“How’s retirement” is the question that I’m frequently asked by friends I meet. My usual response is, “I’m working on it.” I think they sense that leaving Exceptional Parents Unlimited after 40 years of working with children and families was not easy for me. They are right. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made.
Working with children and families with special needs of many kinds, provided a constant source of strength, and a clarity of vision and purpose for what I needed to do each day. Watching them courageously face challenges that they never expected with strength they never knew they had created in me the belief that whatever challenges I faced, I would find the strength I needed.
How, then, would I face the challenges of my own future without them?
Once the decision was made and my work days ended, I moved forward slowly and intentionally making four simple promises to myself:
Never miss a local story.
▪ I will make my bed every day.
▪ I will write most days.
▪ I will say no to long-term commitments.
▪ I will surround myself with interesting people.
So, after two and a half years, I’m happy to report that my bed has been made every day, I have written many days, I remain uncommitted and open to new experiences, and we’ve had many wonderful gatherings around our table with good friends, good conversation, and good food.
Yet there still remains a yearning for connection with the work I loved and the smiling faces of the children who graced my life daily.
In making this transition, I have made some discoveries.
Surprisingly, the “To Do” lists, which were such a heavy burden in my previous life now give shape and purpose to each day. They contain chores, yes, but possibilities also.
In some strange way, my lists give meaning and reassurance that I am not wasting my days. They contain those things I always said to myself I would do “someday” because that “someday” is today.
Yet, the days seem strange, as though this isn’t really my life, at least not the life I knew for so many years. I miss the rhythms of the day and week: Every day seems like Saturday!
At times I feel un-anchored, disconnected and lost, while at other times I feel enriched by the time I have to reflect and grow.
Creating a rhythm, with my lists as my guide, helps me feel centered. My morning ritual of coffee and reading provides a quiet starting point to the day. Adding ideas and activities to my lists, I feel new roots pushing into the soil of my life in search of nourishment, yet I realize they aren’t quite ready to blossom.
So, “how’s retirement?” Most days are quiet; others are lonely, yet every day is filled with reflection and curiosity about where the next 20 years might take me. I realize that the deep satisfaction I found in my work will never be replaced, but with more time to spend with family, more time to read and write, and more time for studying the music I love.
I find a new satisfaction coming from discovering things that I had overlooked in the busy-ness of work days. Surprised by my new interests, I welcome having time to explore them.
So, for my friends who ask me this question often in both longing for the end of their own work lives, and with trepidation that their lives will lose focus and purpose, I would say begin making those “someday” lists.
Think about the things you always loved doing but can’t find time for.
Think about those things that you enjoyed in your earlier life and add them to your lists.
Remain open to new experiences and interests. Start practicing now. When the time comes, don’t turn on the TV, but turn on to your “someday” lists and enjoy the time of your life.
Marion Karian of Fresno is the retired executive director of Exceptional Parents Unlimited.