Category Archives: Opportunities

Don’t look forward

CandleI have an old friend, Nancy*, with whom I’ve kept in touch over the years, although not so much recently.

Nancy spent the last ten years of her working life in a job she disliked. She  had a calendar upon which she quite literally ticked off each day taking her closer to retirement at 60. Then she would have the freedom to do what she wanted and enjoy life with her husband, children, grandchildren and friends, spending the pension to which she’d contributed more over the years than she could easily afford.

She made elaborate plans for the travels she would take, the hobbies she would start, the causes she would get involved with. Notebooks full of plans. Not just wishes and dreams, concrete plans, with dates.

Just under a year ago, Nancy hit her sixtieth birthday, packed a few things from her desk into a cardboard box and left work for the last time with a spring in her step and a sigh of relief that now she could begin to enjoy the sweetness of her life and plans.

Today, Nancy is in the last days of her life, having been diagnosed with a particularly virulent cancer two months into retirement.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we all need a reminder from time to time to appreciate what we have while it’s here.

I like to make plans (I wrote recently about doing a year-end personal review), but it’s crazy to rely on them as more than a guide to what we want to do. Otherwise we let today slip through our fingers.

Live in the present, informed by the past and with a flexible eye to the future – what better resolution could there be for the coming new year?

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep


See you soon

I won’t be back here at Pilgrim’s Moon until the beginning of 2013, so I wish you a very happy festive season, and thanks to all my readers for all the wonderful comments and support.

 *Name changed

Review you!

It’s wise to understand that the best of our plans can and will get scuppered by the unforeseen. But making plans is still a good idea.

This is an excellent time of year to look both backwards and forwards.

Blogger Chris Guillebeau crystallised some of my ideas around reviews and resolutions with his excellent article How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review.

Now of course I’m not talking about one of those dreadful office appraisals. I’ve spent part of my career managing performance review processes and can say quite categorically it’s the rare process that gets it right and the even rarer manager who gets it right. Most are more like this excruciating scene from The Office.

In our personal “annual review”, it’s between us and us. It can give us a road map from which we may need to take detours, but at least we’ll know the general direction in which we’re going.

In reviewing our selves, I’m not talking only about what we have done and plan to do. Who we are becoming is just as important (and if you think we’re stuck in our current thoughts and identities, read something about neuroplasticity).

How to do a review

It’s one of the few things I do on paper, not on computer, because it gives more flexibility. But do what works best for you.

First, make two lists for the year just passed: everything you’ve done and all the habits you’ve created that you’re delighted with.


So for example in my case these would include my writing here at Pilgrim’s Moon, getting my lovely new job at wonderful MacIntyre (a UK charity which supports people with learning disabilities) and my new-ish habit of getting my head on the pillow by 11.00 p.m. (mostly!) so I don’t go through life exhausted.


Second, make a list of what hasn’t gone so well this year. (My garden is a wasteland! And many other things!)


From these two lists, you may be able to put together a third list of realisations. In my case it would be that I don’t actually enjoy gardening at this point in my life. I am a theoretical or future gardener, not a current one.


There are mostly likely things in the “Uh-oh” list which you’ll have to find a way to deal with. And they’re probably in that list because you don’t want to deal with them. For example my garden isn’t going to go away unless I have it paved over, which I couldn’t bear. So I reckon I can choose between 1) leaving it as a wasteland, which the birds and small animals enjoy but neither my neighbours nor I do, 2) paying someone or exchanging with someone to do my gardening or 3) knuckling down and doing it myself. If it’s the last item, it needs to be scheduled under Plans (below).


This is the fun list! This is where you put down everything you might wish to do and be the year ahead.

Have you made a Bucket List yet (everything you want to do before you kick the…)? If you haven’t, it’s a great idea. Now unless your Bucket List is very short (and if it is you’re not trying), you won’t be able to do everything on it this year. Pick a few things.

And think of characteristics and habits you want to develop. Become more mindful? Get into the habit of getting up 15 minutes early and spending it in meditation.


Repeat after me: “Your diary is your friend”!

Once you know what you want to do next year and what you have to do, you need to make plans.

For me, this involves one big sheet of paper, twelve smaller sheets of paper, a pack of Post-it notes, some Blu-tack, a large mug of fresh coffee and two large chocolate cookies.

Assuming you know what to do with the coffee and the cookies, I’ll explain the rest of the instructions:

  1. Take the post-it notes and write on them the activities that you want or have to do. One activity per Post-it note.
  2. Add to the note whether this is a one-off (visit Prague) or a regular event or task (attend cooking classes)
  3. Write a month on each of your 12 pieces of paper and Blu-Tack them to a wall in order.
  4. Distribute your Post-its around the months.
  5. Rearrange them as needed, and be realistic – you really will not be able to write your novel, visit Australia and get a new puppy all in the same month, not even if you have a big red “S” on your chest.
  6. If you’re feeling really anal, add smaller Post-its to each month as a reminder of a regular activity, or save that for the next step.

Once you have all the Post-its arranged and are being realistic about what you can do and when, it’s time to transfer your plan to your diary, whether you use paper or electronic, or a wall calendar. I quite like a home-made wall calendar backed up by an electronic diary.

Put in all your recurring items, and for big events like holidays, work backwards and add in tasks such as when to book, when to start packing etc.

By putting everything in a plan like this, you won’t spend December next year thinking “Oh if only I’d remembered to/got around to…”.

Changing habits

Habits don’t change miraculously, and trying to develop too many habits at one time is setting yourself up to fail. Plan for your habits too. Perhaps you’ll decide that in January you’ll start putting things away as soon as you’ve finished with them, without fail (yup, that’s one for me!), and in February (by which time January’s habit will be, well, a habit) you’ll start something else. Put them on your wall calendar.

Some new habits may need to have time allocated to them (a new exercise plan for example), so that needs to go in your diary.

A final thought…

Don’t commit your time so far up the wazoo that there’s nothing spare to sit and dream, or to go with the flow. Remember, this is for you, not for show.


What do you think, are you ready for your review?


Photo credits

The clock that makes my head hurt:  Donald Lee Pardue

Pretty notebook: Lenore Edman

Colourful Post-its: Jorg Beckmann


Humour as weapon

Remind you of anything?

The cartoon on the right was sent to a friend of mine (by another woman about our age) in the spirit of “isn’t this hilarious?”. My friend sent it on to me to ask what I thought.

My suspicion is that the subtext of her request for my reaction was along the lines of “have I lost my sense of humour?”

Well if she has, so have I. Rarely have I seen such an ugly, demeaning piece of “humour”.

But that’s not really my point.

Most of us are old enough to remember the energy of the feminist movement 40 or so years ago. We didn’t refer to it as liberation for nothing. What was the main weapon the right wing media used against us? That’s right, “humour”. They tried to make us afraid of being laughed at. We were hairy-legged lesbian feminists. (There’s something bad about that???) They tried to reduce us to stereotypes and stick us back in the kitchen.

Now we’re in our 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond and it seems the same tactics are coming around again.

Well let’s make a pact that we won’t be shoved into the background. Being humourless isn’t actually that important. Being rendered invisible or an object of derision because of our age is.

If you see anything like the cartoon above that makes you feel uncomfortable, send it on to me and I’ll do an occasional ‘name and shame’ feature. How about it?


Why time isn’t money

photo credit: yogendra joshi

It’s a famous saying isn’t it? “Time is money!” And certainly time can be charged out in a monetary way. If you were to hire me as your coach, you’d find that my coaching fees are based largely on time.

But our lives at their best are too broad and magical to be measured by either time or money.


Think of a time when you completely lost yourself in an activity. When you were completely involved in what you were doing. Entranced.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to this state (in his classic book) as Flow. We are totally immersed in our activity, brimming over with creative joy. Unaware of the passing of time and certainly not thinking even remotely about money.

How long ago was it that you last reached this state of flow? What were you doing? How can you open your life to more experiences of flow?

Pilgrim’s Moon is taking a short break now until after Easter so I leave you to reflect on these questions over the next few days. I’d love to hear your experiences and ideas.

Of recycling, respect and J K Rowling

Read to the end for the opportunity to receive a free gift.

I‘ve been thinking about respect and kindness lately, and yes there is a connection with recycling and the famous Harry Potter author.


photo credit: sweetonveg

Some months ago one of my favourite bloggers, Sue at Discombobula, wrote a snappy little post about recycling which set out her annoyance at people who don’t put stuff in the right bins, and who don’t rinse out their recycling containers so the poor person at the recycling plant doesn’t have to sort through nasty stinky things. That last bit made me think. Ever since reading it, I’ve been much more thorough in rinsing out cat food tins and yoghurt cartons (the two primary items I buy that need recycling). It’s a kind gesture to the recycling centre staff.


Last week, I wrote a review of another blog, Advanced Style. In my head, my review was fairly light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek and reasonably positive, but readers of Advanced Style reacted strongly against what I said. Re-reading my post, I realise I could have said the same things in a more constructive way. I could have shown more respect.

J K Rowling

In the UK at the moment, an enquiry into press corruption is taking place. Giving evidence a few days ago, J K Rowling spoke about press intrusion, including an incident when a note to her from a tabloid reporter was slipped into the school-bag of her five-year-old daughter.


I think these three incidents have something in common: either kindness or lack of it.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect kindness from Britain’s tabloid press. But we can each show kindness to others by refusing to buy or read their trash.

Are we kind?

It can be difficult to think of ourselves as kind. Oh of course barring a few dedicated misanthropes, we’re mostly not going to say “well I’m just not a very kind person”.  But society sometimes seems to equates kindness with weakness, or reduces it to sentimentality.

And of course we all have impulses that are less than kind, or we simply “don’t think”.

Caroline Kennedy once said

As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency.

I like the way she puts it: a prosperity of kindness and decency.

A singularity of kindness

You can’t do group kindness. Oh you can get together with a group of people and do a kind act for someone, but the impulse to make or agree to the proposal comes from each individual.

And as we grow older, our experience gives us more perspective and the wisdom to look for opportunities to share it. So I hereby declare that I’m going to indulge in kinder behaviour from now on.

How about you?

Free gift

It’s the 1st December on Thursday, and in the spirit of Advent kindness, I’m sending a free animated Jacquie Lawson Advent e-calendar to the first five people who comment on this post!


Are you wasting your time?

photo credit: antwerpenr

A couple of decades ago, discussions about retirement tended to centre around men. You know the caricatures: the workaholic, authoritative male who got his gold watch then dropped dead because he’d lost his purpose in life; the golfer who loved the idea of spending more and more time on the links then realised he had nothing else to do; the retired Major-General reliving his glory days from behind a haze of cigar smoke at his club.

Now here we are in 2011 and women of our generation are retiring from careers that have often been very fulfilling. What lessons do we learn about ourselves? Who are we? What do we do next?*


And even if we’ve not retired, many of us now are working part-time or are unemployed.


I think one of the big dangers of suddenly having a lot of time on your hands is aimless drifting.

I’ve experienced this myself during periods when I’ve taken career breaks. The first few weeks are delightful: an oasis of selfishness and recovery time. Then the days begin to bleed into each other. You have difficulty remembering what day it is, let alone what date. You realise it’s lunchtime, you haven’t spoken to a soul for two days, and you’re still in your PJs in front of the computer.

Human doing

So the next step is sometimes a whirlwind of activity. In a kind of panic, you sign up to learn Mexican cookery, book-binding and French; you volunteer at two local charities; you have your grandchildren over to lunch every Sunday; your house has never been so clean.

You try to replicate the structure and busy-ness of your working life. And you know, that can be as big a waste of time as doing nothing if it doesn’t speak to some deep hunger in you. (I’m not, of course, implying that any of these pastimes are pointless. It’s just that I’ve seen many women use similar things as displacement activities for what’s really going on.)

Is there a middle way?

So what’s the answer? How can we live joyful and meaningful lives when we’re no longer working, or between jobs? How can we avoid pointless activity? How can we avoid the drift into depression that sometimes comes when we have no focus?

Over to you

You’ll notice I’m not answering these questions. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you. What are the biggest challenges you face approaching or moving into part-time working or retirement? What do you fear about it? What do you look forward to? Why? What would help you?

Please share in the comments.

* Of course many of you will be caring for aging parents. Because of improvements in health and medical care, one of the big issues for the baby boomer generation is this one of parental care, or of care for aging partners. I wrote about the challenges of this a few weeks ago, here.


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