What happens when we are not defined by work?

This is a topic I am learning about.

A year and a half ago I retired from a very active job as an elementary school principal. It was a good decision and I don’t regret taking it.

For the first time in 31 years, I am learning and experiencing lots of new things. I have trekked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro through the Western Highlands of Scotland and most recently the Ausangate Range in Peru.

I am much fitter than I was when I had a regular job. Before I was just too busy to keep in good shape and I am a bit shocked how little real exercise I got. My moods were really affected by my work and it took way too long to return to a calm state after the strains of a long school year.

My pace is not so crazy anymore. Apart from my training, I write a lot more, I read and listen more too. I listen especially to lots of podcasts on VoicEd Radio and I really enjoy the work I am doing to help Stephen Hurley and this wonderful venture into the world of internet radio.

There is another side to this which I find interesting. I saw someone last week that I used to work with when I was a principal. She asked what I was doing these days and before I could answer, she made the reply.

Nothing?

I didn’t really bother to correct her, there didn’t seem to be much of a point. When you don’t have a regular job people sometimes don’t know what to do with you.

This is an interesting part of retirement, or it might just be the result of getting older. It is easier when you are not defined by your job to be discounted by others. It is easier to disappear.

It is interesting how quiet things can get. I volunteered to act as a supply principal for my school board when I retired – silence. I have volunteered and applied for other jobs with the same result.

A school in our neighbourhood doesn’t have a regular principal or VP, but because I am from a different school board I can’t even offer my services. I used to do lots of work for the local faculty of education here in our city – that work dried up as soon as I was no longer an active principal.

Other things just don’t make much sense. I visit my mother in the hospital almost daily, but my brother won’t answer my notes to him on how she is doing. It’s almost as if this work is unnecessary and irrelevant.  Friends, many of them retired as well, don’t reach out. Opportunities seem to dry up. It is a little like you begin to disappear.

This could go on for a while, as long as I define myself by who I was. At 60, I doubt that I will ever be actively employed again. This is a world that is dominated everywhere by youth – there is still little value placed on the older ones in our society.

To counter this, I need to find my new value. I need to look for the positive opportunity whenever it comes up. I don’t think conventional employers like school boards and universities will change. In some ways that is too bad because I think I have a great deal to offer – especially when a school has no administrators!

Instead, I need to find meaning and value in my own projects or in projects where the door is still open. VoicEd Radio is terrific that way and the creative work within this growing community is wonderful.

some of the wonderful podcasts that are available daily on VoicEd Radio

The work we are doing with Christie Lake Climb for Kids is a challenge and has the potential to channel more financial support to children who really need a positive change in their lives. This project was started last year when we took our first group of trekkers into the Peruvian Andes up to 5200m. The group trained and fundraised for a year and we made almost $28,000 for Christie Lake Kids programming.

So the future will be defined by the projects that work and the people who are open to what I can still offer. This is a new path.

I am no longer defined by a job I did for 31 years and how I define myself now has to be based on other factors, many that were not all that important when I was working full time. This is a work in progress, one that I don’t often read about but one that is probably worthy of further discussion.

It is interesting with more and more people retiring all the time that this doesn’t seem to be a topic that gets much attention. Do we have any sense of the social capital out there that still has great value?

Maybe this should change. Maybe we should talk more about this.

 

 

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Wanted: Mentors for the Journey

I get most of my good education content from VoicEd Radio. There’s a good reason for this. I no longer work in a school, and even if I did, there would be no way to gather up the diversity of opinion that I find on the VoicEd Radio podcasts. Working within a school board certainly does not open you up to a variety of ways of looking at issues.

This week I listened to one of the banner shows on VoicEd Radio – ONedMentors. They were grappling with the question of how you define mentorship. This is not something I think about these days. I am a retired educator, what would I have to do with mentorship? 

An interesting thing happens when you retire. Your opinion has less value. I can think of many people and organizations that valued what I had to say when I was a principal. When you leave that job, many leave you.

What I have failed to consider is that retirement can turn you into a mentee. I am not offering my opinions and advice very much these days, but I need new information, I need to learn once again from others.

Retirement allows you to try new experiences and start the learning journey all over again. If you let yourself, you can take new risks and you can really open yourself up to learn from others.

Now I am interested in mentors to help me learn about digital radio and podcasting, trekking and climbing, and photography! These are all new passions that I simply didn’t have time for when I was working in a school.

Getting back to the original question – what is mentorship? I think the definition is simple – mentorship is all about connecting to life-long learning – we naturally seek out mentors as we move into new areas that we are not comfortable in – so we seek ideas and help.

When you put yourself in risky situations, and by that I mean new learning you are forced to grow and seek out others who can help you out. Along with the great podcast, a few of us followed along on Twitter.

New can be scary – new means taking a risk and it is OK to acknowledge that this is a challenge and can sometimes be scary. Try doing something really new and really scary – once you do that you will seek mentors.

I have a whole new group of mentors now. I am learning about digital broadcasting, I am following a tough physical training program for the first time in my life. I am committed to taking on high-altitude climbs and I really need to get better at documenting these trips. 

The people who are helping me probably do not see themselves as mentors, but they are. They are leading me in new ways and I am very grateful to them.

So, the risks and discomfort are worth it. It is Ok to say you don’t know, even at 60. So, take a risk, get a mentor and learn something new – it is never too late!

Our next big trek is the Tour de Mont Blanc for Christie lake Kids, July 2019

Where do the trails lead you?

I am reading about trails. Robert Moor has written a magical book called On Trails An Exploration

This is an interesting book – trails are different from paths, ‘trails tend to form in reverse, messily, from the passage of dirty feet.’ (page 68 On Trails) It has got me thinking.

Trails are where we find something magical. The trail through giant ancient plants on Kilimanjaro. The feral goat who looks down on you on the West Highland Way, the ghostly llama as darkness gathers.

Trails also lead to friends, new and old, sometimes family and loved ones too.

On trails you make friends, but more importantly, you learn to depend on others

Trails draw you into a new life and once you walk the trail you are really part of the trail. 

You don’t go once, you go again.

Climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro

Because of those who walked the trails before I now am hooked. I dream about old trails – can I do them better, can I experience more, can I test myself in some other fashion. The trail takes on dreams and the dreams make me want to push on do more, learn more, experience more.

The pathways are not just pathways. When I walk, I need to do it for another reason too. There are two reasons that I have figured out so far. To help in some way children in poverty and to connect to my family.

The West Highland Way

For me, working for children is a matter of social justice. I walk, raise money and then support programs that actually can break the cycle of poverty. That is why I can only walk for Christie Lake Kids – the cycle can be broken, but it takes innovation and a huge community effort. I want to be part of that effort.

Second – connecting to my family is what I want to do. I am 60 years old. I don’t have to worry about making an impact or being successful in my job. I am happily beyond that. But I do need to reach out to my partner and my children in important ways. So, I need to take the path with them.

Last year I walked with my daughter. This summer I trekked with my partner. In a few weeks, I will hike with my son.

If I am going to do something like this it has to be for kids, social justice or family.

There are, I hope many more trails and many more wonderful people to meet as we raise money and awareness. In between treks for Christie Lake Kids, I will walk with my family – all of them.

This is where the trail will lead.

Towards nightfall with Christie Lake Climb for Kids

Christie Lake Climb for Kids – Linking People, Adventure and a Great Cause

It is really great when a project comes together.

A year ago we came up with the idea for Climb for Kids. The idea was to raise money for a program in Ottawa that is transforming the lives of low-income children throughout the year through recreation and leadership programs – Christie Lake Kids.

A venture like this works really well when you have lots of great community partners. First, we based our model on the wonderful initiative of Shawn Dawson’s – Dream Mountains. For eight years, Shawn led trekking trips to Africa, Nepal and Peru and in the process raised over $1 million for local charities. I had the wonderful privilege to take part in one of these climbs to Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2017. This was truly a transformative event that showed me how you can link adventure up with support for community agencies.

These projects are all about partnership and mutual support. Shawn continues to help us by offering his restaurant Fat Boys as a location for our group fundraisers. He has also helped us with training and is definitely part of our support community.

We also work with a group of travel agencies and businesses including Merit Travel and Exodus Travels along with Great Escape Outfitters and Sail. Merit was our go to travel support who were with us all the way, especially when the group ran into some significant troubles getting to airports in Peru. GEO provided jackets for the group and Sail gave the group discounts on equipment for the trip. Investors Group acted as a corporate sponsor who really helped us with some of our equipment costs.

We also had the wonderful assistance of a group trainer – Shaun Kehoe. Shaun started working with some of the group in February and we continued training with him right up until the beginning of August. His work with us certainly made us stronger for a very tough trek.

On a different level, there were countless sponsors and individual contributors who helped our group raise over $25,000 for CLK. This was $10,000 more than we expected in the first year of this project. A huge success for the first year of Climb for Kids!

Group members preparing for the trek in Peru

The best social enterprises are those with broad community support. Much of our success depends on the social capital we have raised over the past year. Our group of 17 trekkers were supported by hundreds of other people and businesses. We were united in the belief that it is really important to support transformative recreation for low-income kids in Ottawa. This is what binds us all together.

The real success for Climb for Kids lies in developing a legacy of fundraising. Our first year was a great success so now we need to begin work on year 2. We have a trip planned out, again with the assistance of Merit and Exodus. We will  announce the new trip soon and we will start looking for recruits for the second venture to take place in July 2019.

We want to continue to link adventure, fundraising and community into a dynamic social enterprise. As I have written, this is all about people. Our 17 trekkers were so well supported throughout the past year. We will continue developing with wonderful community into year 2. Ultimately, we are supporting kids and that is what makes this all so worthwhile.

We will grow our support, recruit new climbers and sponsors and we will trek again in less than a year. We are empowered by a terrific community.

Now is the time to recognize and thank this wonderful community. We are so grateful and we have gained so much and most importantly, we did all this together!

Getting underway – Vamos!

 

Trekking Hand in Hand with Christie Lake Climb for Kids

Sometimes it is hard to sort out what to write after taking part in a monumental challenge. That is what the 5-day Ausangate trek was – a truly inspiring, challenging adventure that tested the physical and emotional limits of the 17 trekkers who took part in the journey.

The Ausangate region is cold in the Peruvian winter. We stayed at beautiful lodges where the temperatures plummeted when the sun went down. One lodge was at 4300m, the other three were above 4750m. We lived above 4700m for four days – that is higher than the summit camp for Mt. Kilimanjaro. We reached an altitude of 5150m – 200m short of Everest Base Camp.

The highest lodge in the world

So, there is lots to write about, a huge amount to absorb.

What comes to mind first is the people. Seventeen Canadians made the choice to trek for five days in this remote part of the Andes. Apart from our guides, cooks and shepherds, we seldom saw anyone else on the route. The high altitude, cold and tricky trekking conditions took a toll on everyone. Living continually at extreme high altitude was a new challenge for all of us.

Then there were our guides, Holgar, Mathias and Eric. These three guided us every day and in one case, into the night. They taught us about the mountains and told us stories about the apu, the mountain gods.

The cooks and cleaners travelled with us. The shepherds guided 20 llamas and horses with all our gear over the same steep mountain passes that we trekked. They reached our campsites well before us and set up the lodges for meals and restorative nights.

It is all about the people and this is where the true story lies. There were countless acts of generosity and kindness over the 5 days. You can’t trek through these mountains unless everyone works together and supports one another.

One incident, captured on video. One the longest day – 10 hours of trekking all above 4800m, we climbed the last hill to get a view of the Rainbow Mountain. It was later in the day and we had already summited one pass at 5000m. People were cold and tired.

The last hill was very steep and it fell off dramatically on all sides. Eric, one of our guides took the climbing poles of one of the trekkers and pulled her up the last hill. Several others were cold, tired out and gasping for air in the thin atmosphere.

We put one trekker ahead of the others and instructed the others to follow the same slow step pattern. The climbers ascended the hill in unison.

Take a look at the opening video for this piece. If you look closely, you can see the climbers following each other. You can see our guide Eric leading us up the hill. You can hear the laboured breathing and the wind whipping by.

This is people assuming a challenge and succeeding. This is what it looks like to trek in the Ausangate.