What do you do when it’s done

Structures

We spend our youth in a specific structure called school.

It tells us when we have to be certain places and what things we do at those places. Then, suddenly as you graduate from school, you enter into the vast expanse of you now and you in 89 years and there’s practically nothing that’s giving that future a structure.

Many of us like to grab onto dreams as things which guide our future. We think about family, work, home, hobbies, and then somehow after it’s all said and done, it can feel really unsatisfying.

Or maybe you’ve been putting in your time for years and now is your big break where you get to live in paradise, travel the world, and have freedom. Except, you wake up and realize there’s nothing. What happened?

Achievements

Especially in cultures like the U.S. and Japan, we thrive by encouraging ourselves to focus on achievements (ummm anyone have a bucket list?). Yet we rarely are taught to navigate the moments after everything is said and done. The day after you’ve gotten that promotion you’ve been waiting for. The morning after you’re final day of work for retirement.

For me, this reality of the ???? after achieving a dream came after I finished my book, In My Own Skin.

I felt like I had created something so dark and depressing I wondered if anyone would ever read it. In fact, as I was writing, I had people offer to help me review it, and rarely did they ever finish it. I also didn’t know what do with myself now that it was done. Do I just start writing something new? After three years of hard work, is this it?

Then, a friend said, “Why don’t you host a reading?”

What comes next

Much to my surprise, as soon as I started sharing the published book, I have felt just how much joy it brings me to offer my experience and story as a guide to others on these big journeys of transformation.

I went from thinking no one would ever look at what I’d done to a line of people out the door waiting to talk with me. 

As much as I have my experience with finishing a big deal project or losing someone close and suddenly so that a phase of life ends with a big bang, I’ve also found there are all kinds of other ways death manifests in my everyday life, and yours too. Death, in other words, as endings.

The Everyday endings

Most recently, I’ve become lactose intolerant.

When I was a 9th grader fresh after my dad’s death, I LOVED ice cream. I would have said it was my favorite food. I also would have said I never thought there would be anything that brought me closer to my dad again.

Then, I became lactose intolerant as a 24 year old.

Suddenly, those memories of setting 5 glasses of milk for Mom, my sisters, and I and 1 glass of water for Dad around the dinner table have taken on a whole new meaning. I’ve become connected to him in a way I never thought possible.

That is to say, there are so many things we lose in our lives (loss takes on many faces in our lives). Especially with really big things like people we care about, we can get focused on just how much is taken away from us.

We can feel like we get to the other side of an accomplishment and have no idea what comes next. 

But that’s not all that happens with loss. 

When my mom decided to move across the country and go to medical school, I saw my first real example of how being broken open by my loss meant not just things getting taken away but also new things coming into our lives and taking root. 

Now, I am so grateful to work with people like you on your own journeys of transformation.

From Deep Waters Back to Shore – Transition Coaching

I was very good at getting myself out to deep waters as I wrote and processed my loss, but I needed a guide to get back to shore.

I believe that’s true for all of us.

Whether we choose to act on it or not, in those moments of transition we need people to help guide us back to shore.

That’s why I’m here for you. 

If you’re looking for someone to support you like that, I would love to be that person for you. We can do that by working 1:1 together with undivided attention on the face of loss in your life. Together, we find what it means for you to feel fulfilled in your life in this moment, and we grow the ways for you to feel that as often as you can.

Click here to set up a call with me to see if you’re a good fit for my 1:1 program.

After years of feeling under constant attack from my grief, I can finally look at my lactose intolerance and not say I’ve lost another thing, but to instead say, “Thanks, Dad. I know how much you love me.”

Endings are Beginnings

Seeing those grief triggers as love notes is just one of many ways I’ve come to feel at peace with my loss. It is an honor and a privilege to support you in finding that peace too.

There’s so much here for us, even when we think it’s all gone. That’s what I find so amazing. All this darkness we experience is what reminds us how alive we are.

When we can settle into our own aliveness, that’s when the new dreams start emerging and we find the path for our next thing has been there for us all along.

Originally published on Aging Courageously. Kirsten Schowalter is the author of In My Own Skin and a transition coach with Aging Courageously.

“Age is not important unless you are cheese.”

Helen Hayes

“Age is not important unless you’re cheese.” – Helen Hayes, an American actress whose career is said to have span 80 years.

 

When I saw her quote for the first time, it made me think of two things:

  1. The really good cheese I enjoy that takes time to age.
  2. The people I know who are doing amazing things and “have aged” according to cultural concepts of aging.

One of those people who stands out to me is someone named Sherry Saterstrom. I met Sherry when I was a college student and she was a dance professor. She has the kind of voice recognizable from across a room. She expresses the energy of what she’s communicating in exclamations and punctuative sound. Similarly, she is nimble and quick, and the most energetic and curious person I have ever met. At the time, she was also almost 70 years of age.

Sherry Saterstrom

While I was at school, I took several of her dance classes, one of them I even took twice just because it meant more time around Sherry. We learned anatomy, physiology, evolution, somatics, dance, and improvisation, and practiced something we now call “Mindful Movement.” As students, we watched and learned as this limber and spritely woman showed us how with an attention to alignment you can be in the middle of lecture and discover you can do a handstand (this literally happened one day while we were in class).

When I think of someone who doesn’t let anything, like expectations around what someone at age 70 should be doing, I think of Sherry. In fact, her more recent jump from teaching into what most people call retirement also took a more unconventional route.

“Graduation”

After spending 30 years (of one year contracts) teaching dance at St. Olaf College, Sherry decided it was time for one great life phase to end. No, she wasn’t retiring. As a St. Olaf alumnus herself, she told everyone, “I’m finally graduating.”

During her time teaching at St. Olaf, she had never gone on sabbatical, so her first year after “graduation” she set aside as “sabbatical.” She gardened, cross country skied, cooked, organized her home office, and probably ate yummy cheese. But she didn’t sit around in the fridge like cheese. In fact, winter, when Minnesota feels the most like a refrigerated world, is when Sherry loves to be outside the most.

This year, she told me she’s looking for a market. She’s ready to start her own venture about mindful moving and fitness.

“This is an idea I had 20 years ago, but when I was thinking about it then, I was 20 years too early!” She says, “Today, even when I go to the Y for my cross fit class I hear the trainers talking about being mindful. Who knows, maybe I’m still wrong and it’s too early, but I think there’s a wider awareness now about what mindfulness is and that makes me look for a market to launch a venture offering new kinds of classes.”

Lessons about Age

Listening to Sherry’s story, I wonder: how did she know this was the idea she wanted to go for? In some ways, it was because it’s something that she has been fascinated by for decades. In other ways, it’s because she has seen other people talking about the concepts she wants to build a business around. Either way, her age has given her the advantage to see her idea in a broader context.

That tells me two things:

  1. We all have potential skills and value to offer already inside us. Like an expensive cheese, we have so much depth and richness that can create value in the world today. Potentially, even greater value the more we age!
  2. Hearing about other people thinking the same thing isn’t a bad signal. In fact, it may be a signal the idea you have is even more worth doing. Timing is critical in launching and getting traction around a business, and knowing your idea resonates with people who may be future customers is a great signal you’re onto something good.

While things are still early for Sherry, what I love about her journey into “retirement” so far is that it’s characterized by a clear intention to throw out the window all the things we think “should” happen as we get older. Instead, she plans to continue to be curious about what’s next. No venture is too big or too small when you set your mind to it and begin to see all the possibility. Who knows, maybe Sherry’s career in dance will eventually rival Helen Hayes’ career in acting. If you’re going to have that much life, what are you going to get up to?

If you’re curious about what this world of mindfulness that Sherry has seen come to life looks like, take a peek at the Mindful Movement Intro Series from Aging Courageously.

Kirsten Schowalter is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of the memoir In My Own Skin. Originally posted on Aging Courageously.

How to grow up and live a fulfilling life

When you grow up

You spend your life trying to figure out what you’re going to be when you grow up. Maybe you know from the get-go or maybe, like me, you are just trying to figure out the next step along the journey.

When I was little, I never really had a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought, “I could be a ballerina, or maybe a teacher, or a doctor, or a secretary.” Every time I picked something, I felt like I was jumping in a category of people and nothing felt just right. What if I started a job when I was 22 and woke up ten, twenty, thirty years later and decided it wasn’t for me? In some ways, I feel like my early career has been dictated by the fear that I will have to choose something and stay with it… for the rest of my life.

That’s intimidating.

When I was 18, my mom (age 48) decided to quit her job and go back to school to become a doctor. Nobody knew how this was going to go.

There was only one school that accepted her, so clearly not many places thought she could do it, right?

How can someone reinvent themselves just like that?

Last year, my friend Aaron lost his job at age 52. He told me, “It’s likely the best years of my career are behind me now, Kirsten.”

When we live to be a 102, how can the best years of our lives be behind us at age 52?

One day while my uncle drove me to the airport, he said he wished he could find work he really loved. “I love antiques, but where are the jobs in antiques? Plus, who would hire a guy in his late fifties anyway? I’m worthless on the job market.”

Do you know the feeling? You have experience, and yet somehow it doesn’t mean anything?

So what’s left for you?

While I was in grad school at UC Berkeley, I studied demography, or population studies. In one class, the professor put up a picture on the screen and said, “The U.S. population is aging. We know it, we can see it, and the only way we are going to be able to survive it is if you go out and make better institutions.”

When I look at these four situations, I think, “There’s got to be a way that we can live that supports us in finding something we care about and can make a living doing, no matter how old we are, no matter what stage in life we are in.”

Now there is.

Whether you’re looking for a new story, sending kids off to school, leaving a long standing career for retirement, or something else entirely, you can reinvent yourself. This is something I believe deeply.

Launched in 2018, Aging Courageously will inspire and strengthen you to make your dreams real at EVERY age. Rather than follow the social momentum of slowing down as you get older, with Aging Courageously it’s never too late to feel engaged and passionate about your life.

Who am I?

I’m Kirsten. I guide people in restoring their sense of self through major life changes.

How did this become my life?

As I said, when I was little, I felt like every time I considered a career for myself I was deciding on something that would stick for the rest of my life. Honestly, being put in a category like that scared me. So, I decided I didn’t have to just do one thing. I researched brain cancer in a genetics laboratory at Mayo Clinic, curated exhibitions at an Austrian ethnographic museum, worked as the head baker in a farm to fork bakery on a fruit orchard, and got a Master’s degree at UC Berkeley where I studied populations and aging. After it all, I was sure there was something more for me.

That something more turned out to be sharing my own story. I wrote a memoir called “In My Own Skin”. It’s memoir about my story of loss, love, and growing up after my dad died when I was 14 and my family was in a car crash. Reflecting on the choices and circumstances that have shaped my life, I want to help you love who you are and make your dreams possible from where you’re standing right now.

Let’s get this started!

That’s why I started Aging Courageously. Because the best way to grow up to a fulfilled life is to believe it’s possible at ANY age.

And that’s why I’m excited to share stories of Aging Courageously with you, my new friends at Scrappy Women. We know what it’s like to create something from nothing – “to take risks and put ourselves out there;” “to care about something more than we care about being comfortable, socially acceptable, or politically correct;” and “to be absolutely, totally committed to extraordinary results.” As we venture on this journey into the world of aging, grab hold of your scrappiness and dive in. Let’s show the world just how far our scrappiness can take us in living long, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

Join the Aging Courageously family on Facebook and buckle your seat belt, because when you grow up this time, there’s no more wishing, no more waiting.

Stay tuned for my next post about my friend Sherry, a 70 year old “graduating” into entrepreneurship.

Kirsten Schowalter is the founder of Aging Courageously and the author of the memoir In My Own Skin.

(In case you’re curious…Above is a picture of my mom speaking at her medical school graduation.)