The advice I was given a few months ago was not particularly ground-breaking.
“Do what makes you happy.”
N., a most insightful friend from my writing group met me for coffee in early September when I was still struggling through an episode of depression and anxiety. I had started back on a medication and met with my therapist, but I was not yet myself.
How could I tell?
My sense of humor had gone on vacation without me. And had taken my appetite with it.
Those who know me well know I do not miss a meal – or a snack. And on that sunny day in September when we sat outside at the busy cafe, the one with great food and coffee, I could barely bring myself to nibble on the edge of a biscotti. People complimented me on my appearance. If they only knew that I’d lost 20 lbs only because I had lost my interest in food. Not a diet plan I’d recommend to anyone.
Back to my friend. She asked me my plans for the fall.
“Why are you taking that course if you don’t really want to?”
“Why stick with that volunteer program if you are not enjoying it?”
And other similar questions that I’d asked myself – and hadn’t given myself any good answers.
She chided me again.
“Do what makes you happy.”
At age 65, five years past my last day at the law firm, nearly five years out of the hospital after my last cardiac surgery, wasn’t I now entitled to do what makes me happy?
I thought I was already doing that. But maybe I was stuck with other people’s expectations and needed to focus more on my own?
So I dropped the writing course for which I had already registered (I was lukewarm on the subject).
I signed up for a different course (Novel plotting and structure) in which I was much more interested.
I made changes in my volunteer activities. I signed up to become an ESL co-teacher at a DC school for adult immigrants. I offered to read aloud (in Spanish!) to 3rd graders at a DC elementary school.
And the greatest change – I was asked to become a writer tutor for international graduate students at the university where I take my writing classes. I get paid for doing what I like to do – – can you believe it? My first job (albeit extremely part-time) in five years.
What’s the common denominator here? It took me a while (five years?) to figure it out, too.
I’m in multiple academic settings – to learn and to teach.
There’s an exercise I should have done years ago. You can try it. Close your eyes and picture where you were the happiest in your student and work years. For me it always was school. Reading, writing (but definitely not arithmetic) gave me pleasure. Particularly when I was in graduate school in international relations, two years in my twenties, living within a community of students from all over the world.
Could I recreate that again in this second (third?) stage of life?
Why I didn’t see this pattern years ago when I first semi-retired, I am not sure.
It turns out that I love teaching. And I am good at it. Who knew? Part of it is having a wonderful co-teacher (hello, H.) Part is having the freedom to expand creatively upon the ESL curriculum. I get to stand in front of a class of engaged and engaging adult immigrant students and use my imagination to make grammar, reading, speaking and writing fun.
I’m back in an international settings. Our ESL students are from Cambodia, El Salvador, France, Gabon, Germany, Italy, S. Korea, Russia. And I’m helping international students from China and other countries with their graduate school writing assignments.
And I’m writing. Which I had not done all summer or most of the fall. My writing gears were stuck. It wasn’t so much writer’s block as a complete absence of creative flow. An empty space where my writing brain had been. Now I’m back to my novel-in-progress. Only 64,000 more words to go!
And perhaps more often to writing this blog? (my last post was September 5. Now it is almost Thanksgiving.)
If you haven’t taken N.’s advice – “Do what makes you happy.” yet, I urge you to do so.
One more thing to be grateful for next week when we celebrate Thanksgiving at my house with my family. My international students are mystified at the appeal of corn pudding and cranberry sauce. But my appetite has returned. On multiple levels.
For that – and for not having to drive on the New Jersey turnpike this holiday, I am very grateful.