For 30 years I have been sure about my role. Who I was. I’ve not worked all of that time but even when I took time off to raise my babies or switched positions, I still knew who I was. I was her/his mom, his wife, their boss, the manager, Nana. I had not anticipated my identity being unclear. Who Am I without a title? Or a paycheck?
Maybe a better question and one I have been spending a considerable amount of time contemplating is…Who Do I Want To Be? What an amazing opportunity to be able to ask this question at this point in my life. I believe so many of us get on a path long before we know who we are or want to be, but more because the college placement test said we had an aptitude for, fill in the blank. Or like me, a physician sees something in a young women, working in a lumber yard, and hires her to run his private office. Fast forward 25 years and I’m running groups of surgeons, never really having thought too much about if I liked what I was doing; it was just what I did.
Now, two months into this new life of not working, I’m wondering what I want to do when I grow up, or more precisely, Who I want to be. And I’m learning some really valuable things about myself that I am not sure I would have learned until much later, if ever, without this time of healing and regrouping.
I need to be Creative
The first thing I am learning or maybe just becoming more aware of than ever before is that I need to create. It is part of my core. Without the ability to be creative I lose my ability to be creative. Its a circle for me. The more creative I am the more creative my brain can and wants to be and I have to feed that need. It is healthy and allows and provides great joy in my life. I did some travel recently and thought I could just not create during that time. That I would be ok not doing anything creative. Whether it be painting, paper crafting, knitting or macrame, I thought I could just go without for a bit. I was wrong. Without that creative stimuli I am not thinking creatively. I find myself blank as I try to consider new projects that I should be seeing options for. My brain is wired to create and not doing so alters what I can see as possibilities for everything. So this week, with a friend’s generous offer to borrow her craft box, I painted. And was reminded how much I love it! I found myself smiling as I filled water bowls and laid out paint and canvas. Creativity is part of who I am and I need to make sure it stays as one of my top priorities.
I need to Give Back
Another thing I’m learning is that while I am enjoying the opportunity to focus on me, getting healthy and strong again, I can’t do that for 8 hours a day…or more. I have found a quiet rhythm to my mornings that I am enjoying. It includes some quiet reading, yoga, a workout that varies based on how I feel on any given day, a study that is pointing me towards my purpose and meditation. It also includes meal planning, shopping and prep which I really enjoy and some other little household tasks. But as I approach the 8 week mark, I am understanding that I am not going to be ok living days on end focused only on myself.
With that in mind, I have volunteered to help out locally. I need to give something back. I don’t need to own anything and I don’t want to manage any one, I just want to interact with people, have a purpose and feel like I’m doing something good. I’ll find a niche, but for now a few hours each week volunteering is just fun and really fulfilling.
You really can wash your Hair every other day
Ok, this one may sound a little silly but I’ve just always been afraid to try not washing my hair daily. Even when it was long, it got washed and blow dried every day. I was always worried that if I tried it and it looked awful, I’d still have to go to work and well..have a bad hair day. So, with the encouragement of my stylist and no ‘work’ to show up looking bad for, I tried it. And what do you know…its really can work! I might be the last person on the planet to get it, but I’d say BIG life lesson learned. More so in broader terms though, of being willing to try new things or things I’ve been too afraid to try before.
I need a balance of Alone Time and Together time
I’m discovering that I am not very comfortable doing things alone. I grew up in a large family, so alone time was a rarity and as an adult I have worked in places surrounded by people. In all my jobs I usually had a lunch buddy and then had my family when I got home. For years I had close friends who I planned most outings with ensuring I rarely did activities alone. And if given a choice, I’ll usually pass on an activity even if I really wanted to do it, if I have to do it by myself. As I look back, I can even see one promising job that left me alone for hours on end every day. I was so discouraged by the atmosphere I left after only 8 weeks.
So, part of my experience of growth that is becoming clear is learning to be bold and brave enough to do more things by myself. And for me, that is not a understatement. Sometimes I have to literally tell myself, out loud, to be brave. Not for things like going to the grocery store, but to know that for a majority of days I need to actively seek out and find activities to fill my time and much of that time might mean doing things alone since my husband is still working.
I’m learning though. I have found multiple activities that I have now marked on my calendar to do weekly that I enjoy immensely. One is listening to a musical group that get together for a jam session weekly. I stumbled onto it one day and have made it part of my routine to go listen. I’m engaging with a new group of friends who have a similar schedule as mine and I’m looking for new things to try including a jewelry making day. Ironically, I am also learning that while I enjoying doing activities with others I also enjoy some down or quiet time. I used to have it on my commute to and from work. An hour or so to just listen to music, pray, and be with my own thoughts. Finding the perfect balance is the key and I’m enjoying the process and finding new activities and friends along the way.
I really Enjoy Yoga
Yoga has always been a bit intimidating to me. All those crazy poses, held by lithe, long haired beauties all smiling while toning and being fit. I imagined them easily sliding between each pose never needing to pause or give themselves space to just be still. But, with the encouragement of my daughter and with my decision to do what it takes to get healthy, I committed to 30 days of at home Yoga. And while I have not turned into that lithe and toned 30 year old yet, I feel so much better. I enjoy that time in the morning allowing my body to stretch and learn itself and its boundaries. I’ve enjoyed seeing the progress I’ve made in a short time and I know I feel better on the days I do it. I’ve even started using Yoga for specific needs if I wake up with hip or back pain. I’d say the practice of Yoga will be one of those things I do for the rest of my life. What a cool age to try something new and love it!
I still wake up every day amazed that I get to be here doing what I am doing, or not doing. And while I never want to be patronizing, this whole learning yourself at 51 is hard work. Learning who I am and more importantly, who I want to be is an amazing, sometimes tear-filled and often surprising journey.
If you’re like me, we sometimes look forward to retirement thinking how nice it will be to have nothing to do. And I get it. With the schedule and race so many of us run it can be an amazing thought. And can even be something we choose to do, nothing that is, for a while. But the last thing I’m learning quickly, mostly because this life transition happened without a lot of heads up, is how important it is that we discover who we are and the things that bring us meaning, joy and purpose because day after day of nothing to do can be as taxing on ones soul as being overwhelmed. We are made to have purpose and live our best life. I am enjoying the journey of self discovery, even if its sometimes uncomfortable, to know a better me, the person I really want and am supposed to be.
While this is not a complete list of what I’ve learned so far, it is the top few things that were most surprising to this point. I have a hunch this list will continue to grow as I live out this adventure. What are you learning about yourself that is surprising you? I’d be interested to know if you’ve discovered things about yourself that you didn’t realize before and how you’re incorporating those things into your life.
Until next time…