A Vision, a Map, and A New Life: Anticipating Retirement

Paula Marie Usrey

Dear Friends,

I believe each of us has the power to live our best lives at any age. To do so, we need a clear vision of what we really want our lives to look like and a plan to make the life we want a reality.  I shared how any of us can do this in my July 2017 TEDx Talk.

I currently teach speech communication at a community college. However in 15 months, I will be retiring. I am using a process I call vision mapping to transition from working full-time to an encore career as a self-employed,  speaker,  coach, writer, training material developer, and workshop facilitator. Over the next 15 months, I will be sharing my journey with you. I’d love to hear your experiences too.

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Entry #16: Social Construction of Reality and Retirement

After the recent Senate vote on tax reform, I was reminded of a theory called Social Construction of Reality. I had learned about this theory in grad school when focusing on the study of organizational communication. Basically social construction of reality occurs when groups construct (through interaction with each other) world views based on shared assumptions of reality. That’s pretty scary stuff!

I realize that I’ve also had some socially constructed world views based on my associations and because of the communities in which I have lived. When we aren’t exposed to different perspectives and views, and when we don’t allow for healthy (but civil) debates, we are more likely to seek confirmation for our own biases (biases that are reinforced by like-minded individuals). As a result, we are more likely to draw quick conclusions that can have serious consequences.

Fortunately, teaching at a community college in a conservative community has challenged me to consider multiple perspectives. Yes, I am a progressive at heart; that is my truth, not the truth everyone embraces. Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to listen to and to consider opposing viewpoints. When I’ve given these different perspectives a fair hearing, I’ve often found my own views of broadened.

In a year, I will be leaving a familiar community and some of the closer relationships I’ve developed within that community. I will miss those connections. I’ll need to build new connections.  When I do, I will also need to seek connections that will continue to challenge my thinking. If I don’t do this, I will not continue to grow. Without growth, I will be isolating myself in ways that are unhealthy. I plan to visit different groups and organizations to find out where a variety of viewpoints and perspectives are valued. I will likely take some classes, get involved with civic groups, and may even start a community debate group based on principles of civility. Any other suggestions?

Entry #15: Sixty & Me Article:

I write for Sixty and Me once a month. It is part of my larger plan to connect with others, make a difference, and develop my brand after teaching. Here’s my most recent article about public speaking. It is a natural follow up to my last post:

Our Voices Matter – 4 Simple Steps to Gain Confidence as a Speaker

Entry #14: November 8, 2017 – From Scared Speechless to Speech Teacher and TEDX Speaker

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve taught literally thousands of college students how to do public speaking.  Each term I have a few students in my classes who assume my class will be an easy A because they have no fear of speaking; these are the students who think public speaking is nothing more than standing in front of a group and talking.

While I get a few students who have no fear, the majority of students I’ve taught over the years have experienced moderate to extreme communication apprehension. What may come as a surprise to many is that many of those with the greatest fear end up doing quite well in my classes. These are often the students that know they have to work very hard to do what they fear most – public speaking.

I do understand what it is like to have extreme communication apprehension. I grew up scared speechless. By the time I was a parent, I couldn’t even make a doctor’s appointment over the phone for my children without first writing out a script and practicing it.

Because of my extreme communication apprehension, I faced a lot of limitations. I wasn’t comfortable socially, I felt very self-conscious, and I had a hard time visualizing myself as someone who could ever have any influence.

Fortunately, I learned about Toastmasters when I was still a young adult. Toastmasters International is an organization that helps members gain speaking confidence, leadership skills, and listening skills. For me, Toastmasters helped give me a vision of what I could become. Other members modeled the confidence and skill that I had hoped to develop. Following a manual, I took small steps each week toward gaining confidence and skill. After a few years, I’d gained enough confidence to enroll in classes at a community college. Of course, public speaking was one of the first classes in which I enrolled.

Eventually I went to graduate school and studied communication. Over time I began to develop a vision for myself as a speech communication teacher. As I developed a clear vision of what I wanted my life to look like, I started taking steps to make my vision a reality. Not only have I enjoyed a rich career teaching and giving public presentations, I even got to give a TEDx Talk last year.  I would never have imagined that facing my fear and learning to speak up would open so many possibilities.

Because I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve never regretted my decision. It has been a great joy to see students gain confidence and skill over the years. Some have used their speaking skills to inspire others.

In one year, I’ll be technically retired. Yet I still have a vision for myself as someone on a mission to empowers others.

The world is full of possibilities when we are willing to open ourselves up, take risks, face our fears, and live our best lives.

Entry #13: November 4, 2017 – Empowered to Live our Best Lives by Choosing Wisely!

A 2013 American Psychological Association  news report indicated 38% of adults have indulged in unhealthy or extra food because of stress. When feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or defeated, I find it easy to indulge in extra or unhealthy snacks. I also find I’m more tempted to escape through a world of screen-time distractions. A 2016 CNN report revealed Americans spend almost 11 hours per day on multimedia devices or screen-time; that means up to 77 hours a week could be lost because of such addictive distractions.

Because I want to remain focused and follow my vision for the next chapter of my life, I’ve had to examine the habits in my life that have kept me distracted but haven’t moved me forward.

For me, stress snacking has almost been like a drug addiction because I feel better for a few minutes as I allow comfort food to slip down my throat and calm my nerves. Unfortunately this way of dealing with the stresses of life leads to bad habits that eventually add more stress, fatigue, and feelings of defeat. Once I get hooked, I spend more time thinking about my next junk food fix than the reasons why I am using food to deal with nonfood issues.

Allowing distractions to take over my life is another habit that is self-defeating. When I add up the amount of time I spend on Facebook, checking emails (multiple times), checking my TEDx link to see if there are any new views, or watching three or four different news programs that all report the same basic stories, I can lose 25-40 hours per week from screen-time distractions. I might try to comfort myself by telling myself that at least I’m not spending 10 hours a day with screen-time, but I’m still putting in enough hours so that I could work another fulltime job. Talk about self-defeating!

In a 2017 Huffpost article, Focus – Why It’s Vital for Success, William Anderson shared that those of us who live stressed, distracted lives can never really experience the kind of focus that leads to important improvements in our lives. Anderson goes on to suggest that alone time without distractions is a good time to relax and focus.

Taking a few minutes each day to review my vision and vision map is helping me stay more focused. I still need to do some work on limiting snacks and replacing unhealthy habits with positive ones. By planning one or two healthy snacks a day, I can limit mindless, unhealthy snacking.

I can also set limits for myself on how much total screen-time is reasonable. If I only spent three hours per day in front of a non-work-related screen, that would mean I would be spending up to 21 hours a week allowing myself to be distracted. That’s more than enough!

All of us have the power to live our best lives. First we need to decide what that looks like. For me, my vision map has helped me see what kind of life I really want and what I need to do to make it a reality. In addition, it is helpful to monitor our daily habits to make sure they align with our bigger vision for our lives. It is important to choose wisely so that we can truly live our lives to the fullest.

Entry #12: October 29, 2017 – Vision Insights from Susan B. Anthony

One of my favorite role models from history is Susan B. Anthony. She spent the majority of her life advocating for basic human rights and most especially for a woman’s right to vote. Even into her eighties, Ms. Anthony was leading a major suffragist effort. Clearly she had a strong vision for what was possible and embraced that vision as her primary mission in life.

Because history focuses on Ms. Anthony’s leadership role and contributions to the early suffragist movement, it is easy to lose sight of the person behind the story.  As I read some of her journal entries, many of her speeches, her own views about history, and several books about her life, I gained some valuable insights about the vision Ms. Anthony embraced.

Susan B. Anthony didn’t need to seek a vision or purpose for her life. The seeds for her life work had been planted very early. She grew up in a Quaker family where equality was valued. Abolitionists like Fredrick Douglas and others were no strangers to the Anthony family.

As I read about Ms. Anthony’s life, I realized that the seeds of my own life work were also planted early. I was so busy seeking some “big purpose” that it took me several years to discover that I already had a unique purpose. I just needed to reflect on my own life experiences and passions.

Ms. Anthony was clearly a very capable, determined individual who could have lived very comfortably throughout her life. Yet she chose to follow a purpose that was greater than herself alone. In spite of how discouraged she may have become at times, she knew what she was doing  would benefit others long after she was gone.

To find a purpose beyond ourselves is a vision worth having. In spite of setbacks, nothing is more motivating than knowing that our lives matter because we are making a difference. For me, teaching has been part of my life vision. Even after I retire, I will continue to invest in others so that they will be more empowered.

No matter how capable Ms. Anthony was, Ms. Anthony was open to expanding her vision by working together with other like-minded individuals. It wasn’t until she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton that she began to see that women’s rights – especially the right to vote – were really human rights that she already embraced.

Being open to the ideas of others and finding like-minded individuals is something I’ve come to appreciate more in the last couple of years. Although my community of like-minded friends isn’t huge, those connections keep me grounded and moving forward.

Sometimes I find opportunities to collaborate such as when one of my friends and I developed a workshop together and co-presented a keynote on how others can live their best lives. This friend, an artist, sees things in ways that have helped me grow and recognize new possibilities.

In spite of how committed Ms. Anthony was, she took time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. She enjoyed returning to her family farm and spending time in the orchard and to engage in everyday activities that gave her pleasure. She enjoyed laughing with friends, and liked eating fruit and sipping on tea.

I have to remember to keep life in balance. Taking time to enjoy friends, to watch nesting doves, to hold my husband’s hand, to spend time with grandchildren, to cut fresh roses from my garden – these are the moments I truly treasure.

Sometimes Ms. Anthony had to adjust her expectations. At one point, she believed that the Constitution gave her the right to vote. After she did manage to vote, she was later arrested for voting without the legal right to do so. No doubt this could have been a devastating development for Susan B. Anthony and the cause for which she advocated.  Instead, she figured out how to adjust and turned her arrest into a rallying call that furthered her cause.

I think visions are like living organisms that can both grow and adjust as needed. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have a clear vision for tomorrow, but I also need to be flexible as to how that vision will be carried out.

Susan B. Anthony has been one of the more influential role models in my life. Sometimes I imagine “channeling her spirit” when I need inspiration to move forward.

Entry #11: October 17, 2017 – Building a Credible Reputation for Future Self-Employment

It takes a lot of thought and  effort to transition into a new life. Even with a clear vision and a plan, it is important to make consistent efforts to gradually adjust behaviors and activities so that we start becoming the person we want to be.

I now have only 14 months before I retire. I am making strides in different areas, but realize I must keep my eyes focused on where I want to be. At the same time, I also must remember the present is a gift. I don’t want to be so future-oriented that I forget to enjoy the moments I get to share with people I care about or forget to appreciate a harvest moon or a pleasant October afternoon.

After retire I want to make a little money while I play at what I love doing – writing, speaking, developing training materials, and conducting workshops. Because I will be self-employed after I retire, I need to build a credible reputation separate from my current professional reputation. To do this will take time and a lot of effort.  I’ve already started making some small efforts in this area while continuing to stay focused on the present and my current responsibilities.

I try to be mindful about what I say and what I write about across social media platforms. The topics I am writing about are also consistent with the reputation I am building.  My second article for Sixty & Me was just posted this week. I wrote about the difference between goal setting and vision mapping. This topic is consistent with the work I’m developing. I also write and speak about social justice issues. On my FB page, Strong Women, Past and Present, I post stories about women who have succeeded against the odds or who are fighting for social justice.

In the next two months I have a couple speaking opportunities outside the classroom. I’m giving a community presentation related to the TEDx talk I gave last July. Then the next month I’m dressing as Susan B. Anthony and channeling her spirit for a presentation for a local Rotary Club.

Over the summer I developed a self-contained course for an online platform called Udemy. I offered it for free until I had over 1000 students. Then I started charging a small amount. When I get another break from teaching, I’ll develop a course on vision mapping. These courses do not require any active teaching. I periodically add information, but they are basically a source of passive income and also allow me to continue building a consistent reputation. So far, my course ratings have been 5/5 stars.

Consistent with the other work I am developing, I’ve partnered with a colleague and friend to conduct workshops that link visual journaling and art to vision mapping. Last month this same friend and I gave a keynote based on our workshops.

I am limited as to how much I can do and when I can do it since my first priority until I retire is my teaching. Nonetheless, I find bits of time here and there to slowly make my transition into my new life. I am feeling more confident about my new best life.

How about you? What are your future dreams? How are you making them a reality?

Entry #10: October 13, 2017- Time for a Personal Audit

Today I did a personal audit. I asked myself to what degree I was practicing becoming the person I want to be as I transition into a new phase of my life.

As I reflected on  my efforts to transition into my encore career after retirement from teaching, I believe I am making good progress. Because I want to speak, write, and conduct workshops after I retire, I make a practice of doing some of this work now so that I develop new disciplines and establish a foundation for my next life.

I also reviewed my financial disciplines. I have been disciplined in saving and monitoring my expenses. I know how much money I will have available when I retire. I also know what spending habits I will need to adjust when I retire.

While I can pat myself on my back for making positive strides toward being my best self in the future, I realize there are a couple of areas I need to address.

First I need to work on my attitude. I would like to think of myself as a positive person who inspires others to be their best. Yet that is not what I’ve practiced over the last couple of months. I’ve complained constantly about trivial matters such as a neighborhood teenager who has been spitting gum on our driveway each day. Yes, it is a problem that needs to be addressed, but constantly complaining will not resolve the problem. I’m also involved on a contract negotiation team. It is so easy to look at the people on the other side of the table as “those others” rather than as individuals who have different roles and perspectives. When I start framing the world as “us and them,” I feel more distrusting and cynical. I think I’ve also allowed a polarized national climate influence my attitude. I need to stop, check my attitude, listen more openly to others, and practice a lot more gratitude.

The second area I need to address involves  my eating behaviors. While I’m a healthy eater, I’m not a disciplined eater. I don’t consume a lot of processed foods or sweets, and I eat very little meat. However I am constantly snacking. I likely consume more calories snacking each day than I do eating three healthy meals.   I first discovered that my snacking was out of control when I set up a measurable action plan for my eating behaviors last year. Each day I monitored how many times I snacked in-between-meals. The behavior I wanted to develop and maintain was to have no unplanned snacks per day. Once I started monitoring my behavior, I realized on some days I stuffed food in my mouth up to six times a day. Gradually I was able to move toward minimal or no snacking. Once I quit snacking, I started losing weight. Unfortunately, I quit monitoring my snacking. The discipline I was trying to develop had not yet become a new life habit.  Tomorrow I am planning to monitor my snacking again.

I’m glad I took time to do some reflecting today. I’m doing well in some areas but could certainly improve in others. The good news is that tomorrow is another day.

If you aren’t already doing periodic personal audits, I encourage you to do so. Like me, you’ll likely find some areas of success and some areas where a bit more discipline is required.

Entry #9: October 11, 2017 – Is it Still a Crime to Be a Woman?

One of my students, a veteran, told me while on a tour of duty he’d witnessed a woman being stoned to death.  Her crime?  She had been raped. It might be difficult for some in the United States to imagine how women could be treated this way. However we don’t have to look too far back in history to find much the same treatment of women in our own country.

Just a few hundred years ago during a period of the Salem Witch trials, women were stoned or crushed to death for such crimes as being seductress who caused men to lust after them.  Murdering these women completely silenced them. While we may tell ourselves this was ancient history, we’ve continued to find ways to silence women who have been subjected to all manner of abuse and assault.

Shaming women has been one way to silence them. In some ways, shaming is a form of death. A woman who has been shamed into silence no longer has a voice or a sense of worth. Instead, she becomes a shadow or ghost of her former self.

As I look ahead to retirement and my encore career plan, I am also compelled to consider how I can continue to be an advocate for those who do not have a voice.  One way I am currently acting as an advocate it by channeling the spirit of Susan B. Anthony, dressing as her, and giving presentations about the oppression of women. I’m speaking as Susan B. Anthony next month at a local Rotary Club.

I also have a Facebook page, Strong Women, Past and Present, where I post stories about women who have fought oppression or who are helping other women who have been oppressed. I’ve reached close to 10,000 women so far through that page.

I firmly believe we are all empowered to make a difference in this world. Our life experiences often become seeds that help us grow into stronger people who can help others survive and thrive. I would not be true to myself if I did not speak up, speak out, and try to be the difference for others.

Entry #8: October 5, 2017 – Plastic Surgery or Naturally Aged?

I still feel young and energetic. I love to research and stay current in areas of interest to me. I also have expertise in the field of communication.  However I wonder how much of a limitation my age will be to the work I want to do when I retire. I wonder if I need plastic surgery?

My vision for myself after retiring from teaching is to work for myself. I plan to coach, speak, and write for about 20-30 hours a week.   Of course I am doing some of this work while I’m still teaching so that I can transition into my new life. For instance, I try to regularly give presentations beyond the classroom. In the past few months this has included a TEDx presentation, a keynote, and a couple of community presentations.

When I give presentations, I’ve come to realize that my age does impose limits on what I can talk about and who will listen. I’m usually older than most members of my audiences. Sometimes that is to my advantage, especially when I embrace the role of the “wise elder woman.” Yet other times I am aware that it could be more challenging as a public speaker to find audiences and to be heard in the future.

Even though I plan to retire in 15 months, I’m keenly aware that I’m now the elder on campus where I teach. As a woman, I became aware years ago that some men will try to “talk over” me. I learned how to hold my ground and assert myself. But now I am noticing that other female colleagues will talk over me or interrupt me with more frequency.

I’ve considered having some plastic surgery so that I could look more refreshed and consistent with how I actually feel.  Some of my women friends near my age have also considered plastic surgery.  Last month I wrote an article for Sixty & Me discussing my struggle to either age naturally or age gracefully.  Most of the responses to that article were from women who were glad they chose the latter.

I’m still wrestling with my decision concerning how I want to present myself as I age. Aging naturally has its advantages. However it also means my personal “brand” as I start working for myself and doing more speaking will likely be that of the “wise elder woman.”

If I choose to age a bit more gracefully, I would likely be perceived as more relevant by a larger potential audience. Yet if I make this decision, it will only delay a natural process.

If only being a wise elder woman was something we aspired to be in our culture!

Entry #7: September 30, 2017 -A Discipline of Gratitude

I’ve read quite a few articles on the importance of gratitude over the past couple of years. I think it must be a trendy topic. I agree that gratitude is an important part of keeping our emotional and spiritual dimensions in balance.

It is so easy to get in a funk and lose a sense of joy and wonder that keeps us moving forward. This morning I was feeling a bit stressed. I was feeling the stress of a new teaching year and the stress of my post retirement plans. 

I could feel tension in my body and a sense of anxiety pressing around me. I didn’t feel like expressing gratitude. I felt like I wanted to eat chocolate and take a nap. Even though I didn’t feel like doing anything, I’ve developed a discipline of expressing gratitude while jogging or driving.

Gratitude is part of my measurable action plan that I follow. That means I’ve committed myself to this discipline even when I don’t feel like it.

Jogging and driving are two consistent activities I have built into my life. By including expressions of gratitude as part of these routines, I have been able to develop a “gratitude discipline” without much extra effort.

When I jog or drive, I start expressing gratitude by focusing on the first letter of the alphabet that comes to my mind. When I started jogging today, I noticed a leaf. I focused on things I was grateful for that started with the letter “L.”  I thought about how grateful I am for laughter, the smell of lavender, lazy Saturday mornings, and life-long learning opportunities.

When I focus on a few things for which I am grateful, I can feel my spirit open up. I can feel joy and hope. For me, gratitude is an act of the spirit. It connects me with not only the present moment, but with something much bigger than me. I am thankful for the daily discipline of gratitude.







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