The Next Chapter

At seventy-one, I accept the reality that I am living the third third of my life. Sometimes the realization frightens me, but at other times, it brings me peace. There is nothing I can do about time marching on, so I may as well relax and enjoy.

The realization that I am living the last years of my life also gives me a sense of urgency. If there are things I want to do, places I want to visit, or projects I want to complete, now is the time.

That sense of urgency might be anxiety-producing, but I find it somehow comforting. At my age, I have learned to accept my capabilities and limitations; I can only do what I can do. I try to be realistic about the physical changes aging brings while still pushing myself a bit, but with age has come the wisdom to know when to say “no.” Mostly, though, I am still saying “yes.”

For example, since I have no responsibilities at home that prevent me from being away, I went to Europe for a month in the spring. The first week I visited friends in Ireland, and then I went on a three-week tour of France.

I had wanted to visit the French countryside for a long time, and a tour seemed like the easiest way to go since I don’t speak French. (Whatever’s easiest is my mantra these days.) One of my favorite things about the tour is that I did not have to carry my suitcase. It is not that I can’t, because I can, but why should I when someone else will do it for me? It was such an excess, a luxury I never afforded myself when I was younger. Now, though, why not?

The biggest surprise about being this age is the confidence I feel.

When I stepped away from full-time work last year, I had no idea what was going to happen next. I joked that I was taking a sabbatical year to plan the next chapter of my life.

Over this past year, though, the next chapter has begun to take shape, and it is a shape that was completely unexpected.

After working in the nonprofit sector for more than thirty years, it turns out I am somewhat of an expert. Not only was I the executive director of several nonprofits, but I have also served on nonprofit boards. I have participated in and/or led evaluation teams of other nonprofits, and so my experience is well-rounded.

Over the years, when offered the chance to be a grant reviewer, I always accepted because I thought it would be a good way to improve my own grant-writing skills. Now I know grant-writing from both sides—as applicant and reviewer.

Add to that my desire to use what I have learned to help nonprofits improve, and I have come up with the “work” for this chapter of my life: I am a consultant.

When I was in my early fifties, a financial advisor asked me if I thought I would make more money after I retired than I did while working. “How could that happen?” I asked, genuinely confused. He said some people consult or give speeches or write books. “I don’t see any of that happening,” I told him.

But I have consulting for a while, now, and I was recently asked to speak at a fundraiser for a Christian women’s group.

Two down, one more to go.

All that remains is writing a book, and who knows? It may happen yet.

TLH photoMadeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake, and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.