My friend Ann recently ended a 37 year teaching career and, to her chagrin, she’s not finding retirement much fun. She’s shocked at how hard it’s been to find something to fill her days, even though she’s gotten lots of well-meaning advice.
“One of my friends suggested I go back to teaching, but I don’t want to do that. Another suggested tutoring, but I don’t want to do that either. And I don’t want to just sit around at home and do nothing, it’s so boring. Another friend told me that I would get used to just relaxing, I just have to give it more time. But I feel like I should be doing something. And my art! I’m not interested in my pottery anymore, I thought when I retired I’d have plenty of time to work in my studio, but now I don’t want to!”
Yikes, it sounds like everyone Ann knows has weighed in on how she should be spending her retirement. But the only person that who knows what’s best for Ann is Ann herself.
Here’s how she can narrow down her options:
Step #1 – Clear out the “Shoulds”
Notice all the “shoulds” in what Ann said – she should do something, she should relax, she should teach, she should still want to do her art.
When you pile on the “shoulds” your thoughts and feelings get lost under all those other voices telling you what to do. Ann has so many shoulds that they cancel each other out – she should be relaxing, teaching and doing her art, all at the same time!
Step #2 – Narrow it down by staying broad
The next step is to start to identify what it might feel like if you already had what you want. If you imagine that you’re in the middle of doing whatever it is you want to do, in a general, non-specific way, you can begin to identify more specific information.
Start by pretending that you’ve already achieved your goal, whether it’s finding the perfect job, spouse, or fabulous vacation. Then ask yourself not what it is, but what it feels like. In Ann’s situation her questions might be:
- What does my body feel like? (I’m active, sitting, I can feel the wind, I’m warm and cozy, etc.)
- Where am I? (outside, inside, with people, alone, in an office, in nature, etc.)
- What type of activity am I engaged in? (helping people, making something, building something, writing, etc.)
- What emotions am I feeling (love and connection, freedom, silly, relaxed, in flow, etc.)
An example – If I’d answered these questions when I was figuring out that I wanted to be a Life Coach, my answers would have been something like:
I’m working alone, very relaxed, in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere. I’m helping people in some way, I’m writing, and maybe doing something artistic. I’m enjoying a sense of freedom at the ability to do my heart’s work. I’m challenging myself, but in ways that I choose rather than what others might choose for me.
Step #3 – Use your insights to start your search
Once you’ve figured out what your job/vacation/retirement activity feels like, you have the information you need to start identifying possibilities. You can use your list when you talk to friends and family and get suggestions based on what you want, not what they think you want. And you can use your list as criteria when you start evaluating your ideas.
It’s clear from what Ann said that she has a lot more information than she thinks she does. When we get rid of all her shoulds, what emerges is the beginning of a very specific and helpful list: Ann wants to DO SOMETHING (all caps, it’s not a trivial something she’s looking for), she wants to get out of her house, be active and engaged, and, clearly, she wants what she does to be new and different.
It’s easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing, you can see by Ann’s story that when that happens progress can grind to a halt. But when we start our search by exploring what the outcome will feel like and then narrow down our options, we’re able to cut though the noise and get to the heart of our desires.