Your occupation is what you do, not who you are
By Victoria Leo
A human being is an infinite universe of potential thoughts and actions. Yet, because of the requirements of life — a need to get food, create shelter, raise children or chickens, care for the physical animal with rest and social interaction — that infinity gets shrunk down to, at best, a series of engaging careers, or perhaps just one.
For so many of us, the career is just necessary labor to earn money to purchase the necessities of life, with perhaps a hobby or two thrown in. A full-time commitment to earning one’s living soaks up so much of our lives. Those of us who’ve been blessed with the opportunity for a rewarding, engaging career can look at what we’ve had, be grateful for the blessing, and not even realize the rest of the infinity that we’ve never considered. Such is the mindset that dogs many of us as we approach the possibility of retirement from the requirements of earning. If you think that you are the career, and you feel the power over your life choices that getting those monthly earnings gives you in a market economy, the future generates fear, and fear is not conducive to inner peace.
For the people who improve their inner peace as they pass their mid-60s, the key — beyond the income issue, of course — is whether they see their life choices opening up or closing down. If we realize that our full range of possibilities was closed down by the exigencies of earning a living, being able to open back up to at least some of those bypassed options can be exhilarating!
The first step is to stop thinking “I am an engineer/teacher/nurse/bricklayer ….” You spent many years in an occupation and you got skilled at it. You may have had a series of occupations and be very skilled at several things. Yet that is still just “what I did.” It is not who you are. You are capable of much, much more in skills-acquisition and just plain fun.
The second step is to make lists of what you used to enjoy when you were a kid. Yes, ice cream, but what else? Within the activity that you used to love there is a kernel that is eternal. Snow sledding is snow, but it’s also exhilaration; it’s nature, it’s social. What else has one or more of those elements? And then, what are the dreams that you dreamed that you had to give up on in order to fulfill obligations to loved ones? There’s a reason why so many elders develop a passion for art, craft, writing, creativity in every way and form: Creativity is the major aspect of human life that we are most likely to abandon in order to be a successful adult.
I had a helping and healing profession, which made it doubly hard for me to step away and allow others to take my place in the income-generating ranks. Yet I also had an advantage in a 50-year meditation and inner peace practice. I also had a vision of people as so much more than just their career label, and I looked forward with great joy to my own years as a creative. In the years since I retired from my profession, I have explored every imaginable artistic medium, and I engage in several of them regularly. I created and co-taught (with hubby Rick Baird) several creativity classes at various OLLIs (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) around the country, sharing my own knowledge and my conviction that saying “Oh, well!” and laughing are the two essential responses to any “learning experience.” I also spent two years learning the skills of fiction writing, wrote a stand-alone novel, and am now on novel No. 6 of a seven-book science fiction series. They bring joy to those who choose to read them.
Heading into our 60s, we have so much wisdom, acquired as we navigate a long — sometimes tough — life. “Retirement” allows us to swim in the wisdom that flows from us as a fountain, making the whole world more beautiful, if we give ourselves the chance to explore and revel in new experiences the way a child does, but with that discernment of our wisdom.
You paid into Social Security for a working lifetime; use the income you’ve earned to give yourself the gift of a new life.
Victoria C. Leo is a science fiction author and playful artist, living in Jackson County south of Ashland.
Send 600– to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org).