I had a small business, which a big business bought, leaving me with a blank canvas (at 53), a reasonably young age. But I continued pursuing life as if I were still in business, with to-do lists, time management system and all that. It took several years to metamorphose into the new me. I was surprised at some of the things I decided to do with my time, but for the most part I have been drawn to projects that involve my creative tendencies.
Comment left by the author on Madison Woods WordPress Blog, “Blank Canvas”
I know some financially successful people, people who could retire tomorrow, who say they have no idea what they would do if they stopped working. They say this is why they continue. They are sad about it and they are not joking. They have spent their entire lives focused on their work. It’s all they know. Most importantly, although they don’t admit it, they believe their status in life is wrapped up in what they do for a living. It’s who they think are.
I try to encourage them. I tell them they will never know who they really are until they drift for a while, until they just empty their minds. I offer a metaphorical suggestion: Drop your bottom into one of those big black truck inner tubes on a warm day. Float down a lazy stream until all the thoughts that follow one after another, on the power of association, are gone. When you reach a mental dead-end you will have actually arrived at a new beginning. Now your canvas is blank.
It takes time to shed the symbols, mannerisms, “corporate speak” and attitudes acquired in the work world. It takes time to realize that deadlines are not always necessary. And it takes time to completely empty out the self-imposed and self-limiting choices anchored in your own mind.
The attitudes about what’s important and unimportant in life are the first things that need adjustment.
During my headier work days, I once referred in conversation to “the real world,” meaning the “important” world of pressure to perform and compete, of deadlines, of movers and shakers, and of travel with perks. This comment and my attitude were quickly put down by a few stay-at-home-moms and a guy who went to a regular job everyday. They wanted to know what world I thought they lived in and why I thought I lived in the “real world.”
Today, I would completely take their side. I’ve seen it from both perspectives now. People who don’t have a day job do manage to stay busy – and worthy. They take care of children and the elderly. They do all sorts of volunteer work. They create amazing pieces of writing and works of art, for the free enjoyment of others. The list goes on and on.
Here’s a clue to what’s really important in life: Observe people who are retired. They rarely talk about their past work lives. They may talk about their travels or the people they worked with, but not of the work itself or even their most worthy work accomplishments. Everybody has to work to live, so big deal. (An exception to this is military service, about which older men frequently reminisce, because they see it as something different from just making a living.)
So, what have I done with my own blank canvas? I have become a person I’m much more comfortable with than the person I have relinquished. I have done a turn as a house husband and found out how rewarding it can be. (Yes, ladies, I know I had a choice and it was not automatically expected of me. Plus, Mr. Mom gets praised for things real Moms are expected to do as a matter of course. But you’ve been keeping quiet about the many satisfactions!) I have been able to help others with medical situations (some terminal) and have been the executor of somebody’s will. I have hiked a bit on the Appalachian Trail at age 62, sleeping alone at night in a lightweight tent that fit me like a hotdog roll, and I have encountered bears at close range.
I have become a competitor in the fast world of draw-from-the-holster defensive shooting sports, something I would never have imagined given my previous attitudes. It has tested me, humbled me and given me a new circle of friends. I have volunteered my photographic and video services for Boy Scouts, church, my younger son’s lacrosse teams and to help preserve a Civil War battlefield. I have become my dog’s best friend and constant companion.
Now, just so you know, there’s one more check-in-the-box I need. It’s something I saw on a postcard once in trendy little shop in Austin, Texas. Here it is: I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.