When was the last time you did something for the first time? For me, this was a week of a lot of firsts giving me plenty to write about in future blogs.
This was the first time I took a class on self-publishing, hoping to figure out the daunting task of getting my book out there. It was the first time I met Alex, the psychology student assigned to interview me for her Adulthood and Aging course at Furman University. It was the first time I ever went to a talk on Dementia Conversations about how to broach difficult subjects with someone experiencing dementia. It was the first time I started building a small workshop on my property so Martin and I have a dedicated space for creating art. It was the first time Martin and I took the BrainSpan testing that I’ll write more about after we receive our results. It was the first time I built a fobot (fake robot) with one of my grandchildren. Wow! What a week of firsts!
Working with my eight-year-old grandson reminded me how we did firsts all the time as kids. He’s curious and willing to try whatever. He uses his imagination without hesitation. If something didn’t work well building his fobot, he immediately moved on to another idea. He didn’t give up or lament the failure of the first idea. And, he had fun. We had fun.
As we move through life, we often get comfortable, sometimes too comfortable, with our routine, eschewing any firsts. That’s when we plateau. Avoiding meeting new people, taking on a new project or learning a new subject or skill seems easier than breaking away from our comfort zone. We like our routine. It feels, well, comfortable like a favorite old shirt or chair.
A couple of weeks ago Martin and I took a drawing workshop. All we did for three hours was learn how to draw our hands. We used our observation abilities to the nth degree studying both the palm and the back of our hands. One exercise was to then draw our hand without looking at it too much. I mentioned how I didn’t like doing the exercise. Our teacher quipped, “That’s because it makes you feel uncomfortable. You’re not used to doing it.” Ah-ha!
We adults don’t like doing things that make us feel like a fish out of water. On the other hand, kids expect to learn new things, every day, every week. That’s their routine, isn’t it? To do different tasks, learn different skills, gather up new experiences to add to their preparation for living a successful life.
As we continue to age, many of us go on to ask the question, “Is this all there is?” or worse yet, “What happened to me?” When we start asking questions like that, it’s probably time to take the plunge off the plateau or start climbing the mountain. It’s time to do something for the first time. Your routine isn’t all there is. What’s happened to you is you avoid firsts because they make you uncomfortable.
This week a friend mentioned she had applied for ten days at a silent retreat. While the attendees do chores like housekeeping, they also have six hours a day to meditate. This is not my idea of a good time, but my friend is excited about it. Being open to new experiences doesn’t mean we have to try everything we come across. Personally, this would be more of a challenge than observing and remembering the details of my hand — I don’t think I could keep my mouth closed for ten days let alone meditate for more than five minutes. If it doesn’t appeal to you on some level, a new experience just may not be for you. That said, keeping an open mind can lead you to a first that becomes part of your routine because you love doing it so much.
Think about it. When was the last time you did something for the first time?
This is such a great reminder about ‘firsts.’ I hadn’t realized it at the time, but as I reflected after reading your post, I also experienced many ‘firsts’ this past week…and past month…and since starting my retirement two years ago! Your post resonated with me in so many ways. I look forward to reading your entry on BrainSpan testing…and catching more of your blog as well!
My next Cookbook Club meeting is on Canning & Preserving. So scary! I watched my mother canning tomatoes for years and never had the inclination to try it. Why do this when you can go to the store and buy it. Well, if I want to go to this meeting, I have to preserve something. This will be my first. Good luck to me.
Although we’re never too old to try something new if we want to, I think we may be somewhat less likely to do so at 80+ for physical reasons. Until I turned 78, I was pretty much “still me”. I was employed and could do almost everything I’d always done, albeit a bit more slowly. Then, the nonprofit where I worked for 40 years ran into problems, and I faced “involuntary retirement” (and my last paycheck) at the end of 2014. I’d intended to work until I was 80.
About 18 months ago, shoulder issues and then serious back pain made an unwelcome appearance in my life and have continued to encroach upon what I can do. Modern medicine can do amazing things, but I’ve found that there’s not a whole lot they can do for spinal degeneration, scoliosis and osteoarthritis, although I’m doing PT and have tried a variety of approaches.
Usually I avoid “organ recitals” because they bore the h*** out of everyone, but there’s a message this time. Coping with pain on a daily basis is limiting; it takes a whole lot of energy. I’m still as active as I can be. I walk almost daily, do my own housework/errands and, with the help of my 88 Y/O spouse, care for our 3 senior rescue cats. But I no longer have the abundant energy and enthusiasm I had even 2 years ago. I have to consider the trade-off in pain of adding anything new. I guess my recommendation to healthy retirees in their 60s and 70s is, “Do it while you can–while you’re still in relatively good shape physically and have the energy, strength, ability, desire (and possibly disposable income) to try new things”. You may not if you wait!
Elizabeth, I’m so sorry about all your aches and pains. I’m in my 60’s and have noticed they increase as time goes on or I don’t recover as quickly as I once did. I always think of Grandma Moses who took up painting in her late 70’s because she couldn’t knit anymore (arthritis). Look for something that keeps your brain going. Good luck. K
Kathy, you won’t have trouble coming up with an answer to the age-old greeting question – What’s new? I try to come up with an answer to that question vs saying – it’s all old. In the past month, I dickered at a car dealership with a vehicle that I’ve had for less than a yr; I made a spaghetti (squash) lasagna; I played a cards with a new group of friends; I planted checkermallow in the perennial bed; I consented to be a polling officer at the upcoming municipal election; for the first time in ~3wks, I’ve been without vertigo after a treatment at a holistic practitioner. I want to greet each day with enthusiasm.
At the moment my husband and I are on a 5 week trip to Madrid, Spain. Every day brings something new, from buying groceries to ordering dinner, asking simple questions in Spanish etc. It is our annual trip. Each year we spend 1-2 months in a different European city. As we are retired, it is good to challenge ourselves. Doing different things, or the same things, differently, is what keeps our brains young. I started a blog about a year ago, (huge learning curve…), I am learning Spanish (hence the trip this year to Madrid). I agree, keep learning!
Ooooh, I love this! You are so right. Kids have an absolutely unrestrained curiosity and willingness to try new things. I remember teaching when be got the first sets of computers in the classroom (OK, that just aged me…) My point is that even back then, before cell phones and tablets, the kids in my class just started pushing buttons. They were fearless about what might happen, and always willing to just start over or take a different route. We can learn a lot from kids…thanks for reminding us all! ~Lynn
Excellent blog Kathy! I am a great believer that to live a full and happy life you need to grow and challenge yourself. I am starting a new web based business and my husband is writing a book signed with Oxford University Press. I am a member of the Kew Art Studio and recently I joined Rotary Club in Ealing. We are so fortunate to own apartment in Corfu, Greece and since our new ventures are ‘portable’ we spend June and September and October in sunny Greece. Our plan is to learn Greek. Since I am an artist I love creating art with my grandchildren. They constantly remind me and challenge me to be spontaneous, free, in awe of new and be silly!!! I just love this stress free time in my life.
What a wonderful life Renata!
HI Kathy! Starting a new life in retirement, I have to say that everything seems new – even things I have done daily feel new because of my new context. I like the reminder that new things (learning) can be messy (make us feel uncomfortable). It makes me feel good to remember that as I struggle and stumble through my new role in my new (wonderful) life.