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by Donna Bennett
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May 2010 Archives

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.