This past weekend was the two-year anniversary of my first day of retirement. Looking back, these past two years have been a somewhat inconceivable journey, an education in more ways than I expected.
My last blog post was November 2014. I meant to keep it up, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t have the time or the inclination to post. Among other things, I was consumed with planning festivities around my son’s graduation from USNA, suffered a major illness in March (pneumonia) that really knocked me for a loop, and then, once recovered, more travels with my husband (a 52-day road trip!).
Along the way, however, I felt a need to be more intentional about crafting a future life for myself. My first year or so of retirement I was purposely open-minded but noncommittal to activities and experiences. I tried new things, discovered activities I unexpectedly love (like yoga) and others that didn’t click as well. I mostly resisted obligations so I would be free to travel with my husband (another thing I found I love). I searched for the right rhythm of time spent alone, with husband, with friends. But with my son now graduated from college and fully launched, I sensed a new phase of my life that could be one of the best yet – if I was deliberate and purposeful about it. When else would I have my current absence of responsibilities (no job, parents or children depending on me) and the time, health, and money to be doing things truly fulfilling?
As my husband always says, I have way too much horsepower to not be doing something. But what was that “something”? Although I didn’t realize it at the time, in hindsight, this kicked off a soul-searching process, in which I examined everything in my life – marriage, family relationships, friendships, faith, leisure, work. I threw things up and arranged and rearranged the pieces in my mind. I thought and prayed about each area of my life and how they would fit into my ideal purposeful life. All this mental activity was overlaid by a relatively new factor in my decision-making – my own mortality – which argued against wasting time and for decisiveness and risk-taking.
A key awareness that came out of this contemplative process was around the question of work. Although not feeling a call to go back to full-time employment, I do miss aspects of my former work life – the structure, camaraderie, challenge, and, honestly, the compensation. I considered various part-time and contract job options. I thought about writing or blogging as a career. I prayed for opportunities that would address my longing for meaningful work but also allow space for other parts of my retired life that I now cherish. In one of my 1:30 AM brainstorming sessions (I often do my best thinking in the crossover between awake and asleep) a plan materialized. But first I must back up.
In January of 2014, about five months after I retired, I reconnected with my friend Cissy. She and I were in a women’s prayer group many years ago and had kept in casual contact with each other after the group disbanded. Over lunch, I told her I’d long wanted to work with a nonprofit organization after I retired, but was not sure which one or in what capacity. Cissy shared that she wanted to start a nonprofit and asked if I would be willing to help. That invitation started us both down an often-miraculous path resulting in me today being the co-founder (with Cissy) and Board Chair of Alive and Well Women. Our mission is to help women navigate toxic cultural messages about health, beauty and sexuality so we can thrive amidst the multiple stages of the female life cycle. In the past year and a half, we have formed the Board, obtained 501(c)(3) status, and raised enough money to develop our branding and website (which we are in the process of launching).
Alive and Well Women was clearly Cissy’s brainchild. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and nationally recognized eating disorders specialist. She began offering retreats, workshops and groups in 2007 out of her discovery that community support is the key to healing women’s shame-based relationships with their bodies. Her idea in forming the nonprofit was to allow us to bring the curriculum to women who might not otherwise be able to afford the workshops.
Thus far, I have thought of myself as the person who helped Cissy launch her nonprofit. I was reluctant to commit too much to the effort. Then, during my period of soul-searching, I worked with Cissy on a grant proposal. What I discovered is that grant writing is not much different than responding to RFPs, something I did in my former corporate career, but far more satisfying.
Fast forward to my 1:30 AM Sunday session. What came to me in an inspired flash was that I could be the Grantwriter for Alive and Well Women! That would allow me to work part time (and still have the flexibility to travel), to write, collaborate with Cissy, develop new skills and networks, and potentially earn compensation (if I am successful in winning grant funds). I proposed the new arrangement the next day to Cissy, who was both grateful and encouraging. The following Saturday I took a class that was offered coincidentally (or not!) through the local community college on grantwriting, which undoubtedly spared me significant trial and error time.
So, I’m off on my new “career”! What I have since discovered, through research and meetings with other nonprofits, is that grantwriting will not be as easy as I first envisioned. Prior to even writing a grant proposal, it takes a fair amount of research to find appropriate funding sources, and then more effort to determine whether potential grants are worth pursuing (as in the corporate world, a big part is who you know so networking is important). Then there is strategy for finding the “mission match” (discovering and demonstrating the complementary goals for funder and recipient). But I am so enjoying the challenge!
And something else remarkable happened along the way. As I have become more emotionally committed to Alive and Well Women, I find myself crafting my own “Alive and Well Women” story. Rather than just being Cissy’s friend who helped start the nonprofit, I am discovering the parts of Alive and Well Women that speak to me in my own life journey and embracing them. I am finding that, for me, I have more passion for issues of women’s empowerment than embodiment. As a result, I have decided to re-focus my blog as a forum to discuss what “Alive and Well Women” means to me in this phase of life. Stay tuned!