Well, it’s Monday evening, the end of Jerry’s first day of retirement, and I’m happy to say we’ve both survived. I admit to concern; I still remember how his parents interacted when his Dad retired.
It’s a strange thing. You focus on something, plan for it, take the necessary steps to make it happen, and then when it does…
I find myself asking, “What now?” Is he going to have enough to occupy him when I’m busy writing, studying, or out taking pictures? He’s one of those sorts that has to have something to do. And I very much doubt that he’ll be satisfied for long with playing video games for hours on end.
Though Paul and the rest of the crew at the dealership gave him a very nice chair to do it in!
The thing is, wherever we look, whatever we do, we’re hemmed in by patterns. Usually – okay, always – they’re patterns of our own making, whether we admit to the fact or not. We start building our patterns in childhood, watching our parents or other significant adults in our lives; that sets a certain unconscious expectation in our minds for what our lives are going to be like. Some people choose to fight against these patterns, creating whole new expectations for themselves – think of the many, many folks who started out poor and then grew up to earn riches for themselves; think of others who were beaten and abused as children who grew up and became fantastic, non-violent parents who probably even reach out to help other abused kids. Some people choose to flow with the patterns that were theirs in childhood, staying in a similar home, working a similar job… complaining about similar things. It’s all patterns.
And it’s all choice. We choose to say to ourselves, “I don’t like my job, but there’s no chance I’ll ever have anything better, so why try?” We choose to say, “You know, I wasn’t born with enough brains/money/talent/opportunity to succeed. Certain people are just more fortunate/richer/gifted/smarter/(fill in the blank) than others.” We say, “I know my life isn’t that good now, but I should be grateful because it could be worse.” We say, “Taking chances is too risky. I might lose everything I have and not gain anything.” Every single one of those is a choice, and every single one leads to other decisions that create the exact circumstances you have right now. Every single thing you say to yourself now, every single choice you make, leads you to where you will be a year from now, five years from now, ten years from now. Understand that. Every minute of every day, with every thought, feeling, and action, we are creating our future. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe you’re making a choice (though it does matter what the choice is). If you believe yourself to be a “victim of circumstance” – someone who’s not at fault for where you are, someone who can’t do anything to change where you are… then your life will never be significantly different than it is now. And that, too, is a choice.
But I was talking about patterns and Jerry’s retirement. You know, it’s a strange facet of human existence that we resist altering our pattern, even when the change is for the better. And they form quickly, our patterns – only three weeks to turn a routine into a habit.
Our patterns are stable. Safe. We understand what they are and exactly what to expect. Changing the pattern? That’s scary. We might encounter the unexpected. The unknown. So we throw in our own faces all the possible negative outcomes of this change in the pattern and try to convince ourselves that changing is just no good.
Believe it or not, that tendency is hardwired into our brain. It’s called a ‘negativity bias,’ controlled by the amygdala, and it’s based in the cave-dwelling days when jumping out of the way of something brown and squiggly was healthier than waiting to determine if the object in our path was a snake or a stick. So when the designated day finally came, I found myself thinking more about what could go wrong than I was focused on how wonderful it was going to be – no schedules, no more of Jerry coming home aching and falling asleep in his chair, no worry about finances or getting time off from work when we decide we want to go somewhere, and I wasn’t thinking about any of that!
Then I realized what I was doing.
My pattern had been established during the three-quarters of a year that I’ve worked from home; get up at eight, morning readings and meditation, shower, write, research, study my online courses. On Mondays I alternated cleaning chores, kitchen/dining room with bathrooms; every other day I washed dishes; Fridays I did laundry. And I worried that Jerry would disrupt that. That he couldn’t understand or agree to respect my working hours. That he would go so stir crazy without other people around that he’d have to be in the office talking at me.
It is possible to alter that negativity bias, however. Difficult, yes; it is after all hardwired. But possible. You start by being aware of it. Then you practice substituting other, more positive thoughts. And pretty soon, a positivity bias is habit. And so I choose to see Jerry’s retirement as a wonderful freedom. He has projects that he can work on while I’m working, too. And the great thing about working from home is that I can alter my routine however I wish… so long as I get my work done.
Yeah. We’ll not only survive his retirement, we’ll thrive. Because that’s the choice I’m making.