Retirement

The "Lost and Found" of Transitions

The end of something is often the beginning of a transition, the transition from what we know and is familiar to us, The Known, through to The New. Lost our job. Lost our relationship. Lost our health. Lost our home. Lost our community. Lost our way.

Feeling Lost and Feeling Loss-ed.

Feeling lost can be overwhelming, a mish-mash of feeling loss and what I call feeling “loss-ed”. Feeling the losses in our life, the losses of who we are, like a part of us is missing. Feeling confused, conflicted. Feeling empty. Feeling grief. Sometimes it can feel - unbearable.

Feeling lost in a foggy swirl of thick overwhelm filled with confusion, numbness, chaos. Wanting to protect ourselves, hiding under the covers with a cup of tea, or vodka, or a bag of chips, maybe a carton of ice cream. Wishing for a moment of clarity to nudge us, to awaken us from our comfortable or not so comfortable stupor.

Landing in the Unknown, in mid-space, unsure of “What’s next?” “Who am I now?” “Who am I without it / him / her?”

Some part of us that wants so badly, is working really hard for things to be normal again, to find the “next”: the next relationship, the next career, a new home, a new lifestyle. Sometimes we force ourselves ahead into the “new” or “next”. It takes Trust, the kind where we trust ourselves and our process.

And, the finding!

Swimming in the ocean, we can see the shoreline, suddenly a wave comes from nowhere, the undertow tugs us, pulls us underneath so that we feel as though we may never come back up, like we cannot find our breath. Until we feel something, something within pulling us up, and we see tiny glimpses of land coming into view.

manswimminginocean
manswimminginocean

Those tiny glimpses of clarity, those moments when they peak through, they are what we wait for, what we hope for, what we wish for — the excitement and relief of finding. When we feel even a little bit ready, there are many ways to starting finding “the next” or “the new”:

Read a book about it — biography, fiction or how-to. Read newspaper, magazine or blog articles about your "next". Watch a related film - documentary, biographical or fictionalized - or simply for joy. Move your body to move your thoughts — swim, walk, dance, whatever works for you. Commune with nature - spend time outdoors for relaxation, well-being and sparks of creative ideas. Create a fort or sandcastles with your kids or some kids. Take a workshop on something that fascinates you. Make art. Make music. Take an improv class. Brainstorm a list of what is important for you in your “next”. Declare your intention, be it tiny or large. Acknowledge what you are learning, your disappointments and wins. Connect with others who are experiencing it too. Discover new resources and share them.

No matter where you find yourself, in the place of lost, in the place of finding, or in the place of found, appreciate being wherever you are in your process. It is the building of your resilience muscle and the magic of being present to what is possible, that is transforming.

Surprises: What are the surprises we have after we leave?

Read the previous posts on this journey: A Dream Is Born and Climbing New Mountains. I have had several surprises since leaving my adventure-filled vacation in Nepal. A few surprises happened immediately upon leaving, others took weeks and months.

Surprise 1. The sun knows best. I was surprised to find out how much I enjoy rising before the sun and setting not long after the sun. i sleep better and more soundly when I follow the sun’s lead (most days).

Surprise 2. How little I need. Shelter, food, water, clothing, heat and electricity — the basics. It makes me wonder about the messages trying to persuade me to buy or do something because I need it. Not really the truth though. Do I need more clothes? More accessories? More decorations, more tech, more pretty shiny things? Nope.

Surprise 3. I enjoy smelling natural and earthy. I liked trekking and not showering, not shaving, not washing my hair and not laundering my clothes. I felt powerful, primitive and rebellious. It was so contrary to the North American ideal of cleanliness using a gazillion hygiene products to not smell, to not smell each other. I like knowing how I actually smell.

Surprise 4.How much stuff I have AND how hard it is for me to part with *my* stuff. The trek leaders offered us the opportunity to donate clothing at the end and it was a struggle for me. I rationalized that I would need the items when I travelled on or would continue to wear them when I returned home. Which I did and do. And I could have given stuff away and been fine. I had an opportunity to let go, to share and be generous. I realize it is not easy to detach from “It’s mine” and “I still need this”.

DSCN0986
DSCN0986

Surprise 5. The power of sticking to a daily plan. The trek leaders kept our group on a firm schedule which kept me focused, striving and challenged. Without it I probably would have stayed an extra day to rest my sick, puking stomach and then got caught in the snowy mess ahead preventing me from climbing higher and reaching base camp. Sticking to a plan made the difference between getting “there” and not.

Surprise 6. The intensity of North American consumerism and consumption. It was a shocking surprise to return to North American culture and values and be met with December holiday commercialism, the superficiality of celebrity culture, retail culture, and fitness culture. I felt bombarded by the amount that was promoted, marketed and sold to me, especially with the focus on “you you you” and “me, me, me” rather than “we we we” or “us us us”.

Surprise 7. Feeling spiritually full. I noticed how it felt to shift from feeling spiritually full to empty. I experienced having my spirit feel sumptuously full and fulfilled that my body needed little food to energize itself. I felt energized by what I was experiencing, seeing and doing. In contrast, I noticed the spiritual emptiness to urban life as the days and weeks passed and I settled back into a more sedentary life that was rich with resources and opportunities but lacking in nature, movement, community and connection.

Surprise 8. How the Nepalese listen and Canadians talk. When I arrived in Nepal, I immediately noticed how the Nepalese listen deeply and with full presence. They are able to be in silence, be with silence and allow silence to hang. In contrast, North American culture is all about the talking. Arriving back to Toronto I was surprised by the amount of constant, loud talking. We talk at each each and talk to make our opinions known.

There were surprises where my core personal values came alive in fulfillment and resonance, or when I experienced an inner chafing, a personal struggle of conflicting values.

There were surprising moments where a few of my core personal values declared themselves and wanted me to honour them more.

There were surprising places where I experienced a struggle between my values and those of my culture and society.

Surprising insights and realizations can happen when we leave anywhere or anything: Leaving a vacation place. Leaving a workplace, a job, a career. Leaving a relationship or friendship. Leaving home. Leaving an experience. Leaving a habit. Leaving a lifestyle.

Being aware of the surprises we have after leaving can not only give us important insights into ourselves. It can also help us understand and honour our true self.

What have you left?What things have surprised you since leaving?

Conscious Career Transitions

"Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional." Glenda Cloud

Going through a career change or contemplating one can be a daunting and exciting experience. As with any transition, we’re asked to let go of “what was” in order to create openings for “what will be”. Becoming mindful of what it feels like to let go of something very important is a powerful exercise in and of itself.

When I think back to that day four years ago when I left my secure, stable job as a health care professional for entrepreneurship, I realize now that there was no way I could have anticipated much of what I was to experience. As many of you reading this have experienced through your own career or life transitions, it grew my self-confidence as I realized dreams of what I can do and who I can be. What surprised me were some unexpected ways I felt a sense of loss and what opened up for me as I moved through it.

Letting go of the credibility that came with being an established and experienced clinician. Having to establish myself all over again in a new profession aroused feelings of anxiety, excitement, a sense of being lost and occasionally freaking out. It opened me up to what it’s like to live in this world without having credibility, a valuable exercise in self-esteem and sincerity. Starting over and stepping into being a beginner, again, re-connected me to the power of beginner’s mind, to being a life long learner and to being authentic about my not-knowing. 

Letting go of the status of being associated with an honourable profession and working for a world re-known organization. I had to let go of experiencing the prestige that came with my title or naming my workplace and having people recognize it. It offered me the possibility to experience who I am without status which was an important lesson in humility. I also began to explore who and what I wanted to associate and be associated with and I learned that status was not necessarily a factor in making my decision.

Letting go of a professional network in order to create a new community of colleagues, collaborators and co-creators. Letting go of the informal connections with hundreds of co-workers, clients and community members whom I befriended and saw on a regular if not daily basis. I made a concerted effort to stay in touch with many but even so, there were relationships that I grieved for not being able to move past the specifics of place. It created an opportunity to reflect on who I wanted in my professional network, evaluate how I was as a collaborator, co-worker and community member, and to experience transitions in my professional relationships.

Letting go of stuff — papers, files, books, binders, CDs — or the historical and procedural information that belonged to my previous professional career. I held onto them thinking that at some point I might need them. Over the years, I’ve let go of them in stages in such a way that I’d feel comfortable with what remained. This was a big one - it was both a concrete and a symbolic act of creating space for my next career. The lesson I learned is that the skills, knowledge, experience and know-how I acquired is there for keeps and can be accessed anytime.

Letting go of how I used to network, promote and find support. Working for an organization meant that it did the marketing and promotion so that its clients found me. I didn’t need to understand or know how to use social media. There were skilled administrative staff who analyzed my statistics and reimbursed expenses, and IT staff who were available to offer technical support when computers weren’t having a good day. I missed not having that network of supports readily available. It opened me up to developing new skills, innovations, ideas and resources. If you had told me four years ago that I’d have my own website, a monthly newsletter, a blog, that I’d be using social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Wordpress), that I’d be coordinating and leading tele-webinars, and e-classes, that I’d figured out how to straddle traditional communication with the latest technology, I’d have stared mouth wide open with incredulity. 

Letting go of financial security and relying on a salaried paycheck to be automatically deposited into my bank account every two weeks. I’d held certain beliefs and attitudes about money that I wasn’t aware of and only realized as I left my stable position. During my career transition I realized that I wanted to change my relationship with money to one that was conscious, mindful and respectful. Even more importantly, I learned the spirituality of money, what it means to do without, how little I need and new meanings for success and abundance. 

Looking back I realize that the wide, open space of my career transition was overwhelming in the “not-knowingness” of re-creating my professional identity and career. Going through the The Unknown stage in transitions gave me an opportunity to pause, to appreciate, to reflect, to clarify and to vision who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do and with whom. It taught me what it would take to realize my dreams to find new meaningful work that would be aligned with my core values, important learning that I will take forward to future life transitions.

What other losses would you add to this list? What realizations and opportunities opened up for you as you let go?

 

Ageism Goes Both Ways

Having worked for many years in geriatric health care, I believed that ageism, age-related discrimination, happened most often towards older adults. It was only when I began my interview project “Our Thoughts on Aging” in 2010 that I realized that ageism can happen towards young people too. As I interviewed people from their 20’s into their 90’s, young adults shared their stories about ageism and people reminisced about ageism that had happened to them when they were young. It seems that as we move through life, there are ages and stages when we can find ourselves more vulnerable to ageism: adolescence, young adulthood and then again later, past the safe zone of “regular adulthood” when grey hair, wrinkles and frailty become visible.

Ageism runs both ways in the life cycle. You can be told you’re too young or too old. 

A close friend, Julia, shared with me a vivid incident that happened to her when she turned 13. She recalled an exchange with Laura, a friend of the family who was like an aunt to her. At the time of her 13th birthday Laura had said to her, “Now you’re thirteen, you’re not a child, not yet an adult. You’re a non-person.”

Julia remembered thinking, “It’s not true. Just because I’m a teen does not make me a non-person. How could she call anyone that? It’s so wrong!” She realized later this was Laura’s personal belief and attitude about teenagers.

Laura’s notions conflicted deeply with what Julia felt was the truth about herself and about being a teenager. Although she rejected Laura’s belief about teenagers, it still left a vivid mark. What if this had been someone closer or more important to her like her mom or dad? She may have slowly come to believe it and internalize this belief about herself. It was her first experience of ageism.

Laura had said something that is usually kept silent. What Laura had spoken is what many people say through action.

Do or did you ever feel like a non-person as a teen?

It seems that the shielded safe-age zone — the time when you’re free from potential missiles of ageism — is that time in-between pimples and wrinkles, between freshness and sageness. And when you’re in this “safe-age zone” of adulthood, it’s less likely that you’ll hear “you’re too young” or “too old”. You’re in the middle — protected and safe-guarded.

In the ageism zone, missiles are launched towards youth and seniors, sometimes from one to the other, sometimes it’s those in the safe middle launching active missiles at the others:

Kids these days!

Seniors are so slow. They take forever.

She’s become really old-timey.

Teens today think they know everything.

When was the last time you rolled your eyes or said something negative about the young person texting or attached to their iPod or on Facebook — again? I know I haven’t had the most complimentary thoughts! Or noticing the senior taking a long time walking across the intersection with their Rollator walker and hoping that it won’t be you someday?

And what to do with internalized ageism, those mixed messages that tell us that we are worthy if we look fresh and youthful, have a history of work experience, are married, own a home or have a sizable bank account?

What can we do about it? Consider these ideas:

  • Notice when you say “I’m too old” or “I’m too young” to yourself, or others who say that “you’re too old” or “you’re too young” to do something — it may not be the truth. It may be internalized ageism.
  • Find meaning and value in leisure. Too much leisure can leave people, at any age, feeling like they have little sense of purpose or value in their lives and in society. Too little leisure can create a sense of dispirit in one’s soul. If you’re interested in exploring this further, click here to read my blog post The Power of Leisure.
  • Find meaning in your aging. Read how other people find meaning in their aging process in Our Thoughts on Aging interview project.
  • Experience a balance of work and leisure throughout your life. Explore various kinds of work: school or academic work, personal growth work, volunteer work, house work, community work, philanthropic work, advocacy work, creative work, project work, and of course, work for money.