The part of us that creates is childlike. It is filled with awe, alert to new experiences, and mesmerized by the sensory wonders of our environment: the otherworldly blanket of fresh white snow, the enticing smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, the crispness of a new pencil, the mesmerizing allure of a colorful paperweight. For me, Victorian houses awaken a strong memory: the fascinating corners within my childhood home in Libertyville, Illinois. The house was built by a woodworker whose artistry appeared in secret compartments, elaborate carvings, and hidden panels. It was thrilling to tap a special spot on the wall and watch it spring open to reveal the stereo behind it. Roaming through the house was its own adventure— there was an artful effect around every corner just waiting to be discovered.
Young children discover one thing at a time. The tiniest detail sparks wonder. Because a young child doesn’t have the same awareness of time as an adult does, there isn’t a sense of “hurrying” to learn something. Adults often put pressure on themselves to learn quickly or come to a solution immediately.
Just-retired adults are often leaving a structured life where they were an expert— and entering a non-structured life where they may feel, to some degree, at loose ends. The shock of retirement can be startling. Suddenly, endless bolts of empty time loom on the horizon. The possibilities are infinite— and this can be a very overwhelming proposition. Just-retired people almost unanimously describe the early days— even months— of retirement as an acute adjustment.
Richard, on his first day of retirement after a long stint as a recreation director, woke up feeling aimless after many years of daily agendas. When his wife asked him what he might do that day, he replied, “I think I’ll take a bike ride.” And when she asked where he might go, he realized he didn’t have an answer. “I don’t have anywhere to go,” he admitted.
Victor ended a career as an engineer, and in the early days of his retirement he repeatedly wandered into his home office, looking through his books from work. His daughter called to check in, asking how he was enjoying his retirement. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do,” he told her.
It is important to be very gentle with yourself, especially in the early days of a transition. In fact, there is no such thing as being too gentle with yourself at this time.
Many retirees haven’t realistically anticipated the trauma that may be caused by excessive free time. Suddenly left to their own devices, they may find themselves moody and depressed, which in turn leads them to judge themselves negatively. “I should be doing much better,” they tell themselves, struggling to find self-compassion. How much better it would be if, instead of harsh judgments of their failings, they could say to themselves gently, “Of course I’m in shock. I’m in the midst of a huge adjustment.”
It is human nature to crave a sense of purpose, and without one, it is natural that panic might set in as you begin to feel adrift. This is where Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and Walks become a lifeboat. These three basic tools create a structure for your day and for your week. Within this structure, a new ideas and opportunities will arise. At the same time, as you answer simple questions to build your Memoir, you will begin to discover new interests, desires, and direction. Alternatively, you may find yourself reawakening long-lost dreams and passions. A thrilling journey awaits.