Why you don’t need to retire to be happy

One of the main stories that I hear from my colleagues at work is how much they are looking forward to being able to retire.  You can’t blame them.  It’s the narrative we’re all taught.  You’re born.  You go to school.  You work really hard most likely in a job you don’t love or possibly even one you hate.  Then, once you save enough money, you retire and live happily ever after.  It’s our real life Disney fantasy. 

The only problem is that, when you believe in that fantasy, you end up spending the majority of your life telling yourself that you’re actually supposed to be miserable now so you can be happy in the future.  What if that isn’t true?  What if you could be happy now while you’re working and then also enjoy a wonderful retirement?  You see, when you have a belief that work is supposed to be hard and miserable, your brain will always look for evidence in your current job to support that belief.  You will focus on all of the things that aren’t going well rather than all of the things that are. 

When we finally understand that the only reason we ever feel any feeling is because of our thinking, we suddenly regain all of our power.  It’s easy to see how this works when we look at an example.  A while back I asked myself what the primary emotions were that I experienced while on shift in the emergency department.  I realized they were annoyance and inconvenience.  I would look at the reasons that patients were coming to the department at 3:00 am and I would think “I can’t believe someone would think that is an emergency.”  It’s easy to see how I was miserable at work when those were the main emotions I was creating for myself.  I mean who wants to spend decades feeling like that?

I talked to my coach about what I had realized, and she asked me if I had ever really thought about how I’d like to feel at work.  My brain exploded.  Of course, I knew that I could create my feelings by changing my thinking, but it had honestly never crossed my mind that I could change my experience on shift.  I decided that I was going to try to feel more loving and patient.  I wanted to walk away from my shifts feeling like I had showed up with compassion not burnout and annoyance.  I started to challenge myself before every new patient that “I’m going to find a way to help this person tonight.”  Suddenly my mind began to open up.  Instead of looking for reasons why my patients didn’t need to be in the emergency department, it was looking for opportunities for me to make a difference. 

Today, when I ask myself what the primary emotions are that I experience at work, I come up with compassion and confidence.  I look forward showing up for my shifts because I know that by changing my thinking, I’m going to have a much better experience on shift.  This change in my thinking also gave me first-hand evidence that I don’t need to wait for retirement to enjoy myself.  I can do that every night I’m on shift.  Nothing else changed. 

This change, however, didn’t happen overnight. It took work to change my beliefs and that work was some of the most valuable I’ve ever done.  Can you imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t counting down the days until retirement?  If you’d like to find out what that is like, we’d love to help you.