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Appreciating what is


If I could replay the last five years of working, there are probably a lot of things I would do differently, not the least of which is to have been a little less grumpy and cynical near the end. But for my own sanity, I wish now that I had focused more on what was and less on what wasn’t. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this because it’s so corny and obvious, but I’m learning now in retirement that the more I pay attention to the things that bring me joy, the more joy there is.

It’s a little like seeing a lovely garden, walking closer to appreciate the flowers, finding the perfect bloom, and then discovering a lady bug right there in the sun. That’s what I’m experiencing these days. Living at such a slower and more open pace, I can look more closely at what is in front of me. The longer glance at that soft slant of late winter light lets me appreciate the shadows against that pale yellow house that I’ve ignored for years. The open schedule allows me to really listen to a friend’s conversation and thus have a better sense of her life than I used to when I was multi-tasking my way through a lunch while surreptitiously looking at my watch to see if I was going to be late returning to work.

Looking back to those days, the ones in which I was competing with myself to see how much a human could do in one day, I see now that one of the reasons I was so miserable is that I was preoccupied with the misery. I made a lifestyle out of detesting the things that bugged me. I wish now that I had taken the time to relish that oak tree outside my office window or the excitement of people around me who were new and felt optimistic. Instead, I symbolically (only barely) rolled my eyes and had to force myself not to say, “That will never work. We’ve tried it a million times.”

I sat across from a lot of people in the last couple of years I was working and urged them to be more open and positive and to remember how lucky we were to have these great jobs. But internally, I was focusing more on the frustrations, the boredom, the long road between there and the day I’d pack my little box and drive out of the parking lot for the last time. It was a bad activity on my part, and not just because it was hypocritical. It was just a lot like spending my time on the couch channel-surfing through infomercials when I would soon need my brains and muscles to run a marathon.

Early in my career I was much more full of wonder than I was near the end, and I really have no one to blame for that but myself. Looking back, I see so many amazing “bargains” I could have enjoyed instead of complaining that what I really wanted was too expensive. So it’s taking some time and energy and discipline now that I’m not working to slow myself down, get a full rich view of what’s around me, and to stop—not just to smell the roses, but to get a kick out of what’s right there among them.