Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Creating My Life

Over the past few days, my changed circumstances have started settling in to me: I can feel my new life settling down, like it's a new house I'm moving into.  I'm looking at where to place the furniture, assessing any repairs that need to be done, envisioning backyard BBQs and trying to pick out the perfect corner to sit and read, organizing the kitchen.

My new job defines some of the shape of my days to come: certainly, my income creates possibilities and limitations, and my time commitments will shape my days.  This is no different than any other person, and I know it; we all have commitments that shape our lives.

But what I'm trying to do is to approach my life with great intentionality, honoring all of the possibilities and making the most of what I can do with it.

My new income is small.  I think it's going to be enough, but I have just transitioned into nonprofit (yay!) and I do not have the expectation of ever getting rich on this path.  I've been going through my budget spreadsheets, making sure I've planned properly, and then tweaking and retweaking and retweaking.  Should I spend more here, and less here?  Am I overspending in this area?  Am I being reasonable to budget so little in this other area?  Does my spending reflect my values?

But it's not all about money.  The money matters - ask anyone who doesn't have enough, and they'll tell you! - but it's not the only thing that matters.

I'm trying to craft the shape of my days, my years, my life.  Mary Oliver, a beloved poet, says "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" and it's a question I ask myself every single day.  Because I'm at a new phase in life, starting this new job, I'm asking myself the question even more right now.

Some questions are answered.  I want to do work that speaks to my soul, that changes the world.  I want to show up every single day of my life certain that what I'm doing with my life is meaningful.  This new job does that, and I am happier than I can express about that.

And I want an intellectually stimulating career, filled with personal growth.  I want career development, smart colleagues, the possibility of advancement.  I've got that, too.

And that's just getting started.  The rest is the big stuff: time and relationships.

Relationships are everything, once one's belly is full and one is warm and dry.  I want mine to be rich, deep, and meaningful.  I especially want my time with my daughter to be well spent, focused on enjoying one another, on teaching her, on giving her a foundation for a lifetime of happiness.  Mostly, I feel pretty good about that; we do well together and we're in a good spot.  I've got good relationships with friends and family, too, and I am grateful.  Very, very grateful.

So what remains to be determined is time. 

We all have the same number of hours in a day, and this never ceases to amaze me.  How is it that two well fed people (not starving or in poverty) can lead such different lives?  One person finds time to exercise, volunteer, and cure cancer....and someone else is constantly complaining that there is no time to go to the grocery store?

Certainly, I wish to be in that first category.  I struggle with it, but I deeply believe that there is enough time, but that I need to manage that time if I am to have the life I crave.

I will have to get up at the crack of dawn again; there is no other time to exercise.  I am sure of that, and mostly at peace with it.  I feel so much better these days, and not only is my marathon around the corner but I've already signed up for a half marathon in the fall, just to make sure that I don't backslide.

My weekdays will be filled with three things, basically: exercise (early morning), work all day, spend time with Katherine in the evenings.  There is little room for flexibility, and I am trying to reach peace with that.  There is a rhythm to the weekdays where every minute is accounted for, and it's an elaborate dance with many steps.  If I skip a step, I find myself on the wrong side of things and all turned around, and there isn't much time for rest...but I think it's okay.  Packing lunches, making dinner, gymnastics practice: these things must be done.

The trick is to use the few extra minutes wisely, I think.  When there is a half hour to spare, what shall I do?  Will I surf Facebook, watch TV....or do something that means more to me?  I want to be intentional about those 'extra' minutes, because I think that they are the center of a life well lived.  They add up.

And Katherine is growing before my eyes: she is changing minute to minute, and I feel her slipping through my fingers.  She is lovely, and her sense of humor is evolving and growing and I find myself laughing with her so much, enjoying her wit.  She is strong and a great hiking companion or beach comber; she can listen to NPR with me and respond thoughtfully.  It is important to me not to let any of that go unnoticed, or to stop appreciating it, because she becomes more independent by the day, needing so much less of my time than she once did.  I do not wish to squander the time she has left living in my home as a child.

So, I'm working now on crafting a schedule of days that honors who I am, and where I wish to be, and the reality of my finances (both good and bad).  I want to meet my obligations, of course, and with what is left I want to be really, really smart.

I'm 44 years old and my retirement fund is dismal.  Katherine's college fund is lacking.  My savings - oh, my hard earned savings went up in smoke with unemployment.  This is what it is, no sense of crying over it, but it's time to whip it back into shape.  I need to carefully carve out bits of my paycheck and have them auto-deposited into the appropriate accounts, no excuses.  Bit by bit I will rebuild, and I will hope and pray that the power of compounding interest works in my favor.  It won't be easy because my salary is not grand, but denial won't solve my problems either, and I know that even drops of water add up.  This time next year, I hope to be able to report progress, and to feel great pride in getting it done.

And vacations - I just long to travel.  Today I write from a little island north of my fair city, from a generous friend's cabin.  I am blessed to have such a place to visit: it is heaven on earth, and I am appreciative.  (I am wrapped in an old quilt, listening to rain on the roof, drinking hot coffee out of a beautiful mug, staring out at the ocean.  It is bliss.)  But I long to see so much of the world, and I want to carve out time and money for that, too.  When the budget falls apart, this type of vacation is the first thing to be cut, but I want to make space for it.

Weekend time is most precious of all, because it is more in my control.  I have Katherine half of my weekends (sometimes more, a subject for a different time), and those weekends are spent usually with other children and families; my weekends without her are spent in more adult company.  But there are commonalities: time in nature when possible, time with friends, time moving my body, and chores such as grocery shopping and the like.  I'm working out how to fit all that in.

So today, with rain falling on the roof, and my future starting again next week, I am contemplating all of this.  A fresh start at work is a fresh start at life, a chance to be contemplative, a chance to get it right.

I'm working on it.

Something else I'm working on... I signed up for online dating again.  This time, instead of saying "I'm unemployed and freaking out about it" (no thank you) I could say, "I just landed my dream job and I'm so excited for this career transition."  Much better!  I have no idea where I would find the time to date....but I believe in love, so if I can, I'm going to make time for that, too.

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