Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 766 Stuck - Now What?

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

It is no fun being stuck. I'm talking about not being able to move; being paralyzed, immobile. It can be physical, mental or emotional. I'm not sure which one is the worst. But it is probably whichever one you are in at the present time. Retirement can have this effect on us. We can feel strapped to our past or our present. We can't seem to conceive of a reason to do anything. We could just lay in bed all day and no one would notice. I often respond to questions about my retirement this way. "If I died no one would notice for several days." Well, hopefully my wife would notice but after that...

When I was a senior in high school my older sister lived perhaps 60 miles away from us. My younger sister wanted to visit her for a few days and I volunteered to drive her down there. We were in the country; in Iowa. The road was long and straight and in the distance I could see the color of the road change. Not being an experienced driver I just kept going assuming everything was fine. When I hit the mud road the car started to bog down. Soon the car came to a slippery, muddy stop; right in the middle of the road. I was stuck. What to do?

The car was a 1955 black and white Pontiac. I shifted into reverse and moved a few inches. Then back to first gear and rocked forward. The process was repeated several times without noticeable success. Frustration. What to do? Try the same thing again and again, and again. Soon we could smell something burning and the car refused to even rock.

We walked to a farmer's house and begged for assistance. We were soon towed out of the mud by this kind farmer on his tractor. We called Dad and he came with a tow rope. I had burned out the clutch. Dad was not happy; nor was I. It was an expensive experience.

What did I learn: when you're stuck you might want to engage the mind before you engage the clutch and dig yourself in even deeper. I should have gotten out of the car. Walked around and looked at the mess; assessed the situation a bit and then after recognizing the depth of my stuckness I could have gone for help.

I like to think this is one of those rules that should be engraved on the inside of my eyelids. Card players have a similar rule when they are losing, "walk away". When losses start to accumulate it doesn't pay to be stuck at the table. I just read about a widow who inherited from her husband, the founder of the chain, Jack'-in the Box, who gambled away over a billion dollars in the last few years.I would say she was stuck; addicted. She couldn't stop. The article pointed out that her losses averaged 300 thousand dollars a day for years.

That seems to be the necessary first step: to assess the situation and recognize your stuckness. I think we are all pretty good at this by the time we retire. We know when we are spinning our wheels. We know that nothing is happening in our lives. We know we need a change. Perhaps the problem isn't our being stuck, The problem is getting unstuck. Deciding what to do? Which way to turn?

If we are lucky enough to have family or friends around we could ask for their comments or ideas. We could brainstorm with them or brainstorm with just yourself. We could get out a piece of paper, write out our nature of stuckness and then write out suggested changes without criticism and without limits. Just lay them out like an unending snow storm; fill the page.

This is not as easy as it seems. It requires our time and our mind. We are not used to engaging the mind on something that requires such focus and honesty. We are not used to letting our mind roam over all of the possibilities of life in the next few weeks, months or years. Most of us just let life come to us. The phone rings and we go to lunch. The phone doesn't ring and we stay home. Someone else suggests a trip, a movie, a hike or a book and we are moved to consider a change. When it comes to becoming unstuck as a human being we are on our own. It isn't easy to change.

I keep thinking that it should get easier as we get older. We are not stuck in our job, stuck in our house, stuck in our town. But we can get stuck in retirement. We can find ourselves strapped to our old habits; limited to old haunts,

One thing about becoming unstuck - we don't know what awaits us next. Which way will we swerve? Which way will we go? Will it be better or worse? These are all questions which may not be answered before we jump. One good thing about it is that we can always jump again. I knew a guy in Alaska who sold everything and moved back home to Maine. In one years time he was back in Anchorage. HIs new life wasn't what he thought it would be. We all know that is possible. We can go from one mud hole to another.

Of course we don't really have to do this. We can just stay safe. Stay still. Stay stuck. Not such a good idea. Not unless you can learn to love it and decide that you are no longer stuck but doing exactly what you want with your life.

This is Retirement Talk.

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