I've found I'm best off when I'm busy and engaged. I'm not a good day-to-day drifter, even on vacation. I like having a to-do list, even if some of the items are optional.
So, in the first year I had three goals: to learn to teach English as a second language; to work on a Habitat for Humanity build in an area affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; and to take training to become a mediator. I did all those things. I found out I don't want to teach English as a second language. That I don't have the stamina for Habitat builds (plus, I'm afraid of heights so can't do roofs, scaffolding or even high ladders). And that I love mediation. I took the first training in the last week of my first year of not working, then put in the 140 hours required to be certified by the state to work as a volunteer mediator for the local dispute resolution center. I work sometimes at small claims court, try to do a mediation a week, and use what I've learned in my life every day.
In year two I shifted from setting goals to identifying the values most important to me. I came up with spirituality, community, exercise, curiosity and purpose. For the most part, my life aligned with those values - but I didn't seek out activities in those areas. I just recognized them, and that was good.
In year three I realized that my values needed another look. I had hurt my back and cut back on exercise and gotten out of shape, and other areas of my life were affected by my inactivity. I redefined my values as spirituality, health, community, curiosity and purpose - in that order.
We spent last winter in Tucson at a 55-plus RV resort. I took a water aerobics class three days a week and my husband and I took line dancing lessons on Wednesday mornings. By the time I got back to the Pacific Northwest I'd developed the exercise habit. Here at home, I still do water aerobics or walk two miles almost every day, and my husband and I are continuing our line dancing lessons at the local senior center. The "health" value is something I'm acting on now, rather than just listing.
This summer I started attending a church, for the first time in 30 years. I love the spirituality and the community. And the music. And the community garden. And the small group opportunities. And the drum circle and the book club I'll join in September.
I look at the values I identified last year and see they are still valid for me. Now, in year four, I'm seeking out opportunities that express my values. That feels good, like I'm still growing.
We've done a lot of traveling in the last three years; I think we've taken 30 trips - some as short as three days, one as long as three weeks. Travel isn't a value of mine, but it satisfies most of them. The connections we make with other people when we're away confirms my sense that, spiritually, "we're all in this together". We've made friends in new places. We've explored on foot. We've learned. And we see our connectedness to others and the world. That's the best part.
This week, I bought a pair of dancing shoes. I'm moving forward into year four!