It is a tradition of the New Year observance to look back over the past year and attempt to put it into perspective. The year 2013 has been very significant for us. It is the year in which we became Ex-Patriots in Italy. We hope this Blog has gotten across how very pleased we are to have made this move but I’m not sure we yet fully grasp how we came to make such a good decision.
In attempting to better understand how this came about, an idea I’m currently playing with has to do with how a change in life circumstances can lead to the generation of new options. Gail Sheehy and others have talked about life having ‘passages’ – significant stages in the course of living. Retirement has been a very important event for us, just as it has for so many others. Gradually coming to terms with the adjustments retirement imposed on us was probably a factor in starting the reassessment process that ultimately brought about this decision.
A professional career becomes a pivot around which so many of life’s structures operate and is also a source of affirmation. Once the old structures and sources for affirmation don’t have the same immediacy they used to provide, there is the option to develop a new focus for your life. Developing a different direction is not so much a discarding of the past, as it is moving beyond it into something new and satisfying.
In moving forward, it would be a tragedy to diminish any sense of pride in what has been accomplished in the past. Past accomplishments reside in memory and should be a source of satisfaction. An appreciation of the accomplishments of the past is, at best, a source for having confidence to move forward and take on new challenges. The future can hold any number of opportunities for growth in new directions. An interesting insight is suggested in biology. The concept of ‘Atrophy’ suggests that a biological function that is not kept active deteriorates. Growing and developing ourselves seems to be built into the dynamic of sustaining who and what we are.
In retirement we are probably also dealing with an aging process that contains some snares and traps. Capabilities appear to deteriorate as the bodily maturation progresses. I’m at that stage of life where I can now appreciate what I previously heard some senior citizens express, “I feel I have the mind of a thirty to forty year old trapped in an aging body that is quickly becoming less cooperative!” Loss of stamina, along with body hair in the places it’s supposed to be, plus adding new sources of aches and pains, lets us know we are aging. One of the major ‘traps’ in coming to terms with aging can be a loss of confidence in a retained capacity to grow and develop.
The combination of our genes and lifestyle pretty much influences how much mobility and mental acuity we are going to have going forward and for how long. We naturally resist thinking all that much about the future being limited. But an important underlying, operative question should be, ‘What is the best thing I can do with my life going forward given whatever time, mental and physical capacity and financial resources I have left?’ That question is probably at the core of what we finally decided to tackle.
The next part of the process for us was to do some broad-based re-assessment looking at our changing present life and then building a model of a possible future. Since we were starting out on a new ‘passage,’ it seemed reasonable to extend the boundaries of what ‘new’ really meant. Early in the process of reassessment, we decided to take a fresh look at those major material objects that were very central in our lives. We had been blessed with a wonderful life in the very ample southern California home we shared with family and friends. Our large home and multiple cars had contributed to a lot of past satisfaction and pleasure. The benefits of these material objects also involved significant obligations. It was time to ask in going forward, how much time, energy and material resources should we continue to tie up just to maintain these material assets? Was there a new and better use for the time, personal involvement and concern plus the financial resources still available to us?
About that time, a loosely defined idea of becoming Ex-Patriots started to form. We had opted to live in apartments in Europe on previous tourist trips so there was some framework to use in imagining life in Italy. That gave us a yardstick for asking the very practical question, what is really worth taking, would we really need it and if we did, would it be better to find some kind of a more appropriate replacement in Europe? Everything, or nearly everything, was fair game for reappraisal. However, one area didn’t need reappraisal – Arlene and I were doing this as a team.
In due course, we came to recognize many of the material trappings around us weren’t going to be all that important in the new stage we had entered. Once we got up some momentum that was probably the easiest part to gradually get past. But getting the process started was a challenge. It took some soul searching in overcoming a lifetime of marketing saturation about what is supposed to constitute ‘necessity’ to support your identity. Once we got the process of getting rid of ‘stuff’ in motion, it became surprisingly easy. Exchanging ‘stuff’ for cash to help facilitate the journey to come was very helpful in keeping the momentum going.
In reality, the interpersonal equation was really the most difficult issue to handle. We have family and very close friends that we miss having the opportunity to be physically close to. That was the biggest struggle to get past. We are blessed with family and friends who, although they were not anxious to have us move further away, were quick to encourage and support us. And there is a testimony as to what constitutes real caring – they all sensed we thought this was an opportunity to experience growth while we still had the capacity to take on the challenge. Fortunately, many have eased the distress of separation by saying they plan to come and visit. We can’t tell you how much we are counting on sharing this special experience with them.
Positive mental and emotional stimulation is clearly therapeutic. Ascoli Piceno is a wonderful place and I’m convinced experiencing the actual attractions first hand is providing that very important mental and emotional stimulation. That being the case, it shouldn’t be surprising we feel this is a very positive experience. There is so much to learn to increase our appreciation of what we are experiencing. Added to that has been the very authentic, reciprocal, interpersonal warmth that has enveloped us. We have enjoyed travel in the past as tourists. But becoming new members of an Italian community adds a very important dimension to the experience.
Perhaps being immersed in a new and quite different environment may have made the affirmation replacement process a little easier. Before we left, we were surrounded by all kinds of reminders of the way things used to be but had permanently changed. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest ‘if you are making a change – make it a big one!’ In a strange way, I am beginning to wonder if that wasn’t helpful for us.
In many respects, in retirement there is little choice but to accept the changes this threshold event involves. I’m also beginning to wonder if part of the attraction of what we have done wasn’t a way to ‘take charge’ of some of what was happening to us. This has been something very much in our own hands. The adventure has been a little scary at times but also very invigorating and, self-affirming.
This was our solution to find ways to enhance our lives. To be authentic, each person has to find his or her own solution. So if this Blog is stimulating any thinking about what you want the future to hold for you, the real task is to discover your own dream and then determine what you are going to do about it.
So now the question of the moment for me is just how close this piece of speculation about what has been going on in our lives looks when viewed with an even longer perspective. It seems to fit at the moment but then I have a talent for talking myself into things. It looks like I will just have to wait until next New Years to see how it all works out and looks from that vantage point.