The Graduate

 

The Graduate of 2018

Born at the turn of the century (does that sound strange?  It does to me.), they don’t have a moniker yet like Baby Boomers or Generation X or Millennials.  Names like Generation Z have been offered up, but nothing definitive sticks.  I have one, a grandson, born in January of 2000.  Last week he graduated from high school as his mother, my oldest daughter, posted on Facebook his time as a caterpillar is over —  time to fly little butterfly.  All the excitement, pomp and circumstance, family celebration party, teary-eyed reminiscences of his mother and promises of a solid future.

 

What advice would I give him?  The same advice I would give someone getting ready to retire.  I believe it’s good advice for any new start in life.

  1. Believe in yourself.  You have innate gifts.  Be confident in your abilities.  Do in life what you want to do, not what others want for you.  There are lots of people out there with lots of advice (including me) on how things “should” be.  Realize that when the “should” word comes out, you are listening to their ego.  Take it for what it is and make your decision for what you want.  Be a little selfish.  Pander to your ego.
  2. Follow your passion.  That old saying  “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” is true no matter what your age.  I garden on a large-scale.  People often comment to me, “That’s a lot of work” to which I reply, “It’s not work to me.  I love doing it.”  Yes, do what you love!
  3. Never stop learning.  Going off to college or trade school or taking a job, graduation isn’t the end of your education.  People who are life-long learners continue to grow and thrive.  It doesn’t mean you have to take formal classes.  Stay open to opportunities.  Be curious about life in general.  Ask questions!  Investigate what makes something tick. Then, you’ll always have excitement in your life and something to talk about when you meet new people.
  4. Speaking of other people, keep your old friends and cultivate new friendships, too.  Growing up I was a Girl Scout.  We had a little song that went like this, “Make new friends and keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.”  People with strong support systems have an easier time adapting to life’s ups and downs than those without.  Change is inevitable.  Form your posse to help you through the changes.
  5. Exploring the world goes hand in hand with never stop learning.  Even if it’s just the world in close proximity, be curious about what’s around you.  A Realtor friend recently sent me a list of all the summer happenings in the Upstate.  With enough activities to fill a page there’s plenty to do and see in my backyard.  Get off the couch and out the door.  Or explore the globe.  
  6. Enjoy each and every day.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Live in the moment being mindful of the sights, sounds and smells.  Touch the world you have in front of you.  Mind-spinning about the future or reliving the past is time lost forever.  Enjoy today.  And enjoy it with gratitude.  Revel in what you have, especially the things that can’t bought.  Materialism is over-rated.  Stuff won’t make you happy. 
  7. Lastly, life is what you make of it.  There will be good times and not-so-good times.  You will meet good people and not-so-good people.  Choose how you will respond or not respond to what or whom you encounter.  Live your life on your terms.  No one knows what’s best for you like you do.  

Fly, little butterfly, fly!

Dedicated to Jake and all the graduates of 2018, no matter where you are in the world.  You are our future.  Get out there and put your dent in the universe!

 

 

Advertisements

Silence Your Inner Critic

The woman sitting across the table from me said, “I know I’m ugly.”  Instantly, I thought, she just told me what her inner critic was telling her.  I looked her.  She wasn’t going to be the next cover girl; nor was she ugly.  She had beautiful green eyes with lashes not needing mascara, blemish-free, teeny-tiny pore skin I would give my eye teeth for, and perfectly aligned pearlies surrounded by full lips.  There was a lot to like.  And I gave her my opinion (of course).

We all have one, an inner critic, that is.  According to my therapist (yes, I have one of those too), the inner critic shows up during childhood as others criticize or correct to the nth degree.  As children we internalize the negativism as a voice, often a destructive voice, inside our heads.  We tell ourselves we’re ugly or fat or can’t accomplish our goals or aren’t smart enough to understand this or nobody cares about us.  Whatever the dialogue, it is often not the reality.

Thirty-five years ago I read book after self-help book, took an employer-sponsored course called “Context Training” and learned to ditch much of my inner critic by separating fact from the fiction in my head, just as I hope I did for the woman mentioned above.  Books like “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale changed my life as I became more self-confident, enjoyed more success and became still more confident in my abilities.  I embraced failure as opportunity instead of failure.  My inner critic became a squeaky little buzz of white noise that was quickly silenced when doubt knocked on my door.

As a caregiver the voice recently tried to resurrect itself as I struggled with new challenges.  Faced with mounting stress, my caregiver coach (yes, I have one of those, too) told me, “The stress will never go away.”  My inner critic started saying things like, “You’ll never have a day of peace, so why plan for one?” or “You’ll never get to relax, so why try?”  It took me awhile to realize my inner critic was getting louder.  I needed to duct tape its mouth before a tough situation became tougher.

Self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-love is the first step to silencing your inner critic.  Today I did the best I could do with what I have to do it.  Even in retirement, if life presents you with a crappy hand, as with any other time in life,  tell yourself how much you did right today and how much went right today.  Remind yourself that most people do most things right most of the time.  Give yourself a break.

Oh, I’m no Little Mary Sunshine.  I still need to unload on someone.  My therapist gets paid to listen; my family and friends are there for me.  However, I remembered how our thoughts influence our view of life, our way of handling life and our confidence…the power of positive thinking.  That’s the next step.  Be mindful of your thoughts.  What you put in your mind is like what you put in your body.  You want a healthy diet of positive thoughts.

I started keeping a gratitude journal again.  I might write something like,  “I got up this morning to the sun shining, birds chirping, a garden full of flowers with more to come, a yummy breakfast, worked in the art studio with alcohol inks, talked to a friend.”  Separate the fiction in your head from the facts of your life.  Instead of thinking you are ugly, think about your beautiful green eyes. 

Or, remember making a list of pros and cons when trying to reach a decision?  It works for silencing your inner critic, too.  Make the two columns and write down all the good things about your life and then all the negative things about your life.  Chances are you can find more good than bad.  And recognize the negatives, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement. 

My stress may never go away, but it can be reduced with positive thinking.  I just had a chance to relax by writing this post.  It gave me a slice of peace.  You see?  I just gagged my inner critic!  And you can, too.

An Educational Excuse

Fifty years ago today my mother gave me permission to accompany my brother, Rick and sister, Dianne on a trip to Washington, DC.  It was my sixteenth birthday.  Rick was driving south from our Jersey Shore home to see his future wife as she visited her sister living in Maryland.  I hopped up and down with excitement at the thought of seeing cherry blossoms in bloom along the Potomac and all those monuments.

Concerning my missing a school day, my mother said she’d write an educational excuse, meaning my absence should be excused because a visit to our nation’s capitol enhanced my learning experience.  At that moment neither of us could imagine how educational it would prove to be.  It wasn’t until early evening that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee.

The following morning as we three drove to Oxon Hill, Maryland I watched Rick or Dianne intermittently fiddle with the radio dial in an effort to keep up with the news.  From my back seat perch I listened as reporters announced riots breaking out across the country, including turmoil in Washington, DC.  Should we turn around and go back home?  No, we decided to continue on to our destination.  It was a somber ride as we pondered the implications of King’s murder, the riots, an impassioned plea from Bobby Kennedy to choose peace over violence.  

In Oxon Hill we saw peace, but plumes of smoke rose in the distance as something burned in Washington, DC.  The door to the apartment where my brother was staying was opened by a man holding a pistol.  I wasn’t afraid.  Everything but the gun and the smoke in the distance seemed normal.  Yet nothing was normal.  It wasn’t going to be the weekend I or anyone in the nation anticipated.

As we heard about destruction and people running in the streets, I never did go into Washington, DC.  The riots were quelled by Sunday when Rick and my sister-in-law to be went to church there.  Deemed too dangerous for me, I stayed behind with Dianne.  Upon their return, they reported soldiers lining the streets to keep the peace.  I wished I’d seen that.

Back at school on Monday, I handed my excuse to my homeroom teacher.  He looked at it, then at me.  “What did you see?”  Nothing I told him.  There were riots.  Without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, he said, “I guess that was educational.”  He looked so serious.  It was a serious time with more to come.

Collateral Goodness

 

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
                                                                        – Stephen Hawking

With the passing of Stephen Hawking at age 76, I am reminded of the power of one person to transform tragedy into a lifetime of goodness. Diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) at 21, doctors estimated Hawking had only two years to live. Instead of preparing to die, Hawking prepared to live. He continued working toward his doctorate in physics. It is a testimony to the strength of Hawking’s spirit that he didn’t ditch his plans. I dare say most of us would have given up on any future we had once envisioned.

Friends facing a journey similar to mine and Martin’s often point out something that is beautiful underneath all the challenges confronting us. Their inspiration comes from the movie Collateral Beauty. My inspiration comes from them. As one-half of this couple philosophized, sometimes you have to unwrap all the layers of ugly before you find the beauty underneath.

Most of us think of the opposite term ‘collateral damage’ as in someone innocent or a bystander is hurt or even killed. Seldom do we recognize good things that come out of negative events in our private lives. Now looking for the good has become a personal quest. Consequently, I’ve taken to calling the good things ‘collateral goodness’.

Obviously, Hawking outlived the prediction of an early death by decades. He also outperformed colleagues becoming renowned throughout the world for many accomplishments, both professional and personal.

Hawking believed we have only one life, one chance to put our dent in the universe. He did not let unexpected tragic circumstances deter him. He willed himself to be motivated.  Without the tragic diagnosis handed him, he may never have achieved the greatness of his life. By continuing his education, he continued to give his life meaning and purpose for however long it lasted. When it lasted beyond earning his doctorate, he forged ahead with his professional and personal life.

Meaning and purpose are a powerful influence for overcoming life’s ugly moments.  Whatever you may experience in retirement or any other moment in life, as Hawking once said, “It matters that you don’t just give up.”  None of us know how long we have. What we do know is we have the ability to unwrap any ugliness layer by layer until we find the collateral goodness underneath.

Starting Over

Oftentimes, my ideas for blog posts come from words spoken to me by someone I’ve met up with, a friend or one of my readers, hearing something on TV or reading an article. During the last few years I’ve heard many, many people comment about starting over when they retire. Some look forward to retiring with the excitement of entering a new venture. Others lament the idea after being forced to retire because of poor health, a spouse’s illness or an employer terminating their job position. Whatever the reason for retiring, we are all starting over, as we will many times in life.

A lifetime ago, I left one job for another job. A larger paycheck, less work and no travel. My then current supervisor, in an effort to keep me where I was, said, “I hate to see you start over someplace else, especially at your age.” Laughable today since I was a mere thirty-five at the time. I wasn’t sure if this was a scare tactic or a reflection of his regret since he had scrapped a position elsewhere, in his forties, to join the company and become my boss. Whatever it was, I didn’t fall for his line. Instead, I recognized then as I recognize now, we start over many, many times during our lives. We begin anew again and again.

Starting over when we are young is seen as progress. We start over when we enter kindergarten or middle school, high school and then college or trade school. We start over with our first real job. We start over with each promotion on the job. New responsibilities, maybe an office of our own. We start over with the move to another city or state or perhaps another country. We leave familiar territory and old friends behind. Then there’s starting over after a relationship ends, divorce and starting over with a new relationship. There’s lots of starting over — new beginnings following endings.

Retirement leaves a void once filled by paid work. There are as many ways to fill that void as there are rain drops in a puddle. The trick is choosing the activities that are fulfilling to you. If you have a lifetime of hobbies and volunteer work in your quiver, you may have an easier time adding purpose back into your life.

Then, of course, there are those who did not choose retirement as much as having it chosen for them. It’s not unusual to experience grief for a lost way of life, a paycheck, work friends, daily routine. However, people who choose their retirement date most often feel the same loss. Acknowledging the loss and accepting the ensuing grief will eventually let you move on. Then you can embrace the opportunity before you.  The opportunity to grow, to prosper in ways other than money or promotions.

What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Stay active! In my unexpected role of caregiver, I’m starting over. Yet, I continue, for both our sakes, to find snippets of time to garden and write and do art. While Martin leans on me, I’ve learned to bank on my strengths. What are your strengths? I was always highly organized at work. Something I let slip in my early years of retirement. Now, I’m pulling that rabbit back out of the hat. I also put a huge value on my time and guard it with zeal. I find it easier to say no.

Create your retirement circle of friends. Once you retire, unless your current friends are also retiring, you may find you have less in common with them. Your schedule will no longer revolve around Monday through Friday work weeks. Every day is Saturday. I developed new friendships by taking classes. Common interests create a common bond. Volunteering at an organization whose good works you value is another great way to find other retirees to add to your network. This is the time to try new activities. If one doesn’t pan out, you’re free to go on to another. It’s not like failing at a job. New friends are waiting. Put yourself out there.

Starting over can be difficult. It can also be exhilarating, challenging you to try things you never thought of doing, to experience and savor the unexpected. Think about the other times in life when you started over. How did you feel? What did you do? Give yourself time. Retirement is a journey of discovery and change. It’s just one more opportunity to start over.

Whistling While You Work

As the grocery cashier slid my order across the scanner, bagging items as she went, she also hummed, whistled and sang a few words here and there. When she guided my wine over the scanner, a “check ID” flashed on the screen in front of me. She looked at me as I said, “Yes, I’m old enough, my kids are old enough and one grandchild is old enough.” She chuckled as she responded, “I’ll bet you’re not as old as I am.” So, we traded ages. I don’t know if she had to work as a cashier at age 74 or she wanted to, but she went on to say how she was retired and working!

Lots of people work in retirement for lots of reasons. I know several who retired, but continue working 2 or 3 days a week just for the work, not the money. By working, they stay engaged in the world, both mentally and physically. They feel challenged, maintaining people and technological skills, learning new techniques, sharing ideas and socializing.

While many corporations are still looking for full-time employees, others are beginning to realize older workers come with a depth of experience and wisdom younger workers have yet to accumulate, making their company culture stronger as well as more diverse. Consequently, those companies are more open to the idea of part-time or contract employees. Older workers are valued as much as younger employees.

With Martin and I taking a pen & ink class from my first art teacher, I’m reminded of the retirees who branch out after retirement to try on a new version of an old career or make a hobby into a career. A lifelong artist, Don, took on teaching and then learned a new art form — carving wood spirits. Artists never retire! Don has been teaching for ten years, passing his knowledge along to recent converts to the artist’s way. And, that’s the way it is for those who retire, deliberately deciding to use retirement as a springboard to enter a line of work they always dreamed of doing.

Then, there are those who need the work for the money or even the health insurance. On my last job prior to retirement, a fellow employee worked for the insurance benefit, not the paycheck. Although he was retired and collecting a pension, he wasn’t yet eligible for Medicare. So, he continued working for the insurance, taking his vacation time for trips and cruises.

And, of course, as someone who espouses the need for a sense of purpose in retirement, going to work at a regular job provides just that for some people. Working also provides structure, routine. There are retirees who need exactly that. Years ago I knew a wealthy executive who retired from a manufacturing company. Oh, he had hobbies and golfing, a nice cushy lifestyle. But, it wasn’t enough. He went back to work as a manager of a factory on the nightshift, which made him a much happier guy. That was the work he knew and the work he loved. It gave his life purpose and meaning again as well as structure.

One of the big perks of working in retirement, whether you need the job or not – the pressure is most likely off. What I mean is you don’t have to angst over the performance reviews or the occasional slip-up. Without the pressure, you’re free to enjoy the job making it more likely you’ll end up doing a great job and all will be well.

As I mentioned, I have no idea why the 74-year-old was working. She was a great cashier, whistling as she scanned and bagged items, smiling as she handed customers their receipts along with a “have a nice day”. While working in retirement is not for everyone, for many it’s a necessity, for others it’s the gateway to a sense of purpose, a chance to fulfill a dream or have a connection to community. Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, it comes with a paycheck!

Looking For A Resolution? Here’s One…

Cheers!

It’s New Year’s. Revelry, champagne toasts, traditions like eating lentils or black-eyed peas at midnight, looking past at 2017 and forward to 2018 and, of course, resolutions. If you don’t have a resolution, I have a suggestion, albeit one that is somewhat sobering (pun intended). Make 2018 your year to write a last will and testament or update the one you already have.

A cousin of Martin’s recently put a query on Facebook asking if friends had a will. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when most answered they did not, or had not updated their will in years. One stated she only had one heir, assuming everything would go to that person. We had a saying when I was in banking, “If you don’t have a will, the state has one for you.” If you die intestate (without a will), state law determines who your heirs are.

Case in point, a 72 year-old man lost his wife to cancer. She died intestate. State law where he lives dictated that their two children each inherit a third of her assets including the house, which was not titled to protect her husband. Her husband, their father, had to sell his home in order to pay the adult kids their portion of the inheritance. All the proceedings were determined by a probate judge, requiring court costs and attorneys.

More money was spent on the costs of going to probate court to settle her estate than would have been spent on writing a will. In the state where I live, probate court can be avoided altogether by putting assets into a trust, saving as much as 10 – 20% of the value of your assets. And, no, the kids didn’t blink an eye at dear old dad having to sell his home to pay them their share. He and his wife just assumed everything would go to him — a costly mistake both emotionally and monetarily.

Why don’t people write a will or update the one they have? As someone who didn’t update for years, my personal experience tells me it is a reluctance to face our mortality. It wasn’t until Martin’s condition jolted me into reality that I looked death in the eye and got serious about the consequences for either of us when the other dies.

In addition to a will, other considerations are powers-of-attorney for health and financial oversight in the event you can’t make your own decisions. Do you want to be kept on life support or would you want a do-not-resuscitate order? These are also decisions to ease the burden on loved ones so they can carry out your wishes instead of guessing about what you may want, arguing among themselves or having to go to court. Whew!

Wait there’s still more! To reduce the burden even further, you can leave detailed instructions for your funeral. Or maybe you don’t want a funeral. My mother didn’t want everyone standing around looking at her body and crying over her in a coffin. She chose to be cremated immediately upon her death. Our family respected her instructions. You may even pre-pay your funeral expenses or designate an amount in your will to be used for that purpose.

See? There are lots of decisions to be made. Someone once told me they didn’t care because they would be gone. In other words, they were leaving it for the relatives to sort out while also grieving. To me, that’s just plain cruel, especially if you love those you leave behind.

Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, had this to say about New Year’s resolutions, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” That pretty much sums up the way I was when it came to resolutions. Consequently, I stopped making them. If that’s you or even if it’s not, commit to 2018 as the year you make just this one resolution — and keep it – write a will and other documents for the sake of those you love. It is the best gift you can ever give them.

Happy New Year!

Not In A Million Years

Still swinging in the wind

Five years ago I started this blog by posting a photo of myself on the bridge spanning Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock, NC. Taken a year earlier the photo has always symbolized my trepidation about retiring. Today, it symbolizes my apprehension about the future. I remind myself daily that today is all I really have, all any of us have. The past is in the past. The future has yet to unfold itself. Enjoy today.

Out of deference to Martin I have not written about this part of our journey, but the time has come where his condition is advanced. I don’t think there is anyone in our circle who isn’t aware of it. It is also time for me to start writing about it. My experience might help others. It is the reason I have not finished my retirement book. It’s hard to produce an Ernie J. Zelinski type How To Retire Happy, Wild and Free when you have a huge unanticipated cloud hanging over your retirement.

As an unexpected caregiver, I have created a good support network, including a therapist I see once or twice a month. During one session I sat with her silent in my thoughts. She said, “I’ll bet you never saw this coming.”

“Not in a million years.”

She continued. “I’ll bet there are some days you could just go outside and scream.”

I nodded. Not just some days — every day. And once in a while I go to the top of the hill on my six acres and do just that. As a caregiver much of my time goes to doing everything and anything requiring reading, writing or verbal skills. There are my doctor’s appointments and Martin’s, my emails and his, snail mail, financials, repairs around the house, the art studio we decided to build, shopping, pumping gas, reading recipes so he can cook, programming the thermostat and anything else requiring the understanding of words. Some days the pressure is enormous.

Like a coyote stealthily slipping through the night woods in search of prey, it started in 2010 with personality changes in Martin. They were attributed to stress and depression. Averse to taking medications, he refused antidepressants. It took years of intermittent doctor’s visits, struggle with Martin’s denial of the facts, cognitive tests, blood work, CT scans, MRI’s, and finally one very good neurologist to reach a diagnosis of Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA). That was two years after an initial diagnosis of Aphasia, which is usually caused by a stroke or brain injury, and of which there are several versions of the disease.

Aphasia Poster

What is Aphasia? It is not Alzheimer’s. It is a loss of language skills — reading, writing, verbal abilities and comprehension of the spoken word. According to the Aphasia Association most people with PPA retain the ability to take care of themselves and pursue hobbies. However, they confront a 60% chance of the brain deteriorating into Alzheimer’s. That said, Alzheimer’s drugs do not help with Aphasia. Because so few people have this condition — it’s estimated only 200,000 have the PPA version — there are no drugs and most physicians know little about it. Martin’s neurologist only sees one or two cases a year. Obviously, this is one of the reasons a solid diagnosis took so long.

Nothing makes a person stop and realize what is important and what isn’t like a diagnosis of a serious disease. Our priorities definitely changed. Everything came into focus.

Oh, I threw my pity party, a long one in fact, of about a year. My negativity almost swallowed me up. It took time to realize this is not about old age. I had polio at age 3, lost my oldest brother in a car accident when I was 7, followed by the loss of cousins from brain tumor, leukemia and other tragedies similar to my brother’s death. Adversity can happen at any age. One day I asked, “Why us?” A voice inside answered, “Why not us?”

Bicycling is good for the brain

Martin still bicycles a hundred miles a week. He creates all kinds of art. He cooks, cleans and works on the property. I have to leave the washer and dryer on the same cycle. If I move the dial, he doesn’t recognize it has been moved. I have to watch for things like his microwaving fresh carrots in the plastic bag they came in from the store. When he sets the table, I may find a spoon and knife instead of a fork and knife. It could be worse. It may get worse. But we have today and today is good.

Along with prioritizing comes a focus on what works best for both of us. As a caregiver I often put Martin’s needs first. When his neurologist asked him what stressed him most, he answered without hesitation, “Other people.” As an extravert, not having people to the house as often has been difficult. I do most of my socializing outside our home.

Martin’s bird among coneflowers

While it’s important for Martin to remain engaged, his neurologist recommends limiting any situations that may cause him anxiety. Speaking of other people, some understand that; some do not. Since all looks normal with Martin’s appearance, there are those who do not understand the unseen changes in his brain have rendered him a different person than he used to be. Their presence alone can cause stress as he struggles to converse with them and comprehend what they are saying. We learned to distance ourselves from those who are not understanding about our new normal.

As my time is taken up more and more with caregiving, I have grappled with discontinuing this blog. I’ve decided to post once a month instead of foregoing it altogether. It’s important to me and I feel like it is to my readers. I have started rewriting my retirement book to speak truth about my journey. No, retirement is not always rosy. But, neither is life at any juncture. This is just one more change, one more challenge, one more adjustment. Even in the face of adversity, even with an event I would never see coming in a million years, there is still much to be celebrated. Enjoy your day, no matter what it brings!

Why Giving Thanks Is Important

 

This week is Thanksgiving. Being the most traveled holiday in the United States, like many other families, ours will be converging on our house this week, filling it with children and their spouses and our grandchildren. Controlled chaos is the best way to describe all the hoopla as we cook, make arts and crafts like cinnamon stick Santas and, of course, give thanks.

At the Thanksgiving table, our family has a longtime tradition of holding hands as each of us cites what it is we are thankful for during the past year. When each person finishes their personal prayer of thanks, they squeeze the hand of the next person signaling their turn. As you may expect, most of the thanks is for family, health, good friends and the food on the table. Occasionally, we have a moment of sobering reflection like the year our friend, Bonnie, who had terminal cancer, sobbed, “I’m grateful for another year of life.” The following November she passed away just before Thanksgiving.

Everyone faces adversity. Giving thanks is important no matter what time of year it is. But, Thanksgiving provides a special opportunity to celebrate our blessings. As with Bonnie, who gave thanks for life itself, Thanksgiving affords a moment to concentrate on the positive aspects of any misfortune. Focusing on the good in our lives helps us realize how fortunate we are. Devoting our attention to the gratitude we feel for the non-material aspects of living enhances our joy in life.

Positive thoughts are healthy thoughts. Dwelling on the negative results in negative thoughts. That in turn becomes anger, unhappiness and perhaps even depression. Conversely, expressing gratitude negates the negativity.

As you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, whether at home or a restaurant, whether a big dinner with all the trimmings or basic fair, whether surrounded by family and friends or by yourself, give thanks for all that is great and positive and wonderful in your life, open your soul and your heart to your gratitude for the everyday blessings of life and immerse yourself in the joy of simply living.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Values

Last week someone I barely know leaned on me. Not physically, but mentally and emotionally. As they expressed their values to me in a one-sided conversation of what I “shouldn’t do” with my life coupled with what I “should do” for them, I was reminded of one of retirements’ greatest gifts — the ability to be true to your values like no other time in life.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Sometimes you have to go along to get along.” To me, no setting requires that more than the work arena. In that venue I would have tried to talk to the above person in the interest of getting along and may have gone along, choking down their shoulds and shouldn’ts. Workplace politics would oblige at least an attempt to give my viewpoint and clarify my perception of their two cents, even as they cut me off mid-sentence.

Fortunately, work days are gone, so I just smiled as I said, “Have a great day!” and walked away. Even in retirement, we don’t completely escape others who want us to adopt their values. But, we can choose to take action based on our values.

While I try not to be judgmental (it’s hard), I also consciously surround myself with people who respect my values and are willing to listen to me as well as me listening to them. Not people who think the same as me. I detest group think (ohhh…there’s the judgmental me). I do my human best to be tolerant of my cohorts’ values. Mutual respect is the foundation of any relationship. That starts with acceptance of our differences, our values and our boundaries.

I have a good friend who I meet with for lunch — she dubbed it ‘munch and chat’. While we have much in common, we don’t always agree. We come from different backgrounds and life experiences. However, we have mutual respect for diverse opinions, making our conversations interesting and our friendship genuine. It speaks to my values of acceptance, trust and respect.

Long, long ago in the 1980s I took a new age type program called Context Training. Everyone at the company I worked for had to take the course. During the three days of seclusion and soul-searching, I learned how our values are created by the context of our life experience. Our values then enter into our decision-making from moment to moment, just like my decision to walk away from the person above or my decision to write this piece today.

Think about what your values are. What is important to you? Knowing what you value provides direction for your life, retired or not. For those of us who retire, leaving work identity behind, understanding and embracing our values, supplies us with a map for our retirement identity. Our values help us create our future.  For example, I value creativity, so it comes as no surprise that I enjoy writing, gardening and drawing. Those make up the three central personal activities of my retirement days.

In my experience, when I find myself dragging my feet to do something with or for someone else, it’s because I’m not being true to my values. If I find myself unhappy, it usually has something to do with ignoring my values. A large part of our happiness quotient comes from being authentic.  Retirement offers the perfect time for us to be exactly that.