Yesterday I drove past a sign that said “Senior Crossing.” My second impulse was to take a “selfie” in front of it. But my first impulse was to riddle it with buckshot. Back in my Texas wild-west days, I would have pulled out my rifle and done just that. (Not that I ever drove around with a rifle. But I was damn good at the shooting range!) That bright yellow sign would make for excellent target practice.
God, I hate the term “senior.” I’ve learned to let it trip off my tongue when buying movie tickets, but find myself only able to ask for senior rates when booking hotel rooms online or over the phone. To ask in person feels like only calling attention to the obvious. It feels redundant seeing that most people behind counters are so young they would automatically assume I was ancient enough to qualify for senior rates.
And then there is the assumption that, because I am a woman of a certain age I’m retired, or planning to retire sometime soon. With my profession, I’ve long had the luxury of creating my own schedule so I can hit the gym midmorning and run errands during off-times. It’s only lately that I’m often asked, “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” (I hear “dearie” inherent in that question!) “Going to work!” I answer. Maybe a conversation follows about what I do—mostly not.
After these incidents I study myself in the rearview mirror. What do they see? No makeup, damp hair pulled into a ponytail, exercise or yoga-wear, Zumba-colorful athletic shoes. Maybe not my best look, but retired?
I know the “look” of retirement varies greatly! Just peruse all the glossy ads for upscale “retirement at its best” featuring smiling, gorgeous, well-dressed models toasting each other with champagne flutes. I know people who have retired to condos in the city for half the year and travel to warmer climes the other half. Or those who have found lovely homes on quiet lakes in golf communities. But my question is “what would I do on a day-to-day basis?” I don’t play golf, or tennis, or bridge. I don’t fish or knit. I’m far too restless to even imagine a life of leisure.
And I hate being asked when I am planning to retire. “Never!” I answer. The tiny little financial detail that I cannot afford to retire is really a moot point. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t love to have the option of retiring. But what I know in my soul is that I would wither away in no time flat if I were to quit working. I’d be like the guy given the gold watch after fifty-years who drops dead the week after retiring. My meager savings would long outlast my broken heart!
Being a psychologist is my greatest passion. I love making a positive impact on people’s lives. Helping them move through challenges with grace and ease. And, I was born to it. People have always found me easy to talk to. Even as the shy, perpetually new girl in school, I was the one other girls confided in about their problems.
I have also long been a magnet for those troubled, or in need. When, as a young adult, I worked at the phone company in downtown Dallas, several of us went to lunch once a week. The standing question was how many people would approach me during that hour. These were not casual encounters—often strangers touched my hair or shoulders while trying to engage me in dialogue—following me for blocks. The thing was, I never felt threatened, was never afraid. Creeped out, sometimes, but mostly I felt compassion.
After many years of education and training and clinical experience, I’ve come to understand the long, circuitous route that eventually landed me on the path to becoming a psychologist—always the beauty of perspective! And I’m grateful for a career where I can continue to practice, long after I would be forced to retire from another profession. I’m in a field where age equals experience equals wisdom equals value. Unless I have a head injury or develop dementia, I can keep practicing!
Writing is my second greatest passion. Late-bloomer that I am, I plan to keep on going—utilizing my years (and years!) of life experiences to do something I’ve come to love. And in the case of writing, dementia might actually make interesting reading.
All said, I realized how doubly blessed I am. I’m not writing in hopes of running from a career that has become intolerable. And I know that my two careers are perfect complements. Instead of looking at how to retire, I’m looking at how to reconfigure. What I’m searching for now is a different kind of balance in my life—one that is mindful and deliberate. For years, I wrote on stolen time. Now I want it to be dedicated.
As part of my overall plan, I have embarked on a quest for simplicity. I am finally emotionally ready to surrender my lovely Victorian home to another steward. I’ve lived here for 31 years this month, and (to put it delicately) every room reflects the abundance of experiences and gifts and treasures I have accumulated over my sixty-six years. More bluntly put, I have a shit-load of junk I need to sort through and get rid of!
Over these past thirty-two years I’ve helped others navigate their journeys, but I’ve been too close to see my own path. I knew I needed a roadmap to get to my place of self-discovery. Overwhelmed to the point of inertia, I decided to sign up for a nine-week course called “SIMPLE” that combines life-coaching with feng shui. Each week is dedicated to a different area of the home and a different principle of simplicity.
Because my house has four floors, my “homework” each week is a bit more complicated! To simplify, I’ve chosen to do a little bit on each floor, instead of tackling everything—which would have set me up for failure.
The course began two weeks ago and already it is working. The first week I focused on the area representing knowledge and self-cultivation. Now I have a lovely, clutter-free, corner of my bedroom dedicated to meditation, quiet contemplation, and writing—a place to nurture inner-contentment.
The second week was dedicated to the portion of my home representing family and health. The spiritual message was one of forgiveness. I already practice forgiveness, but took more specific, purposeful actions, which paid off within an hour. I’ve continued to eliminate clutter and follow guidelines to create stronger, happier energy in my guest and dining rooms—the main corresponding areas.
What I hadn’t done, though, until this weekend, was the very first assignment. It was to set my three intentions for the nine-week course. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a knack for turning a simple assignment into a dissertation. Three intentions? Only three? I’ve been setting daily intentions, but what did I want to come from the nine-week course? I was pondering constantly, taking notes, journaling the process. And the answers finally came Sunday afternoon, in my writing group.
On Saturday, I had wanted to bake apple pies for friends—from scratch. Something I haven’t done in years. I have a favorite recipe, typed on an index card labeled “Candy’s Apple Pie.” I could see it, but I couldn’t find it! I have three recipe boxes and several folders I dug through while looking. Mindful of my new resolution to throw out stuff I no longer need, instead of just shoving everything back into a box or folder, I carefully sifted through index cards, clippings from magazines and newspapers, recipes from friends. It was a collection that spanned decades!
I’m proud to say I was (fairly) ruthless. Most of it wound up in the trash. I saved a few old favorites, and some I kept for sentimental reasons—those in my grandmother’s exquisite handwriting. But what I discovered in the process was that a huge important part of me has gone missing over the years. I used to love to cook! It was one of my passions and I was an excellent, even gourmet cook. I started cooking when I was thirteen, and the very first thing I made on my own was a cheese soufflé. The recipe was in the red and white-checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and, because I didn’t know soufflés are notoriously temperamental, I didn’t know to be afraid. It turned out perfectly.
How did that part of me go missing? (I have my theories!) I still have a wall of cookbooks in my kitchen and a rack filled with copper pots I found at a flea market in the south of France. I have a collection of Saveur, and habitually clip recipes from magazines and newspapers, but I rarely follow through. I eventually found the apple pie recipe, stuck between food-spattered pages in Joy of Cooking. My pies turned out perfectly.
And there are my art supplies! Moving through my house, I’ll get to them soon. Boxes and boxes of brushes and pencils and pastels. Oils and acrylics and water-colors. A beautiful full-sized wooden easel I’ve had since I was nineteen and have carried around the world with me—but haven’t used in years. Drawing pads and portfolios full of my sketches, now crumbling and yellowed with age. I began college as an art major. Where did I go?
Writing about my desire to reconfigure my life and talking to my writing group about my recipe-box experiences helped me discover and articulate my three intentions for the class—and beyond. I might never again fully embrace my missing chef and artist, but I’m certainly going to try. My intentions are to:
- Discover and jettison whatever holds me down and steals my joy.
- Rediscover and reclaim parts of myself that have gone missing.
- Create a roadmap leading to a reconfigured life—in which there is space and time for all my passions.
All my life I’ve been a caretaker to others. Now, I am also taking better care of myself. Engaging in extreme self-care! It feels scary and exhilarating all at once—and I highly recommend it to all my caretaker friends!
To learn more about the 9-week program, check out www.kristenfinch.com/simple.
And to better understand the concept of feng shui, go to www.simpleshui.com.