Monday, October 5, 2015

Where It Leads

Retirement!  That is the topic of conversation that typically comes up with my still-employed friends.  That in turn segues into what they imagine they'll do when they reach that stage.  Most have no idea.  They often turn to me and say they wish they were creative like me as if that would quickly solve the dilemma.

I've been at this now for nine years, the same length as my longest salaried position. While pleased with the path I've pursued, I have no more certainty as to what comes next than I did when I embarked upon this journey. I do have tasks that occupy my time... two blogs, six websites, speaking gigs, exhibitions and of course the artwork and writing that fuels those activities. Throw in my reading goals and my workout schedule and I sometimes contemplate taking a sabbatical from my "retirement".

Oddly enough this question of what to do in retirement is not too different from the question our grandson faces on what to pursue in college. This year my husband and I have taken him on several college visits. There is so much pressure on college-age kids to map out their career path right from the beginning. I found myself telling him that you aim in a general direction of interest and fine-tune it along the way. Kind of like a recipe, a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that and maybe some of this for flavoring. That is how most of us find our career and we often change it along the way. Sometimes it's a job we might never have imagined because we didn't know it existed or we had to create it.

I don't think my post-retirement process has been much different than it was when I was 17 and trying to find my way. When I left my career, I aimed in a general direction of things that interested me, artwork and family history. I had discoveries along the way about what the ingredients needed to be, storytelling, public speaking, writing. And just as I returned to school at 28 for a masters in a totally different discipline, I reserve the right to change directions at any time.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to solve the dilemma, to fix the direction. In reality the point is to embrace the dilemma. Work and play, whether pre or post retirement, are about finding our way in a continual exploration of life. And if you choose a creative direction you are really choosing uncertainty, that's the point of creativity. You get to create whatever it will be. And that means at some point even you don't know what it will be. 

And yes, sometimes it feels burdensome, not knowing what form it will take and if you'll ultimately be successful in whatever way you define success. And sometimes you get stuck and then you have to get unstuck.  I've been at that point for awhile. I want to start a new series of artwork that I develop in a different way and I am working on a book, a new and foreign area for me. As I'm faced with things I really don't know how to do, it occurs to me that it is best to do it when I have nothing to lose. There are two points in our life where we have little to lose, when we're starting out and when we've left the workforce. Those are the points we can be at our most creative.  It is no accident that what I am doing now often reminds me of my first job. Both were filled with a sense of feeling my way, taking on new things I had never encountered and the excitement and joy that comes with discovery.

So to those starting out in college or early in their career or those leaving their salaried work life, my suggestion is chill. Feel your way. Don't worry about an endpoint, we ultimately all have the same one. Let your life evolve around the things that intrigue you, the things you're curious about. Then follow your curiosity where it leads.


  1. Susan:
    Excellent advice. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I was fortunate in my work life to be able to move from one interesting aspect of natural resource management to another. Each change enabled me to develop my skills in different ways and provide value for my employer(s).

    I often was concerned when people talked about having to have a plan in retirement. It sounded so permanent. My "plan" involved assuring myself I would be able to use my "free" time wisely and then developing several interests that I could pursue if I so wished. I am pleased to say that I have spent the last 2-1/2 years since retirement moving in directions that are productive and enjoyable. I'm not looking back!

    I do worry that college students are entering college thinking they must end up with a profession. What they really need to do is learn how to think critically and problem solve. If one understands that process, one may pursue nearly any discipline and succeed.

  2. Emily, It has been fun to follow you in your path and watch you explore new directions with energy and passion. And I agree completely on critical thinking and problem solving.The same skills cut across many disciplines. I always say that what I do is solve puzzles and tell stories and that is what I did in finance and continue to do in genealogy and artwork.