Caregiving Revisited

Thank you to everyone who wrote comments about last week’s post ‘Are You A Caregiver?’ The people who commented provide insight for the rest of us. This is so important because many of us will become caregivers at one time or another. All of the comments came from women, not unusual since the majority of caregivers are women, a wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or friend.

It appears the caregivers are taking on this task out of love and friendship, whether you are tending to a spouse, parent, grandchildren or a friend. Our human connection is the impetus for our caring for others. For those of us who are married, we apparently take the vow of “in sickness and in health” seriously. We love our spouses, our children and grandchildren and even our friends. We honor the relationships by continuing to care for them in a time of need.

Most caregivers are engaging in some type of self-care to give themselves a break. Reading for relaxation, tai chi, yoga, painting, a long lunch with a spouse and writing all made the list. According to my research on several sites, breaks are very important for fending off stress. Other recommendations for breaks are taking a twenty minute walk, meditation or talking to a friend.

I personally find art to be very calming. Drawing in particular puts me in what I call ‘the zone’ where I am so focused on what I’m doing, all other thoughts are zoned out. It is meditative.

Carole, who commented about caring for her spouse with cognitive decline, also writes a blog. Carole and I have something in common — we both find writing about our experiences to be therapeutic. You don’t have to start a blog and put it out there for the world, but writing about your thoughts, feelings and daily life as a caregiver may ease your situation. A simple journal will do. I invite you to visit Carole’s site at: http://oneoflifeslittlesurprises.blogspot.com

While you are supporting someone else, it’s important for caregivers to develop their support system. Friends and other family members can become your first line of defense against stress. It’s important to ask for and accept help if you need it. Many of us don’t feel like we should ask for help.  We tell ourselves we can do it all. We can’t.

Donna’s comment reminded me of an article I read many years ago about baby boomers being the sandwich generation. The writer was using the analogy of a sandwich because many of my generation were still caring for children at home as well as aging parents. Donna pointed out the situation today where we may be caring for both grandchildren and aging parents. Now that our kids are adults, many of us are pitching in to care for their kids.

Like caregiving itself, comments ran the gamut of some assistance, such as going along on doctor’s appointments to occasional babysitting to full-time assistance handling every household chore as well as caring for loved ones. According to the Mayo Clinic it is the people committed to high hours of care who are in most danger of feeling stress and strain with this role. Mayo Clinic recommends the following:

1. Accept help and focus on what you are able to provide.

2. Set realistic goals and learn to say no to things which add strain, such as hosting holiday meals.

3. Get connected with community organizations supporting caregivers and stay connected with family and friends.

4. Take care of your own health including regular checkups and discuss your situation with your doctor.

I thank everyone who contributed to this post with their comments and insights. Please take a minute to read their comments and look at Carole’s blog.  Not everyone retired expecting to be in the role of caregiver.  Life sometimes spins us a curve ball.  We are all on a different journey but their journey may become our journey one day.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to caregiving.org in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, caregiving.org reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.

Lust For Life

This wasn’t the article I intended to post today, but lunch with a friend yesterday was quite interesting. She brought up the concept of lust. We discussed it. I also thought about it a lot after our meeting. It reverberated with me so much I got up early this morning to put my other article aside (next week) and hastily write this perspective on lust.

This isn’t a perspective on the sexual type of lust.  However, that’s where I’m starting.  Lust is, after all, most often thought of as purely sexual desire and often a sexual desire that is out of control, making it a titillating subject indeed. I, myself, have referred to people who abandon a spouse for a new lover as being in lust not in love. Lust is one of the seven sins. The Bible says lust is bad or bad for us if it replaces love. It also says we shouldn’t covet material objects belonging to another.

Looking for a definition outside my Biblical teachings, I found all reflect this one from Merriam-Webster.com: ‘a strong feeling of sexual desire; a strong desire for something.’ That last part is what my friend and I talked about mostly — other forms of lust. In between sips of chardonnay (it was a late lunch), we agreed, although we are aging, we still have a strong desire, a lust for something.

I call it a lust for life. A strong desire to continue living with zeal and fervor and excitement for what may materialize on our still glorious horizons.

If lust is a strong desire like a craving, we all crave things at one time or another. We may crave something as simple as ice cream or a long, hot bath.  We may crave a new car or trip to some far off place. Didn’t many of us have a strong desire to leave the work place and be free in retirement to do what we want with our time? We may crave hitting the road in our RV and kicking around the country for months on end. We may have a strong desire to help others. We may have a strong desire to volunteer, leave money to a charity or create a scholarship to help someone go to college. We may have a craving to reinvent ourselves in retirement and do something we always dreamed of doing. Our cravings, our desires, our lusting after something is not necessarily bad or bad for us.

We have been lusting all our lives. Remember that cute boy or girl sitting across from you in junior year English, the one who invaded your dreams at night? That was probably about the same time you were lusting after a drivers license and your first set of wheels. After that you went on to lust after a great many things. Perhaps the taste of your first adult beverage, a real job, promotions, your first house, a bigger house, a masters degree, a trip to Europe or India or the Fiji Islands. Lusting fired our engines, not just our loins.

When we are young, we lust after life with an eagerness to experience all that we can. We dream. We scheme. We plan. We have a boundless energy focused on the future we strongly desire, we crave, we lust after. We want to gorge ourselves on all that life has to offer — the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — the entire smorgasbord.

I still feel this way to a certain extent. Oh, I’m a little jaded at times. I have my been there, done that moods. Yet, there are many, many things I want to do in life. I still crave some adventure, trying a new activity, meeting new people, seeing new vistas, straining my brain, pushing my physical boundaries, entering a spiritual dimension I’ve never explored.

Lust gets a bad rap. A little lust for life can be good for us, especially as we age.  In a cliche we are older and wiser.  We aren’t going totally off the deep end, over the cliff. We are a little jaded.  Grabbing the world by the shirttail and twirling it around to see what shakes out is good for us.

Even now, for me at 64, it’s a big wide world out there and it’s easier to access than ever before. There are opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of. There are surprises to be found. There are secrets to be unlocked. There are discoveries to be made. And, I intend to continue lusting after them with a lust for life.

What To Wear Over 50

A little eyeshadow gives a pink wink

A little eyeshadow

If you Google ‘what to wear over 50 years old’, there are an even 12,000,000 results. That’s 12 MILLLLLL-YUN! I’m sure you see the articles, mostly written for women, as you stand in the check out line at the grocery stores reading magazine covers, or looking through your online news articles. Yes, it’s news that women shouldn’t wear this or that as they age or shouldn’t sport eye shadow or certain lipstick colors. Guys you are not supposed to show off your sagging boney knees, any more than the women, by wearing shorts during those 100 degree August days while playing through eighteen holes. And, forget the swim suit!

I started reading these articles when I stopped coloring my hair way back in 2011. Looking for a makeup palette to complement my grey hair, I noticed articles on what to wear for women over 50 were in long supply. All were geared toward looking more youthful. Although I was in the process of eschewing our societal youth culture by uncovering my grey locks, I eagerly hopped on this train chugging down the track of anti-aging. I saw them as helpful, how-to articles.

It took me a while to catch on — 2011 was five years ago. I’m sometimes a slow learner. Then it clicked this summer when a well-meaning friend cautioned me about staying out in the heat too long. Working on my property expanding my gardens is a passion for me. Not to be deterred by ninety degree days with ninety something humidity, I don my sweatbands, mosquito spray and sunscreen, showing my sagging boney knees in a pair of shorts and my flabby upper arms in a sleeveless tee, while arming myself with Gatorade and water. I take to the land. When my same-age-as-me friend suggested I was getting old and couldn’t stand up to the heat and exercise, I was more than a little annoyed. Yes, I thought, I am aging. What’s the big deal? I’ve been aging from the day I was born.

It was here I realized ageism lies subtly at the underbelly of these articles. We tend to swallow whole this myth of things we should and shouldn’t do as we age — me included — which is exactly what leads to ageism in our society. We fall into the trap of doing everything we can to look youthful while at the same time accepting physical limitations due to age. For starters, we don’t all age on the same timetable. We don’t turn 60 with a birthday present of more wrinkles or less stamina.

Chutzpah aside, I know I don’t have the stamina I once did. Despite the Gatorade and gallon of water, I cannot keep going without feeling washed out later in the day. However, I can do what I used to do, just not as long as I used to do it. Still physically fit, aging is not a reason to stop an activity altogether. That said, I began to question the wisdom of not wearing eyeshadow, sleeveless tops or shorts.

The articles themselves are sometimes silly. One says don’t wear short skirts (those knees again) while another says long skirts are aging, making me look like granny (I am granny!). Cover your wrinkled neck with scarves or turtle necks but don’t button your blouse up to the last button —show some cleavage. That’s apparently peeks of bosom in-between the scarf hanging around your neck. Long sleeves are also preferred. After all they cover those wrinkly elbows and flabby upper arms. The bottom line of these articles is not so much how to look good as you age; it’s more like how to hide the fact that you are aging. They imply aging is ugly — better cover it up. If we don’t want to be marginalized as we age, we must cease buying into the idea of cutting back, taking it easy, stopping loved activities altogether and accepting society’s image of what is age appropriate and what is not.

 
I was further reminded of this when Martin brought home Motorcyclist magazine touting a story of ninety-year-old Erv Daley still riding his motorcycle up to 5,000 miles per year in-between RV stops. For anyone who rides a motorcycle they know 5,000 miles is a lot of miles no matter what your age. Erv has logged 145,000 miles since buying this bike new!  After reading Erv’s story, one cannot help but notice his attitude. It’s not about slowing down as we age. It’s about continuing to do what we love as we age, despite the age.  And how we look be damned!

What not to wear over 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 has less to do with eyeshadow emphasizing the creases of aging eyes or shorts showing off boney sagging knees and more to do with society’s view of aging as a time to slow down, cover up and perhaps even disappear from the rest of the world’s view altogether. What I’ve decided I’m not wearing over 50 is acceptance of a dubious deprecation, subtle or not, about my age and aging. Who decides what is appropriate for me anyway? Me! I made it this far; I think I have a pretty good idea of what I should or shouldn’t wear and what I am capable of doing physically and mentally.

As my husband often quips, “My body will tell me when I can’t do it anymore.” I think he’s right. Besides, I like my pink eyeshadow.

Back To School

OLLI Fall Term

OLLI Fall Term

This is the time of year when kids start back to school. Parents are shopping for supplies, new clothes and looking at schedules as they prepare their children for another school term. The scent of fall coupled with the excitement of a new beginning is in the air. When I honed my wish list for retirement activities, this yearly ritual of returning to academia never crossed my mind. Oh, I engaged in the idea of taking a painting class or two. However, the thought of preparing for an entire academic year on a college campus was not even on my radar.

Yet, here I am feeling the kind of excitement I felt as a kid as I prepare for my third year at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) (http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli_list) at Furman University. Registration began last week. Catalogs appeared online and in mailboxes in the weeks before that, making me ditzy with anticipation. As I leafed through the catalog, marking off what interested me, I wondered all over again at the breadth and depth of the offerings — about one hundred courses for fall term alone. During the past two years I’ve enjoyed classes in various arts, writing, religion, aging well, gardening, history and there is more, so much more.

Every state in the US has at least one OLLI. In other countries, look for University of the Third Age (U3A) (http://www.u3a.org.uk). In the event you don’t find one near you, check out your local colleges for adult learning opportunities and/or talk to the leaders about starting a program geared toward retired and semi-retired people. There is much to be gained by participating in college life.

For example, a group of students from my last writing course are continuing to meet informally in a conference room on campus. We write, meet, read our stories out loud to each other and offer gentle critiques. Much of what is written is memoir requiring a certain amount of trust among the group. As a result we have connected on a level beyond the casual acquaintances of a classroom environment. Our camaraderie is solidified in the care of each others memories.

Other friends in my circle outside of OLLI have joined me (and Martin) on campus. We’ve taken classes together or gone our separate ways coming together after class at the campus cafeteria. Often we’re joined by other OLLI students, widening our circle, engagement with others and topics of conversation. And, the cafeteria food is as diverse as the topics. From huge steel cooking drums serving up Indian, Mexican or Chinese dishes to salad and soup bar to pizza, salmon or baked chicken, the fare is everything and anything you could want. Freshly flavored waters like pineapple-sage are there for the water-holics like myself and the array of desserts are tempting. For $5 we can enjoy an amazing meal, sitting there for as long as we want, among the buzzing hive of late-teens and twenty somethings. It’s energizing.

Access to the university library opens up another vista with books, magazines, newspapers and dvd’s for borrowing or sitting in a comfortable chair and enjoying on campus. Don’t have a computer? Need wi-fi for your laptop or smartphone? You can get it here. Do you have an interest in history? The archives are substantial. Art? The art library is stunning. Want the latest fiction or non-fiction book? It just came in and is waiting for you on shelves displaying the latest additions to the library. Additionally, tickets to cultural events on campus are discounted and sometime even free to OLLI members — lectures, plays and concerts for your enjoyment.

Every college or university has its own price list for all of this. At Furman my cost for this year’s membership is $50. Friday Bonus Events offered by OLLI are free, although art classes or tours requiring transportation will have an added fee. There are also free Tuesday Lunch and Learns where you bring your lunch to eat while listening to a lecture on various issues. Then, there are Special Interest Groups (SIG) — knitting, book clubs, photography, travel, wood carving, bridge, chess, man jongg and even an Out and About Singles SIG and more. Courses paid for individually are $55, but the cost can be reduced by purchasing a package of courses at the beginning of the year. The cost of a six course package to be used over three terms is $240; nine course package $315; and a fifteen course package $375. One final note — although there are four employees, most of this is run by OLLI member volunteers and with 2,000 members last year, there is plenty of opportunity to volunteer.

As mentioned, courses are varied and fun. There are no grades! In order to get the most out of a course, it’s a good idea to do the reading and assignments, if there are any. However, it is not required. Classes at Furman OLLI start on September 12. A back to campus reception and new member orientation is September 8. And, like a kid again, I’m filled with anticipation.

If you are running out of steam after retiring, feeling at loose ends, want to feel energized, want to try something new, want to keep learning or want to make more friends, find a college campus!

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

Last week’s post “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” received a lot of comments. One of the comments came from Nancy, who cited a book another reader mentioned in an earlier comment. Nancy is reading the book and highly recommends it.

After reading some reviews of the book, I decided to pass the information on to everyone as it looks like it can help you find your path in retirement. Deanna originally mentioned the book back on June 11 in a comment and I thank her for that. Although Nancy picked up on Deanna’s comment, I obviously missed the import of the book. Ain’t that a kick in the pants! This scenario reminded me I don’t know what I don’t know and need to keep my eyes, ears and mind open.

The book, “It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again — Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond” is written by Julia Cameron. It should show up in my mailbox today, so I have not read it — just reviews and parts of it online.  I did read her book “The Right To Write”.  Cameron, 68, is an artist. Stop right there. The book is not about becoming an artist although there are many, many forms of art and you may end up finding one you like. Cameron is also a creativity teacher and her books include exercises and prompts for helping you figure things out.

In the introduction to this book, Cameron tells us why she wrote it. I think this will resonate with some of you as it did with me.

“Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book on creativity called The Artists Way. It spelled out, in a step-by-step fashion, just what a person could do to recover — and exercise —their creativity. I often called that book “The Bridge” because it allowed people to move from the shore of their constrictions and fears [self-imposed limitations] to the promised land of deeply fulfilling creativity. The Artists Way was used by people of all ages, but I found my just-retired students the most poignant. I sensed in them a particular problem set that came with maturity. Over the years, many of them asked me for help dealing with issues specific to transitioning out of the work force.”

Cameron goes on to describe the book as her attempt to answer the question we all have about this stage of our lives, “What next?” Along with the many forms of art, there are also many forms of creativity. No matter what your career consisted of doing, from engineer to fashion designer, you engaged in creativity in some way. I was a banker and real estate executive yet business required a certain amount of creativity to get the job done. Inventing your retirement life will also take a certain amount of creativity on your part. Cameron’s step-by-step approach may well help you figure it out.

One of the steps involves memoir writing. This exercise is not to make you into a writer. It is there to put you in touch with your life experience. It’s in keeping with my advice to re-visit your childhood self. About 18 months ago I took a memoir writing class. Since than I’ve taken several other writing classes and continued with memoir writing. Why? Because it caused me to drill down into my past and excavate so much of myself buried under a lifetime of working. It helped me remember me. It helped me to fully transition from work to retirement. I regret not passing this piece of wisdom on to my readers earlier. It took reading the reviews about Cameron’s book for me to realize what a gem this exercise is for finding out who you are and who you want to be in your third stage of life.

That said, if you do read the book, I would love to hear what you think and if it did indeed help. As always, I love to hear from my readers. You often pass on wisdom or information such as this and that helps all of us. A great big thank you and hugs to Deanna and Nancy!

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

The Ups And Downs Of Retirement

Here comes the sun!

Here comes the sun!

A few weeks ago I posted “The Joys Of Not Working”. I wrote about both the joy and the responsibility that comes with being retired. Having to fill your time with activities of your own making is the responsibility part. Creating an invigorating, satisfying retirement is up to you. It is like the Declaration of Independence guaranteeing the pursuit of happiness. It does not guarantee happiness; only its pursuit. In a similar respect, a financially secure retirement doesn’t guarantee happiness; only the freedom to pursue it.

To be sure, there are many people who are not financially secure in retirement, yet they enjoy much more happiness than many a well-heeled retiree or working person, for that matter. They take advantage of free or inexpensive activities and joys at their disposal. They get out and DO things. They pursue retirement happiness.

It costs little or nothing at all to:

Watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset
Take a walk in a local park or garden
Borrow books and movies from your local library
Join a book club
Attend free events like music evenings at your local library
Write your memoir or family history
Invite a friend over for coffee and a chat
Volunteer to help out with the maintenance of the local garden
Become an usher at a theater and watch plays and shows for free
Go for a wine tasting
Look for an Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI) or University of the Third Age and join
Browse a flea market
Volunteer at the farmer’s market, a hospital or any other organization
Keep a gratitude journal and write in it every day
List the fifty things in your life that are positives for you – yes, you do have fifty (at least)
Look for a Senior Center in your area and go have lunch, meet other retirees, be active there
Look for other free and low cost activities in your area and do them!
Google “Activities for seniors in ________________” (fill in your city and see what you get)
While the financial part of a happy retirement is important, the emotional aspect is even more important. I listed the activities above mainly to point out the fact that there is plenty to get you started on enjoying your retirement with or without money.

One of the downs of retirement is feeling down! Especially if you are newly retired, as in the last couple of years. In this case, inertia is not your friend. Get moving by looking at the list above or better yet, making your own list.

There is not a list of the ‘five most important things to do in order to have a happy retirement’. Believe me, if there was, I would write a book about it. Each and every one of us has a unique path. Different strokes for different folks. One of the other downs of retirement is people who sit around waiting for someone else to figure it out for them. No one is handing you a happy retirement. Get up off the couch. Turn off the TV. Go. Do.

Another down is retiring before your friends do. Martin and I retired young. Most of our social group was still working. Since then some have also retired. In the meantime, we had to make other friends. We sought out venues such as OLLI where we knew we would meet other retirees. We made new friends. Start saying, “Hello” to people and SMILE!

For some, it may be a down if your spouse continues to work. That can keep you tethered to the work clock, work world, wishing you hadn’t retired and living in the past. Make a day schedule that gets you out of the house. Have somewhere to go. Do not sit around waiting for your spouse’s return. Look at the list above and start with some of those activities. On the up side you will have something to tell your working spouse about your day. You may discover a new passion and make new friends.

Retirement started out as an up for me and quickly became a down. It took time, effort and perseverance to finally hit my stride. The biggest up is the adventure of not working if you choose to make it an adventure. I am happier than I ever imagined being. As in my youth every day is filled with possibilities. There is now an excitement to my days. I cannot wait to get up in the morning and get going. There are an unlimited number of new things to try. Work rarely felt like that. I feel like I am re-defining retirement. Now, that is definitely an up!

Finding The Present

Three days after returning home my brain is still fuzzy. Jet lagged. My circadian rhythm not quite normal following my trip to Seattle. Even in my youth I did not travel well. At this age it is even worse. With all that, if I could afford to buy a place on Vashon Island for the summer and live in my South Carolina home in the winter, I would do it. Oh, I wouldn’t want to live in Seattle, but the island where my host lives is a different story.

My view from Vashon Island

My view from Vashon Island

Vashon hasn’t changed much from when I lived in Seattle thirty years ago. Still a tiny farm community sitting in Puget Sound, the only way to get there is by sea. The ferry takes a scant twenty minutes, transporting me from the busy, noisy area of West Seattle to the quiet hills and beaches of Vashon where eagles soar, osprey hunt, otters and seal frolic in the cold water and with luck, a few Dungeness crabs can be caught for dinner.

As I wrote in an earlier post I returned to Seattle to reconnect with my past self. Searching for my authentic self under the layers of identities assumed during a lifetime, I sought the emotional remembrance of who I was then. That person is gone, however, never to be retrieved, only remembered and celebrated with longtime friends. While our lives intertwined for a moment, and in many ways we remain the same, all of us have grown and changed. We enjoy a camaraderie built on shared memories.

I flew into SeaTac with the idea of visiting my former home, old workplace and other familiar haunts. My friend’s spouse picked me up at the frenetic airport. Driving through the streets of West Seattle to the ferry, we chatted about my flight and visit. Then, we slipped onto the ferry. By the time we disembarked onto Vashon Island, I knew I didn’t want to see any of the past places, only the people.

The entrance to Pike Place Market

The entrance to Pike Place Market

Idyllic Vashon reminds me of where I live now, a country life by choice. It also speaks to me of who I am now, my authentic self, with longtime friends enriching my life. And, hopefully, I enrich theirs. Our youthful shared experiences brought us together. It is the glue that holds us in sync, in time.

My host and I drove into Seattle just once. After all, I did have to see the teeming Pike Place Market. There at Cutters restaurant we met with other friends.  We talked about the past and the present and the future.  We caught up on our lives — work, spouses, children, dreams.  We clinked glasses in a ‘Salute’.  And I know now, it is they, not the place, holding the emotional sway.

In the end, the person I found on this excursion is my present self, the only self that matters now.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

Since I was traveling this week, I’m reposting a previous post from July 2014.  I hope you enjoy it a second time around.  I’ll be back next week with a fresh post.  Until then…

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.