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A friend of a friend of mine retired recently. Her company has employed a lot of people near retirement age, which means it’s amassed great experience in helping people to make the transition.
One part of the process is to offer a free course solely dedicated to how to deal with retirement. The course took place over a few days at a castle in France, with great food and wine and long walks in the countryside.
But besides just the sheer beauty of relaxing in a French castle, she said there was one session in particular that stood out. All the participants were given a large block of clay. Then they were tasked with creating a sculpture within two hours that would depict their idea of retirement.
The participants got to work and created sculptures of varying quality, but they were all personal and exciting. Then, once the two hours were up, the teacher walked back in and said, ‘Alright, now turn what you made back into a block of clay.’
A few participants balked at the idea. Quite understandable, right? They’d just spent two hours pouring their hearts into the clay, trying to create something beautiful and deeply meaningful to their future… and were now asked to destroy it.
But that was the point of the exercise. They were meant to get used to engaging in activities without a clear goal or purpose, except for the enjoyment of the process itself. When you’re retired, there are no deadlines to respect or projects that need attention except for those you set for yourself.
I’m not at the point in my life yet that I’m destroying my clay sculptures in France, but there are other places you can learn this lesson — and it goes far beyond coming to terms with retirement.
Not long ago, I had a local contractor visit my cabin on the lake, and we discussed something I wanted to build. I do all the work myself because I enjoy carpentry, but he offers advice or supplies materials. As we discussed extending my dock, I asked him if that would be allowed or whether I would need a permit.
He shrugged and said, ‘You enjoy working with your hands and building stuff, right? So build it. And if they find out and tell you to remove the extension, you’ll have an excellent new project on your hands removing the extension. So you’ll have twice the fun on one project!’
In the end, I didn’t extend my dock, but his philosophy stuck with me. I don’t think my contractor necessarily considers himself a philosopher, but there was a fundamental truth in how he approached projects. Since then, I have tried to think about the satisfaction of processes a bit more.
For example, when I’m preparing dinner, I try to focus less on the result and try to enjoy handling the ingredients, cutting the onions, and tasting the wines. Some people would call this mindfulness or ‘being in the moment,’ but those terms are so overused that they seem to have lost meaning for most people.
So instead of telling people to be more mindful, maybe we need to play with clay only for the sake of playing with clay, or you need a down-to-earth contractor to teach you life’s lessons.
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