Finding my passion scared me. I had not been fulfilled in my 40 year career as a lawyer. I was burned out and knew I had to retire, but what would I do in retirement. I needed a passion, but maybe I had no passion.
First, I had to learn who I am, that is, what was important to me, what interested me, what was meaningful to me and what I enjoyed doing. Just as important was the negative of all those issues so that I could avoid what I would not be passionate about.
Once I had worked through learning who I am, I was confident that I would find my passion. If I had been passionate about my work, I probably wouldn’t have retired, but I wasn’t. I realized though that just because our society says I am supposed to retire at 65 doesn’t mean I should do so without questioning it.
Some people know before they retire what their passion is. If they do, they should pursue it, but I didn’t. Finding my passion took a lot of time and effort, but I never considered giving up. I understood that when I found it, it would mean a new life. What a great opportunity!
Once I thought I understood a lot more about who I am, I honed in more specifically on what I might be passionate about. Some of the things I did were:
• To consider what I often Googled for fun or information, or what I looked up in an encyclopedia, what in the newspaper interested me, what I wanted to learn more about.
• To consider what I liked to talk about and what I gravitated toward in a bookstore.
• To think about what I am good at and what comes easily to me.
• To think of examples of good work I had done in the past.
• To try to remember what I was doing during my life when I felt most creative.
• To do some things I hadn’t done before and traveled to different countries. I did not play games or watch much television.
• To try to be patient and have faith that my calling would come to me; I felt I would know it when it happened. If I had doubt, and it didn’t pass quickly, I kept searching.
I tried to be more spontaneous than I had been, not planning as much in advance, just letting life take me with it. In pursuing my passion I learned to give up control and let things happen. We plan to get control, but realistically we never have it, so I gave up trying to have control. I felt that I couldn’t force a choice. By exploring, thinking, keeping an open mind, my passions would come to me, I thought.
At 63 I had no passion about anything I could pursue during retirement. I knew I had to find something, so I was searching and open to what might come my way. I started searching before I actually retired, an important step, but it is never too late to search for your passion.
In 2004, shortly before I turned 64, a publisher interested in publishing a book that I had the expertise to write on malpractice by lawyers contacted me. I decided to write the book because to be a published author in my field would promote my law practice, and I thought it would be fun. Writing was one of the few aspects of practicing law that I enjoyed. At the time I didn’t think about it having anything to do with retirement. It was an opportunity to do something different that would benefit my law practice.
I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and publishing process and finished the book on legal malpractice in early 2006, except for proofreading and final submission to the publisher. Finishing the book was fulfilling and I was proud of it—Boyd Lemon, the author. It sounded good to me. I thought it would be fun to write fiction, still not thinking about it as something to do during retirement. I told a friend, who happened to be a writer, that I wanted to try writing fiction, but that I didn’t think I had any creative ability. The response was all I needed to push me forward:
“Everybody has creative ability. It’s just a matter of developing and expressing it.”
I had heard that novice writers should write about what they know. So without knowing anything about writing fiction, I sat down and started a short story based on my experience taking care of a baby to help her mother, who was the daughter of a close friend. I intended to add fictional twists and turns to make an interesting story. I finished it in a couple of weeks, enjoyed the process and was astonished that the writing process made me realize how attached I had become to the baby girl. A writer friend critiqued it, and I rewrote it several times. I didn’t know it at the time, but the two most common criticisms of novice fiction writers stood out: create and resolve tension, and show, don’t tell. In the months to come I would read those two principles many times, as I read books on writing fiction.
I bought a book, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I read it and was impressed by Goldberg’s technique of writing practice. Sit down with a notebook and a fast writing pen, think of a prompt or topic and write whatever comes into your head for a timed period—10 minutes, 20 minutes, best to keep it short at first. Don’t attempt to write a book for two years. I bought two other books on writing that Goldberg had written and devoured them. Goldberg’s website announced that she gave workshops. Attending Goldberg’s workshops settled in the back of my mind.
During the following two years, I read many other books on writing, and I wrote a dozen short stories. I connected with writers on the Internet and learned from the critiques of other writers. I also formed a group with two other writers who met monthly, wrote and critiqued each other’s work.
I attended two of Natalie Goldberg’s week-long writing workshops in New Mexico during 2007 and continued to write short stories. In class, which is set up as a Buddhist Zendo, in addition to sitting and slow walking meditation, she gave us prompts for timed writing. “I remember…. Go for ten minutes.” Thirty minutes is the longest, but usually the timed writings are 10 to 20 minutes. We were encouraged to keep our pens moving and not cross out anything; write whatever comes into our minds. We read aloud what we had written, but no comments were allowed. She wanted us to be free to write from deep within and not worry about what we or others might think of our writing. We did other things, but the meditation, timed writings and reading aloud are the core of her teaching. The object is to slow down our minds so that we dig deep and write our personal truths. I learned from Natalie Goldberg that good writing must be true, simple and from the heart.
Natalie’s method, to some, may sound like New Age baloney, but for most of us it works. My writing is better and more focused during and for a while after one of these workshops. The difficulty is finding the self-discipline to keep up the writing practice and meditation outside of the workshops. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I’m only human.
Someone told me that drawing would help develop the right side of my brain, the side primarily responsible for creative activities. I took drawing lessons and read books on drawing by Betty Edwards.
Although I reduced my work hours, I continued to practice law, worked on my short stories and made drawings. In March 2007 I moved to Boston, a writer’s city that I had enjoyed as a visitor. By this time, I knew that I had found my passion. In retirement I would be a writer.
Writing provided an unexpected bonus. My first book was a memoir about my journey to understand my role in the destruction of my three marriages, Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages. I found that writing a big part of my life story and putting it out there for others to read was scary, but in the end liberating and healing beyond my wildest expectations. In the process of writing from the heart about who you are, you find out more than you ever would have by just thinking about it. To me, writing life story is the ultimate therapy. Everyone has a story, and more and more so-called ordinary people are writing theirs. You don’t have to publish it. The process of writing it is reward enough.
In Boston I wrote short stories and still practiced law about half time. My early stories had a basis in my own experience, and the protagonists were either patterned after me, or at least were male. I finally wrote a story in which the protagonist was female and then a young man who was not at all like me. I began submitting them to multiple literary magazines for publication. As I had learned to expect, I received multiple rejections, until finally I received an email that my story, “Some Things Are Better Left Unknown,” a story about a young woman who learned that the man she always thought was her father might not be, was accepted for publication by the magazine, Down in the Dirt. I was thrilled. I felt like a real writer. This was my story, that I had created, and it would be out there for other people to read. Eventually, three more of my short stories were published, and a poem I wrote was published in a calendar. I was hooked. I was a writer.
Since then (2008) I have published four books on Amazon, including one just released, titled, Retirement: A Memoir and Guide, and although I haven’t had a best seller yet, several thousand people have bought my books, and many have written me to express their gratitude for the help it has provided them. That is all the reward I need!