Long before I retired, I knew that I wasn’t going to spend my post-work years just relaxing on my porch or playing golf. I was drawn to the idea of reinvention and repurposing, and I was ready to put my whole mix of talents and skills into a pot and create something different. I enrolled in a second graduate program, explored some new interests, started traveling more, and met lots of people along the way. Today, more than three years after retiring, I’m actually back doing my very same job for a semester, but I’m also a different person in many ways. That result, however, has very little to do with my conscious effort to create a new version of myself. What I’ve realized is that reinvention is incremental and it’s happening all the time—if we let it.
And if we welcome it? All the better.
When I was younger, I prided myself on knowing who I was, what I wanted, and what I believed. Somehow it seemed important to have it as clear as possible. It made me feel less vulnerable if I could list my values, interests, and goals. But somewhere in my 50s, I realized that all that certainty hadn’t really served me well. It occasionally prevented insecurity and personal questioning, but it also kept me way too safe. Even with that knowledge, it still took me a long time let go of the need to control things.
I have a strong enough belief in my ability to meet challenges now that part of me is eager to see what’s around that next bend.
Despite what was previously only imagined control, when I began letting new dreams, wacky goals, and heretofore “that’ll-never-work” ideas start to grow in my brain, the real reinvention began. I wasn’t even aware of it at the time, but I just started to see myself from a different angle. It was like gradually adding a different look to your wardrobe and realizing that it changes not just how others see you, but how you feel about yourself.
Before this, I had a hard time calling myself a writer, because this wasn’t how I made a living. I wasn’t really a traveler because I hadn’t been to the Far East or Africa. And I wasn’t a person who was good with technology because I didn’t know how to use Photoshop or Excel. Last year, when I wrote my regular blog post from an apartment in Paris where I stayed for a week by myself, I realized I was becoming someone else. I still had gray hair and blue eyes (although even the hair color was relatively new since I’d stopped dying it only a few years back), I was still married to the same lovely woman, and many more parts of my life were exactly as they’d been for years. But I could feel a shift inside me and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d once imagined it might be.
There have been many other changes, as well, most too silly and incremental to even mention. What’s important is the sense that I don’t know where I’m headed exactly and I can live with that. One long-held attitude in my life has to do with resisting chaos at all costs. There were countless small versions of turmoil in my family when I was a kid and my tendency as an adult has been to run from it like a sprinter. In reality, this reaction isn’t always possible, it’s rarely necessary, and it almost always means I’m going to miss an important lesson or an unexpected positive development. So part of allowing my reinvention to evolve as it will is letting go of old stories that simply don’t hold the power they once did in my life.
The other benefit of welcoming this unfurling of life is the sense of possibility. Granted I can’t exactly say what will happen in the next year, or really even in the next week, and that used to make me crazy. But I have a strong enough belief in my ability to meet challenges now that part of me is eager to see what’s around that next bend. I went to a conference last week and discovered that my opinion about an issue in community college education had transformed almost completely from the days when I was certain that I knew what was right. I was surprised when I realized the difference in me, but then I had to remember that the world is always changing. It has to be a good sign that I am too.