© 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?  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 articualted by Bridges decades ago in an earier book, but actually experienced by him in his later years and written about here.  I gave me a strong framework for considering the experiences I was having (and still am from time to time).  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, among others, the point here being good as this book is, it is only a book and can't meet us exactly where we are, and answer many of our own unique questions and issues that arise along the way; this calls for a mentor or someone else experienced in retiring to:

  • answers your questions as they arise;

  • helps diagnose problems and suggest solutions;

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

  • provides encouragement when you feel stuck; and

  • may occasionally suggest that you go just slightly deeper into practice than you had been expecting.

This is where the second book may come in.  Itis 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 are, in my experience facing the same traditionally masculine issues as 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 femine qualities.  

 

Robinson talks about how retiring is the equivalent in today’s world of coming home from the wars as Ulysses did in his ten year return journey the story of which is told in the Odyssey.  The modern world of business is, after all, fraught with winners and losers, often intense one-on-one competition, and sometimes brutal encounters, warfare by modern means.  Robinson uses this analogy to offer a path to a more inner and spiritual opening as we step back from the daily demands and pressures. 

 

In fact, I have found that the growing freedom of retirement is also one of it’s most uncomfortable aspects, as the freedom allows many aspects of who we are to surface, aspects we were successful in keeping at bay under the pressure of work.  But, faced head on with the support of a mentor, is actually very good news, for as these issues (almost always from our past) arise, we have the chance to heal them, a process that takes time and support, but that opens up great energy and creativity within us.

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 as such, the easier you find them to answer, the less likely it is that you have really uncovered what there is to find within you.  As with koans, it is far better to work on questions like this with a teacher, or in this case a mentor, who can encourage you to think and feel more deeply.  Also, don’t worry about whether you think the questions make real sense; their power comes from considering them whether or not they are “real” or “true.”  In fact, the whole opportunity here may well be to enter into a reality that is greater than what we have been taught or come to believe in our shallow, materialistic world.

  • What was I born to do in this lifetime?

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

  • What have I learned from my career?

  • What do I have to let go of, both inside and outside?

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

  • 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 of yourself.  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