Learning to Appreciate the Bridge
I wrote last week about always wanting to have my next plan in mind so that when my current activity ends, I have a focus for my thoughts and energy. That has served me well in lots of ways in my adult life because it’s kept me moving, but there is also a downside to that approach. If I always have a next big thing, I don’t have the down time in between to process what I’ve done or where I’m headed. But I haven’t thought of it that way until now.
It turns out, that bridge between activities or events or jobs or relationships can be as valuable as anything on either side. It doesn’t mean it’s always fun, but it provides a transition area, a place to take notice of where we've been, where we are and what we want. For much of my life, just having to be where I am has made me nervous. I haven’t relished the anxiety of not quite being sure what's coming, and I’ve hurried to the next thing in order to quell that unease. I’ve been advised by more than one person, for example, to give myself a year after retirement to figure out what direction I want to head. I understood the concept, but the idea of living in the unknown for that long made me nervous. I wanted to have an answer when people asked me what I’d been doing.
I can’t quite see what’s on the other side, but I’m going to trust myself enough to explore as I move forward, and to be present enough to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
What’s interesting, though, is that I realize I’ve done this anyway, whether it was comfortable or not. I did it the first time I retired, too, to a certain degree, but it was all too nebulous for me to learn much from the open time. When you take a year to just float and see what interests you, it actually requires a commitment to just be, which is not my strong suit. But thinking of it as a bridge has given me a more comfortable place to stand. I don’t feel as much like I need to choose or hurry. I can stand safely between two sections of my life and reflect.
I know my own personal reasons for being uncomfortable with unknowns and transitions, but I also know that our whole society is in a hurry to the next thing on the list. Granted we have graduation ceremonies, New Year’s Eve parties, and retirement roasts, but we don’t usually encourage people to relish where they’ve been and reflect on where they might want to head. I was in high school when I watched Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate” as he floated mindlessly in his parents’ pool, while they stood poolside urging him to figure out what he was going to do next. It’s what we do—we keep moving, no matter what.
Covid-19 slowed us all down. There’s no doubt about that. And whether we’re still working from home or not, most of us had at least a little time to think about what we value, how we truly want to spend our time, and what’s important to us. I expect that, in the future, the pandemic will be viewed as a kind of bridge between one way of living and another.
Still, it isn’t easy to slow down this much. I feel awkward and uncomfortable not knowing what I’m going to do next or even what I want to do tomorrow. We have lived our lives on such treadmills that stepping off one to just observe the scenery—and ourselves—is anxiety-producing at best. But I’m realizing now that if we never stand on these bridges between parts of our lives, we don’t necessarily move to the next thing with thought and intention. Often, we go there simply because it’s the thing we think we're supposed to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve thought that I need to take golf lessons because I’m retired—not because I love golf.
So, I’m learning to appreciate the bridge I’m on now. I can’t quite see what’s on the other side, but I’m going to trust myself enough to explore as I move forward, and to be present enough to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.