Most people have hidden in their souls—“I always wanted to…”
When I was fourteen, while living in France with my parents, we attended a Formula One championship automobile race at Spa, Belgium. The roar of the cars, the beautiful girls, and the international jet set congealed into a full-fledged teenage fantasy for me. I wanted to grow up to be a race car driver. I eventually outgrew that dream and many others along the way to adulthood, career, and now ‘retirement.’ Most, if not all of my childhood dreams turned out to be fantasies, not grounded in the real world. How many people can actually be an NBA star or have a hit record? Like it or not optimism and hope can only take you so far, after all the hard work and discipline as noted entrepreneurial expert, Joe Robinson says, “Luck always factors in.”
Most people give up those fanciful dreams and accept the received values, tastes, and activities of society to define their life. They find a tribe or group to identify with (often sold by the media) and then emulate those opinions, tastes, and values. But they don’t renew or inspire, because they can’t. They came from someone else. Renewal later in life compels shifting goals from the extrinsic (money, status) to the intrinsic. Unless some kind of lightning bolt from the Pollyanna’s Secret hits me, I probably won’t write a number 1 best seller, so it behooves me to focus on inner goals for satisfaction and achievement. But inner goals are inherently squishy, so I look for metrics to confirm I’m succeeding, but not for fame or money, but to confirm I reach people. I still want achievement, just like back in the career days, but of a different kind.
Occasionally, a certain mood descends on me. Recently, I woke up at 3 am and stared at the ceiling. Thoughts bombarding the stillness: What is the point in writing and publishing? Who really cares? Later that day, I went to my local non-chain coffee house and looked out the big picture window and watched people in business attire scurrying around. I once played that role and quit when the suit became too small for my soul. I don’t want to go back, but keeping on the path of renewal and reinvention isn’t easy either.
I’ve achieved a lot of my inner and outer goals since retiring (art exhibition, publishing three books, Victoria Falls, getting up late every day, and more), but not all. Some goals elude me. I either don’t have the perseverance (learning guitar) or the courage to start over (move to the tropics). I still have a bucket list, but at times the will to pursue disappears. Then it is time to renew and like this season, autumn, let the dead bury the dead. As this season demonstrates, leaves fall and a new cycle begins.
Reinventing takes work and like a job requires time, effort, and maintenance to sustain it. I chronicled my initial reinvention journey in Living the Dream Deferred and at times it was tough, at least as tough as advancement in my original career in education. Now that I’ve been into it for a few years, I can report that real re-inventors are few. Most retirees settle into some long time leisure interest and occasional volunteer work, traveling, or continue their original career. For brave or crazy few that strike out into the brave, new world, it is an on-going process.
Real reinvention demands courage, creativity, and commitment–courage to take risks, creativity to find your own path, and commitment to mission. But different from the first half of life, my goals have become more intrinsic, less extrinsic. The extrinsic markers, (in my case; sell a few books, get some hits on the website) don’t sustain without an underlying purpose or mission.
Courage is not about being fearless or getting rid of fear. It takes heart to pursue a dream and look silly, stupid, bad and then get up and do it again. As the renowned teacher Osho says, “Courage does not guarantee you get what you want, but you WILL grow.” In my life, I’ve always welcomed the excitement of the unknown whether traveling to foreign countries or transferring to a new job—the novelty effect. Courage opens the door to learn new stuff, meet new friends. In other words—grow.
Creativity works symbiotically with courage. We’re all creative all the time, albeit usually unconsciously. But a consciously creative life fulfills a deep longing. I never knew how much I wanted to express myself creatively, until on a whim I took a painting class and experienced the joy of thought-free expression. After a few years of painting abstracts, I was invited to have a show of my work. (Don’t get too impressed, the venue was a hair salon). Rummaging for a title to the show it hit me, what does painting do for me? Liberation. When painting I break out of my constant stream of thoughts, and give form to feelings without words. I called the exhibit Expression As Liberation. If I can do it anyone can. I have zero natural talent in painting.
Creativity provides an intrinsic reward. When I focus on writing or painting, time flies. Neurotic fears and anxieties fade and the muse/ creative flows. And once awakened, the muse doesn’t like to go back in the bottle. The muse can be a jealous lover. At times inner resistance arises and I miss several days writing and my mood goes south. On the other hand, when the muse has had her due; the traffic doesn’t bother me so much, the cloudy day doesn’t seem so dreary, and I expect good news from those I encounter.
Sustaining creative endeavors at any time takes commitment, but even more for older individuals who learn slower. After the thrill of ‘beginner mind’ expression wears off, even minor intrinsic goals of progress often elude the older learner. How does one persevere through the inevitable doubt and failure? I found it helps, when the form of expression lies embedded in my early years.
In my twenties, I wanted to change the world through writing investigative exposes like Woodward and Bernstein, but quit writing (except for the occasional barroom poem) due to the profession’s inherent instability. Five years ago I picked up my poetry again, did some open-mikes and eventually published. The creative wheels greased, I then pontificated on local politics from my blog SM Babylon. My blog exploring reinvention, Living the Dream Deferred, followed. Now, when my commitment fades, I remember my young and idealistic self who wanted to change the world through writing, and then put hands to keyboard.
As a youth I imagined freedom would be behind the wheel of a Formula One car. The road course of life has taken me through many detours, dark tunnels, and box canyons, even now in post-career life. Dead-ends may slow me down, but I don’t stop. Freedom is an inside job with outside activities. If a roadblock appears then I make a pit stop for support and recovery, then get back in the race. The power to persist comes from deep seated, sometimes unconscious passions, desires, and talents. I regularly ask myself: Can I self-validate? What are my intrinsic goals and values? How do I detach from external pressures?
Retirement from the career world is a chance to reinvent, maybe take on a new identity, and rekindle the flame of life. Dig down and release your creativity, find the courage to experiment, and make the commitment to cross the river to renewal.