I’ve been thinking a lot about the Pilgrims lately, and not because as I write this it’s a few days after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving represents abundance, yet my thoughts concerning these first New England immigrants have been more about scarcity and how they dealt with it.
Coming to the New World was always a risky venture for them, and to make matters worse, when they arrived, they were not where they expected to be, the mouth of the Hudson River, where the weather was more temperate and soil more fertile.
You need only step into Provincetown Harbor in November, where they waded ashore for the first time, or stand for few moments in the winter wind off Plymouth Bay to imagine their dismay at the miscalculation that had brought them there.
Despite the fact that he had misgivings about the Pilgrims at first (he thought they were kooks), Christopher Jones, skipper of the Mayflower, had come to respect his pious passengers, so much so that he delayed his departure as long as he could.
But on April 5, 1621, almost six months after it arrived, the Mayflower sailed for England, There is a local cafe which has a painting of this moment hanging on the wall. It shows the citizens of the newly founded colony of Plymouth watching the Mayflower leave, taking with it any possibility of going back to the life they had previously known. From now on, they would be alone in a world full of uncertainty and peril, which also offered, if they persevered, the possibility of creating a better life.
Just as the pilgrims were upheld by their religious faith, I am hearing powerful statements of professional faith.
We know, of course, that the Pilgrims made the decision to stay on this barren strip of land by choice, not because they couldn’t sell their houses, but the idea of watching a former way of life disappear on the horizon is one many of us are dealing with daily as a result of circumstances beyond our control.
NO END IN SIGHT
Like many other Boomers, what I have been seeing fade from view is the possibility of retiring.
According to AARP, 27% of Baby Boomers are now considering postponing retirement, and since this statistic appeared early in the stock market decline, it’s reasonable to expect that it has grown since then.I love my work, but I had also hoped to be able to reduce the number of hours I spend in the office to allow for more time for writing, travel, being with my grandchildren—all reasonable expectations for a 64 year old!
But now, not only is this less feasible, given the dismal decline in our investment portfolio, but my services are also more needed than ever, both by my clients who are being affected by the slowdown, and by the people in my community who are suffering as a result of business closures and layoffs. In order to respond to these priorities, it’s likely that work will consume more rather than less of my time.
I had a plan which it is increasingly unlikely I will be able to neatly execute, and it’s very hard to see your hopes disappear. Like any loss, however, time is required for it to sink in, and a period of grieving is necessary.
The sinking in began with my obsessive attention to every news alert, and the grieving came later when I made the decision to attend to the feelings that were coming up inside me, instead of riding an emotional roller coaster driven by external negative stimuli.
Turning inward led me to remember that I had successfully weathered other endings and transitions in my life simply by accepting “what is” and shaping my plans for the future around that reality, not just with a grim determination to survive, but with a sense of possibility of how current circumstances might enrich my life.
REDEFINE AND REDESIGN
The choice to embrace the idea of redesigning my life in a positive way, instead of resigning myself to disappointment, has been incredibly freeing, and I am not alone in making it.
Many of my clients have commented on how they are limiting their intake of bad news so they can proceed unfettered by fear, or how they are making a conscious choice to take an optimistic stance.
Just as the pilgrims were upheld by their religious faith, I am hearing powerful statements of professional faith, like the business owner who said to me, “There may be a recession, but I’ve decided I’m not going to participate in it,” or a recently laid-off client who started a session by saying, “This is the first day of the rest of my life.”
I am buoyed by others’ decisions to take a positive stand, and I want to surround myself with people who can shed as much light as possible on my path into an unknown future.
There are of course, shadows as well, but what I can see clearly right now is that this is a time for service to others.
I’m not yet sure what form that will take, but as I read about businesses closing and people being laid off, I know that I will want to find a way to use whatever knowledge and skills I have to help my neighbors. Just thinking less about me—my 401K, my retirement, my postponed plans—puts me in a better place.
I’m also beginning to get a glimmer of how I might live differently as a working person. The fact that there may be no end in sight doesn’t mean that I can’t change the conditions under which I work.
Something as simple as making a mid-day walk a regular part of my workday, or allowing one afternoon a week for writing, would give more spaciousness to my professional life. Plus, I might spend some time thinking about the pressures I put on myself to perform and find I can create a sense of ease and relaxation on the job!
Like the departure of the Mayflower, the financial headlines that stare at me each morning as I read the newspaper over breakfast are an ending. For years I have been saying that each ending is followed by a time full of creative potential. Why would this be any different?