Saturday, February 9, 2013

Competence and a Sense of Identity

I was reading an article on the challenges that women face as their children leave the home, the “empty nest” challenge. I thought that the advice given in the article was very much in tune with what I have found in my life - “The more you’ve developed a sense of identity and competence apart from mothering or wife-ing, the more tools you have when your care-taking period ends”.

Or, transferring that to men and women who have a career (and may also be mothers), the better chance you will have of successfully coping with retirement.

I have chosen, in the title of this post, to reverse the order of the concepts - placing competence before sense of identity. Why, because I think the competence that you develop, the skills you develop, will help you define your own identity. What does this mean to me? Well, 10 years before I had the chance to retire I was very much an engineer. If you asked, yup, I’d tell you I was an engineer. But, I was already working on becoming my “next” self. I went through a period where I debated what I wanted to be when I was retired, and then pursued it. I was fortunate that I had a number of skill sets to choose from - making about anything in leather, making unusual leaded glass pieces, working out and fitness, clock restoration, vintage car restoration, woodworking... In the end I chose clock-making because it gave me a social status as an antique dealer - a socially comfortable slot - and it gave me a chance to earn a little more in my retirement than the other options.

Even before I retired I started telling folk I was an antique dealer. Which means that the day I was given the chance to retire I was ready - with a new sense of identity that made the transition pretty darned painless.

And then I immediately started on filling out my “sense of identity”, amping up my exercise time, developing my own routine focused on what mattered to me - core, balance, and functional fitness. And I “entitled”, or promised myself that I could practice the dulcimer an hour a day.

Today - thriving clock business, 19 technical articles published on the techniques I use, becoming nationally known in the hammered dulcimer world, a certified personal trainer and leading around a pack of folk at the gym. Any one of these aspects could give me a sense of competence and sense of identity. Taken together they leave me a very fulfilled old man.

I have slowly come to realize that much of what I write is really focused on people in their mid-40's - who are smart enough to realize that one day they will need to be happy when given the chance to retire. Those folk have to start developing their competencies before they retire - I suspect it would amaze you how many folk my age tell me they wished they had started “doing things” when they were younger - when they would have found it easier to learn. OK, in truth I think that is a massive cop-out. This last couple of weeks I have set up my main workbench so that I can host webinars - and show folk what I am doing with 4 web-cams - one of which shows what I am working on through a microscope. This meant evaluating webinar programs, figuring out how to handle 4 webcams, well, figuring out lots of stuff. Then, late last week the national clock association committed to promote and host my first webinar. Think this makes an old man feel good?

Skills, feelings of accomplishment, happiness. Step one is to do something. No. Not just do something - do whatever you do the best way you can - develop skills - make things happen - make folks around you proud to know you - and find the sense of accomplishment that doing something really, really well will give you.

Not sure who won the superbowl, but I do know I am ready to run a webinar from my bench!

Another thought - yesterday two guys in their 20's wanted to know more about the workout we were doing. They wanted to know if the things we were doing would give them definition and make them look more like me - really fit and ripped. These 2 young guys wanted to know how to look more like a 58 year old man. And, when they found out I was 58 - well, they really had a bit of a hard time believing that.

Sense of accomplishment - happy - like you probably can’t even imagine.

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