Reality Check: A Picture of Perfection

Selma had looked forward to retirement with great anticipation. Healthy and frugal, with both a good pension and physical well-being, she pictured a perfect retirement. Travel, home renovations, dinners and outings with friends—all are experiences she’s been postponing. Now, it’s finally that time.

However, during what she had expected to be the best years of her life, Selma is disappointed and angry. Why?

According to Selma, people in her life have fallen well short of her completely reasonable expectations. She hasn’t travelled because her potential travelling companions say they can’t afford it (she’s sure they can).

Selma’s home renovation has run into a snag because her brother-in-law, Sam, told her he would do the work years ago when he started his contracting business. Now, he’s procrastinating.

And while Selma has had some of the dinners and outings that she so longingly anticipated, they never quite meet her expectations. Feeling disconnected from her friends’ lives, she has little to say and they have little interest in listening.

When Selma had too much to do and no time to do it, she never noticed an ache or pain. Now, every creak of her knees nearly brings her to tears.

In her words, “I’m miserable because my friends ignore me and my family tries to take advantage of me. I worked so hard and now they won’t let me enjoy life. People think I have money and time to do whatever I want, but I have as much drudgery as ever. And I have such aches and pains; sometimes I barely feel like getting out of bed.”

So, Selma, if retirement were the way you pictured, how exactly would it be?

“I’d have a different feeling. There would be fun and companionship. I’d feel content.”

If you were living the retirement you wanted, what would you be doing today?

“I’d be in my renovated kitchen, having coffee with a friend who enjoys my company!”

Can Selma get at least some of what she wants? When she took a fresh look at her vision of “perfect retirement,” she realized that she’d made her feeling of contentment dependent on the actions of others. When they didn’t comply, she became disappointed and angry.

Selma chose to change that vision to one that’s more under her control. How?

“Today, I could take a friend who truly enjoys my conversation out to a coffee shop. Then, I will start the process of hiring a contractor for my renovations. I think Sam needed the work when he offered, now he’s afraid I’ll want a discount. So I’ll ask him for a quote, just like anyone else.”

“I can join a tour group instead of waiting for friends to travel with me. I could join a hiking club, a cooking class, a book club, so I’ll have places to go and people to talk to.”

It’s easy to find opportunities to be disappointed, as people tend to fall short of perfection. Then again, we may be slightly imperfect ourselves! Do you think your life is better or worse if you choose visions that are under your control?

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