MidLife

A Peaceful Life Can Have Purpose

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed. 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: Only a full calendar = a purpose-filled life.

I’ve eluded to my workaholic personality. The desperate need to hear my mother proclaim I don’t know how you do it all. She died before I achieved that goal.

After successfully transitioning from the sandwich generation into an empty nester, I retired for the first time in 2014. Our finances did not depend on my meager teacher salary, and I could not bear the thought of grading one more research paper. I was ready to spend time doing what I wanted to do.

I relished the first three months of retirement. It was like an extended summer break filled with photo walks at the arboretum and journaling sessions at the local library. I began a self-study on the craft of writing and soon developed a consistent writing routine.

The holidays were naturally busy but not stressful. I loved savoring all the special moments. I even rekindled my love for baking. However, once the decorations were put away and we settled into long winter nights, I found myself searching for significance.

Oh, I had plenty to keep me busy. I began the day with morning devotions and light exercise. After lunch, I continued my writing routine at the library. Often, I found time to meet with friends and take grandchildren out for special events. I enjoyed this pace of life. I felt at peace. But did any of this activity have a purpose? Or was I just self-indulgent?

Slowly over time, I traded this peaceful existence for a more “noble” purpose. In 2015 I returned to the classroom to teach just one class: How to Write a Novel in a Year. I enjoyed inspiring five eager students to pursue their passion … and I did not have to grade any papers!

However, that one class soon transitioned into two sections of How to Write a Novel, as well as two sections of English Composition, where I must grade several papers throughout the semester. I am also the faculty advisor for NHS (National Honor Society) and continue to hold a seat on the board.

Without realizing it, I am once again a human-doing rather than a human being.  All those “just one more things” add up to full days with little free time. I rarely exercise anymore, and I can’t seem to write anything more than a weekly blog post. The calendar is filled and I’m exhausted.

Please don’t misunderstand my grumbling for ingratitude. I am thankful for the opportunity to teach these past fifteen years. It allowed me to give back to the community and (hopefully) have a positive impact on the world. But I think it time to pass the torch to someone else. Someone who is perhaps a little younger, more energetic and filled with innovative classroom ideas.

I worry though. Is it okay to spend retirement focusing on family, friends, and self? Does there need to be some greater calling in order achieve significance?

Is a purposeful life only possible with a busy calendar? Or can it coexist with peace and harmony?

The truth: A peaceful life can have purpose

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This ends the series on Lies I’ve Believed. I’m sure over time I will discover more lies that I will need to deconstruct and re-evaluate. But for now, learning to embrace these ten new truths will be the focus of 2019.

27 Comments

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Hi Molly, thank you for joining us at #MLSTL sharing more of your wisdom. I love your term ‘human doing rather than human being’. I have always been one to have a full diary and felt the need to be busy. However, over the last year, I have found that it is vital to have that balance of peace and harmony as well as keeping my activities and things that give my life meaning. Have a beautiful week and I’ll be sharing on SM. xx

    • Molly Totoro

      I wish I could take credit for that term, Sue, but I do find it fitting.
      Finding balance is indeed key. I think for me, I need to decide what it is I want to do. And then pursue that passion abandon 🙂

  • Natalie

    Hi Molly – I think it’s wonderful to spend time, not just in retirement, focusing on family, friends, and self. It sounds like you’ve been working so hard. You’ve earned this peaceful time. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      You are absolutely right, Natalie. These are important no matter what age. It just took me a little longer to realize this truth.

  • Michele Vosberg

    Your story sounds much like mine. I left my career as an educator and enjoyed a few blissful months. Then I started adjuncting a course, then another. This fall I found that my commitments have creeped back up into the out of control realm. Now I want to back down again. I do love the feeling of purpose I find in work though. it is hard to feel that same feeling with home and friend activities.

    • Molly Totoro

      Michele… we are twins!!
      I do find purpose in teaching, but I also find it draining. I have many other interests that I think will serve me well, if I give them a chance (like writing, blogging, scrapbooking, etc). I plan to give retirement another try come May 🙂

  • Johanna Castro

    Hi Molly, I too battle with creating harmony in my life to do the things I’d really like to with being busy enough and living purposefully. My blog gives my life meaning, but it’s a hungry beast and keeps me so very busy. Yes, it’s a challenge and I don’t know the answer. #MLSTL and shared on SM.

    • Molly Totoro

      “It is a hungry beast” … oh Johanna, I love that visual image! I do not devote quite so much time to my blog, although I think I could easily be tempted to replace teaching with blogging. I agree… I need to find the balance of being busy while living with purpose.

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    Hi Molly – I have moved from 4 days a week work to 2 days a week over the last couple of days and often feel the need to justify my “indulgent” life of not working myself into an early grave. But, the more I settle into this blend of work and play, the more I love it. I don’t think I’m ready for full time retirement yet – and those 2 days of work get me out of bed and into a routine, but I’m also not going to “work for the man” anymore. I’d rather live simply and invest in the things I love – life is short!
    MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Life is short, Leanne. I just came to the realization this week that in 20 years I will be just shy of 80(!!) So what am I waiting for?! I can no longer afford to put off what I want to do. While I do like the structure of a part-time job, I also know I can be self-disciplined. I am ready to fill my days with activities that energize me rather than drain me.
      Simple living and investing in the things we love … what a great philosophy!

  • Suzanne

    Molly, it sounds like you are ready to let go of the desire to hear your Mother’s praise and accept that whatever you choose to do with your life has purpose and meaning. I agree with Sue that “balance” is the key to a purposeful and joyful life. You seem to have a lot of talents and interests and I suspect it will be very easy to find a healthy combination that is right for you. Thank you for this series of articles. They have been enlightening.

    • Molly Totoro

      You are right, Suzanne… I am ready to let go of that desire. It never served me well. Instead, I am ready to focus on the blessings of life. I am fortunate to have the time, health, and resources to pursue my passions. I look forward to discovering that healthy balance in the months to come.

  • Pat

    Molly, Gosh, you are hitting all the big ones in this series! Yes, I’m still trying to stop believing that busy = worthy. I even hear it from retirees when they say “I’m so busy, I don’t know when I had time to work”. But I like the slower pace of my life, the ability to sit and read and comment on blogs, the enjoyment of spending time doing a crossword puzzle. I don’t have many routines even. Not even writing on a regular basis. And yet, I rarely admit to others that I’m not busy… it still feels like saying I’m worthless. Thanks for this series…it’s so helpful.

    • Molly Totoro

      Pat… just the other day I was listening to a friend detailing her busy life. I felt guilty that I was considering retirement. I didn’t want to mention my plans for fear of appearing lazy. How crazy is that?!
      Obviously, I am still believing the lies. I have a lot of work left to do.
      And yet… I know I long for the slower pace. I want to have time to sit and read (perhaps an entire novel in a day). I want to spend time in meditation and prayer. I have great plans to scrapbook our family’s heritage. I know I won’t be bored (nor lazy).

  • Bethany @ Happily Loco

    This is something I have struggled with too. Last fall, my yoga teacher taught us about the Law of Attraction and told us to envision a goal we had. I pictured myself as a successful, high-powered teacher–even being chosen as Teacher of the Year!

    I did not get that. Instead, I had a very challenging year, ending on medical leave. I am now substitute teaching part time and absolutely loving my life. It turns out that more time and a slower pace was really what I wanted, and that I had been envisioning the goal that I thought I should want.

    #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      Bethany … I absolutely LOVE this story! Thank you so much for sharing with me.
      Yes, I often wonder if what I think I want is actually a ruse to keep me from my true purpose. I am slowly learning that the “shoulds” in life are detrimental to lasting joy.

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Totally agree that peace and purpose can go exist! While my three 12-hour workdays a week keep me busy, I feel a big difference between having a busy day and feeling ‘busy’ and ‘frantic’. I have learned to let things wait and not push myself — and even arranging my week to be 3-on, 4-off was a way to help me balance my peace with my purpose. Does that make sense?

    • Molly Totoro

      YES… it makes total sense, Janet. And I agree. There is a big difference between being busy (and feeling fulfilled) and feeling frantic. I think if we are focusing on our true calling – our passion – then busyness energizes us. It is when we are busy doing those things which drain us that it is detrimental to our peace and joy. I think I am ready to busy myself with what I truly enjoy doing 🙂

  • Chris

    I believe retirement is a time to do whatever you want, be super busy or be super laid. No rules, it depends on what makes you happy. I’ve learnt that just hanging out with my daughter and her children is a perfect way to spend a time and I have no guilt about not being ‘more productive’. It’s a valuable way to spend time for all of us. Shared.

    • Molly Totoro

      Chris… this is beautiful. I have recently set aside Monday afternoons to watch my grandson and give my son and daughter-in-law a few free hours. It is, indeed, time well-spent and I do not regret a single minute.

      I am a rule-follower. So I wonder if a part of my problem is that retirement, as you say, has no rules. I need to learn to be okay with what I feel is right … rather than be subject to a dictated schedule. It sounds easy. Why am I making this so difficult?

  • Mary Lou

    I’m finding that through striving for a peaceful life and simplifying my life I’m able to be more mindful of what I put out there to the world. We’ve had a life of multi-tasking and ‘getting things done’. It’s hard to let go of that. Now I’m concentrating on what brings me peace and joy, and I’m finding there’s so much to explore in doing that. Thanks for the post Molly! I’ll be sharing on FB and Twitter for #MLSTL.

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