© 2016 JOHN K MCILWAIN.

 

As I approached 70 I began to take a hard look at what I really wanted to do during the remaining years of my life.  I was, and still am, healthy, active, and energetic.  But I no longer felt engaged in my career; it had been very fulfilling but I was complete with it. 

 

The question was, what did draw me now?  This began one of the most transformative processes of my life, one that has produced more inner growth than any other life experience except getting married and the birth of our son.  Retirement, it turns out, takes time; it’s not an event that occurs on the day we officially walk away.  It is also an extraordinary opportunity if we take advantage of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                           Retirement can add new vistas to your life.

As you contemplate retirement, there are numerous books available to read.  Many of them are about financial planning, of course, and others are about the practical aspects of retirement - where to live, what to do, etc.  I certainly have not read them all, but there are two books in particular that I recomemnd you read.  I found both of these, each in their own way, helped me better understand the inner transitions that I was going through, and the opportunities retirement presents.

The first of these books, The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments, by William Bridges, walks through a transition process first articulated by Bridges decades ago in an earlier book, but actually experienced by him in his later years and written about here.  It gave me a strong framework for considering the experiences I was having.  After reading this book, I better understood where I was in the process of retiring and created several ways to deepen my own experience.  I also drew on the support from a mentor and a therapist, as well as my wife and a few good friends.  Good as this book is, it is only a book and can't meet us exactly where we are, or answer all our questions and issues; this calls for a mentor or someone else experienced in retiring to:

  • discuss your own unique questions as they arise;

  • help diagnose problems and suggest solutions;

  • help you decide when it is time to move forward, and can suggest possible next steps;

  • provide encouragement when you feel stuck; and

  • perhaps gently push you when you feel discouraged.

This is where the second book may come in.  It is What Aging Men Want: The Odyssey as a Parable of Male Aging, by John C. Robinson.  Don't be put off by the title, especially if you are a woman.  Women in business and the professions today, in my experience, are facing the same traditionally masculine issues men do; we live in a heavily structured, hierarchical patriarchy that forces women to "man up" as much as men, even as they work to retain the best of their inner feminine qualities.  

 

Robinson argues that retiring today is the equivalent to coming home from war, and uses the Odyssey, the story of Ulysses and his ten year return journey from the Trojan war, to explore the stages we must go through as we settle into a new life.  The modern world of business, after all, is fraught with winners and losers, often intense one-on-one competition, and sometimes brutal encounters, warfare by modern means.  Robinson uses Ulysses's adventures as metaphors for the inner, spiritual journey we can go through as we step back from the daily demands and pressures of a career. 

 

Personally, I have found that the growing freedom of retirement is also one of it’s most challenging aspects, as it allows a host of anxieties and other uncomfortable emotions to surface, feelings I was successful in keeping at bay under the pressure of work.  But I have found that when I'm able to face these feelings head on, often with the support of a my mentor or therapist, they have lost their charge over time.  They all arise from the past, and to intentionally bringing them into our own nonjudgmental awareness allows them to heal, a process that over time opens up energy and creativity.

Here are some questions to consider as you think about retirement, whether it lies in front of you or you are already in the process of retiring.  Think of them as Zen koans, and the easier you find them to answer, the less likely it is that you have really uncovered what there is to find within them.  As with koans, it is far better to work on questions like this with a teacher or mentor who can encourage you to think and feel more deeply.  Also, don’t worry about whether they make sense to you; their power comes from considering them whether or not you consider them “real” or “true” questions.  In fact, these questions can open us to a reality greater than the shallow, materialistic world most of us have been raised in.

  • What was I born to do in this lifetime?

  • Why did I chose this particular set of life circumstances, what is my life lesson?

  • What have I learned from my career, and is there more to learn, or have I learned what there is to for me?

  • What do I have to let go of, both inside and outside, at this transitional time in my life?

  • If I have one gift to give the world, what is it?  Have I given it fully?

  • What is my legacy so far?  What would I like it to be when I die?

  • Write your obituary, as it would read now, and as it might read twenty years from now.

 

These are only some of the questions you can ask yourself to help unfold the layers of protection we so often build over the course of our education and career, layers that hide the desires and passions of our heart and soul.  Writing answers to them, then tearing the answers up and rewriting them after a few days, can be a powerful way to explore them.  Keep asking them.  And feel free to contact me if you have questions about them or if you want to explore how we might work together as you transition.

Two poems in My Poetry in particular, Settling In and Stepping Away, are about my experience of retiring.  By the way, writing poetry is one new thing that has emerged since I retired

Photo Credit: Lisa Geers

Retirement