Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unsurprising Surprises

Like most everything else in the world, we should not necessarily be surprised by what happens when change begins. Just because we plan on the change, try to think through it, even believe we are ready for it, when it comes right down to it, we are clueless about how we will respond.

Or at least we need to be open to be surprised, shocked, enlightened and expecting the black swans we didn't know would happen to us. Last week the black swans came out of their hiding place and I was surprised that I was just like everyone else.

"This is what happens when you move into retirement," my wife said as I couldn't figure out why I was feeling like I was. "It can take months to be ready for this."

"But I was so ready," I wanted to say. "Why is this happening to me?" Yep, that good old fashioned expression of terminal uniqueness. Yep- I'm unique just like everyone else. That means when, even with a year of planning and processing, as the events truly do unfold, you begin to realize that this is really happening.

The times aren't changing- they have changed! It is a whole new world. All the things that move along with this change of movement toward retirement is one of those major life-events that bring to the front all the feelings of loss and grief. It is a time, again, when the passage of time becomes more than real- it is right there in your face. "Look at me! See me! This is real!"

It is as much a step into the unknown as the graduations from high school or college, the new career or new job. Even looking at this move as a "third career" for myself insulates me from some of the underlying issues of mortality, physical ability, health and change.

Then word came that a colleague had died suddenly. He went for a bike ride and collapsed. He is just ahead of me by five years. He is the first of my cohort to die in our older years. Several have died of cancer, AIDS and premature heart attacks. This one is that reminder of reality.

So I have been unfocused, distracted, angry, sad, working harder at staying healthy (bargaining?), depressed and just generally denying things.

I wasn't supposed to do these things. I was supposed to have worked hard so they didn't happen and I could just slide into this whole retirement with no repercussions. In short, I wanted to do it without the pain and the fear, the uncertainty and concerns that always happen.

But here I am anyway. Just like you or anyone else. So w hat do I do about it?

The same thing I have learned how to do over the past 25 years- accept it and move through it. Make the most of what I can do and let life happen. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind, of course:

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
But that is only the beginning. It is a deep sense of acceptance that must also be rediscovered anew each day. In order for that we all need to learn to look inside ourselves and be honest about what is happening- and then talk about it. Other people are essential to that process. They call us to be aware- mindful- of who we are and what is happening. Denial is not a healthy place to stay. It gets us stuck in what was instead of what can be.

So for myself, this (re)newed awareness empowers me by pulling me out of where I was into where I can go. That's all I have. That's all any of us has. So take that energy and channel it into hopeful and productive actions.

Let's see how that works.

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