Paula Marie Usrey
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 seven 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 8 months, I will be sharing my journey with you. I’d love to hear your experiences too.
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Entry #25: How to Live Your Best Life – Don’t Reinvent Yourself, Reclaim Yourself
Reinventing: A Set-Up for Failure
When I was young, one of my biggest mistakes was that I tried to reinvent myself to please other people. I didn’t realize that by simply reclaiming my true self, I could be my best and strongest self.
I got married right out of high school to a man I had only known for three months. The man I married had a big personality. This man loved adventure and wasn’t afraid of taking risks. He also embraced some fairly traditional beliefs about women’s roles. I wasn’t all that skilled or experienced doing traditional, female work. Rather, I was a shy young girl who tended to be cautious and enjoyed quiet time to think about ideas.
A couple months after getting married, I was pregnant with our first child. I tried hard to be the kind of wife my husband wanted me to be. I also tried hard to be the kind of mother I thought I should be even though I knew very little about parenting.
As my children started to grow, I realized how inadequate I felt as a person. Because of how I felt, I started seeking ways to develop myself. I learned to speak in public. I got an education, and I landed solid professional positions. I tried very hard to be everything I thought I should be. Yet I felt like I was failing. I felt like each of my roles were contradictory in different ways.
Paying the Price
I felt like a failure as a mother when I was expected to be in the office instead of at home. I felt like a failure as a wife when I handled responsibilities in a corporate environment but couldn’t always keep on top of housework at home—the housework that my husband thought I should be managing. I felt like a failure when I could only manage to make myself stay in a position for a couple years before trying something else—always hoping something else would feel more natural for me. Even when others told me I was doing a good job as a mother, a wife, and a professional, I figured it was only a matter of time before I’d be exposed as a fraud.
Once my children were grown and my first marriage was starting to split at the seams, I suddenly realized I had no idea who I really was. I couldn’t even recall that my favorite color was blue or that I had always loved Bach, or that I cherished quiet time. Because I didn’t know myself very well, I lived much of my life on a day-to-day basis. And, because I didn’t really know myself very well, I couldn’t really envision my future.
Lost and Found
My marriage of over two decades ended. My children were grown and gone. I was left alone with someone I didn’t really know anymore. For several months, I worked hard to rediscover who I was. I sought some help from counselors, talked with friends, did a lot of reflective writing, and worked hard at excavating “the real” me.
One of the more difficult parts of rediscovering who I was involved putting all the pieces of my life back together in a way that made sense. There were parts of my life I had tried to forget – and even tried to pretend never happened. While those experiences didn’t define who I was, they were a part of who I was and the insights I had developed. When I was ready to really look at a portrait of my life, I could finally see the natural highlights and the necessary shadows that gave me character and depth.
After a lot of hard work, I knew myself a lot better. I knew my strengths and areas where I wanted to grow. I also knew that I was a person who loved learning. Once I reclaimed who I really was, I was actually able to visualize the future I wanted. Given my temperament, my personality, my experiences, and my passion for learning, I could easily see myself teaching full-time at a community college. Community colleges often serve people who face the types of challenges I had faced earlier in my life.
Living My Best Life
I have taught at a community college for fourteen years. I have never thought twice about being anywhere else. Once I knew who I was, it wasn’t hard to figure out where I belonged. Because I feel like I have been where I’ve belonged all these years, I have felt confident about what I do.
Within a few months, I will be retiring from teaching full-time. After I retire, I am going to start a part-time web-based business for Baby Boomers. I’m also going to enjoy more time with my soulmate – the man I married after I figured out who I really was. Like me, he is a quiet person who doesn’t like to take risks and loves to think about ideas. He’s also a person who treats me with love and affection and takes time to really understand me.
What about you? What makes you happiest? How would you describe your true, authentic self?
Entry #24: Listening to Our Inner Voices
Can you recall times when you were referred to as being irrational or overly emotional just because you are a woman? Can you recall times when you had a gut sense that you referred to as intuition but didn’t listen to what your body was telling you because it wasn’t logical? I have been there many times myself. Because I got tired of being told I was not rational, I quit listening to my inner voice. Instead, I focused on developing strong reasoning skills based on empirical evidence.
Now that I’m an elder woman, I have started realizing how valid and how powerful my inner voice really is. In a recent article I wrote for Sixty and Me, I addressed the power of our inner voice. I thought some of you might enjoy reading it.
Entry #23: A New Chapter on the Horizon
When I started my first professional career, I was enrolled in a great retirement program. I was young, and couldn’t imagine actually retiring someday. When I decided to go to graduate school, I decided the easiest way to fund it was to pull out what I’d put into my retirement. That wasn’t a very wise plan.
A Failure to Plan
I didn’t even consider other options to fund graduate school. Soon after starting, I discovered I qualified for scholarships and then learned about graduate assistantships which allowed me to cover the tuition for four years of my education. I used the money I withdrew from retirement to pay for living expenses – expenses I could have covered through other means. At the time, withdrawing my retirement was simply the fastest and easiest way to do what I wanted to do.
I kept telling myself I had plenty of time to think about retirement. I didn’t do much planning for several years. To be honest, it wasn’t until my own son, a financial planner, sat down with me when I was in my early fifties and had “the talk” with me about retirement.
Time to Catch Up
Once I started visualizing what I really wanted my life to look like after I retired from teaching, I knew I had a lot of catching up to do before I could even consider ending my career. I not only needed to figure out what I wanted to be doing after retirement, I needed to figure out how much money I was going to need to make my dreams a reality. For me, that meant teaching a lot longer than I had once imagined. I’m now one of the oldest faculty members on campus. How did that happen?
I am teaching 8 more weeks this term, 5 weeks during the summer, and 12 weeks (including in-service) this fall. Then I”m done.
A New Plan
My dream after retirement is to start a web-based business for Baby Boomers. I’ve been working on the plan for this business over the past two years. I’m going to be ready this time.
I hope you’re all smarter than I was. For too many years, I had planned in the moment rather than for the long haul. I hope you all live long and realize your dreams. To do so, it helps to figure out what you want those dreams to look like and what you need to do for them to become a reality.
Entry #22: A Baby Boomer’s Next Chapter
Scary, exciting, unsettling? These are all common experiences when Baby Boomers start preparing for their next chapter ahead of retirement. Some literature on transitioning into retirement suggests that we start preparing for our new lives at least two years before we leave our full-time positions.
Fortunately, I did start planning my retirement about 16 months ago. In ten months, I will retire from my fourteen-year encore career as a full-time speech communication educator at a community college.
I started preparing by reading everything I could find on transitions and retirement life. I also worked on my own vision for my ideal life after teaching. I brainstormed, journaled, cut out pictures from magazines, and listed some of my strengths, experiences, personal limitations, and temperament (my temperament leans towards introversion). After a fair amount of work, I was able to develop a vision for my next chapter.
I will be operating a web-based business for Baby Boomers who are preparing for their own next chapters. Working with a gifted colleague and friend, we will share research about Boomers, offer workshops on how each individual can develop their best next chapters, and provide activities and other opportunities to keep engaged with a vibrant community. Eventually, we will offer our services to businesses that want to help employees transition into retirement.
I have a lot to learn about operating a business. I’m preparing by talking with people who have successfully operated businesses, and I am doing a lot of reading. I’ve also met with our local Small Business Development Center a few times.
I get a bit scared and excited when I think about the future that is starting to unfold. From all that I’ve read, I know this is normal. As the late Bill Bridges, author and consultant known for his work on transitions pointed out, the process is the same for all of us–we all go through endings, neutral periods, and new beginnings. Each transition phase has its own challenges. I’m ending something but have not yet started something new. How about you?
Do you anticipate a major transition in the near future? Or are you currently moving from one phase of your life to another? What have you learned in the process? What are your dreams for your next chapter?