In the midst of a festival, I found a classmate I hadn’t seen in forty years. We sat together at the edge of the swirl of activity to intertwine memory and news. Unlike me, my classmate has been building on a single career since graduation. “How many people,” he asked, “knew exactly what they wanted to do by the time we graduated? I was lucky,” he remarked with a smile, “I did.”
The thing is, I did too and it seems to me a lot of us did. But sometimes opportunity does not knock before resources run out, dreams go astray, circumstances change, or we grow.
Just as I graduated, the expected avenues for an aspiring symphony musician’s career disappeared. Public funding for arts dried up; corporate support for the arts (and for long-term research and development) fell victim to the first waves of downsizing and outsourcing. In the midst of this confusion I found Richard N. Bolles’ worker-affirmative and extremely helpful book, What Color is Your Parachute, a manual for job hunters and career changers. This annually updated resource remains one of the best guides for folks seeking personal direction and career development
The basic idea, in Bolles’ view, is that to find the perfect career, one must discover not only the talents and skills one prefers to use (and ultimately one’s calling in life) but also discover key elements like one’s preferred responsibility level, income requirements, home and work environment. A key to discovering all of that is to discover one’s ideal lifestyle.
By now I am an experienced “parachutist,” so I took a reconnaissance spin through Bolles’ self-discovery exercises the minute I knew I was considering retirement. After all, retirement is but an umbrella under which we start new enterprises whether it be perfecting one’s golf game, writing a book, traveling the seven seas or starting a non-profit.
Thus, Marie Kondo’s (the Japanese art of decluttering) blithe remarks that we are to begin the decluttering journey by imagining an ideal lifestyle makes perfect sense. What made me smile, though, is that she doesn’t recognize for a minute that building a dream toward which we aim is not such a light process.
Bolles has us begin by writing ten stories of past accomplishment in which we take especial pride. We are to describe what we accomplished, how we accomplished it, and why we liked accomplishing whatever it was. From these stories we find the common threads of activities that, if you will, bring us joy. From a decluttering point of view, knowing what it is we want to be doing in retirement dictates what to bring and what to leave behind.
Find ten stories of accomplishment and where they point. So we’ll know what we’ll be doing. And what tools we need to do it. Try it. Maybe not the writing, but maybe make a list of ten of your most cherished accomplishments.