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by Donna Bennett
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Personal growth is a process that requires some degree of change. And, whether you invite it or it is imposed on you, there is usually a period of uncertainty that goes with it. As a result, a certain amount of resistance is inevitable. However, if the degree of change is too painful, you may become so resistant that you become immovable. That is, when you are at the point where you can't go back to what was, and you can't even imagine what could be. When, no matter which way you turn, you are held back by fear, panic and worry. Fear of all the unknowns; panic that if you weren't already uncertain, the dire warnings of others ("You're going to do WHAT?") will get you there; and the worry that no one wants to face: "What happens if I fail?"

It can feel so scary that staying in place seems more comfortable than taking even one small step forward. You see no options, nothing feels right and you are stuck. It's okay and healthy to be stuck for a while if the time is used productively. If not, and you stay stuck too long, you may find yourself in a permanent state of resistance.

So, how can you get yourself unstuck and moving again? You don't suddenly discard the pain. That is unrealistic. Rather, you can choose to take fear, panic and worry along with you. Then watch how they get smaller the more you take action and regain control of your choices and decisions.


The goal then is to make a fluid transition from resistance to revelation. To do that, take an honest analysis of what holds you back. Then without self-judgment or defensiveness, take note of your choices. You can choose to stay frozen in self-doubts and fears, or you can make the transition a productive, imaginative and active time of growth and discovery. How? Begin by using every trusted resource available to you - friends, classes, colleagues, mentors, internet, acquaintances - anyone or anything that informs and increases your knowledge towards positivity and action. This has a wonderful side effect: it gets you back in control of your own life.


When you decide to move through resistance and open yourself to revelation, you take on a protective coat of resilience. Resilience is when you have learned and experienced a new way of moving with and beyond challenges until it becomes a part of you. So that when you come to a new threshold, you can tap into your past times of change and utilize this process to help you move forward again. Rather than "learned helplessness," you learn to take control, and create and manage each stage of your own life. Things won't be the same. They will be different at every juncture. Yet, each time, it will be a personal time of growth that is solely YOURS.

"...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903 
in Letters to a Young Poet.

Later-life choices for our parents and grandparents were limited and predictable; their decisions often made for them, their questions often answered before asked.

Today, our choices for later life are the opposite. We must plan and choose carefully to sustain our quality of life over a much longer period of time. We are faced with questions to which the answers do not easily fall into a 'one-size-fits all' category.

The task before us may be the most daunting of our lives, as the unknowns far outweigh what is known.

Where do we begin? How do we make the task less daunting? Perhaps, the answer lies in Rilke's advice. That is, answer the questions that can be answered, and let the remaining questions evolve.

What are your burning questions? Sort out those you can answer quickly, while also giving notice to those that need more research (e.g., finances, where to live, health care). Then allow the remaining questions to 'live' in you. Questions such as:

How will I spend my time?
How can I find purpose and give meaning to my life?
How should I use my strengths, gifts and experience?
What are my options? My opportunities?

This requires an openness to exploring all that comes your way, without judgment, with trust, wonder, creativity, vulnerability and patience!

Allow space for ideas to grow, and give them time to mull. Some will come and go, some will be tossed around and tossed out, and others can be tucked away for a later look. Bring a trusted friend into this place. Someone who will listen and absorb along with you until, at a time you least expect it, you will be rewarded with an "AHA"! AHAs are more likely to show themselves when not pushed and prodded. They come from the whole of you - your past, present and also your future.

And so, I beg you...let your later life decisions evolve from answers that surprise you rather than questions that challenge you.

Meeting Our Human Needs

When we arrive at a threshold, whether it's a beginning, an ending or both, our focus may shift from our higher order human needs to our most basic human needs. That is, if our basic needs are not being satisfied.

This is a well-known theory of psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and his model of hierarchical needs. Maslow's research shows that if our basic requirements for survival such as food and shelter are not satisfied, it is unlikely that we'll be able to focus on our higher order of needs such as meaning and purpose. Maslow describes our hierarchy of needs in this order:

1. Physiological (food, shelter, water, air)
2. Safety and Security (personal and financial)
3. Love and Belonging (family, friends, intimacy)
4. Esteem (acceptance, achievement and respect)
5. Self-actualization (meaning and potential)

Although we may not have thought of our recent economic plight in terms of Maslow, the upheaval it created helps us to become reacquainted with his theory. And, it may help us understand our inability to make decisions that were less difficult in the past. It makes sense that when our basic and fundamental needs are threatened, we abandon the pursuit of higher order needs. Protecting our basic needs, according to Maslow, will always be necessary to the foundation of quality of life.

Where do you find yourself in Maslow's hierarchy? You may have been leaning toward retirement, or seeking a job with more flexibility to give you time to pursue your dreams. Yet, when the economy crashed, you had to readjust and keep the status quo. Or, you may have lost your job in a downsizing, and are just beginning to get back on your feet.

Decisions about purpose and meaning will not be on our radar if our basic needs are not secured. When we are assured they are being met, we will also need the assurance of a close relationship with family and friends. Then we will be able to move to the higher levels of human needs. As each level of needs is satisfied, we are more likely to focus on self-actualization and think broadly and deeply about our potential for a purpose-filled life.

If it's time to be thinking about your life "post career," yet you feel stuck and indecisive, take a measure of your circumstances. Are your needs being met on levels one, two, and three? Are you recovering from a set back? Or, have you recovered and are not yet ready to pursue your greater potential and purpose?

Wherever you find yourself, and whatever must work itself out, focus on what you can do, and the resources and support you need to get back on solid ground. Put your time and energy there. It's important to understand that things may not be the same as before. This takes acceptance in order to move on. When you feel reassured that you have done what you can do, you will find room to once again seek satisfaction at the higher levels of your human needs.

New Times/New Wisdom

Who have you turned to when faced with tough decisions? When life-changing choices have stopped you in your tracks? Who has inspired you in times of doubt or shared timely wisdom when you were confused? Who have you strived to emulate? Are those same people a fit with who and where you are today?

As you enter a new phase of life, and make adjustments for how you want to live and spend your time, are they the right mentors/advisors to inspire your new dreams, new journeys, and new directions?

This may be the time to stop and evaluate your needs as they evolve and change. As you move from full time to part-time work, exhume your creativity, express your compassion in volunteer work, or try on a new career, what advice, counsel, support, and wisdom will you need? You may want to check in with your current mentors/advisors, letting them know your current needs/goals, and asking them if they are willing and able to join you on your new journey. Or it may be time to move on, while also honoring the ways in which they have served you in the past.

New times call for new strategies and new wisdom.

The key, as stated earlier, is in self-evaluation. While you may not have had time or inclination in the past, at this stage of life it is essential to have a full understanding of who you are, what you need, and the direction you want to take. If you are stuck and unsure, reaching out to new mentors/advisors may be the place to begin.

How will you find them? Think of people you know or whom others know who may be good sources for your current area of need and/or interests. Choose people that have the experience, background, and/or knowledge that fit with your current status.
People want to help. Most importantly, you must let them know how they can help.

What is the best way to approach a potential mentor/advisor? Begin at the place you presently find yourself. If you primarily want someone to lend an ear and no more, then ask for that. If you want advice or counsel, be specific.

Sample questions:

• What skills do you see in me that would make a good substitute teacher?

• I've always wanted to write, but don't think I would be any good. What would you suggest I do to get past this barrier?

• I want to volunteer but want to give no more than a few hours. How do I learn to say 'no' appropriately?

• What classes would you suggest to enhance my learning in technology?

Wherever you are in your planning, and whether you are looking to the future or are currently immersed in the joys and fears of the new unknown, thinking about, choosing, and asking people you want for wise helpers is a good action at any stage in life.

The phase of life most commonly known as retirement carries with it a number of questions. Primarily, "What are my options?" Some options can be determined by answering questions such as: How much money do I have? How much will I need? What type of health insurance will I need? Others are harder to define. Pragmatically, we want realistic answers. Emotionally, we are bewildered by what we don't know.

After living out the expectations of a society that offered lock-step answers for each phase of life (i.e., college, jobs, careers, home investment, raising families, etc.), baby boomers especially feel ill equipped to make choices for a future that is less definitive.

It may help to take a step back, and pose a different question. That is: "What is my intention?" Try writing (rather than speaking) the answer quickly without a lot of thought and analysis. This way, you are more likely to answer from your emotions, the basis for most human actions. When your emotions speak first, you are likely to get to the heart of what is most important.

For example, I tried this exercise on myself and discovered that, while I have a strong desire to spend a large part of my life writing and coaching others, I was surprised to find that the first words I wrote were: "To keep my financial pump primed." Financial solvency came first, and a way to get it done - through writing and coaching - was second. Both are important to me, but until I did this exercise, I didn't realize that one holds more weight, and therefore, requires the greater focus. It gives me the key criteria for prioritizing my actions toward continuing the work that I love to do! Rather than having a "build it and they will come" attitude, the wisdom of having a plan is reinforced in me.

Declaring your intention can help you get to the next step: identifying your options. Once you determine your key criteria for your next phase of life, you have more information from which to seek options. It can also be a way to narrow options you are already considering. Depending on the individual, and the life of the individual who writes it, each person's intention and follow-on actions will be distinctive.

This method will be easy for some, difficult for others. One idea would be to quickly write your intention, then share it with a trusted friend or colleague, and ask for feedback. If you find it difficult to put pen to paper, again a friend or colleague may help, or you may turn to a coach, depending on what you have at stake.

Having too many options, or not knowing what options you have, can act as barriers to taking action. Quickly writing the answer to "What is my intention?" is one way to help you get to the heart of your options, and may help you make informed choices.

"Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks--we will also find our path of authentic service in the world."

Parker J. Palmer

Being of service brings to mind a volunteering of time and talents to help another, a cause, or a mission, while also contributing to a greater good. It's a noble and necessary way to serve and is highly regarded in our culture and society.

There are so many opportunities to serve as a volunteer that it's hard to choose the 'best' or 'right' way. Whatever we do, it brings both a good feeling and sometimes, a sense of guilt, as most of us want to do more. We lament, "There's so much to do, but never enough time!" Which often implies, "When I retire, then I'll have time!"

With all the good that comes with volunteering, it is natural to think of it as synonymous with retirement. It may feel like something we 'should' do. Service and volunteering are often seen as two sides of one coin, yet in reality, it is just one way to serve. Service is multifaceted. One can serve without pay, with pay, or a combination of the two. The key is to think of serving as a "want to." So much of adult life is based on what we "should" do or "have to" do. As you move toward and into retirement, how you serve can now be different. Especially if you have the luxury of choice.

Choosing how you want to serve is easier if you think of it as a process - one that includes thought, creativity, research, trial and error, self-exploration, and discovery. It is likely that you will find greater fulfillment in your work after work if you use an approach of both diligence and discernment. It may help to think of it as a personal project to give and receive good. Then proceed in a framework of choice. This time, what you do, and how you do it will be up to YOU.

Not to suggest that you make such decisions in a vacuum. Those who are impacted by your choices must be included. Rather, it means applying diligence and discernment. Ask and answer the questions that pop up. For example, will you need to be paid? If so, how much? How do you want to spend your days? What will you need to feel fulfilled? Who can benefit from your service? What do you want to learn, and how will you apply what you learn?

Weigh all the factors - health, relationships, leisure, work, learning, financial, growth, fulfillment - and serve in the ways that make sense for YOUR life.

Whether you serve for pay, without pay, or a combination, a process of diligence and discernment lends itself to a full circle of giving and receiving for the good of all involved.

Passing the Baton

As organizations face a huge loss of talented baby boom workers, the need to capture corporate knowledge prior to that loss not only presents a great challenge, but is also a necessity for those who replace the boomers.

The baton must be passed, but not as of old, as it's no longer a simple matter of packing one's personal belongings and moving out of an occupied space. Human Resources across organizations are now asked to prepare succession plans - plans that in the past have been equated more to family-owned businesses. It's a way to ensure that sources of information found in best practices, lessons learned, and personal wisdom, are not lost.

Finding ways to pass the organizational baton is mainly charged to Human Resources, but what about individual batons? Teams, units, and departments are all made up of individuals who hold unique gifts apart from their job descriptions. These too can be lost, if not held as equally important. So, how about you? What will your personal "baton-passing" consist of? What combination of knowledge, wisdom, experience, and talents - beyond your job description - can you pass on to those who follow you? What sets you apart from your peers or colleagues? In large part, it is likely something innate in you. Something that if asked, you may wonder, "Doesn't everyone do that?"

Think of it as 'paying it forward." What do you hope others will know how to do? Will find important to do? Will remember to do? Are you someone who readily offers an unsolicited compliment? Or steps in to lighten another's load without being asked? Do you bring levity during times of tension, or give recognition or gratitude when unexpected? Do you have a talent for giving difficult feedback or hard news in a caring, constructive manner? Are you a good listener? Do people feel heard and understood by you? Are honesty and integrity values you hope will always be on people's radar? What do you want to include on your list?

Like many boomers, you may wonder what you will do or what you will have to offer in the time following your primary career. As you consider
how you will pass your personal baton, your thoughts may also lead to what you will want on your next list: that is, the baton you will pass following your current transition. As you think in these terms, it may help you narrow your choices to the talents, experience, and new learning you want most to have carried forward.

Rather than passively moving on to your next phase, this approach offers an intentional and proactive way to have a rich experience, while also giving you time to reflect on how you will pass the baton to those who follow in your post-boomer footsteps.

You: A Work in Progress

You are not finished. There's more to be done. You've just begun to be you.

In his book, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, James Hollis offers a challenge to those of us who are between thirty-five and ninety years of age:

"In this new century, we have twice the length of adult life than our forebears were granted. Thus we are faced with an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to live more consciously.... We may wonder, 'Since I have served the expectations of my culture, reproduced my species, become a socially productive citizen and taxpayer, what now?' What in short, is the second half of life about... if it is not to repeat the script and expectations of the first half of life?"

Since Hollis's question implies that we spend a large part of our lives being who we need to be, the challenge, then, in our second half of life, is to be who we are.

And who, you may ask, might that be?

The "unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to live more consciously" begins with knowing yourself inside out. If you find this difficult, begin with the obvious: your gender, age, roles, and experience. Move on to your strengths and weaknesses, what you like and don't like, how you spend your time, and what you value. Then, think about your dreams, your passions, and your gifts. Be prepared to notice what stops you as you venture away from old scripts and expectations. What thoughts, emotions, voices (yours and others) deny you a new life script?

The second half of life is the time to honor, respect, and loyally dissect the parts that are you. It's the time to keep what you want, and discard the rest. It's the time to acknowledge and share your personal greatness. Each of us has it. It shows up differently in all people, but it's there. It becomes greatness when "who you are" is manifested authentically.

That is, personal greatness is most powerful when it is mined for the needs of another person, people, or place. I've witnessed it in my friend and colleague who spent her hours and her gifts of knitting, creating beauty, and generating compassion by making shawls for the families of abuse victims. I've seen it in my lawyer friend, who took time to become a Master Gardener, caring for and beautifying the earth. Another friend and colleague is preparing for her second act by training to be a yoga teacher, using her gifts and passion for teaching and serving others.

It takes courage to stand up and profess your authenticity. It can be painful, exhilarating, filled with fear and the criticism of others.

Yet, there is also freedom in accepting yourself as a work in progress. One who is not yet finished, and is willing to begin to be one's self.

The poet Anaïs Nin says it so beautifully, "And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Thresholds. Transitions. Transformations. Moving into a new phase of life calls for courage, guidance, sustenance, and more. Some call it having "true grit." Life beyond career used to be all laid out for us. We followed those who went before - parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. As a society, we ended our careers by stepping out of one way of life and into another. Like it or not, the majority followed the societal course. They left work behind, and replaced it with leisure. It was the way to retire.

Society, however, is shifting and changing in the wake of the Baby Boomers. As Boomers have changed the course of society in each stage of their human development, they also demand a new way to "retire." The old model no longer works. Careers are phased out, rather than ended, and people now look for ways to recycle their personal gifts and resources.

The new retirement has no rules. For one, it is no longer called retirement. Rather, it is more current to use titles such as encore careers, the second half of life, and similar versions that are a better fit. With no rules or precedence to guide us, we must create our own way. So, now there are options. We can do what we want with the life we have left. Where to begin?

There are many valued resources available, but one we often overlook in the process of transition is gratitude. Feeling rudderless, filled with doubt and fear, we typically focus on things outside ourselves and forget to look within. Giving gratitude is one way to do that. It can help us refocus, work out some of the stress, and see things in a new light.

Begin by taking time to look back at your career, your activities, and your relationships. Uncover the places for gratitude. This can be both a humbling and rewarding experience. Find a journal or a notebook and write your answers to the following questions:

What has worked for you in the past? What were your successes, your accomplishments? What gave you energy and a feeling of purpose and worth? Who did you learn from? Who learned from you? How was that learning applied? How did you recover from setbacks, disappointments, and change? What processes did you follow that, looking back, worked well for you? What were you proud of? Where did you receive support? What surprised you about yourself? What do you do naturally that serves you as a strength? If you were to ask five people across the spectrum of your life, what would they say you are consistently known for?

With your gratitude list in tow, revisit any doubt or fear you have about entering a new, unknown phase of life. Your doubt and your list will both serve you. One gives you the grit to stay on edge and focused. The other reminds you to operate from a place of gratitude.

Loss is inherent in the human experience. It is a constant in all of life. Yet, it always comes as a surprise - as if it had never happened before. As if it isn't supposed to happen.
Loss is most often wrapped up in negatives - negative thoughts and words that conjure up negative emotions.

I asked several people, "What words bubble up when you think of loss?" They were quick to offer words such as: regret, uncertainty, grief, sorrow, emptiness, missing, overwhelmed, anger, isolation, separation, sadness, pain, alone, stalled. One offered, "release, hope, and joy."

All had experienced pending or recent losses such as job loss, career change, a parent's health, children leaving the nest, personal health issues, and the loss of a close relative. Some losses were expected, and some "came out of the blue." It didn't seem to matter. Expected or not, with loss comes surprise. With every loss there is change, and what was, will never be again.

While loss is inherent in human experience, many find a need to move quickly away from it. Others choose to hang on to what was, literally and/or emotionally, because the unknown - the place beyond the loss - is too difficult to imagine.

Even when loss is a matter of choice, such as leaving a job or career that no longer fits, leaving a hurtful relationship, relocating, or retiring, there are still surprises. Loss means change and the unknown. Whether planned or unplanned, expected or unexpected, it is critical to our emotional health to grieve our losses. That is, to feel them, experience them, talk about them, celebrate what was, and celebrate what will be. If not properly grieved, our losses will go underground and attach to the next loss, compounding new grief.

What is common in loss is:

what was, will never be again, and what is ahead, will be new and different.

Making the transition from the known and familiar takes planning and preparation. One way to begin this transition is to make a list of what you must say good-bye to (both the good and the bad) and another list of what you can say hello to. Hope is what is possible in this exercise.

As surprise is found in loss, surprise is also found in gain. It can be difficult to imagine gain after loss. Emotions tend to take all the space reserved for energy or new ideas. It often takes something or someone external to get us moving (i.e., a counselor, a class, a support group, a friend).

In the case of job loss or career change, self-discovery can be full of surprise. You may rediscover strengths and talents that, in the past, went unutilized or were underutilized, and are now valued in a new field or endeavor.

As you open yourself to new possibilities, and prepare and take action to move in a new direction, surprise will surface again as you discover that fear and anxiety become smaller, and the unknown becomes more familiar.