Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mostly OT - What's Your Theme?

It was 5F with a wind chill of -10F this morning when I went to the barn - I drove, after the dog got her (very brief) walk. I turned my horses out while we were cleaning their stalls, and thought they might want back in when I was done. I went out and whistled for them - they come running if they want in - but, no, they were content to stay out so there they are. When I got back to the house it was up to 8F with a wind chill of -4F. I'm not here this afternoon, but Sugar's owner will check on them later and bring anyone in who looks cold.

As the sun was rising, there was a bank of clouds to the east that kept the sunlight from breaking through, and the light was somewhat hazy and muted. The drifts of snow were a beautiful very slightly bluish-grey hue, with the slightest hint of lavender, and ever little bump and ridge had soft shadowings - I with I could have taken some pictures but it was too cold to take my gloves off outside and I doubt if I could have captured the subtle color and shadings.

* * * * * *

Now, on to the OT portion of this post. I could have put this on my book blog, but there is some relevance to life in general, so I put it here instead. I occasionally will pick up and read a self-help book for fun, but rarely find that they have much to offer. They're usually variations on the same themes, are often impractically complex to follow or maintain, and are often badly written. There have been a few that I've found really good. I read David Allen's Getting Things Done a number of years ago and still use a number of his systems, especially the daily/monthly folder system and his ways of managing to-dos, to keep myself organized - his way of doing things is straightforward and easy to maintain. I really wish I had discovered this book when I was still working (I've been retired for about 10 years) - I think it would have made an even greater difference to me then.

Recently, I started reading a new book - SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, by Julie Morgenstern. You might think from the title that this is one of those "declutter" books, and in part it is, but there's some interesting stuff in there and the approach is a bit different and I think more thoughtful. The writing style of the book is a bit annoying - typical self-help style - but if you get past that the concepts are useful. The book is particularly directed at people who are at turning points in their lives - people who are becoming empty nesters (that would be me), getting divorced, changing jobs or thinking about changing jobs or careers, retiring, getting out of school, or who are just plain feeling stuck in their lives - feeling like things aren't right and that they need to change but just not finding their way to good solutions. The book focuses on three areas - physical environment and clutter, time commitments - to dos and obligations we feel we have to ourselves and others, and habits (including those mindless time-wasters) that may be interfering with our ability to get things done or move forward.

There are scads of self-help books that talk about organizing, decluttering, downsizing and changing bad habits. Where this book is different is that it says, first, that you can't free up space and time in your life by just throwing stuff away, reducing to-dos and commitments or trying to change habits - you have to understand what valid needs of yours your existing behaviors meet in order to change. If you declutter without knowing what that was about for you, pretty soon everything will be cluttered back up again. The objective is, instead of beating yourself up for your current situation or habits, to find more effective ways of addressing your needs that don't just put you back in the same situation. And some of those objects, time commitments and habits may in fact be "treasures" that should be retained in some form. That's good stuff, and the examples of real people and their stories are very interesting and in some cases personally helpful (to me).

But the second difference was the one that really interested me. The book says that, in order to effectively "unstick" yourself, you have to have in mind what your "theme" for you life going forward is to be (not to say that this can't be changed as you move forward) - that's why the book is particularly relevant to people at times of life change. A theme is not an activity or a particular job, it's an overarching concept. If you have a theme, then every choice you make, to retain or toss an object, to retain or eliminate/pass off/reduce a time commitment or change a habit, is taken because it frees up mental and physical space for you to develop your new (or existing) theme. Sometimes, particularly for people at points of life change, much of what we have - possessions, time commitments and habits - are related to old themes which were once valid but no longer are. If you have an idea of what your theme is, you then have a context in which to make decisions about what to keep and what to toss, and what to change about how your life is constructed.

I've been thinking about this a lot. There was an odd coincidence this week with the passing of my former colleague. I attended his visitation and memorial service this week, and met up again with most of my former work colleagues. These were people who were once a central part of my life - we worked very closely as a small team - but most of whom I haven't seen or been in touch with for almost 10 years since I retired. Although I was glad to see them and appreciated the chance to catch up, seeing them made me realize how completely done I was with that phase of my life.

Looking back, my life theme before my retirement almost 10 years ago was Achievement - I was the ultimate Type A high achiever - driven and focussed on success and recognition. When I retired, and up until now, my themes were Responsibility - to my family, particularly as my children completed their growing-up - and Security - getting my financial matters in shape to make sure I could survive as a retired person, and appreciating what I have in my home, neighborhood (and barn!). I've been thinking about the theme for the next phase of my life as my children leave home for good, and it's pretty clear to me that I want the themes to be Adventure and Creativity/Self-Expression. Now that I'm beginning to understand that, I'm in a better position to look at my possessions, time commitments and habits in light of those themes.

So, what's your theme? And, if you're at a point of life change, what was your old theme and what will the new one be?

Enjoy your weekend, and may it include horses!


  1. Hmmm. This is going to take some contemplation...

  2. Kate - great post!!! Thanks for the book recommendations. My mother enjoys your blog daily, too, and she is at a point in her life where getting unstuck is a high priority.
    I love this idea of finding your theme. I personally am not a hoarder of things, but I am a hoarder of themes!!! I have been passionate about many different paths. The two strongest themes were always horses and painting. With Brian (husband) as my best friend, and Maizie as my little one, though, I find that my desire to follow my themes fully is sometimes wrestling with the needs of others. Every year when we are in Florida (now) I brainstorm about how to balance these 4 areas correctly. Mostly, I try to remember to enjoy all exactly as they are now.
    I have had the same experience as you describe when running into previous friends who are not involved in my current horse life. They seem worlds away from who I am now and completely "off-track" of where I am going.
    Kate, you are very good at making me think!

  3. My themes are peace and gratitude. I still have at least 8 years until I can retire, if in fact that is ever financially feasible for me. I want to savor each and every day regardless of what I'm doing, because, in the end, that is all I (or anyone else) truly has. And I want to do so without coming unraveled because of corporate nonsense or financial setbacks.

  4. Eek, that sounds very cold indeed! We too have had some amazing skies, wish it were easier and safer to take pics when out on our trails ;)

  5. This post it timely for me. I lost my job in September and have been floundering ever since. People ask if I'm enjoying my "time off" and, well, I don't know what to say. Trying to make ends meet on unemployment is stressful, it's not like not that I have all this extra time so I can go on vacation or something. I'm taking some courses at the Community College that are transferable to a 4-year school in case I want to pursue a degree in graphic design. It at least makes me get out of bed every day. So what is my theme? I don't have a clue but I will give it some thought...!

  6. I too will have to think this out. I think contentment makes a good theme for retired me, but there is a twinge of guilt that I ought to be accomplishing something along the way.

  7. Fourteen years ago, I was "burning out" in a heavy-duty position as a children's mental health therapist. On the spur of the moment, my husband and I applied for a joint directorship at a children's church-affiliated camp a few hours away. Didn't get the position, but it set us to thinking about, and developing a "mission statement"--where we wanted to be in five years, ten years. At the time it ended up that our theme was "outdoor ministry", and I went back to school to get my school counseling certification, so I would have summers off to gain experience by volunteering (at that same camp, as it turned out).

    Now, my husband has identified working with the elderly as his theme, and I am less able, physically, to meet the high-energy expectations of running a camp, so we are exploring slightly different themes. But that discussion 14 years ago helped us focus and grow, both individually and a a couple.

  8. Right now at this moment it would be pretty hard for me to come up with some theme for the future. I'm actually pretty content and happy right now with the way things are. But you've given me something to think about.

  9. I have no clue what my theme is ,I want to say Success, but not the traditional over the top , just to live a successful grounded straight ahead kind of life

  10. I love the idea of a "theme" for your life. I can see the power in putting a name on it and then organizing around it. I think my theme this year will be "A Strong Family" and also "Creativity".


Thank you for commenting - we appreciate it. No spam or marketing comments will be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.