“The crash after the sugar high” is the other title I considered for this blog. The experience that I hear most often described for the start of retirement is this: there was a small dose of anxiety and a huge dose of delightful anticipation before 3rd life was launched. There are daydreams to never see him again when you bump into John in the elevator at work, whom you could not stand for the last 21 years. You feel elated by the thought of never have to report to him again, ever. Then the retirement honeymoon begins: there are such delectable moments of ignoring your alarm clocks, shopping in the middle of the day, booking flights on Wednesdays just because you can. Encores in this stage glow. Next time you go grocery shopping look around; you can likely pick them out. They have an easy smile most of the time. They seem to be levitating. They let the shopper who is grunting in frustration because they chose the wrong checkout lane, go ahead of them. They are HAPPY and they assume this is what life will be like for the rest of their retirement. Why should they not just love this experience? They worked hard to get here.
Then sometime between 2 weeks and 24 months, the first moments show up when encores notice they feel less happy. They feel restless, bored or dissatisfied with their day or encounter with a friend. Something is missing. Maybe it is just a bad day, maybe it is indigestion? But subtly the thought is creeping in “Is this it? My retirement is not as fun as I thought it would be. What is wrong with me? Everybody else on Facebook looks like they are having a splendid time. What am I missing?
Just like the honeymooning couple returning home (from their all-inclusive-cocktails-served in the pool and out of this world-love-exuberance) to the day-to-day life with budgets, chores, and work to establish their real life as a married couple, the post-honeymoon encore is moving into a completely normal next stage of trying to figure out who they want to be and what success id going to mean now. It is a stage that most encores I met took personally, but really it is just a natural stage of defining a new identity, new goals, and pursuits that are ideally aligned with your values like never before. This is the disillusionment stage, and nobody talks about it. It is like miscarriages between women. When I had one, I felt like I was the only woman on this planet this has happened to, but once I told my friends many of them shared their own experience with miscarriages. They had just not volunteered the information before. Why do we act that way?
So, for most of you reading this, be ready for the disillusionment stage to arrive. Once it is arriving it does not mean there is something wrong with you or with your life. It is just the bell that opens the ring for a very deep and personal search of who you want to be now? It is a fruitful and spiritual time of no knowing, of experimenting, and of openness to many possibilities for you now. It can be uncomfortable to lean into the not knowing and sitting with it. But it is also a chance of a lifetime to uncover dreams and yearnings you might have not given yourself permission to even have. It is your opportunity to discover what patterns to your days and weeks feel just perfect for you and leave you energized. It is the ultimate time of discovery of how to do freedom well.
In my work of creating workshops and a one-on-one coaching approach, I have stumbled on something I did not see coming. Many of my colleagues take a direct approach to defining a new life purpose: they took encores through a series of purpose exercises and value clarification work. What I have found in my work as I was preparing content on all aspects of life areas that need to be reinvented, that it can feel quite overwhelming initially to define your life purpose now. There was a heaviness in the workshop room as I walked encores through the purpose exercises. One man told me, “It feels like there is so much at stake. I just do not know yet. I think I am going to need more time to know the answers to these questions of who I am going to be now. I just do not know yet. And it almost feels appropriate to have no idea who I want to be. The not knowing and just trying different things feels healthy albeit uncomfortable.” Well said! So instead, I started to offer time and energy management strategies from the happiest encores. That is the alternative playful, not rushed approach to discovering life purpose over time of being exposed to one time management strategy at time and then experimenting with each one. As encores try on and evaluate the impact of different approaches, activities that are deeply meaningful naturally start to emerge and the process feels almost effortless. Ironically by embracing time management strategies appropriate for 3rd life, each encore could take their unique time and could watch themes emerge that were often synchronistic.
It sounds crazy and counterintuitive to be passionate about teaching time strategies to encores who have all the time in the world. But I am having a lot of fun designing an approach right now that is based on what I have learned with my audiences and clients already. I will be offering them in the form of 5-day challenges online. I will offer one tool at a time and I cannot wait to do so. I am not sure where it will go, but I know that my audience will guide me the way I need to go. Like you, I trust that I know enough to get started. And that is enough.
As the artist Julie Mehretu said: “That’s what I’m interested in: the space in between, the moment of imagining what is possible and yet not knowing what that is.”