Lao Tsu, tricky times, and me

pict0451Suddenly I’m finding myself with an awful lot to do.  One of the fantasies that I’d had for a long time about retirement was how relaxing it would be.  I pictured myself going through each day dripping with relaxation and with a ray of sunshine over my shoulder, just as it  was last November when we drove up Highway 1 in California celebrating the Obama victory.  Well, it’s winter in Toronto so I guess that I shouldn’t have been expecting sunshine!  As for walking in relaxation … well, that would mean quite a personality change for me.  Maybe that’s more than I should wish for in such a short time.  Nonetheless, as Lao Tsu said:  “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

So, back to the being so busy.  Part of what’s driving this busy-ness arises from the economic crisis.  Seems that every time I turn on the TV or radio or pick up a newspaper it’s just more doom and gloom, doom and obama-addresses-congress1gloom. Sure President Obama did a wonderful job attempting to allay our fears last night.   Indeed I was so moved by listening to him that I had to call my sister Fran (in California) and – on behalf of all Canadians (and,  not meaning to be too presumptuous, perhaps on behalf of people the world over ) simply say “Thank You”.  Thank you for bringing intelligence back to politics.  Thank you for electing someone who represents the best in all that we hope to be as human beings.  Thank you for giving us all hope for the future.  Thank you … from the bottom of my heart.  Fran said that she was listening and just wanting to hug the President.  Imagine that!  Not so long ago it certainly wasn’t hugging that popped to mind when listening to the old “W” (rather not even use his full name); thank goodness it’s now and not then.

A brief aside.  Did you see/hear Bobby Jindal – jindalLouisiana’s Republican governor – speak after Obama’s address to Congress.  Oh my.   If I may be so forthright, it seems to me that he’s the male counterpart to Ms. Palin.  Just as she was brought to us – I believe – as the GOP’s response to Hilary Clinton, exposing the somewhat mysogynistic belief that one woman’s pretty much the same as another, I can only surmise (after listening to his speech) that Jindal is the GOP response to a visible minority President.  The underlying belief here must be that all who reside outside of the white tent of power are equivalent as well and we’ll all just identify with each other like nobody’s business!   Jindal – touted as the Republican party’s shining star –  “seemed more like a high school student giving a valedictory speech than a potential future leader of the party,” wrote Philip Klein of the “American Spectator.”  The image of a deer in the headlights came to mind as I watched him.   I could do nothing but laugh when I pictured this somewhat ossified man speaking on the world stage.  Thank you once again GOP for bringing us a candidate who ensures ongoing Democratic leadership.  

Back to the point.  The President’s words don’t change the reality that given the horrid mess we’re in the economic future is uncertain.  Given that we don’t know what will happen to the economy in the next year or two (or more), and since I know that there will be more offers for work now before I’m really forgotten than there might be in a year or two unless my “reinvention” is very successful (yes, you’re right, there’s a bit of insecurity exposed here, eh?),  I’m feeling that I need to accept anything I’m asked to do.  So – and here’s some good news shared with you – I’ve been asked to do another keynote in early April and of course said yes even though it’s on the same day as the 1st Passover Seder which will require some real juggling on my part so that all runs smoothly.  But … how could I say no.  I’ve been asked to teach 3 courses at Ryerson U next year and I’ve said yes to that too.  I’ve been asked to help a family plan a unique Bar Mitzvah experience for their son and I’m prepared to do that too.   At the same time, and to support the “new me”, I’m also working on developing a full website so that there will be a place where I can showcase all of the things that I can still offer (good idea, huh?).  I know that I’ll come through on all of the things I’ve made external commitments to; there are deadlines and classes to teach, there are structures and meetings.  It’s the stuff that I really want to do independently, that’s a commitment only to myself, that I’m worrying about.

Okay – I’ll admit it – what I’m worrying about is basically self-discipline.  Regardless of Lao Tsu’s admonition, there’s also the words of W. Clement Stone who said that “so many fail because they don’t get started – they don’t go. They don’t overcome inertia. They don’t begin.”  This is my fear.  That I won’t really do this because, as has been the case in the past, the fear of business will stop me dead in my tracks.

Recently I was watching something on TV that equated retirement with death.  Imagine that!  For me it’s about birth.  Just as the birth of my beautiful new granddaughter is the beginning of something wonderful, I’m feeling that my (and I don’t mean this in any kind of religious overtone way) rebirth as a retired woman is also a beginning.  Just as the Roman philosopher Seneca told us:  “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” So, the “having a job” part of my life has ended and from that I’ll build my new life.  All of the things that I need to do to give birth to myself (sounds strange, doesn’t it?) require self-discipline; there are no external pressures, nobody’s setting timelines for me, there’s no team to direct what happens next.  Just me.  And this is where it gets scary for me.

Now you have to understand that I’ve spent most of my professional life running away from just this.  I chose to go into teaching primarily because of the security it would offer.  A regular paycheck.  A job that I could have for life … unless of course I did something egregious on videotape!  Financial stability; not riches, but consistent income.  I’ve always been deathly afraid of being in business.  My sisters aren’t afraid, so why am I?  David’s not afraid, so why am I?  It isn’t that I don’t feel that there are people who will advise me and help me figure this out.  Jon Stewart once said: “I’m doing everything I can to sabotage my career. It’s a little thing called ‘fear of success’.”  I can’t help but wonder if that’s what’s at play here.  So I’m going to attempt to go about this challenge in the same way that I met the challenge of being asked to coordinate the writing of all of the new high school curriculum in Ontario several years ago; I think I’d best make myself up a plan with key indicators and timelines and then pretend that somebody other than me is watching that I meet those deadlines.  

The anxiety is coming from two things.

First, it’s about whether or not I’ll be able to discipline myself .  In figuring out this whole new lifestyle I find that often days will go by and very little will have been accomplished.  Take today for example.  I’ve been up since 6:30 this morning and it’s now after 11; I’ve managed to work on this posting, check e-mail, reset my iPhone dybbuk1(that’s another joy/misery piece), upload a dozen CDs to my music library so that I can transfer them to my iPhone which is working now, respond to a few e-mails, and have 2 cups of coffee.  Although I started working on website content yesterday I’ve done nothing to add to it today.  And … it’s almost noon.  I’ll be out all afternoon (some friends invited me to join them at Teatron’s production of the play The Dybbuk) and then this evening there’s a Red Cross meeting on Emergency Preparedness that I need to attend (if you check this link you’ll find some good suggestions for being sure that you and your family are ready in case of an emergency by the way).   Truth is that nobody but me has ever questioned my ability to discipline myself vis a vis what I accomplish, but that doesn’t make the fear any less real for me.

Then there’s the second anxiety-inducing drawer full of “stuff”.  Maybe I don’t really want to be doing all of this.  Maybe I just want a piece of time to focus on taking care of  myself and taking care of others. I’ve been fortunate in having people who took care of me from time to time but mostly I haven’t had that – and now I do have that – and so maybe this is the time for me to just enjoy taking care of others while being nurtured myself.  New experience and amazing for me.

Or maybe they’re all one and the same.  By accomplishing my own personal-professional goals maybe that’s how I am supposed to be taking care of myself and others as well.  Maybe.  

What do you think?


I am delighted to say that so far this shift in schedule is working well.  We’ve had less than a week trying it out but clearly we’re both much happier with the new routine.  I’m grateful for the support of my iPhone which allows me to pause and send myself a quick e-mail whenever I think of something important during the day that needs to be remembered until my evening writing hours.  I’ll update you again next week on how this continues to unfold.


6 responses to “Lao Tsu, tricky times, and me

  1. When I retired from teaching many years ago I said that to me what I was going to be was far more important than what I was going to do.One of the things I was going to be was free to choose my activities. As it happened I ended with a small business connected to craft work that I had always loved. I have moved on from that but the business is still running 20 years later and once again I am free to choose.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      Free to choose sounds incredibly wonderful. I’ve been surprised at how complex it can be to choose when there are really very few limits on what you can choose. New territory for me. I do absolutely agree that the important thing now is who I am not what I’m doing.

  2. I laughed at the image of you going through each day dripping with relaxation and with a ray of sunshine over your shoulder. Somehow, that doesn’t fit! I think you’ll always be busy, it’s your nature.

    About Bobby Jindal, I saw him on 60 minutes last night and was amazed at the contrast between his evidently more normal self, versus the deer in the headlights, Mr. Rogers-speaking version we saw last week. Huge difference! (Too bad he’s a Republican.) Anyway, it’s a puzzle – I wonder who actually wrote his speech last week.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      Oh come on, wouldn’t it be good to drip with relaxation? Some days I try to do that … but it turns out to be much harder than working.

      Yes, I saw Jindal on 60 Minutes too and he did seem better … although his ideas were as offensive. It is a puzzle.

  3. Sharon Griffin


    I can only say – “leave some time for yourself to deal with the unexpected”. As many of us have found out the hard way, retirement can often bring unexpected family/parent obligations, and it is truly wonderful to be able to be there.

    • Sylvia Bereskin

      It is amazing to get this wise message from you Sharon (I’ve been missing you at the Y) because I’ve had such an unusual day today and I was just thinking about (and writing about – coming next Monday) how wonderful it is to devote my days to my family in many different ways. I do recognize there’s a flip side here as well. Seems that I also have to think carefully about what my boundaries are now in this new piece of life or else I risk being without boundaries and that has generally not worked out so well for me at least.

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