By Misa Acox

When my youngest went off to college this past September, I realized that my nest was truly empty. Instead of feeling sad, I felt proud.  Proud that I had invested the time to give my kids the necessary life skills and proud that I had instilled in them the confidence to go off to school without looking back. They flexed their wings and took off!

The house wasn’t necessarily “empty” – I still have two senior dogs and two cats who share the house with me. Although they are good company, they don’t make good conversation.  For that, I needed to find other ways to fill my time when I wasn’t at work.

Being an introvert proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  At work I get my full share of conversation –people stop by my desk and ask me to help them with certain tasks or to design something. By the time I get home, I’m done talking for the day. I welcome the thundering silence of my home.

But my mind needed other ways to fill the time. Here’s what I decided to do.

Try a new class or learn a new skill or take up something you gave up

Now that I am no longer chasing after kids or driving them around, I have time to take up hobbies that I put aside in those busy kid years. I dusted off my sewing machine, cleared off a table and created a sewing nook for myself.  I unearthed boxes of material that I had stashed away for a rainy day and poured over quilting patterns. Now with plenty of time on the weekends, I could take up quilting and sewing again and make myself some artsy wall hangings and decor for my house.

Get back in touch – hit ‘refresh” on friendships

When your kids are little, your friendships are often small bursts of conversation while you clean up kids’ messes or while you’re at a kid’s recital or sporting event. Now I could call up friends and make plans for dinner and real, in-depth conversations.  It’s amazing to see where all my friends have landed after the kids flew off.

Make self-care a thing

Self-care doesn’t always mean a bubble bath (although that does sound fabulous).  With time to myself, came a chance to evaluate what I ate, how much I worked out, what clothing I wore, and how I was going to spend my time taking care of me. It wasn’t just about losing that middle-age spread – it was about savoring those meals I cooked, choosing the ingredients and taking the time to prepare a great meal for myself.  It meant joining a gym so I could stay healthy, taking yoga so I could stay flexible, dancing in my kitchen to a fun Spotify music list while cleaning. It meant working on house projects because I want to, not because I must.

Creating the emotional space to meet other people

Sometimes my introverted nature does get the best of me, but I am determined to go out there and make new friends and maybe, just maybe, dip my toe in the dating pool.  Mostly I just have visions of hosting a dinner party and making new friends who just want to come over and hang out. I envision making s’mores by a backyard fireplace and drinking wine and laughing with friends, but it takes effort to meet them.  I’m trying to get involved in my neighborhood by attending community meetings, getting to know my neighbors, and using local vendors for household jobs. The effort does pay off as I’ve made several new friends this way.

Filling an empty nest shouldn’t be so hard. It just takes a bit of planning and a bit of dreaming aloud to find your way.  Set your goals for what you’d like to explore in this next chapter of your life and seek out the people who can help you make it happen.  Check out seminars or classes that interest you and just go! As the Nike ad says, “Just do it!” You will not be alone.