Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: retirement

From Strength to Strength: New Read

Just before my glorious weekend out of town, I started reading From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks. Why pick this one up? I can’t possibly even BE in the “second half of life” since I’m clearly far too young, but alas…I am…chokes…nearly fifty years old. And I am already starting my “retirement,” so I think I qualify.

And now I hear you asking, “Retiring from what, Michelle? You haven’t had a career or even a job in nearly twenty years!” I may not have worked outside my home, but I have been a housewife AND homeschooling mom and since my boys are finally (mostly) out of the nest, “Hello, Retirement!”

Let me tell you, it is a big shift. One I didn’t even realize was starting or would hit me this hard. Retirement is rough, especially if you’re a driven kind of person and you fully enjoy your career.

I found myself asking, “What’s next?! Is life over? Does retirement mean sitting here, reading a book until I die?” And then running around screaming and crying from time to time, much to the dismay of my poor husband who is NOT retired and works from home.

I’ve been doing some serious soul searching the last few years, and this book is only another chapter of that story, some research into another point of view. I decided to order it after I read one of Arthur C. Brooks other books, Love Your Enemies.

This morning I read this:

“The aspen tree, it turns out, is not a solitary majesty, as I learned by sheer coincidence later that day from a friend who knows more about trees than I do. He explained to me that each “individual” tree forms part of an enormous root system. In fact, the aspen is the largest living organism in the world; one stand of aspens in Utah called “Pando” spans 106 acres and weighs 6 million kilograms.

That “lone” aspen I was looking at was no such thing. It was simply one shoot up from a vast root system – one expression among many of the same plant.”

from strength to strength

I made a mark there in the book, a bracket around the paragraph and a small heart. I need to remember this picture, I thought.

Then I started thinking back to yesterday, when I met my sons for dinner out and spent over an hour talking about college classes, work, surfing, and philosophy, over some amazing tacos. We somehow got onto the idea of Buddhist enlightenment, when my eldest reminded me of the one drop in the ocean idea, where we discover we are everything and everything is us, a part of the whole and the whole at the same time. Once we realize it, we see ourselves in everything. My youngest chimes in with “Like a bubble popping. You float along, realize you are the whole and pop, you’re gone, dissipated and there but not there.” We stopped and thought about. Yeah. Nice.

This morning, on the way back from coffee with a local friend, I stopped at the post office to pick up a package. Waiting in line, I looked around me. The woman in front of me smiled and set down her package on the counter. We laughed together at the face the woman behind us made at having to lick an envelope. And it hit me: these are other aspen trees.

I smiled slightly, internalizing the moment of realizing that I AM connected to these seemingly disconnected people. My reaction to them changes them and theirs changes me.

We may look like we’re each a standing “lone” tree in this world, but we certainly are not. Like those aspens groves, beneath the ground our roots are all one system. Each of us has an affect on the other. When one falls, another grows taller. When one sways, the others sway with it.

Here’s what he says on the next page:

“The secret to bearing my decline – no, enjoying it – is to be more conscious of the roots linking me to others. If I am connected to others in love, my decrease will be more than offset by increases in others – which is to say, increases in other facets of my true self.”

My extended family, my friends, and those I connect with online and in person every day are what make life and death beautiful. Those connections, that love, lasts forever in the roots beneath the soil.

Am I Productive? Or Am I Just Coasting Through Life?

The feeling is overwhelming for a housewife and stay-at-home mom. It feels as though everyone around you is doing something big. Everyone else is living productive and satisfying lives while you waste away, folding laundry, making beds, and chasing children in an attempt to keep them from running out into the street or generally making a nuisance of themselves.

As you all know, my active parenting days are coming to a close, and I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering what is to become of me. I feel like I’m being put out to pasture. The feeling of retirement is especially poignant for a homeschooling parent. My career is at an end people! What am I supposed to do now?

“Relax and enjoy it!” I hear people say. Please, people. I’m 47 years old. I can’t spend the next 30 to 40 years watching Netflix and reading books…or can I?

Today, I saw the following graphic on Mark Manson‘s Instagram feed and became exasperated. Live consciously doing WHAT, Mark!? Ugg.

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After a short grumpy session with my husband, and actually listening to his encouraging words for once, here’s what I came up with.

1. Do fewer things.

I got that. Over the years I have cut back and then built up and cut back again. It’s hard to find the sweet spot, that place where I’m doing only what is essential to me, not too much and not too little. In general, I only take care of and focus on, the things that make me who I am. Finding out what those things are has taken me most of my life.

2. Do those things deliberately.

Yep. I have a list that keeps me on track. I make sure to do those things regularly. When I ask myself, or others ask me, why I’m not doing more for…whatever it is…I can look at that list. My dance card is full. Each day is filled with my essentials.

3. Do them to completion.

Something I struggle with that from time to time. When I’m consistently not getting something done, I have to ask myself if it just doesn’t fit in my schedule or if it’s turning out not to be important to my bigger goals.

4. Share them with others.

Here is where I’ve run into a brick wall lately. Share what with who?! I mean, come on. I’ve been a housewife and stay at home mom for the last 19 years. What exactly is there to share? “Look I dusted and vacuumed the living room!” and “Nice laundry pile, right?” I don’t create. I don’t add to the GDP. I don’t produce anything.

But then it dawned on me. I have been creating something very important every day for the last twenty years, a happy, healthy, and organized home. My positive attitude about that work has waxed and waned over the years, the same way it did when I worked outside my home. That’s called being human and having emotions, but it doesn’t mean my work is pointless or not worth sharing.

So who do I share that product with?

First in line is my family, the people I support with my “work.” The house is clean, the laundry done, the yard in good repair, there’s food in the house and dinner is ready. Sure, that’s good, but what about my attitude? What if I am happy and at peace, proud of my work, and excited to be the support team for them? How awesome would that be if my husband came home to a happy wife when he was done working? Wouldn’t it be better for my sons to see a proud Mom when they were done with classes or home on vacation? It might make their lives a lot easier if I were more satisfied with my own work, instead of coming home to, “But all I did today was pull weeds and do the dishes!”

Second, my blog and social media feeds. This life we chose, housewife and mom? It’s pretty damn rewarding. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. And we can be proud of the work we do in the background. All kinds of businesses have background people, support crews. That was the kind of job I did before I had kids and I was damn good at it.

Home and family are no different. My husband works in the world and brings home money. My children are making a way of their own in the world. Me? I have always been the support for that, something they don’t even realize they need until it’s not there.

Attitude about your work can change everything. I have been productive. I have been and still am filling a need in this world. Now that I’m not so busy with little kids, finding ways to share it with others outside my home through this blog and my social media feeds has become my new outlet, a way to encourage other people in their journey. I’m hoping I can do more of that as the years go by. Who knows where it will take me!

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