Last week Barbara Moses, one of my favourite leadership columnists who writes in the Business section of the Globe and Mail, suggested doing an inventory of recent accomplishments that have produced intense life satisfaction.
I decided that I could do a quick inventory of some of my ordinary retirement accomplishments in the past few months.
I have learned to focus on my own happiness. After more than 40 years of working full tilt I was exhausted when I retired. As I made time for things I love to do, I gradually found my old self and realized how much I needed time just to be ‘me’. Solitude grounded me and helped me to rest my previously overloaded brain. My eyes re-gained their sparkle. The joy of daily life returned.
I learned how to say ‘NO’. I began by rejecting invitations to activities that I ‘should’ attend but knew that I would dislike. These were mostly rubber chicken dinner events that were fund-raisers for some club or group but also included invitations from distant family members or acquaintances. If I had no interest in the event, I refused as graciously as possible. I learned that nobody hates me as a result of saying ‘NO’. I also learned that invitations don’t stop so long as the refusal is polite and unapologetic.
I did a week of media deprivation. I turned off my computer, my TV, my phone. I read no newspapers and did not listen to any of my favourite CBC radio programs. I missed my electronic toys but re-started some old hobbies such as knitting. I found that moving my hands in repetition brought benefits similar to meditation in terms of relaxation. My greatest ‘ah ha’ during the week was that I slept better, possibly because my mind was not over-stimulated. In terms of things that really matter to me, I missed very little.
I have begun some new friendships and have had time to nurture long time friends. Through my book club I met a couple of wonderful bridge players and, along with lunch and great snacks, have spent many afternoons completely absorbed with the strategy and tactics of bridge, a game I had played during university years but had neglected for lack of time. I’ve also had enough time to refresh relationships with people who keep me laughing and who know me inside out — the friends who have sustained me through the ups and downs of the years.
I have taken care of my health. Exercise was always part of my life. In the past few months, I have taken swimming lessons so that I could learn how to breathe properly when doing a front crawl. I also learned the breast stroke and the back crawl. I’m proud of my swimming ability now and love the water. Adding swimming to my repertoire of cardio activities has helped my arthritic joints. I also eat sensibly. To eat well, I cook most of my own food so that I know what it contains. The bonus is that I have lost weight and my appreciative husband has also lost weight — without diets and without giving up wine with our meals.
I’ve also kept up my volunteer activities. I remain active on a couple of boards — Kids Help Phone and the Ontario Mental Health Foundation. Both of these organizations offer valuable services and I can contribute based on the skills and abilities that I developed in my previous career. Participating in board retreats, committees, strategic planning sessions is different in the role as a director than it was as a CEO — and I know that my contributions are meaningful in terms of these valuable organizations.
Finally, I have kept writing. I write every day — journal entries, blog posts, as well as some fun pieces to keep me amused and to keep my brain active. It is my creative outlet. It is also my method of staying in active learning mode. I also enjoy the passive learning from reading, from watching movies, and from the internet — but when I have to put my own words to the screen or to paper, I use a different part of my brain.
I could add lots of activities to this inventory. Many were seasonal diversions or travel or necessary home maintenance projects. All had their charms and their frustrations.
On the days when I wonder what I am accomplishing during retirement I remind myself that I no longer need formal written goals for my life. Nor do I need to measure my success by what I do everyday. This short inventory reminds me that my life is not is aimless; nor is it un-focused. Rather it is filled with activities that keep me growing in spirit, actions that keep me healthy, and diversions that keep my mind engaged and productive.
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