June 28, 2013 by Jean
My big retirement transition focus for this summer is preparing the house I have lived in part-time for more than 20 years to become my full-time residence. I have a long list of items that need my attention, some big (like getting all the plans in place to build an addition on the house) and some small (like clearing out clutter to make more space); many of them are sources of anxiety. But in the two weeks since I committed myself to breaking these anxiety-producing projects down into manageable steps and taking action on at least one project each week (see Retirement Preview: The Anxiety-Avoidance Cycle), I’ve been on a roll.
I have made significant progress on my largest project and the greatest source of anxiety, adding a new master bedroom and bathroom to my house. I have spoken with an architect on the phone, put down my ideas about the addition on paper and sent them off to him, and we have scheduled a tentative date for a site visit and consultation. In the process of sorting out my own ideas about the addition, I suddenly saw a much better solution to one problem that had been worrying me. There’s a long way to go on this; but for the first time, I feel as though I have the project under control and moving forward.
Another source of increasing anxiety was not a big project at all, but a set of relatively small plumbing repairs. These have been piling up over the past five years, but I have not been able to find a plumber willing to come out to my rural location. For the most part, plumbers I’ve contacted have not returned my calls, or they have made appointments and never shown up. And, of course, each time I failed to find a plumber to do the repairs, my anxiety about them increased. By this summer, at least one plumbing issue, a malfunctioning toilet (the only toilet in the house), had become fairly urgent. In desperation, I decided to try an online service to match customers with contractors and tradesmen, called HomeAdvisor.com, that had been advertised on local television. One night, just before I went to bed at 11:00, I went online to check out the site, filled out a request form for a plumber, and submitted it. Names of two plumbers immediately appeared, along with reviews of their work written by those who had used their services. The following morning at 7:00, one of them (who came with rave reviews from many satisfied customers) called me up; three days later, I had a new toilet and all the other small repairs had also been done. After five years of anxiety about how to get these plumbing repairs taken care of, they were suddenly completed! Even better, I now had a plumber who assured me that he would be happy to come out any time I needed him. I felt lighter than air.
Each time I successfully complete one of these tasks, my anxiety levels go down and my confidence in my ability to take care of the other projects on my list increases. This week, I saw a lawyer about some anxiety-producing estate planning issues that I have been putting off for years. Then, on the way home, I stopped off at a local lumber yard to get some advice about two projects – one of which has been languishing unfinished because I couldn’t figure out something that turned out not to be so complicated. Tomorrow, I will buy the materials needed to get one of these projects completed in the next few weeks.
If you haven’t been keeping count, I committed myself to taking action on one anxiety-laden project each week – but in just two weeks, I’ve moved forward on five! It turns out that what I’ve been telling my students all these years is true: if you break a problem that is making you anxious into a series of small steps and then take action on one step at a time, you will stop procrastinating, your anxiety will lift, and you will feel so much happier and more confident, competent and energetic. The only question is: Why didn’t I follow my own advice sooner?!?