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Retirement: Moving from Success to Surrender?

The “no more Mondays” version of retirement easy. Or you can “rewire,” starting a whole new “build a success” effort with all the funthat comes from charging off in a new direction. But there’s a third option out that might suit you better.  It’s way different than just dropping out, but on the surface looks distressingly like it.  That third option:  Surrender.

The primary religions of the world all teach the idea of surrender-to stop trying to make what you want happen and accept whatever does happen with serenity instead. Of course, you don’t have to be retirement age to embrace this approach to life.  Neither Jesus or Buddha or Mohamed was wizened when the tenet of surrender became part of what they preached.  But when you retire, there’s almost a natural bridge to stepping into surrender if you have not already.  At least if you know what you are looking for.

We all can step into surrender.  For most of us, it’s not obvious or simple.  I’ve been struggling to figure out how that should work for over ten years.

Most of us got involved in climbing the career ladder instead, propelled forward by the goals and objectives we hammered out for ourselves.  That’s the ”
build your own future” version of life:  know what you want and have a plan for getting it.  You call the shots.  Work harder.  Work smarter.  Work longer.  Success is earned and it takes a lot of work and sacrifice. It’s the highly touted, socially acceptable way to succeed in our culture–to live life well.

When we retire, the career ladder disappears though.  At first, the delight of not having to worry about time is a huge plus.  But if you are still buying in on the “make your own future” version of life, eventually you start to feel like you got pushed off the merry-go-round.   The nagging thought persists:  “I need to be doing something more.”

All this is perfectly normal and the answer I’ve been giving for years is “Find a new purpose.”  That’s still what I would recommend, but in not exactly the same way.

The “career path” way to find a new purpose is akin to your previous career path efforts. List the things you believe in strongly, assess what you’re good at, and then find a way to apply the latter to the former.  That still works.  If you aren’t ready to move on from what has already worked for you, this is the approach you really do need to take.

But if you want to move beyond what you already know you can do with this question of “what’s next?”, there’s another way to go about it.  And that is to surrender to the now.  With that strategy, you don’t have a plan.  You don’t have goals.  You don’t have responsibility for making things happen.  You just live everyday awake and engaged.

Instead of your self-prescribed marching orders, you have a process: Open to what’s happening around you, watch, and wait.  As this life unfolds, you will begin to act on what comes into your life instead of trying to force certain things to be in it.  You are in the flow instead of trying to swim upstream to get to that goal.

Paying attention to what comes into your life and doing what you can with that is the sum total of what you have to “worry” about when you function at this level.  You don’t have to prove yet again that you can apply the discipline and drive to “get the job done.”  You surrender to being part of life as it is now and just live it.

This isn’t the same as the “Golden Years” do-whatever-I-want-all-the-time version of life.  That’s a form of cheking out and it is, essentially, backwards.  When you do the Golden Years thing, you only allow in what you are already comfortable with.  That strategy means your world will get progressively smaller.

Surrendering to whatever life brings each day and living with complete awareness of it keeps your world expanding.  You don’t know what is going to come next.  You just accept your place as part of it.

This concept both intrigues and terrifies me.  I’m reassured by who I’ve become with all the effort I’ve put into making things happen.  But if I want to continue to grow, it’s time to let that go.  To just accept whatever comes into my life rather than trying to call the shots.

That is a brave–scary–new world.


Mary Lloyd is (at least for now) a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.


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