a group that met for lunch, sharing the cuisine of their native country.

In the process, Pam got to enhance her own learning, have cross cultural exchanges, play and socialize while immersing herself in international flavors and staying close to home.

The Thread

And there was the thread that connected to her young dreams.

In the beginning, Pam never envisioned a corporate career. Her interests were language, literature, intellectual stimulation, cross cultural experiences.

In the end, she found fulfillment and enrichment and intellectual stimulation through LVMC students in and outside the classroom, socializing at lunch, developing close familial connections, all the pieces of everyday cross-cultural, mundane life that had intrigued her.

Finding the thread of yearning in your life and figuring out how it can be fulfilled today is part of the work I do when I work with clients to create their Multidimensional lives. It could be a second (or third) career. It can be volunteer work or just rediscovering an old passion. It is recovering old dreams or finding new ones and living from the inside out.

* Various attributions – John Lennon, Allen Saunders, Earl Wilson. Regardless, it’s a great sentiment!

Refurbishing Our Minds

Refurbishing Our Minds

Have you ever considered that our minds can be refurbished? A little tune-up in midlife? When we do – when we take the time to do the work – the whole world sparkles with newness.

It was a line, toward the end of a newspaper article, that caught my eye.

“… a certain dullness of thought that gathers over time if we make no serious efforts to refurbish our minds.”

It pulled up a chair, made a home in my brain and started a conversation.

It was buried in a review in our local paper of an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was called “Bacon: Books and Paintings”. The display consisted of the artist’s later works and, interestingly, the books that he notes as important influences on his life. The reviewer was so-so about the exhibit and I was quite sure I wouldn’t be attending but it was the idea of books influencing the painting that drew me into the article.

And then that statement.

Ruts and Routines

What a great description of a rut and of the hazards we can so easily fall into in middle age and beyond.

Think about it. By the time we’re in our 40’s and 50’s, we have become quite settled in our routines. Unless something dramatic happens, we do the same work every day. If we go out to do this work, we often take the same route or the same train. The 7:12 into Penn Station carries the same folks every day. We nod in recognition before we go back to our newspaper or smart phone. We gradually notice when they’re missing but don’t give it a lot of thought. We’re on auto-pilot.

We do the same on the reverse trip. On the weekends we dash to the same markets and see the same friends and go to the same handful of restaurants.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is comfort and a good dash of sanity in routine. My hand is raised in solidarity. But I have found that when the rut grows too deep, it blocks out the view of other possibilities and dulls our imagination. The windows of our soul cry out for a little Windex.

Refurbishing our minds

But, refurbishing our minds. I thought about how I had gone through a refurbishing process several times already in my life and what a good description of what I do with my clients.

Refurbishing doesn’t have to be a “tear down to the studs and rebuild” like my sister’s doing with her house. It can be a simple “paint the bathroom cabinets and get new hardware” like I’m planning to do.

Because, first and foremost, refurbishing is about waking up and seeing where we are. It’s about cleaning off the dull finish and tending to what is beneath the accumulated grime. It’s about small questions and small steps that build and take you where you need to go.

Take those cabinets in my bathroom. I’ve seen them every day until, eventually, I stopped seeing them. Until I looked at them with an eye to what I might have to do if I wanted to put my house on the market. The view cleared.

Take a close look

What would you see if you truly looked at your routine? At your state of mind? At your dreams and plans? Would it be satisfying? If so, great. Marinate in that feeling; consciously appreciate it. It will become even more satisfying.

Or, is it too painful to look? Full of remorse and lost dreams? Does it feel like a tear down and start from scratch? That’s overwhelming and for that I would suggest some talk therapy which can make worlds of difference.

Maybe you’re somewhere in between. That’s where most of us are.

Overwrite the old ruts

The good news is that that’s fixable. Minds can be refurbished. But it doesn’t happen overnight. You didn’t create that rut in a day and you won’t eliminate it that quickly either. In fact, you won’t eliminate it at all. You will overwrite it. You’ll choose a new path which might be poorly lit at first. There will be some trial and error.

It can start with very little effort – a different route home, trying a new restaurant, watching a movie or reading a book in a genre you’ve never tried. These beginning, conscious steps will lead to more. Ask a small question: what can I do today that’s out of my normal? Keep asking. When you take these initial small steps, you begin to realize that there’s so much more to life than your rut. You cease living in a one-dimensional life and uncover the multidimensional you.

Another thing about refurbishing is that it presumes you have something worthwhile to restore. You do. And when you do – when you take the time to tend to your Multidimensional Life – the world looks new. Even the poorly lit path holds excitement and a sense of adventure. You feel the shackles drop off you; bindings loosen. Where you felt like you had nothing to move toward, you see multiple possibilities.

I speak from experience.

There’s an adventure ahead

When you choose to carve a new path, it will be an expedition into the unknown riches that exist within you. The process is a reward in itself. This is just one aspect of a Multidimensional Life.

You may not hang in the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but oh, what a masterpiece you’ll be!

Tapping into Joy

Can Joy Flow Like The Sap Of A Maple Tree?

Does joy flow easily through you? Like the sap of the maple tree in spring, only needing a spigot to gush out and fill the bucket?

It hasn’t always been that easy for me. I admit to getting a little stuck with this joy stuff. But, one of the elements I want woven into my Multidimensional Life is simple joy. Noticing and appreciating those small things that used to escape my consciousness or that became tasks, items to check off on a list.

Small Moments

For instance, do you know how quickly the sun moves across the sky? I can’t quantify it in minutes but I can tell you how quickly I can miss the spectacle that is the house across the road when the sun crests my rooftop and beams its joy on the yellow house across the street. It glows as if from within. It is liquid warmth even on a cold January morning.

That small act of standing at my front window and watching brings me joy. No matter how often I see it, it catches my breath. I no longer zip by on my way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and get my day started. I stand or sit and drink it in. Better than caffeine.

This is something I discovered by slowing down and paying attention. Recently I was thinking about whether we should downsize and move, and one of the things that came up was “Oh, I’d miss seeing Minnie’s house at dawn.”

Small, inconsequential? Yes.

Powerful road into a joyful, mindful experience? Hell, yeah!

Synchronicity

I started writing this post on a Saturday morning. Later that day, I met with an intuitive coach for an oracle card reading. The first card she pulls for me is Joy. (Yes, really.) I can feel forces conspiring, trains of thought converging.

As the river of conversation flows, “tapping into joy” shifts into opening up to receive joy. Can you feel the difference? It’s not so much going out and finding it as it is opening up to it. Putting yourself into a state of receiving. I no longer have to hammer the spigot into the tree; I am the bucket.

Now I remind myself in the morning to open up so joy can find me. (Writing this helps reinforce this goal.) I ask how can I become a vessel ready to be filled with joy. Part of this Multidimensional Life journey for me is to stop turning even joy into a task. It’s no longer something to be checked off a list. It’s the small everyday moments. It is being in a state of receiving and trust. 

Simple Joy

When I do this, I find that there is so much simple joy in my life. Yes, I will continue to appreciate the glow of the sun on the house across the street. I’ll relish the startle of red that’s a cardinal perched on the evergreen outside my kitchen window. I’ll continue to be in awe of the hummingbird as it whizzes past my ear while I’m sitting on the deck. I will be open to moments of joy and then some.

If you are building a Multidimensional Life and joy is an element you want woven into your day, consider this affirmation: I am open to receiving joy.

Very simple, very small, very potent.

Remembering Joy

Call it into memory as you come up through layers of sleep each morning or as you go to sleep at night. Write it on your tube of toothpaste, write it on a Post It that you stick to your car dashboard. Keep it handy and repeat it often until it becomes part of the flow of your thoughts.

A quote attributed to Buddha says “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world”.

Let’s all be joy.

Waiting for Retirement?

“I can’t wait to retire.”

I was at a party recently when someone made that comment. A chorus of agreement followed. They were all straddling 60.

As the conversation swirled around me, I realized it wasn’t just about retirement. They were talking about freedom. Freedom from the commute, freedom from deadlines, freedom from crazy bosses and angry customers.

Ah, sweet freedom!

But, wait. Open the door to that longed-for future, just a crack, and peek out at that distant freedom. What do you see? Who do you see?

It’s not just freedom.

Retiring is about so much more than just freedom. It’s not an end. It’s a beginning. It’s you transitioning to another stage of life. It’s you unfurling the many layers of who you’ve become – the rich, multilayered, beautiful, multidimensional you.

And it does offer freedom. Freedom to sleep in, go out to breakfast, run errands on Tuesday instead of with the throngs on Saturday.

But freedom can still have its own challenges.

Because what you may find on the other side of freedom is a yawning void. A vacuum, if you will. And you know how nature feels about a vacuum. It’s unnatural. It will be filled. Count on it.

It will be filled with so much that you will hear yourself saying, “I don’t know how I had time to work before I retired!” Days will pass and blur. Years will fly by, even faster than they already are. If you’re okay with that, you can stop reading now.

How about looking at freedom in a different way?

Looking at it as a vehicle that will take you someplace rich and unexpected. This is a time of life when you get to direct the action. It’s your Third age and you get to live from the inside out instead of the reverse, which we all do during the building, striving, tending second age of life.

With this freedom you get to recognize and tend to what is most important to you and to choose how to spend that precious commodity that is your time.

If you want a freedom that takes you someplace rich and surprising, consider this (first of 3 rules of the retirement road):

Rule #1: If you’re waiting for retirement to do something, stop waiting.

Don’t put it off any longer. Start it small but start it now. We have no guarantees on how long we’ll be on this mortal coil. Start practicing what it would be like to step out of that work driven world and into a Multidimensional Life that matches the multidimensional you. Start planning, imagining, trying on, discerning. It could turn out that the thing you’ve been putting off loses its allure when you go deeper.

I know a woman who always had an entrepreneurial itch. While she was working, she tried several different part-time selling ventures (jewelry, cooking tools) She couldn’t sustain it because it wasn’t satisfying a deeper need: to create.

Then she started making her own jewelry. She learned different techniques and got to experiment and design what gave her pleasure. She participated in juried shows and that pleasure radiated out to her customers. Now she’s retired and finds joy in this form of personal expression. Her whole demeanor has changed, her face is relaxed, she is beautiful.

How much better to have experimented sooner than later!

Recently, I visited a friend who was getting ready to retire. He was transitioning his business to his daughter and his mind was several months ahead into his new life. He was thinking about how things might be and told me how he was going to take his time to get used to this new stage of life, not rush into anything. He was also a gardener and told me about his plans for adding to his garden. He knew what he could do himself and where he might need some outside help. He wasn’t waiting; he was designing and creating. After all, a garden takes planning. Most of the work is done before you put the shovel in the ground.

Preparing

A lot of your prep work will be the inner work. Read, talk to people, explore. Just don’t wait.

This is a freedom that you can exercise while still working. You don’t need an empty nest or hours of unrestricted time to dream and plan. Take it where you can, in small bits, small steps that let you begin to acclimate to a new pace.

Just start by asking yourself what is truly important to you. Listen to what comes up; be curious. There’s unlimited wisdom already inside you just waiting to be mined.

Are you yearning for that future freedom? This is where I can help. There’s more to retirement planning than a pension and 401k. Contact me to set up a time to chat and learn how this type of coaching would ignite your freedom. Do you know someone who is at this stage of life? Please share this post.

It’s All About the Oars

The weeks leading into the recent holidays reminded me that every now and then I need to pull my paddles out of the water and drift into the wider stream of life. I have to ship my oars, take a pause and just be where I am: slow down and recover from illness; be part of a large extended family as we honor the passing of one of our elders and celebrate a life well lived; host a holiday and remember that this is all part of my rich Multidimensional Life.

Living a Multidimensional Life

Creating and living in a Multidimensional Life is the journey of my lifetime. It is ever evolving, expanding and twisting and one I’ll continue till my feet wear out and my eyes fade.

It wasn’t always this way. Where once I thought I had to be single minded in my pursuits (usually work) I now know that I want to flow among the various layers of my life that are important. The last 15-20 years of my life have been a time of gradual awakening.  I’ve been shedding elements of my old self that no longer fit. I’ve been unraveling the bindings that have held me in a state of discomfort.

It is a work in progress.

Managing the Oars

I also know that when I don’t actively and wakefully manage those oars, I can easily drift into the reeds or, even worse, into someone else’s stream. At the same time, I can’t just set a route and go on autopilot. Navigating involves monitoring conditions and adjusting my course. Otherwise, I’d be flung onto a strange shore and knocked back to sleep.

Does this sound familiar? Did you ever have a period in your life – days, weeks, sometimes longer – where life seems to have other plans? I’m guessing you have, just like me.

Take November for instance. I love that month. I love the crisp weather. I love the occasional bonus warm day that invites you to plant those last few bulbs, to cut back what needs cutting back in the garden and, if I’m really ambitious, to divide and move a few perennials. The garden is one of those layers of my life that is essential.

I also love Thanksgiving and have been hosting it for over 20 years. The ritual and routine of this holiday are a valued part of my life.

This past November began with a death in my extended family. A wake, a funeral, a repast. My large Irish family gathered in support, prayer and eating.

Shipping the Oars

And those few days throw me off my game a bit. There was little time for my normal routine; trying to fit writing in was a challenge and watching what I ate necessitated a little more vigilance and a lot more relaxation. But life is to be lived. Okay, lift the oars, adjust your course, slip into that stream of life.

And in the gathering and hugging, someone shared a lovely virus. It latched on to my husband and I and traveled home with us. We had a two-week stint of “hot potato” with sore throats, congestion and general malaise tossed back and forth. This lasted through all the pre-work and prep for Thanksgiving. By the end of the big day I had no voice and my left ankle had gone out on me. I was limping and croaking.

I chose to give myself permission to hit pause on my normal exercise routine (but, hey, window washing should count for something!) I let go of my target word count in my writing. I sneak in what I can.

The day after Thanksgiving, for better or worse, I attend our annual Poinsettia buying day, a tradition that we’ve shared with another family for over 30 years! This satisfies my desire for connection. (And a lunch that doesn’t involve turkey!)

On Saturday I purposefully dip my oars back in the water and navigate to the shore for a few days. I rest the oars on my lap.

I crash.

Not Fighting the Flow

I don’t fight the flow of life; I move with it while observing it. But I remain aware of my navigation tools. Those oars are just resting on my lap. They are there to engage when I’m ready and until then their presence reminds me that I have choices, that there are times to make things happen and there are times to let things happen. I get to choose.

The reality is that, as much as I take comfort in my own routines, I am not an island. I am part of a larger life. These times that necessitate a pause or a redirect are actually another layer of my multidimensional life. They are part of the ebb and flow of my life’s stream, not an eddy that spins me around and sucks me down an endless drain.

As long as I remember that I get to navigate, to dip and ship the oars, and that going off course is temporary and sometimes intentional, my Multidimensional Life flows on.

Dipping the Oars Again

Eventually, I put the oars back in the water and slowly find my way into back into my stream. I maneuver the paddles, adjust the rudder and choose the appropriate speed.

I am awake and still creating and living my Multidimensional Life. It beckons with all its beauty and riches. I am alive for the journey.

Deferred Dreams

Photo By Sharon McCutcheon On Unsplash

Bucket lists. Someday. Maybe. Dreams deferred. Life gets put on hold.Waiting…waiting… waiting. Tell me, what are you waiting for?

A few years ago, while I was still working in an office, a tinny voice over the PA system invited everyone in the office to assemble over at so-and-so’s desk to celebrate her birthday.

Have you been to an office birthday party?  Papers pushed aside at the end of a credenza to make room for the cake; a pile of plastic forks, paper plates and some scraggly napkins.  Somebody remembers candles and the rare smoker finds his/her lighter to light them.  People make their way at varying speeds, some still talking on wireless headsets; some with pen and papers in hand doing double duty as they come for cake and a visit to operations with problems or paperwork to submit.

That afternoon people stood around, as usual, looking at each other until someone took the lead and started singing “Happy Birthday to you …”  Again, you know how that goes.  A few reedy, quiet voices, a few lip syncs, a few moderate singing voices.  They usually struggle through to the end.

But this time was a little different.  Paulette was a trainer visiting the office for a few weeks to help with the recent merger.  She joined the little crowd assembled to sing.  And sing she did!  A voice that soared up to the acoustic ceiling tiles, wrapped around surprised faces and made the earnest singers go dim.  Everyone was amazed.

As we walked away with our little plates I commented on her singing and asked if she sang professionally.  Did she sing at church?  Moonlight in a band?  Take or give lessons?

“No, no, no.”  She laughed. (Even her laugh was big and melodic.) “That’s for when I retire.”

​Dream deferred.

Consider the opportunities missed. No, not the big break. Rather, that moment in which a voice is deeply heard; that place where a voice inspires; that time when a voice shows the way and finds the way.  All the little mile markers where the course of a journey may have shifted. Not big shifts; just small pebbles rippling out to places never considered.

Now is the time

The time is always right to move toward a dream with a small question and a small step. It’s always the best time for just a toe into the water of possibilities. Because when you start, things begin to happen. As Newton expounds in his Law of Motion: “A body in motion stays in motion”.

Deferred dreams are a slow death. Let’s live. Even if – especially if – it’s in small steps

Contact me  to learn how I can help you begin to make possibilities and dreams real. We’ll do it in small, easy steps with small, percolating questions. Time will fly anyway. Let’s get started 

A Different Retirement Planning

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

What shapes our lives are the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never think to ask. ~ Sam Keen

Let’s turn retirement planning on its head. Or maybe just on its side. Let’s bring it down to reality and by reality I mean what is real for you. Traditionally, retirement planning has been about the money. It’s about a magic number to strive for. It brings up anxiety around whether it’s enough. And, if we think it’s not enough, we worry about how to get to that magic number. As a result, we often double down on our work, forgo personal time, grow a someday/maybe list, or put off for the things that are meaningful because they don’t contribute to that number. We experience stress and all the accompanying gifts that that brings.

Traditional Retirement Planning.

As I moved through my career, the retirement planning world came into prominence for the regular working person. IRA accounts, 401k allocations. New investors poured into mutual funds. As a result, the stock market boomed with these new investments. New careers were built around this segment of financial planning.

And this is all good.

Don’t get me wrong. Tending to your finances is important. It’s prudent. Because if you don’t sit down and look them square in the eye you may be in for some surprises.

However, as I approached my 50th birthday and saw the vague outline of retirement out on the horizon, I realized that it was not all about the money. Sure, I’d love to have a $1 million + retirement fund. Who wouldn’t?

Being called to a truer self

But I didn’t want to be a slave to this goal. There was something else that was important and needed serious attention.

That something was me.

A clock was ticking and the question it was beating into me was: when will you do what you say you want to do? When will you start living from the inside out instead of the other way around. My creativity was stifled and it was slowing killing me, from the inside out.

I was being called to be a truer version of myself.

Non-traditional Retirement Planning

I was being called to craft a multidimensional life in which the things that are urgent are woven into the things that were important, not the other way around. For me, the important things are writing, my garden, moving my body. It’s about exploring art, connecting more with nature and the people around me. It is also doing meaningful work as a coach and a writer to help others craft the life that brings them joy, meaning and fulfillment. Whatever that might be for them.

This is the kind of planning that needs to come first. Know who you want to be, how you want to live, what is important and what can be whittled away. Then absolutely look at the financial side.  Because now, you’re better informed as to what you need.

Start early

The first steps into retirement don’t happen after the gold watch and bye-bye luncheon. They begin now, wherever you are in your journey of life.

They begin with a question:

What is most important to me now and as I transition into the next stage of life.

Ask the question and then listen as ideas emerge. Capture the ideas. Let them settle in. Decide on a small step to get going. Then prepare for an exciting adventure.

Because retirement is not an ending. It’s not heading out to the pasture. It is the beginning of a vital, important stage of life that will cover decades. It is a rich Third Age.

I’ve told you what’s important to me. Now, it’s your turn. What would be a satisfying next stage of life for you? Let me know in the comments.

The Art of Listening

Listening
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Let me listen to me and not to them. – Gertrude Stein

Listening is an art. It’s a vital part of communication. We listen to learn, to understand, to make the other feel witnessed.

But how well do we listen to ourselves?

Our minds are full of chatter. They’re also full of different voices. The voices of our parents, teachers and peers. The voice of perfectionism, fear and deprecation.

The other voices continue in an endless loop and do quite a job in the background. They become part of the noise that turns white that we barely notice. Make no mistake, though, those voices are orchestrating a good part of our lives.

At the same time our wise, true voice speaks. However, too often we minimize that voice and magnify the others.

Until we listen, nothing changes.

I recently noticed my inner commentary on my lack of ability to play. It made me sad. I thought I had lost the knack. That I had forgotten how to have fun. That I was a dull girl, all work, no play.

I noticed because I had stopped and listened. I hit pause. I didn’t dismiss it or brush it away. I really listened.

Here’s what I heard:

Play is frivolous. It’s what you do when your work is done. Furthermore, adult fun involves high energy, adrenaline-soaked activities that have to be done somewhere “away” and costs money. Just like those TV commercials and ads for “active seniors”. Therefore, my play/fun is too small and insignificant and, consequently, not worthy of my time. Hey, go big or go home, right?

Wrong!

That was the loop that was running in the background. That was the driver. Therefore, if I was going to hear my wise, true voice I needed to move the conversation down to my heart.

Here’s how I reframed the conversation:

Play can be that thing I’m already doing after I’ve put it into a different light. It can be, lighter, less linear, more whimsical, pleasurable, silly, intuitive. My play is specific to me and anyone else I choose to have as part of the activity. It is not what I see on those pharma ads for seniors or what I see on Facebook or Instagram. Those feel shaming. Play can be fun; fun doesn’t need to be play. Play for me could be coffee and good conversation with a sister that includes laughter and silliness; a walk at the lake with a friend as we compete with our last best pace. It could be a satisfying yoga class. Play is a state of mind.

Here’s how Diane Ackerman defines play in her book, Deep Play.

“The spirit of play is spontaneity, discovery and being open to new challenges. As a result, it allows one to happily develop new skills, test one’s limits, stretch them and then maybe refine the skills and redefine the limits.”

That feels so much better. Play is not always idle; it reaches deep inside and moves us.

Getting back to listening.

If you paused and really listened to your wise and true voice, what would you learn? Would you discover that there is a tape running that is sooo out of date? Would you gently let that old chatter go (or maybe dropkick it to the curb? I don’t know how tenacious it is!)

I know you will learn something vital. For instance, you may learn that you, too, are looking at an idea through someone else’s lens and that the view doesn’t work for you anymore.

Pause and listen more often. Just be aware and noticing. You might be surprised at what you hear and how much lighter you feel when you change the tape.

As always, if you need some support as you hone your listening skills, please contact me to see how we can work together to assemble the small steps that will move you back to your own wise and true voice.

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