Friday, January 6, 2012

Road Maps and Directions

Up until now, I have been somewhat intentionally nebulous in describing this grand adventure to acquaintances and co-workers, and I wonder if I come off sounding a little vague and new-agey. Dare I say "flighty"? I have used terms like "getting my head together", "decluttering my life", and "figuring out what my bliss is so I can follow it".

People who know me well have seen this transition coming for quite some time, and they are cheering me on (and wondering why it took me so long). They have seen what I can do when I have had free rein to indulge my creative self. They have seen how happy I am when I honor my creative side, but they also know the importance I attach to organization and planning.

Right now, my mind and my home are full of new projects I want to tackle, old projects that weren't worth finishing, and things that I promised myself that I would deal with "later". Middle age has left me with less energy at the end of the day than I used to have. A demanding job, coupled with a lengthy daily commute, left me too tired on weekday evenings to pursue my creative endeavors, and weekends were devoted to domestic chores and recovering from the stresses of the week. My "still, small voice" was having a tough time being heard through all the noise.

The organized side of me realized that things were not going to get any better until I could clear out some physical and mental space so that the still, small voice could make itself heard. I needed to "put away that which does not serve", as my yoga teacher puts it, in order to make room for "that which will serve". A few vacation days here and there would not suffice to do the job. It was becoming apparent that trying to shoehorn an endeavor of this size into my existing schedule was utterly hopeless. No, a big change was in order.

I have been pretty good about living well within my means, so I took stock of what I was spending each month and how much of this was discretionary. I have been saving money for my retirement, but also for things like a kitchen remodel and a new car. I discovered that I had enough saved up (not counting my retirement funds) to cover my expenses for a year. I read a book called "Reboot Your Life" that talked about a growing number of people who had taken six months to a year (or more) off of work to recover and chart their courses.

Once the organized side of me was satisfied that I could actually do this, and having a rough idea of how others had done it, the decision was actually very easy. Here, briefly, is the road map that I have laid out. Right now, it looks like one of those maps that show the entire U.S., with just the interstate highways charted out. Over time, I am hoping to focus in more and start filling in the details.

1) I am not retired. Unless I get hit by a bus sometime in the next 5 or so years (and I hope I don't!), I will very quickly outlive my savings if I try to retire right now. Frankly, I am hoping that I will never have to retire. I want to be like Andy Rooney and work at what I love until shortly before they haul me off feet first.

2) I am not on vacation. I sometimes refer to this as a sabbatical, even though my (former) employer is not funding me to do this. I have goals and a rough plan for this time. This means that I am not free to serve on 73 different committees, and I am not just sitting at home moping about.

3) I am not ready to hear anyone's advice on how to land a new job. One theme that comes through loud and clear in my reading and in listening to my friends is that taking sufficient time to clear my head is absolutely vital to making this thing succeed. I need to turn down the volume on all the input coming into my mind and sort through what is already there. I need to spend more time listening to my own voice and heeding my own counsel.

4) There will come a time, probably a couple of months from now, when I will move to the next stage of this process. This will be a time of discovery and exploration. My intention is to go out and explore my local environment -- the Washington DC Metro Area has plenty to offer. This exploration will come with no strings attached. Maybe it will help me plan the next phase of my career, or maybe it will just be a lot of fun. The best creative ideas come when they are not saddled with expectations of productivity. The emphasis during this stage is not what is "good for me" but rather what gives me joy.

5) I have been told, and I hope it's true, that this type of free-form exploration leads naturally to ideas that can be nurtured, developed, and brought to fruition in the form of concrete actions. The previous months will have been spent erasing my mental ruts and broadening my perspective. When I move into this phase, I'm going to be scheduling informational interviews, making career contacts, and exploring opportunities to start acting on my intentions -- and bring in a good income as well. Maybe I will create an entirely new niche for myself, or I may discover my niche in a place that I hadn't thought to look before. I have a pretty good idea of what I'm good at and what makes me happy. Putting that to work for me, making a good living at it, and making a positive difference in the world -- that's what I'm going for. It's less a destination than a sense that I am headed in the right direction.

In the meantime, I am sincerely grateful for the friends who ask if I want to join them for lunch or a movie. I am thrilled at the little spell of warm weather we are having, which allows me to go outdoors and saw boards for my next craft project or take a walk around the neighborhood. I love being able to read the entire newspaper and do the puzzles every day. And yes, darn it all, I'm going to tackle those two boxes of clippings. Tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Your 5-step plan sounds great, Nancy (and of course you've described it beautifully). How nice to be able to put that organized left-brain thinking to work in the service of giving the right brain time to come out and play!


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