Guest Blog by Richard Campbell, M. Ed
Two Forks in the Road
Laura Winston is 55 years old. An intense Type A career professional, she has decided to step away from the day to day business of event planning. She owns the company but has promoted her second-in-charge to full managerial status. The change has worked out well – except for her. Moving into her third act in life has seen unexpected hurdles. Having more time with her grandchildren, more travel time, and more me-time have left her feeling unfulfilled. Laura Winston is having second thoughts.
Susan Foster has had enough of the workforce. Her high-level work with the city government has become more politicized and at 62 years of age, it’s time to go. But to where? Retirement counselling has given her a template upon which to plan but something is missing. She’s not sure what it is.
Laura and Susan are two very different people sharing a similar experience. Each has moved into the unchartered waters of retirement. Neither is content. Both are waiting in the wings for their third act to begin.
This sense of anticipation is common when change happens. It can be a frustrating experience for people who want to move forward. Perhaps Voltaire said it best: “We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.” This can be especially true just after retirement or a significant life change. We want to get things done – to make life happen – but we just don’t know the direction. Yogi Berra wrote: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But to where?
Transforming ourselves from one lifestyle to another does not just involve change, it demands that we embrace it. A simple concept but how can we do this? Forget a game plan. The last thing you need at this point in time is structure. Structure means enclosure. It means being locked in. Instead, let’s examine a concept that has always, and will always, exist. It remains a secret that lies buried just beneath the shiny human exterior. It’s called the creative pause.
Harnessing the Power
Many of us live with the 5-day workweek mindset. It allows for a break, a time of refocus, when our brains can recharge, and quite often, see things differently on a Monday morning. Too many of us forget that it can also be harnessed for change.
Existential Psychologist Rollo May once wrote: “Real freedom is the ability to pause between stimulus and response, and in that pause, choose.” He is saying that we need to break the chain in what we are doing everyday. The pause need not be filled with something new, rather it can just be as it is – a pause – one where you have opened yourself to the moment. Our greatest life turning points have often come through this backstage door.
This is how Laura Winston is finding her creative pause. The irony of course is that there is nothing to find. Purposeful searching involves structure, a plan, and that has always kept her in the maze. Instead, she has made two commitments.
1) I will be open to whatever opportunities present themselves to me. I will never say an immediate no to any of them.
2) No matter what I do during my waking hours, I will stay open in my heart and mind to new ideas.
Three months into her retirement, Laura rediscovers an old passion. A friend has invited her to attend a private showing in an art gallery and this rekindles her own desire to paint. At this point she is able to move past her creative pause time and begin executing her game plan. Her third act is ready to begin.
Susan takes a similar journey. Her two commitments reflect those of Laura. In addition she has chosen not to worry about her future, trusting that all will be okay. Her creative pause is different only in that it leads her to a musical discovery. Susan attends her local symphony orchestra concert and for the first time, sees it in a new light. She too once played the violin. She marvels that in all the years she has seen this orchestra, she has never linked it to the music she once made long ago. Her creative pause allows her to connect the dots between past and present. Claude Debussy once wrote: “Music is the space between the notes.” Susan makes that connection and is now preparing to move into her third act.
Let the Show Begin
Laura and Susan are two examples of people who have taken control of their destinies, not by brute force or rigid planning but by trusting in their own journey. They have recognized that a third act can be as different from the second act in life as that one is to a first act.
Yogi Berra’s quote – When you come to a fork in the road, take it – now has a different meaning, probably what he intended all along. He is telling us to embrace change and bring it upon ourselves rather than have it foisted upon us. The creative pause gives us that advantage. Albert Einstein said it best: “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”
Richard Campbell has his M.Ed in Adult Education and is co-author of Writing Your Legacy: The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, released worldwide by Writer’s Digest Books. He teaches life-story writing with Windstar Cruises on their transatlantic crossings. He can be reached at: www.guidedlifestories.com.