image by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
The need to “do”, to be productive, is engrained in us. Therefore, “But… what will I do?” too often becomes the inevitable question that completes the statement, “I’m thinking of retiring …” However, before you go there, consider an equally important question and one that should be addressed first as you transition into retirement or into any phase of life: “Who will I be?”
Don’t get me wrong. “What will I do” is a good wake-up question because, as sure as dust follows dusting, life will pull you into its slipstream. If you wait until the first morning of retirement to figure it all out you may not make the best decisions. And be assured that there are plenty of folks who will be happy to tell you how to answer that question!
(Just a brief sidebar here: my suggestion to that question is always “plan to do nothing for a while,” the emphasis being on the word being “plan.” More on that another day.)
And I understand that concern about what to do. However, I also know that finding the answer to the question of “who will I be” is a better way to start and a much more satisfying way to drive your actions going forward. It is inner driven rather than outer driven.
Finding answers to “who will I be”
Finding an answer to who you’ll be probably feels a lot of work. Starting with who you are and peeling back layers. Scraping off life’s gunk and stripping away labels to get to who you are at your innermost core. Like the alien in the movie Cocoon who undresses and reveals her non-human status, who the heck are you beneath all the layers? After all this time?
So, yes, it may feel like a lot of work. And, really, who needs more work?
Because I know that by the time we’re contemplating retirement, by the time we are at an important phase of midlife transition, we have been at life for a while. We have adapted, instinctively figured out ways to cope and many of us have switched to auto-pilot. So, any task that can’t seem to be wedged into the rest of our “stuff” isn’t very appealing. It calls up our Scarlett O’Hara persona and we put if off for another day.
Been there; done that!
What if I told you there was an easy, fun way to explore the question of “who will I be?” That the process can be easily wedged into the rest of your stuff?
All it requires are four simple things:
- Formulate the question.
- Remember to ask.
- Pay attention.
- Capture what comes up.
Formulate the question
“Who will I be” is broad. Instead, narrow the question’s focus and consider these areas:
- Who am I now?
- Who do I want to be?
- What am I really good at?
- What did I love best as a child?
- What shoots that bubble of delight up through my chest?
- What’s most important to me at this point in my life?
- Where do I find awe?
- Where do I find meaning?
Questions like these will loosen up your imagination and allow you to find your purpose. That purpose doesn’t have to be big or TikTok ready. It only has to be right for you!
As you go along in this process, more questions will come up and these may change slightly. Go with it.
Remember to ask the question
Sounds simple, but new habits are squirrely and asking a question on a regular basis is a habit. What do you do to remind yourself of other tasks or events? Use that. Or go totally analog and write the question on some post-its. Place them on your vanity mirror, your dashboard, the back of your phone.
The goal is to see it – and ask it – often. Do not labor for an answer. Your only job here is to ask. And to ask frequently.
When your question is handy and asked often, the brain will be engaged and answers will emerge. You will notice news or magazine articles. Random conversations will hold clues. A billboard, a song, a stray memory. Don’t discount any of them. As one of my old co-workers used to say, “radar on, antenna up!” That’s all you need to do. It really is this simple, so resist the urge to complicate it. I’ve also been there and tried to do that!
Capture what comes up
You may think you’ll remember the answers that pop up, but the odds are not in your favor. It has nothing to do with age and all to do with busyness and distractions. Come up with a way to capture what emerges. The memory, the idea, the crazy scheme, the business idea, the volunteer organization, that place or thing you’ve always wanted to visit or do but never had the time.
Capture it all. You are only gathering data at this point. Don’t edit or censor and please don’t judge! And also, be very discerning with whom you share these ideas. Even the most well-intended remark can squash dreams like a bug.
You could try on some of the answers and do a little body check. “I am curious and love learning.” How does that feel? “I love helping others to do ____.” How does that feel?
If you have more time…
Try this exercise:
Make of list of words to define and describe yourself. Pay close attention to your language. Yes, you are a woman, man, partner/spouse, parent, son/daughter. You are an accountant, nurse, doctor, lawyer, baker extraordinaire. You have built a business, a career. Perhaps you’ve traveled the earth or gone to space. Wonderful.
Now go a little deeper. Go beyond the labels; peek underneath. At first, this may be uncomfortable or feel difficult. You may think that nothing’s there. Nothing’s coming up. Who the heck are you outside of what you do or your role in the world? (You could use the questioning format above for this.)
As you begin to list the labels, you may find yourself moving from nouns to pronouns. From pronouns to metaphor. From metaphor to analogy to a story of who you are without the labels. Eventually you will find yourself at the core of who you are.
Years ago, I attended a workshop to learn tips on running writing workshops for children. The teacher suggested a writing prompt that had them list what was in their backpacks. When you let them keep going, the tangible shifts to the intangible. The books and pencils lead to hopes, dreams and fears.
It will be the same for you if you keep going beyond the discomfort.
From there you can build outward. Reassembling yourself into who you’ll be and what you’ll do.
Pause for transformation
All of this requires a Pause. It requires time to think and wonder and ponder. Things we don’t normally spend too much time on in our second act or the first half of life. This is where all the good stuff comes from, the juiciness and richness.
Would you like to continue the process? I provide a very safe container in which you can pause, think out loud, say whatever you want, be outrageous, be hesitant, explore, experiment, course correct. It is transformation – deep and lasting. Contact me to schedule a coffee chat to see how we might work together.