Notepad and Pen

Make a plan!

Tracey Columns

Dear Tracey,

I am a single woman in my sixties and I want to do something different with my life. I’m retired, kids raised, good health, and I have some discretionary income that allows me to play a little.

The trouble is, I don’t know what I want to do. Isn’t that silly, knowing I’m in a good position and unable to make up my mind? I have so many ideas. I thought about volunteering with a charitable group in South America but I chickened out. I considered pursuing a degree in creative writing, something I entertained in college but went for a teaching credential instead and then … I chickened out. Last night I found myself looking at what it takes to become a museum docent. By this morning, you guessed it, I had chickened out.

What’s my problem? I’ve been on my own years, so it’s not like I don’t know how to do things without other people. But is this what happens to us, we get to a certain age and all we do is shy away from challenges? Many of my women friends are the same way, just staying in our safe little worlds. Well, I’m bored and not feeling very patient with myself. Get me moving, please!


Dear Reader,

When you asked, “ But is this what happens to us, we get to a certain age and all we do is shy away from challenges?” I found myself thinking of all of the people I have heard from who ponder the very same question.

Yes, age makes us more cautious, in part, because we have lived long enough to know that things can happen. We also live life tuned into physical changes and concerns.   There can be questions about having enough energy to do something. The list goes on and on. It’s true, making decisions to strike out and tackle something challenging in our later years can be frustrating.

But that doesn’t mean we need to “shy away from challenges.” No! What we need to know how to do is simply approach a problem in a rational and logical manner so that we can discover the best possible answers for ourselves.

This is about problem-solving, something I imagine you’ve plenty of experience with throughout your life and career. Consider this easy four step approach to discovering what it is you want to do next in life:

Step 1) Answer this question: What is keeping me from taking on any of these activities? If you consider this for awhile, you’ll discover what underlying issues that are getting in the way of moving forward. For example, why do you think you “chicken out”? Maybe it’s about making a commitment? Perhaps it has to do with lack of skills? How come you don’t feel particularly confident?

Step 2) Once to have identified the specific challenges, then the fun begins –brainstorming solutions. Simply write down every conceivable idea you may have on how to solve a particular problem. No editing, criticizing, or judging anything that pops into your brain. Be wild, be crazy … because when we quiet our inner critic, we often produce the very best solutions.

Step 3) Evaluate each of the solutions you have written down. I think of this as “the good, the bad, and the ugly” phase of problem solving. Look at each idea and decide how feasible it is. (Note that simply feeling a bit apprehensive about a certain idea is NOT a reason to ditch it. It simply means you will have to ‘problem solve’ your apprehension a little more.)

Step 4)  Make a plan. Once you have managed to make your way through these steps, a process that takes some time and attention, you can begin to decide how to approach your particular challenge. Set reasonable goals, identify ‘baby steps,” and a manageable timeline. Make sure you write it all down, as this will keep you focused and motivated.

Wishing you success and please, check back in with how things have gone. I think many of us could learn from your experiences.

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