Monday, October 17, 2016
Sometimes in life we reach a turning point, and turning sixty is one of those times for me.
I have always seen life as full of possibilities, and have had a constantly evolving list of things I want to do some day (as contrasted with a list of things I have to do, which is a different story). To be fair, I have accomplished a great many things on that list. I am very good at focusing, figuring out a step by step plan, and buckling down to do the actual work. What I have not been so good at is committing to a particular line of inquiry, career plan, or workplace over the long term. Or to a particular vision of who I am and the life I want to lead.
I have taken to heart the adage, "follow your passions," although with considerable introspection at each major zig or zag of my life and career. While at each major turning point I knew with certainty it was time to make a change, the direction of the change was less clear. I have an eclectic set of passions and interests that have pulled me in various directions. A partial list includes the following: language, writing, art, outdoors, wilderness, skiing, family, food, environment, health, design/development, teaching, problem solving, organic food gardening, stories, reading, travel, parenting, leadership, ideas, communication, human relationships....
My decisions also have been shaped by a healthy dose of pragmatism. For example, from the time I was in my teens, I have always known that I wanted to have skills that would allow me to independently support myself throughout my life. So, for example, when I was seventeen, trying to decide between whether to go to art school or university, I chose university. And when I graduated with a BA in Linguistics, I then went on to further education that allowed entree into a profession where there were lots of jobs. This choice was practical, but also followed my passions for language, teaching, and communication (but backgrounded my passion for art).
There are trade-offs in every decision. For every path followed, there are many paths not followed. You can never go back in time to take those other paths. Take my possible life as an artist. What would my life have looked like if I had followed that path instead? Now I will never know.
At this point, you, the reader might be saying, "Oh, come on! There's nothing to stop you from throwing yourself into your art now, if that's what you really want to do. After all, that is the beauty of retirement. You are not required to work for a living once you retire, using up all your time and energy in the employ of someone else. So it is a golden opportunity to pursue those deferred passions. Or even to let go of all that anxious striving and just be."
And you, dear reader, would be right. I am standing on the threshold of this period of open possibilities, looking out toward the future. After a zig into senior administration, I am now about to zag to...something else. The trouble is, I don't know what. There are so many possibilities.
It is much easier to look backwards. When I look back, I can see that aside from the life changing events that fate dealt me, every major decision about a change in direction in my life or career was preceded by a period of reflection, weighing of factors, and goal setting. For better or worse, I have ended up here, author of a good life, but struggling to write the next chapter.
There are so many choices! In the past, the way I responded to having to choose one direction over another was to console myself that it was only temporary -- somehow I would find a way to do it all. Maybe I wouldn't be able to do it all simultaneously, but surely I could do it all consecutively.
As I have considered the possibility of leaving my career altogether and fully retiring, I have suddenly come up with a plethora of new projects that I would like to do within my career before I step away, enough exciting ideas to keep me going until I am 90! But if I go down that path, I will never find out what it is like to devote myself to my art. I will never finish writing those novels.
The thing is, now that I am sixty, I realize that my time horizon is getting shorter. Choosing one thing over another has consequences, because I don't have all the time in the world. (Of course, I never did, but that was easier to ignore when my own mortality wasn't staring me in the face quite so obviously.) If I buckle down and use my remaining time to do those work projects that I am inventing for myself, Rob and I will just keep getting older and at some point we will be too old to ski that powder or hike in the Alps.
I think that some day I might get to a point where I'll say, okay, enough with all these goals and this striving. This is it with trying to achieve in this area or that. This is as far as I get. And guess what -- because of never committing to any one thing but trying to do it all, I will see that I didn't do any of those things as well as I might have if I had been more focused. I hope that I will judge myself with compassion. My old self will know that life really isn't about what you do and accomplish at all.
But I'm not there yet. I still have so much I want to do. However, time is getting shorter, so I have to choose wisely where to put my efforts. I have come face to face with the realization that I can't do it all, after all. That realization is having a paralyzing effect on my decision making about what comes next. Whatever choice I make feels too much like choosing to put all my eggs in one basket, too much like closing down possibilities, too much like giving up.