Mapping what's next: Questions to ask

Lately I feel a bit like I'm sitting at the far edge of the map I've created for the last 20+ years of my life. The old map and globe makers supposedly used to say (or not) about the mysteries beyond the border "here be dragons." For me, there aren't dragons, really, just a few unknown seas and a considerable amount of horizon. As Dante said at the beginning of his masterpiece Inferno "Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straight forward pathway had been lost."  

Until now, the life I've pieced together has been filled with my own projects and pursuits and, at the same time, considerably oriented in time and energy around the raising of a family. Two things happen this year that will rock that geography : (1) Sam will finish high school and set off, ending my stint as a resident in-house mother, and (2) we will move back to the states to a place yet to be determined. 

[Watch me get all themey with this map metaphor: For years I've navigated the Cape of Good Naps, weathered the tantrum tempests, the Sea of Puberty, and the Straits of Discipline. I've helped build new boats, furnished them with the anchors and navigation systems that have worked for us, and launched our small fleet.]  So: fresh start. Clean slate. Edge of the map. The question that's been on my mind lately is what's next? who do I want to be for the rest of (or at least next part of) my life?

It's a theme I hear frequently from my friends and our readers; whether or not they have been working full time, part time, or staying at home, this transition is fascinating and altering and opens up possibilities with whole new landscapes to navigate. I'm not just talking vocation here--though that could certainly be part of it--also pursuits and hobbies, things to learn, places to visit, projects to take on, contributions to make.  

Here's one step I recently took toward figuring these things out, an exercise at the intersection of first, know thyself and when in doubt, make a list. Earlier this year on a night when G and Sam were on a camping trip, I sat down with my notebooks spread out on the bed and started to sort out my thoughts on this whole what's next situation. I made long lists answering a host of questions to start a conversation with myself (planning + lists = my happy place).

Maybe you know exactly what's next for you. If so, high five and enjoy your fantastic map!  If, like me, you're also starting to dream/scheme/imagine/anticipate what might be next for you, here's your gentle, borderland-dwelling assignment: Answer these questions for yourself, with compassion and honesty about who you are and who you want to be. Don't stop too long to analyze as you write, just nudge all of those ideas to go mingle together on the lists.  (Bonus: These could work for helping older kids and young adults figure out what's next for them, too): 

What do I love doing?

What do I love thinking about/talking about? 

What/whom do I envy? (This can be an illuminating insight. If you feel jealous of what someone does, it's probably because it's something you wish you could do!)

What am I good at/do people say I do well? 

In what kinds of settings would those things be useful, fun, or welcome?

What would I like to still improve?

What will I let go trying to improve and just accept/embrace/learn to love about myself? 

What do I typically avoid or try to delay doing?

What might I love (given some experience/time/mentoring)?

What do I want my life to include more of/be known for?

Who are my heroes, mentors + cool people to emulate? What do they have in common?

What attributes and dreams did I used to have that I'd like to recapture (i.e., will the original version of Annie please stand up?) 

What do you think--any questions you'd add to these? I'd love to hear from any of you who are mulling over the what's next question--feel free to chime in here or email me.  I'll be back to chat about further what's next steps in future posts.

Gone to live with the bears

Sarah's post about having special time one-on-one with her kids this summer came to my mind today because, over the next couple of days, I am having a special kind of special time. The solo kind. I'm writing this from an empty house, just me. It's winter break here and Maddy is away at Model UN Nationals this week and the boys have taken themselves on a backpacking adventure for a few days.

And they're off...

And they're off...

I'm kind of a walking contradiction about it. I miss them. And I love it. 

As much as I love time with my family crew, I completely believe in the restorative power of a good solo retreat. I think it's in my genes. My great grandmother raised nine daughters over several decades in the 1920-50s and, as you can imagine, her life was full of laughter and noise and laundry and teaching. Every once in a while (about yearly, I think) she would declare "I'm going to live with the bears!" and she would pack up and leave her daughters in good care with a relative (or with each other as they grew older) and check in at the swanky Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City for a week. 

She took a whole suitcase full of magazines with her (yes, I really am her great granddaughter in so many ways). From her journal: it was "my therapy. I could get a room for five dollars, and I read and slept and shopped and renewed myself for the next year...I'd sleep late, then out for a hearty breakfast, then didn't need to eat until dinner." Only a few select friends were invited to visit or lunch or shop with her and no one else was allowed to contact her. At the end of her stay, she would return to the house, rejuvenated and restored and ready to go on mothering. She sent the message, loud enough so I still hear it a couple of generations later, that it's okay to take care of yourself, no matter who you are or what you do.

I know this about myself: I need to go live with the bears now and then. (I know it's time when I start envying prisoners in solitary confinement for their "away time.") This new iteration is even better: everyone else goes and lives with the bears and I get to stay in my own bed, amidst my own bookshelves. There may be a movie or two, long soaks in the tub, and some good stretches of writing time in my future. Thank you, Grandma B. I get it.

Have you ever taken a solo retreat? What would you do with a few days all to yourself? Does it feel too indulgent and guilt inducing? (If so, I'll happily write you a permission note!)