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Remembering How to Jump Between Trains

Of all the things we dream of as retirement, the one that’s probably most consistently a high priority is the desire to slow down.  To stop running around like a chicken on speed trying to get too many things done at once.  Having the time to savor what you are doing, be it drinking your coffee or seeing Alaska for the first time, is nirvana if the pace of your work life is typical of what this culture demands.  The bliss of having total control of what you’re doing with your time once you leave work is irresistible.

But it’s a bad idea to insist on it all the time.

When we have the  option of focusing on only one thing at a time, we risk losing a skill that’s hard to get back–the ability to jump between moving trains.  In career mode, this skill is indispensable.  You move from writing a white paper to mopping up spilled milk in a nanosecond.   It’s is even more important as you advance in whatever field you’ve chosen.   I went from college instructor to internal corporate consultant in one unexpected jump.   And from a staff position to the frenzy of line management in another.

I was moving in one direction at a good pace before I made the jump and moving in a new one, just as fast, once I landed–without ever stopping to figure out where to place my feet, how to angle the leap, etc.

Once we retire, we’re more laid back  about it.    We “think about it.”  We “wait and see” what it looks like next week, next month, next year.

Taking the time to study it, even savor it, usually means it moves on before we’re ready to move at all.  And that means a lot of missed opportunities.   That’s particularly bad news if those opportunities don’t come along as often as they used to.

Just knowing you need to move fast isn’t enough  though.  You need to practice doing it.   Otherwise, you won’t be ready when you need to be.

Five days ago, I learned an important opportunity–to which I’d made a preliminary commitment months ago–was happening in three days.  To take advantage of it, I needed to move fast and do things I’ve been telling myself I don’t have to do any more–FAX a signed document, set things up online to take a required class (which strikes terror into the hearts of most people over 50) and then get on with participating.  Pronto!

Did I leap exuberantly  toward that train?  Nope.  I hesitated–worrying about  not having the textbook,  the online learning environment, and the fact that the timing was bad.  That was smoke–I almost kissed off a key opportunity because  I wanted to keep control of my pace.

That’s when having all the time you want to do whatever you want can become a negative.  It’s easy to forget, when you direct your own time all day every day, that opportunities usually require surrendering to someone or something else’s pace.   Instead of jumping at the chance, you stand on the platform of the train station ruminating while the engine pulling excitement and challenge chugs off without you.

Let’s not do that.

But let’s not jump onto every train that comes along, either.

Dive at the obvious ones — the opportunities that relate directly to what you want in  your life.  A volunteer slot for a cause you believe in.  The chance for time with someone you’d really like to have a relationship with.  The perfect job opportunity…  Don’t take too much time thinking on the ones that just “feel right” either.  That’s your intuition helping you spring into action.

But the rest?  Maybe you want to go for a few just to keep your train-jumping skills honed.

A key piece of keeping excitement and newness in your life is being able to jump at opportunities–often without time to assess them thoroughly beforehand.  Doing that requires you to let go of control of the pace of your life.   At least once in a while.  Yes, stop and smell the roses.  Appreciate the connection with your canine buddy when you take time to pet the dog.  But when the phone rings and someone offers you the opportunity you’ve been dreaming of, tell Fido you’ll see him later and get going!

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