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JUST WALK LIKE A PENGUIN (It's all about the balance)

After stressing and creating 'too much drama', but eventually achieving clarity, I jumped into the cold waters of retirement. Although I was sure of my decision, I still had trepidation and fears about what this new life would look like.

So, I decided to walk like a penguin. Before you say "Whaaaat?":

A few years ago, our provincial health service published a campaign to help prevent seniors from slipping and falling on ice which is endemic with the fast changing weather on the prairies bordering the foothills and mountains. They encouraged seniors to walk like a penguin. My sister and I laughed a little about the money probably spent on this campaign - really, do we have to teach people how to walk? (I probably laughed harder than she did as she worked for the health services at the time.) But, think of it, penguins have that nice, upright, slight right to left (or left to right!), low to the ground, shuffle with little actual movement. You don’t see them fall often. They know how to navigate a slippery slope!

The penguin balance is a great metaphor for the balance that is needed to stay upright in the slippery slope of retirement life, without tipping too much right or left (which also isn’t good politically, but that is a topic for another post) and figuratively falling flat on our faces.

I imagine that it does not really matter which culture you are from, there is probably some concept of balance. For instance, our Indigenous cultures have the Medicine Wheel which speaks of balance in virtually all areas of life, including the aspects of spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical balance (First Nations Perspective on Health and Wellness provides a great overview and is worth checking out). Read any self-help or stress management article, and chances are that there will be some element of a balance wheel. The Canada School of Pubic Service has a great worksheet for finding balance in life. ( Although the balance exercise is intended for persons looking for work/life balance, it seems like a great tool for anyone! The Canada School of Public Service suggests that key life areas can include achievements, career, children/dependents, contributions to society, environment, family, fun and leisure, finances, parents, personal growth, relationships, self-care, significant other, and spirituality. You can choose which ones are pertinent to you. I like to narrow mine down to physical, emotional, social, intellectual, some form of spirituality, and community as I find that all the other aspects usually fall into one or more of those categories. The Canada School of Public Service provides a handy wheel to do hands-on reflection, if one wants:

As explained on their website, choose the eight most important areas to you, list them on the outside of the circle, and then rate them from 1 to 10 regarding your degree of satisfaction with that area, with 1 being the most dissatisfied and 10 been the most satisfied. The website provides some great thought-provoking questions about your Wheel of Life. The wheel really is a 'picture' of where your life is at! Are the key aspects of your life relatively equal, or are there lots of peaks and valleys where some aspects of your life are overflowing and some are missing? What do you need to improve on, or cut back on, in your life?

This is a helpful exercise, not because it is something new and novel (there are many similar balance wheels used in counselling) but because it forces us to be more mindful of how we fill our lives. Even if a person has already considered a similar balance exercise, it might be really important, as one retires, to revisit this tool because, as I mentioned before, retirement is ONE BIG CHANGE in life. It is easy to fill our lives constructively when we go to the office every day but not so easy when we have ALL DAY to fill. Mindfulness really comes in handy!

Another thought about balance . . . just as we strive to balance the key areas of our life to ensure that our retirement life is fulfilling and enriched, we don't want to go overboard and tire ourselves out - we also need to reach a BALANCE between being too busy and being idle.

So, I am aiming to walk like a penguin, with balance, every day, in my new retirement life. I will strive for equilibrium between the main aspects of my life, and I will aim to be not too busy and not too idle. While I am at it, I might as well shuffle side to side on icy areas. In fact, I think I'll make it a habit to visit a life wheel regularly to help keep me upright!


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