Tag Archives: retirement

Unfinished

After my dad retired, my parents spent winters in Florida. Without her home and family to occupy her time, my mother took up a variety of hobbies, including painting. Lessons were offered at the community center in their RV park, and my mother became a prolific painter.

After she stopped going to Florida, my mom set up her easel in an upstairs bedroom at home and painted through her Michigan winters.

When we were clearing out her house last month, we found a painting she had not finished.  

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I took it home.

Something in this painting speaks to me—perhaps just because it is unfinished. It reminds me that we all leave things unfinished.

And I am not talking just about death.

When I left my job in July, I left plenty of things unfinished, projects for someone else to complete—or not. Once we are gone, someone else will pick up our works-in-progress and determine their fate.

I think that every time we make a change something goes undone.

With my work, I had to walk away without knowing the outcome of unfinished projects. I also walked away from work relationships—some old and some just beginning—leaving them without knowing where they might have gone, how they might have developed.

Every letting go is practice for the final letting go.

While looking for something in a closet a few months ago, I came across a white box I did not recognize. Inside was a knitting project I had started maybe fifteen years ago and had set aside when I switched jobs. The new job zapped all my energy, and I stopped knitting for a few years. Once I started knitting again, I hadn’t remembered this sweater, and it has sat unfinished all these years.

I was delighted to find it, and it brought back memories of a trip to Seattle and my visit to a well-known yarn shop where I bought this yarn.

Like my mother’s unfinished painting, this sweater reminds me of my own unfinishedness, of being a work-in-progress.

I am comfortable with being in process, comfortable living in the in-between spaces. Someone recently suggested I am standing on a precipice, and I agreed. My mother has died, and I have left my work—two cornerstones of my life, gone. What comes next is not entirely clear, and I want to stay open to the possibilities.

For now, though, I am trying to stay in that in-between space, where grief intersects with hope.

Weaving

Keep moving forward, the sage advises,

but what if I missed something as I sped by?

Some bit of wisdom or insight that

blurred at the edges and

seemed inconsequential as

I careened through my days

like a meteor on a collision course,

zigzagging to avoid encounters that could blind or maim.

Slow down,

look up,

pause for a minute,

turn around,

pick up the threads that dangle along the border and

weave them into the tapestry.

Waiting

“How is retirement so far?” my older brother recently asked.

“Every day feels like Saturday,” I replied.

“That’s retirement,” he said.

Saturdays have always been my “catch-up” days—grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands, etc. All those things I did not get to during the week were seen to on Saturdays.

With no work and no “mom duty,” my calendar is clear, and I have loads of time to spread out my shopping, housework and errands throughout the week.

Last weekend, I attended a (virtual) retreat for people in transition, and the question that snagged my attention comes from 1 Kings 19:13, when the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

It took me back to when I worked for an adult literacy council and often spoke to community groups about our work. I usually asked an adult learner to accompany me and share how we had helped.

One of the adult learners spoke of the challenges of learning English. She would say that the two questions, “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” confused her because she thought she was being asked two different questions. The word “doing” threw her.

I thought the same as I listened to the question to Elijah. What was he doing there? He wasn’t doing anything, really, just standing outside waiting for God to come by.

It occurred to me that different questions might have been, “Why are you here?” or “What are you looking for?” or “What do you want?”

Now that I am no longer working and no longer caring for my mom—two things I used to do—I am asking myself, “What am I doing here?” and is it ok to do nothing, to just stand outside and wait for God to pass by?

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Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

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hum

I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

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I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.

Raising my sights

A local summer tutoring program offers middle school girls the opportunity to visit college campuses so the girls can see themselves at college—literally. These girls will be the first in their families to attend college, and physically being on a campus helps them to visualize college as part of their futures. These visits plant a seed and create both a memory and a dream.

Growing up, college was not in my future. My parents forbade it, believing that education was wasted on a girl. In their worldview, the best I could hope for was to marry and have children.

When I moved to Virginia after high school and people at work asked me about two well-known universities in Michigan, I had nothing to say. I did not even know which school was where, because those schools were not part of my life and no one had taken me to a college campus to help me see myself there. I had neither a memory nor a dream.

When I was twenty-six, after working at the FBI for seven years, I enrolled in college to get my degree so I could become an FBI agent.

After graduation, my FBI plan fell apart, and I felt I was back where I had started—without a dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I landed in the nonprofit sector, which has been a good career that drew on my talents and developed new skills.

Last week, I was talking with my spiritual director about my future—as in what am I going to be when I grow up.

Ok, so maybe I am already grown up chronologically, but since my mother is ninety-four and still independent, I figure I may have another whole career ahead of me.

Some of my friends retired in their fifties or early sixties, but that was not financially feasible for me. Some of them are spending their retirement volunteering at nonprofit organizations that serve people who are marginalized and vulnerable. My work has been about helping people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so I feel like I have spent my working life doing what they are doing in retirement.

My spiritual director is encouraging me to discern my next steps with an eye toward where God is calling me and to ask, “What is it that only I can do?”

I am starting to dream about my future in a new way. I want to raise my sights and be open to the vocation God is calling me to, even if it seems farfetched.

I have started to pay more attention to what catches my attention—new words, phrases or ideas that give me pause or that inspire me to follow up. I am exploring options with the awareness that I have nothing to lose by reaching out and asking questions.

It is exciting to think about my future as a blank page, just waiting for me to dream a new reality into being.

Tapioca pudding and taking risks

Desserts that have no chocolate rarely appeal to me—why waste the calories?

There are a few exceptions, though, including tapioca.

One of the adjustments I had to make when I moved to Canada was different packaging for a host of food products, including tapioca. Growing up, we always had tapioca in the red box; I didn’t know it came any other way. In the house where I lived in Winnipeg, I found a bag of tapioca in the pantry and decided to try it. I read the directions on the bag, which were different from what I remembered on the red box, so I ignored them and cooked it the way I remembered it.

I hadn’t realized that tapioca in the red box was “instant” tapioca (even though it is called “minute” tapioca). The tapioca in the bag was “old-fashioned,” which means more than a minute.

Tapioca

Of course, the tapioca did not turn out—it was more like thick paste than tapioca—and I scraped the gooey mess out of the pot and into the trash, pledging that I would follow directions in the future.

The memory of that mistake came back to me the other day. I am not sure what triggered it, but I believe that memories bring a message that is relevant to my life today, and I have been pondering what the message of this memory might be.

Had I not followed directions? Had I rejected guidance or advice? Had I done something rash? Irresponsible? Why had this memory come back to me now? And what was the message?

Shortly before I remembered the tapioca incident, a friend and I had been talking about retirement and what we might do when the time comes. I often find myself daydreaming about retirement, even though it is still some years off.

She said she feels God is calling her to generativity.

“Be generative,” I said, and the phrase stayed with me. In the days following that chat, I repeatedly said to myself, be generative.

But what does generativity look like for me? And is it somehow connected to the memory of the tapioca disaster?

In thinking about it, I realized that I used to be much more impulsive and spontaneous. I thought directions were merely suggestions, and I didn’t necessarily believe they were meant for me. It wasn’t just with tapioca, but with most everything in my life. I was more of a rule-breaker than a rule-follower.

Over the years, though, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and I have become much more of a rule-follower. I tend it play it safe, taking fewer risks and being more aware of how things might look to others. I still have wild impulses, but I rarely act on them.

Perhaps, the pendulum has swung too far, and the key to generativity for me is to take more risks and be more spontaneous. Maybe it is time to step out of my comfort zone and take a chance.