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How to Set New Life Goals After Retirement

In this excerpt from best-selling author Julia Cameron’s book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, she shares how to break out of a routine and reignite a sense of adventure.

two senior women painting

Excerpted and adapted with permission from, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House) Copyright (c) 2016 by Julia Cameron.

When we come into our retirement, we become our own boss. Accustomed as we may be to reaching goals set by, or at least involving, others, we are often unaccustomed to setting goals pertaining only to ourselves. Free-form writing first thing in the morning can help with that, and as we undertake the practice of writing those Morning Pages, we may find ourselves naturally setting self-determined goals. 

I have a vinyl grocery bag printed with inspirational quotes. One of them urges setting goals on paper four times a year. Setting goals sets your “inner computer,” the quote explains. I use Morning Pages to set my goals. My goals emerge on the page as desires. “I’d like to write a play, but about what?” my pages may ask. And then, a day or so later, the wishes becomes an agenda. “I’ll start tomorrow,” becomes “I’ll start today.” As the goal becomes concrete, I find myself taking small steps in its direction. 

“I’d like to feel more spiritual” becomes the goal “I’d like to read more Ernest Holmes prayers.” This in turn becomes the goal “I’ll read three prayers a night.” Beginning as desires, my goals become plans. “I wish I were more fit” becomes “I think I’ll try jogging.” This goal is fine-tuned to “I’d better start gently–jog ten paces, walk ten paces, jog ten paces, walk ten paces.” There is no area in my life that doesn’t benefit from gentle goal setting.

I can set goals in any arena I choose. Creativity, spirituality, fitness, and more. As I set goals, I transform the vague and undoable into the doable. “I’d like a new headshot” becomes “Talk to Robert about executing one.” “Lose weight” becomes “Maybe I should talk to Dick about eating vegan. He’s lost fifty pounds that way.” Goals can start as musings, wishes, thoughts, and as they come into form, action plans emerge. We are getting to know ourselves–a word a time–and, a word at a time, we become empowered.

We can also set large goals in retirement, and it is not uncommon that at this point in your story, the larger goals are whispering to us. Sometimes we are well aware of them. Other times, they sneak up on us. We may feel jealous of others doing something we wish we could do, and it may take an outside eye to help us see what we are looking longingly at. “My jealousy was a clue to the goal I was avoiding,” one of my students, Andrew, told me once. Now, Andrew has channeled jealousy into a plan to achieve his goal.

Writing Morning Pages, keeps our goals in our sight. It is nearly impossible to write, day after day, and not have inklings of what we’d like to do next. And these inklings, ignored, will only grow stronger. Working through our life story often puts us in touch with our authentic dreams. Naming our goal, we may then work backward, a technique my piano teacher calls “chunking it down.” We see the ultimate dream on the horizon, but between us and that horizon are many small steps. Remembering that each step is, in fact, accomplishable, we are able to move forward. A step at a time, we make progress forward.

Moving ahead is always an option. Moving ahead, we are inspired to move ahead yet more. With the willingness to name our dream and then acknowledge–and take–the first step toward it, we move into the life we have previously only dreamed of.

If you could choose one small goal that you can accomplish today towards your dream, what would it be?

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