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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Time of 'Lasts'

As my retirement and move from California draw ever closer, I have been thinking of all the 'lasts' in my life. Most people, it seems, focus on 'firsts' -- a baby's first steps or first words, a child's first job or first crush, our first car. But for me, this is a time of 'lasts.'

Yesterday I walked to our administration building for my last annual performance review. Today at noon I took my last walk around the field at work, walking by the runway and baylands for the last time. I also paid more attention to my environment, looking and seeing with much greater awareness. I removed my headphones and made a point of listening to the world around me. I heard geese honking, the buzz of insects, the wind in the weeds. I saw several white egrets and butterflies. I noticed the weeds with their colorful flowers, in purple, yellow and white. I looked closely at the still-green hills just the other side of the bay.

Today was the last day I had to get up early and go to work. I took care of a last work request by my supervisor. When I go somewhere, I wonder to myself if this is the last time I will visit that shop or restaurant or park. I recently made last visits to the veterinarian, doctor and dentist, and ordered a last refill of a couple of prescriptions.

Friday we will have our last family therapy call. On Sunday, I will make my last drive from California to Utah to pick up my daughter, and this will be the last time the dogsitter will stay at my California home with my dogs.

I am not saddened to think about all these 'lasts.' On the contrary, once the 'lasts' are out of the way, I will start encountering 'firsts.' My first drive from California to New Mexico. The first time my daughter will be home for more than a few days in nearly a year. Our first residence in New Mexico. My first retirement. (Some people retire from one line of work, then start working at something else). I am continuing to work on my first book. I hope someday to sell my first photograph.

Firsts and lasts are both important, I think, although firsts get a lot more attention. There seems to be something negative about last: No one wants to finish last in a race or in an election. No one wants to be last to succeed at something or to be the last to reach any of the milestones of life. But not all lasts are bad. I savored my last walk at work today. Without my usual walking partner (who walks so fast I practically have to jog to keep up with him), I slowed my pace and enjoyed my last trip past the marshland and along the mile-long runway. I was much more conscious of the vegetation and the birds and the mountains.

Without lasts, there can be no firsts. I am ready for both at this stage of my life.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Time for a Change

"Time for a Change." That is the title of a song by Michelle Millis Chappel, a local singer/songwriter. Although Michelle has a PhD in psychology from Princeton University, she walked away from a successful career as a university professor to follow her dream of becoming a musician. She also teaches workshops to help others follow their dreams, live their authentic lives and let their true selves shine through. I took a couple of classes from her a few years ago, and reconnected with her last month when I took another 1/2-day workshop from her in Santa Cruz. It was pouring rain, and I really didn't want to drive through the mountains to get there, but I am so glad I did.

Michelle and I are Facebook friends, and just this morning I clicked on a link on her home page and listened to this song. It really hit home. It truly is my time for a change as well as a time to change. I have just five days of work left. I have submitted my retirement paperwork and I am well on the way to getting the 20 (!) approvals I need as part of the electronic check-out process.

My daughter and I talked last night about all the changes we will soon be facing and the stresses they may cause. For me, major changes include retirement, moving to a new city and state, and having her home with me again. She has been attending school out of state for almost a year. She will face changes in learning to live at home once again, in being part of a family, moving to an unfamiliar city and attending a new school.

Many people fear change. They let inertia rule their lives. It certainly is easier to leave things as they are, to not rock the boat or go out on a limb or stretch oneself. They cling to the security of the known, no matter how boring or energy-sapping it may be.

I sometimes feel apprehensive about change, but I also have a history of embracing it. Change keeps me on my toes, it refreshes and challenges me. I jumped at the chance to live and work in Moscow for several months, when others refused to go. I accepted a job in Houston in large part because I was bored with my job in California and knew that I needed a change of environment. I ultimately decided I didn't like living in Houston and returned to California, but I don't regret making the initial change. I learned a lot and challenged myself to succeed at some things that were not comfortable for me to do.

When a therapist I know asked me to co-author a book with her about raising a child with trauma- and attachment-related issues, I hesitated for a short time. And then I decided to give it a shot. I love to write, and I had a lot to say. The book isn't finished yet, but I love writing, and manipulating words and thoughts to get just the right meaning is so much fun. I hope this book will help other parents of adopted kids who are struggling.

Once I started writing, I began to think of myself differently. When someone I didn't know well asked me what I do for a living, I blurted out "I'm a writer." I have no idea where that came from. But since then, I have started to think of myself as a writer, not just as someone who writes. How I view myself has changed as a result of accepting an invitation to do something I haven't done before. I have written articles and news releases, but I never thought of writing a book. I have changed simply by doing something different.

I know people who stick with the tried and true, who run from trying new things or going new places. How boring their lives must be! How can people live without at least a small sense of adventure? I love to push my capabilities. When I was younger, I loved to push myself physically, and I still do as much as I am able. I ran a marathon (26.2 miles) in hilly San Francisco, I walked 60 miles over three days to raise funds for breast cancer detection and research, and I rode my bicycle 60+ miles one day.

If we don't embrace change, if we refuse to seek variety and challenge in our lives, how can we grow as individuals? And if we don't grow, are we truly living? In my mind, when I stop changing, when I stop growing, that's the day I start to die. And I refuse to live my life like that.

Change definitely can be scary. But for me, not changing is even scarier.