It’s a cozy morning with misty rain lingering over the spring-green fields and clouds hovering so low in the sky it feels like Mother Nature has placed a weighted blanket over the day to inspire rest.
“Take it slow” she seems to be saying, “just let the day unfold.”
Speaking of letting life unfold, last week, I had a conversation with a friend who’s retiring from a successful corporate job of more than fifteen years. “How do I go about planning what’s next,” she asked with a combination of excitement and trepidation. “I’m anxious to start my next chapter!”
I smiled and looked into her eyes with the compassion of someone who remembers this stage well. You don’t, I replied. You do the opposite of planning. You relax. Let go. Focus on yourself and allow space to live in your calendar for a long while. That way, what’s next can find you.
At first, she looked puzzled, a reaction I know all too well. But slowly, as my words settled in, her eyes began to smile. That’s what happens when someone gives you permission to get off the wheel.
We live in a world that glorifies busyness, achievement, and extroversion. The idea of stopping to make space to recalibrate isn’t built into our cultural operating system. But it’s important. In the wisdom years, the nervous system deserves a reset.
As I recalibrate my own life, I’m redefining the word “retirement.” I no longer see it in terms of giving up work, but as retiring an old operating system and installing an upgrade. After all, I love so many aspects of what I do that I hope to keep at it forever. That said, the reality is that the wisdom years require a new level of self-care so the body doesn’t have to step in and set the priority for us.
Retirement has become a practice of subtraction and addition, with subtraction leading the way. It has meant, for example, retiring from activities that no longer interest me to explore new areas that pique my curiosity. It’s letting go of worrying about or caring for others who deserve to care for themselves, and learning to regulate my nervous system with meditation and breathwork so the normal anxiety that comes with change finds a friend.
Retirement has also meant releasing some relationships, not because I don’t love or care about people, but because I want to add more time and attention to the relationships that live close to my heart.
We are here for a limited amount of time. Like it or not, it’s the truth. We can extend that time – and the joy of living life on our terms – by making our retirement mean something new. Breaking outdated rules. Stepping over the lines that have kept us well-behaved but bored. And releasing the responsibilities that are no longer ours to carry. It takes courage, I know, and a willingness to rattle a few well-formed cages, but it’s worth every risk.
The Brazilian poet, Mario de Andrade said it well…
“We have two lives.
And the second begins when we realize you only have one.”