Phase 3

Looks like it’s time for another pep talk. I’ve received some questions recently about retirement disillusionment. It’s what gerontology professor Robert Atchley called Phase 3 or the Disillusionment Phase of retirement way back in the 1970’s when retirement was the last thing on my mind. I was in my twenties then. Settling in, or so I thought, to a nice predictable life. You know what I mean — nice husband, kids, house, mortgage, a steady job with a career path. Yet, I was restless. I was bored. I was even depressed. I was in the very same frame of mind Atchley describes as the Disillusionment Phase in retirement!

How did I change the dynamic back then? I took some risks. Actually, Martin made the first move, deciding to go back to college. We ended up in Michigan, where my order of the day was to make enough money to support our young family while he finished school, working only part-time. After receiving two job offers where I would continue as a bank loan officer at a salary that wouldn’t support us, I decided to turn them down and cast a wider net. The fish I hauled in didn’t look like much at first, but it paid more than I had made on my last job. Within three years after taking this risk I was making nearly three times what I made in banking. After accepting a job transfer, we were living in Seattle. I was jetting around the country, which turned out not to be so good for my family. But, all in all taking a risk changed the trajectory of our lives.

It also changed my mindset about life and living. For example, no risk, no reward. Failure can be a catalyst for success. When opportunity knocks, for goodness sake, answer the door! Recognize your personal outliers. And, of course, my favorite — put your dent in the universe.

Retirement is no different, than any other time of your life. If you want to move beyond disillusionment, take some risk. As Charles Darwin said in another favorite reminder of mine, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Remember, retirement is a big change! You don’t just wake up and find yourself adjusted to a new lifestyle after living thirty, forty, fifty years in a work routine. And, cut yourself a break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you feel some disillusionment with retirement, you are not alone. Atchley believed most retirees would experience some disillusionment, if only for a short period of time. I agree with him. And, so what if you do feel some disillusionment? If you take action to get yourself out of that quandary, the action you take could change your life for the better.

The only place to go is forward. Going backwards, as in going back to the same old grind, is not the answer. If you are uncomfortable meeting new people, go find some new people to meet. If you don’t think you are a hobby person or a craft person or an artist, go find a hobby, a craft or an art class to take. If you don’t think you would like volunteering, go find a charitable organization or hospital and sign up for a day of volunteering each week. If you are not physically fit, find a park to start walking in every day, feed the ducks in the pond or try fishing. Take some risk. Cast a wider net. You never know what type of fish you’ll haul in unless you try.

Six Ideas For Finding Your Retirement Life

Part of my retirement identity

Part of my retirement identity

Research in several western countries tells us that people who enjoy the most success in reaching retirement happiness are also those who enjoyed a work/life balance. In other words their entire identity did not hinge on their work or work title. They were deeply and passionately involved in their off time with hobbies and interests. When they retired, they had a safety net of activities to continue full-time in retirement.

In our “what do you do” society, someone who hitched their identity to their work title may have a tough time kissing that title goodbye because with it goes their sense of purpose and worth. I’ve written about the importance of finding a new purpose and meaning in your retirement life. Some of us can be totally happy doing whatever life dishes up each day. Most of us need a sense of purpose. Something we care about deeply and passionately.

For example, wherever I lived I built and left a beautiful garden. Even after putting in a ten-hour day at the office, there were times when you could find me at work in the summer garden when darkness fell. Martin would teasingly ask if he should bring me a flashlight or was I coming in for the night. Decades later, I still feel the same passion for gardening.

I’ve talked to many, many retirees who have a full calendar. Yet, they are still not happy. That’s because busy work doesn’t cut it for them. They may be the ones who, if asked “what do you do?”, will surely tell you all about what they USED to do. They will trot out their old work identity like a trick pony, bragging about all their accomplishments, living in the past. These folks need to get a life! A retirement life.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “If you haven’t found your passion yet, you probably never will.” However, there’s another part of me that believes people who were workaholic probably focused so much on their work they never saw, or perhaps ignored, their cues for passionate work. Now, they are stuck. Stuck in retirement with no place to go.

If you are stuck not knowing how to go about finding your retirement life, here are a few ideas to get you unstuck.

1. Most people have a bucket list of activities they wanted to do in retirement. These are usually the things they always wanted to do, but never took the time to do, because they were too busy working. Then, they retire and still don’t make the time for these activities. I’ve listened to several people who tell me chores gets in the way!!! What!? You have time to do the dishes but none to smell life’s roses? Be brave, macho, you go girl or guy, pretend you’re Nike — Just do it! The dishes can wait.

2. Learn to recognize self-imposed limitations and send them packing. If you find yourself saying things like, “I don’t think I’d like that” or “I know I’m not good at _________ (you fill in the blank)” or “my friends and family would think I was crazy to try that” or any one of many other forms of self-imposed limitations, stop the negative talk in your head. Kill off the “yeah buts”. Replace them with “YES I CAN!”

3. Go back to your childhood. You spent the first eighteen years of your life trying something new and learning all the time. Learning and experiencing was a full-time job. What did you like doing as a young person? What got you excited? What got your heart pumping and put a smile on your face? It’s no secret I loved writing. That’s the passion I reignited in my second childhood also known as retirement. Revisit your early years for clues about what might rev your engine now.

4. Realize it’s never too late. There are people out there in their eighties and nineties who are living their dreams. You, too can become one of them if you follow your heart instead of your head. Change your attitude to one of seeking your passion. Then, invoke numbers 1, 2, and 3 above.

5. Stop trying to fill up the calendar with busy, busy. Sometimes, the most important activity we can do is nothing. All stop. And listen. If you are constantly creating white noise in your life, how can you possibly hear your own heart beat? Sometimes I just be. No reading, no writing, no gardening, no classes, no working in the woods, no lunches or dinners with friends, no visits with family, just nothing. Nothingness. Just sitting with myself, me, my real self and letting whatever comes in, come.

6. Get yourself some business cards and put your new title on it. I got cards when I started this blog shortly after retiring. I listed myself as a Writer/Blogger. Be inventive. You could be World Traveler or Life Adventurer or Seeker of Fun or RV Road Warrior or Golfer Extraordinaire or Textile Artist or History Buff or Second Childhood Experiencer or whatever you fancy yourself.

Ultimately, you are the only person responsible for your happy retirement. You can do this by living with purpose to find purpose. Research has also shown us the happiest retirees are self-directed, self-motivated. No one has to tell them what to do with their day or their life. I like that. Retirement is a gift. Unwrap it. You might be surprised by what you find.

It’s Not All Doom And Gloom

 

There are benefits to aging. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Currently, I’m dealing with a situation again that eight years ago made for a lot of angst in my life. Today, the second time around, it’s not exactly ho-hum, but I have the attitude of ‘it is what it is’. I slept through the night, no tossing and turning over possible outcomes. Sitting here this morning, relaxing with my mug of coffee and surrounded by three of my zen masters (read cats), the benefits of aging is on my mind. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The words “life’s too short” take on real meaning. While I used to mouth those words, my type A personality couldn’t stop thinking about how to mitigate a given situation. With age I’ve come to understand what I can control and what I can’t. I control what I can. The rest I leave fluttering in the wind without worry.

2. I’m grateful for the ability to experience aging. We all had people in our lives who didn’t make it this far. Disease or accident claimed their lives early. My oldest brother was killed in a car accident. He will be forever twenty. Old age is a gift.

3. I care a lot less about what I wear and how I look. Oh, I still take care of myself. But, my wardrobe consists mainly of t-shirts, jeans and comfy shoes or sandals. When I worked, along with business attire, I put on full makeup every day, styled my hair. Now, I throw on some mascara and blush if I’m going out, pull my hair back into a ponytail and off I go. And, I let my hair go grey. Twenty years ago grey hair and wrinkles bothered me _ no more. I’m free!

4. Along with the confidence to sport grey hair and wrinkles, aging has brought more confidence in general. I was always a decision maker. No sitting on the fence for me. But, with age I am more confident in my decisions as being the right ones for me. I’m concerned with what my husband thinks and how my decisions affect him. Otherwise, I don’t think about it much. No one knows what’s best for me like me.

5. Speaking of decisions, there are fewer to make. Life is less complicated. I have fewer roles. Other roles have changed. My working self is gone along with concerns about the company, my employees, my manager, my time, my commitment, my dress and my decisions. While I’m still a mother, my children are adults, on their own. I’m a grandmother who can enjoy that role without most of the demands of parenting.

6. I no longer live for the weekend. Every day is Saturday. My favorite days are Monday through Friday. Those are the days of the week when I like to go places. I don’t have to deal with crowds. I can avoid rush hour traffic. Rarely do I have to stand in a long line to check out at a store, get a good table at a nice restaurant or see a show. I can sleep late if I feel like it or get up early if I feel like it. I make my schedule based upon my preferences.

7. I want less stuff. I need very little.  I’ve figured out what’s important in life and it isn’t the accumulation of things. Relationships with my spouse, family and friends are important. My cats are important.  Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.  All of this is more important than any material thing I could acquire.

As I sit here finishing my coffee, these are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty

I wrote this post, then I received an email from AARP with a link saying, “Let’s Stop Fighting Age and Start Fighting Ageism #DisruptAging” (http://www.aarp.org) . Wow! It’s nice to know I’m on the leading edge but AARP put a much finer point on it. I invite you to read my take on ageism and visit their site as well.

Somewhere around age twelve or thirteen, the saying, “don’t trust anyone over 30” entered my consciousness as my world, with The Beatles sound track playing in the background, erupted into a free speech, civil rights driven, bra burning disdain for the older, established members of the population. While I only watched from afar as the counterculture unfolded on the nightly news, still it’s no wonder I’m a bit of a cynic about the attitude toward aging today. Baby boomers created this youth culture. It is up to us to change the attitude.

It was on my twenty-fifth birthday when a much younger nephew quipped, “Wow! You’re a quarter of a century old!” While that gave me reason to stop and think about my aging, when thirty did finally appear on my calendar, I sailed through without giving it a thought. I was riding high at the time, successful, respected. Then forty arrived with a neighbor giving me a pot of dead flowers and an “over-the-hill” card. Even so, I still wasn’t feeling as if I was over-the-hill, washed up or any of the other negatives attached to aging.

Nearly another quarter of a century has passed. Now, I do notice _ ageism exists and is sometimes directed toward me. Even the medical profession tells me how I’m in really good health and shape “for your age.” In our youth driven culture my silver hair receives lots of strange looks. There was the bank manager who told me I needed to be quiet while she asked the questions. She couldn’t believe I didn’t have my account number with me. As she treated me like a naughty child, she stared at the top of my head instead of my eyes. Did she think my gray hair equated someone who should be carrying a checkbook instead of a debit card? Did she really think I could be treated without courtesy and respect?

Wondering if ageism really is entrenched in our society, I began researching and reading. Psychologist Becca Levy, PhD, assistant professor of public health at Yale University did a study, which caught my attention. In her study of people over 50, she found those with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. Her conclusions point out that negative stereotyping of aging members of our population shorten lives!

We don’t tolerate racism or sexism in our society but we tolerate ageism. Everyone, at least everyone who is lucky, will be aged someday. It seems like only yesterday that Chet Huntley or David Brinkley announced in my parents’ living room the idea of “don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Yet, here I am fifty plus years later, way over thirty and experiencing this gnawing feeling of being discriminated against because of my age. Because of the sheer number of baby boomers, ageism may become the civil rights issue of the coming years.

In that vein and for the record, let me say I am tired of being told I look good for my age. I’m tired of being told I look good for someone with gray hair. I’m tired of being told my addition of pink or blue hair chalk is not age appropriate. Ditto for my leggings, crazy socks, reptile print top and animal print flats. I’m tired of being told I’m aging gracefully. I’m tired of being told I am tech savvy for my age. I’m tired of being told my being tech savvy makes me like “the young people.” I’m tired of being asked if I’m sure of what I recall about a situation. I’m tired of being called “honey”, “dear”, “sweetheart” and “darling”. I don’t know what happened to my real name or even “ma’am” but since I turned 60 and stopped coloring my hair, it seems to have vanished into endearments from complete strangers at the stores, banks and wherever.

As AARP says, “Enough.” Yes, I am tech savvy just like the majority of people over 50. I’m also creative, physically active, mentally and emotionally engaged and my memory still works quite well, thank you very much. Despite my introduction into the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra of the 1960s, I also have a very positive view of aging. I feel like I am at the height of my abilities. After a shaky start to retirement, I’ve found my niche. I’m having the best time of my life, feeling more empowered, more confident, more inspired and wiser than I’ve ever felt. I have choices beyond what our culture traditionally dishes out to aging people. The last thing I need are naysayers raining on my parade.

Now, what can we do to change the overall view of aging? We can change it by adopting a positive view of our aging experience. We can educate by not tolerating negative stereotyping _ ageism. After gathering my identification and walking out on the bank manager, I later told her supervisor, my treatment was inappropriate and won’t be tolerated. Fortunately for my bank it was an aberration so I’m still a customer.

Similarly, I told the last thirty something store manager who called me “dear” that the only man with my permission to use endearments instead of my name is my husband. The manager’s bug-eyed, surprised stare and apology tells me he won’t be calling any woman, young or old, “dear” in the near future.

I’ve spoken to plenty of people my age or older with similar experiences who refuse to say anything about ageism. Along with complaining to me, I’ve heard all the excuses for why they don’t complain where it matters, from they don’t want to make a fuss to it won’t do any good to complain. If we are to end ageism, making a fuss is one of the things it will take to do so. Speaking out is what it will take just like it did in the 1960s. We have the numbers to do some good, to change the stereotypes. Educating people is key to achieving a change and the educating starts with us. #DisruptAging

AGING IN PLACE

In recent months I’ve been contacted by a few assisted living communities asking me for an endorsement. As those of you who follow my blog probably already know, I intend to age in place. Aging in place means you age in your home with some support services, not an assisted living or nursing home community. This is a growing movement, especially among baby boomers like myself. I like having control over what I’m doing in life. The idea of giving up control to an institutionalized home environment run by a staff with rules and policies to be followed is not my idea of independent living. While it’s not always possible to stay independent to a degree and these facilities serve a real need, they are also expensive. One family seeking assisted living for a relative recently told me about a community, which cost $10,000 per month! How many people have $120,000 a year to spend on housing and care for the rest of their lives? I think very few can afford that kind of money. Since assisted living and nursing home communities have experienced a decline in population over the last ten years and baby boomers, true to form, want to stay as independent for as long as possible, I think it’s a good bet the decline may continue. The question then becomes, “What must we do to successfully age in place?”.

The first requisite is good health. If you take care of your body when you’re young, your body will take care of you as you age. Good health is the number one reason I recently lost some pounds – 18 at last count. I’ve reached my goal, satisfied my doctor and feel more optimistic about my ability to age in place. Weight isn’t the only issue, however. Good health covers a lot of territory. Being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally means more than popping a multivitamin and eating a healthy diet. Both your body and mind must stay agile. Remember neuroplasticity? If we are to age in place, we must have the mental capacity to know when to do what as well as the physical acuity to perform routine activities and avoid falls. Keep moving! Both body and mind. And, monitor your health along with your physician. Being proactive about your health is the best preventive measure you can take. On the emotional end of the good health spectrum, we must be engaged with people. People who age successfully no matter where they live, have close ties to other human beings. They feel a sense of community. They cultivate relationships with family and friends. This may become more of a challenge as we age. It’s a fact of life that eventually we all die. As we lose friends or family, it becomes important to watch ourselves for depression. It becomes even more important to continue the deep relationships that remain as well as take part in community activities to find new friends, young and old.

Most aging in place articles I’ve read are centered upon the home environment. Staying in the home we’ve lived in is a source of security, a feeling of independence and control as we age. That’s the number one reason to stay in your home. However, the home must accommodate our physical needs in such a way as to offer a safe haven. This is the second requisite for aging in place. If you are living in a large home with stairs, all bedrooms on the second floor, a huge yard to keep up, a basement level or stairs just to enter the house, you need to assess whether aging in this particular place is possible for you. When Martin and I built our house eleven years ago, it was built with the idea of aging in place. Never having owned a really large home anyway, this one is just a tad bit larger than the average American home of 2,000 square feet. The floor plan is an open one story so if wheel chair or walker become necessary, we can negotiate the rooms without any problem. With the exception of the two secondary bedrooms, the flooring is either hardwood or tile. The one area rug can easily be removed to prevent tripping as we age. There is no tub in the master bath – only a large walk-in shower with a seat. We tried to think about what it would be like to age in this house. As you can see, with some planning, even an existing house can be retrofitted to accommodate your needs for aging in place. I know realistically we will need to hire someone to do the yard work around the house. Just as we will eventually need someone to clean inside, do laundry and maybe cook some meals.

That brings me to the third requisite for aging in place. Services. We’ll need in home help. In the last 50 years, we’ve done a better job at providing community and government resources to support the care of our aging population. With the sheer numbers increasing due to the aging of baby boomers, those support systems will likely be strained. I believe technology and good old-fashioned ingenuity will help fill that gap. I also believe as health care improves so will our chances of remaining independent longer. We are currently seeing the advent of cars, which drive themselves. What a boon to an aging population not willing to relinquish their independence, car keys or driver’s license. We already have improved home security services with speakers in the ceiling and remote emergency buttons. APPS listing and connecting us to resources in the community already exist and are sure to increase and improve. Companies now in the business of offering home care will find new, improved ways of meeting the need. And, new companies will be created. This is an opportunity in many ways.

Aging in place has a lot of parts to it and is not a one size fits all. It requires a lot of thought and planning. You, and only you, know how you want to age and what fits with your individual needs. What I’ve shared with you here is just the basics as I see them. If you haven’t thought about it, now is the time to think about it and make any necessary changes to your lifestyle. Taking a proactive approach now and preparing for the future will allow you to age in place on your terms.

THE BEST PLACE TO LIVE IN RETIREMENT

At a party during the recent holiday season, I met a woman who retired to Upstate South Carolina with her husband. This region has a lot to offer retirees, but my new acquaintance told me how she really didn’t like living here. Instead, she longed to move to the state where she grew up. At first I thought she must be crazy not to love living here and she must be really crazy wanting to return to the northeastern snow belt of harsh winters not to mention high taxes. But, as I listened to her heartfelt description of her childhood home with all the familiar haunts and family she loved and missed, I realized a sense of place was lacking for her here. She moved here for the warmer climate, relatively inexpensive yet plentiful housing and the scenic beauty of the area. But, even after living here a few years, she didn’t feel like she belonged here.

Each year there are magazines and web sites, which offer up the best or worst places to live. Interestingly enough, the area in which I live has been in the line-up yet doesn’t make the grade year after year. One would think if a city was a great place to live this year, it would still be a great place to live next year and maybe the next. But, if the editors didn’t offer up some new venues each year, they wouldn’t sell magazines or garner visits to a web site. Their research departments also use some very general criteria such as taxes, cost of living, weather, crime rates, health care, recreation and, of course, housing availability and cost. While those criteria are all important to us, where we choose to live in retirement is lot more personal. More often than not, the best place to live comes down to a sense of place, your sense of place.

To me, a sense of place is a feeling of belonging there, of fitting in with the culture, the landscape and the people living around you. It just feels right. While I’m a proponent of living on your personal edge, where you live in retirement actually needs to be more like snuggling into the cushions of a worn familiar sofa or putting on an old flannel shirt where the familiarity and character of the item offers up a feeling of inner comfort. I once had an old flannel shirt so well-worn and comforting, it had holes in the elbows and a tear down the front before I finally ripped it into pieces to be used for cleaning rags. That’s kind of the way I feel about where I live. I don’t want to ever have to give it up. This is where I’ve chosen to live for many reasons. There are other places, which give the same comforting feeling but I’ve chosen not to live there due to the cost of living, large populations or weather. For example, when I go to the beach, I’m instantly transported back in time to the New Jersey shore where I grew up and immediately feel that same sense of place from my childhood, where I fit in with the sights and sounds and smells. I identify with the character of the place even if it is a different shore. It’s that feeling, which we are looking for when choosing a place to retire.

Even when you find the area or city or town in which you want to live, you may find certain neighborhoods of the community evoke more of a sense of belonging than others do for you. Do you want to be able to walk to the store or park? Do you want a place to meet neighbors? Do you want a new, thoroughly modern house or one that shows it’s age? Do you want all the conveniences and hustle and bustle within a short distance or do you want the quiet of the country? One of the things which gives me such a sense of place is my home. With the help of our builder, a structural engineer, we designed and built this house. Of all the houses we’ve lived in all over the country, this is the one in which I feel that I belong. It’s ours in every detail and, after ten years, it is worn in all the right places with our living in it.

While reading all the lists about the best and worst places to live in retirement is a good place to start your search, where you finally choose to live is as special as you are. It’s very personal. No researcher or editor can tell you what will give you a sense of place. For that, you have to reach deep inside yourself and do your own research. Like my acquaintance from the party or my feeling about going to the beach, you may want to start with your childhood. It’s been a long, long journey from there to here but going back in time just may hold the answer to where you’ll find your best place to live in retirement.

DYNAMIC AGING

Tomorrow I begin a course, Dynamic Aging, at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Furman University. The program, developed by Dudley Tower, PH.D, is the first of its kind. Additionally, this is the first time it is being taught by Dr. Tower so those of us taking the class are brave souls indeed. And, after reading some of the literature on Tower’s website (www.dynamicaginginstitute.com), I’m thinking that’s exactly what he is looking for in his students…people willing to take a risk, a chance, a bold step into a different type of future than the one most retirees ultimately end up with. During the past nearly two years, I’ve written numerous posts about the need to move out of your comfort zone in order to achieve a rewarding retirement (see “Comfort Zone”, “Ch-Ch-Changes”, “Living Bolder”) so when I came across this course offering, I was both intrigued and delighted. Finally, after reading way too many articles suggesting actions like involving your children in your finances and medical conditions in your sixties (as you would soon slip into a declining cognitive state rendering you incapable of understanding those items), here was someone, not only thinking along the same lines I was, but, willing to teach me how to actualize it!

In April 2013, I wrote, “bold living begins right after leaving the comfort zone”. Yet, most people enter retirement with the idea of continuing with their same hobbies maybe adding some travel or, for those wanting extended travel, an RV. Several much, much older people advised me to do everything I really ever wanted to do right after retiring because as I aged, it would be “too late” as I would decline physically and mentally to the point of not being capable of doing anything requiring any effort. Sounds like they read some of the same articles I read. The only difference is they believed what was being peddled in those articles. Scary as it is, that dreary bit of advice and those articles, in a nutshell, is our society’s current view of retirement. We will maintain as well as possible but inevitably slowly decline to a point where we can no longer function independently needing our children’s intervention or an assisted living community or (shud-d-d-der) a nursing home. I believe this view results in a self-fulfilling prophecy as our minds create a reality we believe to be true. Prior to retiring, I heard of one couple, retiring at 60, who bought a home in a “senior” community and, even though neither golfed, anted up for a golf cart to drive from one home to the other as well as the clubhouse where the residents could play cards, pool or party. Just shoot me, now!

The view of a leisurely retirement where we slowly decline into oblivion is nothing more than mindset. For example, when we retired, an item on Martin’s bucket list was to participate in the state time trials for bicycling (see my post “Second Fastest Old Man in the State”). Never having the time to put in the practice miles while working, retirement meant he finally had the time to invest. As he started biking 100 miles or more a week with thousands of feet of climbing, we began hearing comments like, “Don’t over-do it. You’re getting old. Your body can’t take that kind of a workout anymore.” Well, his body did take it. He received a silver medal for his efforts. And, he’s still cranking out 80 to a 100 miles a week with his times getting better and better. Last spring, during a routine physical, Martin’s much younger doctor told him he was intimidated by Martin’s fitness. While I’m not in as great a shape as my husband, I still hit our jungle of a woods on a regular basis chainsaw in hand and have had my share of naysayers telling me I should “slow down” or how that’s dangerous work for a woman my age. Ha! That’s dangerous work for anyone at any age but I find it exhilarating and will continue my bush whacking.

According to Tower, “dynamic aging is a unique, systemic, more fully engaged, and proactive approach to one’s own aging process.” There’s a lot to this idea but I believe the one component necessary to a fully engaged, proactive approach is an open mind. Our mindset will determine the unique outcome for each and every one of us as we age. Instead of withdrawing from a rapidly changing world and buying into the notion of decline, turning your mind in such a way as to stay engaged and even welcoming what may come, will provide ongoing mental and physical stimulation. During the last several years, I’ve met many, many people who have not engaged in the technological revolution. Yes, we live in a world where there is an inherent risk in being online or using a debit card at the store. But, there has always been a risk of being robbed on the street. And, frankly, I’d rather have my debit card compromised at a store than have a mugger take my purse at gunpoint. Yet, I’ve met many who will not bank online or use a debit card at a store, carrying cash instead from place to place to pay bills and make purchases. They refuse to make purchases online or engage in social media for fear of someone stealing their identity apparently unaware most identity theft today occurs at the mailbox or trash can at their door step. I believe it is this very mindset, which prevents most people from leaving the comfort zone of our society’s current view of aging and staying fully engaged in life.

The world will continue to change at light speed due to the very technology some choose to avoid. Wishing for the good old days and following the already forged path into a slow decline is a dismal way to spend a couple of decades or more. We are at an age where fear of failure, fear of what others will think of us, fear of making a mistake, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of any kind should not even be on our radar. During the next year, as I take the Dynamic Aging Program at OLLI Furman, I plan on posting my thoughts on the program so that, you, my readers, may benefit from what I’m learning. My hope is we will both learn some things, which will make our retirement a more meaningful, more exciting, more rewarding time in our lives than we could have imagined.

GOOD GRIEF

Some of you sent messages telling me how retiring is harder than expected. I’ve recommended reading my posts on Stages of Retirement, which some of you had already read. I also positioned those posts on my site’s Header to make them easier to find and have heard from some of you how the posts were helpful. In the last eighteen months I’ve obviously spent a lot of time thinking about how difficult the transition is emotionally and psychologically for most of us. I’ve read a lot of articles and posts on other sites, which is how I came across Robert Atchley’s study on the stages, and have developed further thoughts about the transition. Having reached the fifth stage of a rewarding Retirement Routine, I also have the advantage of hindsight. So, today I’m going to share those thoughts in this post.

From the messages, and judging from my own experience, Stage 3 Disillusionment is the stage which presents the biggest issue. While Atchley calls it Disillusionment, I think a more appropriate description is the ‘Grief Stage’. I say this because we enter Stage 3 actually missing work, grieving for what we had, our purpose, our identity. Most of your messages mention feeling alone. I believe part of the aloneness comes from our society’s penchant for saying, “Buck up, get over it and move on.” Most of the articles I read on grief refer to the loss of a spouse or significant other. And, every author points to people telling them exactly what I just said. Get over it. It’s in the past. Move on. Most people who give this advice are probably thinking they are being helpful. But, for the person going through the grief process, it can feel belittling of their situation.

When I first retired, I talked to an already retired acquaintance about the trouble I was having transitioning. Thinking I would find a kind ear and perhaps some insight, much to my surprise, she wanted nothing to do with my questions, insisting she had no idea what on earth I was talking about. And, according to Atchley, she may not have had any adjustment issues. However, recognizing and supporting others who do experience problems is a needed change in our societal attitude. Until then, it’s important to give ourselves permission to grieve the loss of our work purpose and identity.

Grief, whether it is because of a death, a divorce, an empty nest or retirement or some other life event, plays a very important role in our very ability to re-purpose our lives. Each of us also has a different grief meter. As Atchley pointed out in his study, disillusionment may only last a few days for some; a few years for others. Or, like my acquaintance asserted, it may not occur at all. By grieving we also honor that part of our life. As I pointed out in my post ‘Glory Days’, we don’t want to live in the past, but reminiscing, enjoying memories and highlights of our successes is a way of honoring who we are. We would not be where we are today without our past. Ignoring or diminishing what we accomplished diminishes who we are today.

Atchley referred to Stage 4 as Reorientation. I like to call it Re-Purposing as we seek a new purpose in life to create a rewarding retirement. Stage 3 and 4 overlapped for me so I think it’s important to recognize the lines are blurred. We don’t live in a world where life situations are either black or white; most of the time, there is a lot of grey area. So, you may find new purpose while still grieving your old way of life. That’s O.K. While we may all be on the same journey, we will most often take different paths. Whatever your path, know that it is normal, the journey takes time and you are not alone.

Glory Days

What is it about the past that it takes on a rosy glow for many people as they age? Was our past really so much better than our present? In my sixth decade I notice more and more people of my generation and older looking back longingly at the good old days. As I listen to those wistfully reliving their youth, it was a simpler time where everyone respected everyone else, crime was nearly non-existent, jobs plentiful in a soaring economy and the good times just went on and on. Their remembrance of their past is often contrasted to a perceived gloomy future riding on the heels of a problem ridden today.

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful. Today, I tend to agree with her but in a things are better today than they were in my youth sort of way. But, if people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation, is this a phenomenon which occurs with each generation as we age or is each decade really better than the previous or each 100 years really better than the previous 100? I doubt 1914 was better than 2014. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and its excellence. So, why do we look back in fondness and yearning for the good old days?

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids aren’t a family. See, I can be cynical. I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3 and managed to escape relatively unscathed. I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life. I remember an economy which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades. So, why are some boomers putting on the rose-tinted glasses as they view this particular past?

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate to with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties. I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we rode this huge euphoric wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames. However, my filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. No more euphoric waves to ride. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be a bit jaded, cynical, worried about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or, we can choose to seek fresh, new horizons. It is up to us to fire the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today. While it is fun to reminisce and it is essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is, the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

PRACTICE NOT DOING

Another New Year and I deliberately chose not to make any resolutions. In past years I almost always had a resolution or two. Or three. Or four. Like most people, 80% by the latest figure I read somewhere in my reading travels last week, I didn’t keep my resolutions. Well, maybe once in a great while. So, this year is the year of no resolutions. Instead, I’m choosing a different path.

The thing I wanted most in 2013 was for the transition into my retirement journey to be made. Understanding there is a period of adjustment to a new life style didn’t make the journey any easier. There seemed to be constant stress over money and health issues and Martin and I being together 24/7. The budget I so trustingly established in December 2012 went to Hell in a hand basket somewhere around mid-year. I was in a constant health watch mode as everything from multiple yellow-jacket stings to a mystery allergic reaction (stress?) sent me to the doctor’s office again and again. Happily, somewhere around the one year mark of our retirement anniversary I reached the moment in time where I stopped stressing and started enjoying. Miraculously, retirement was suddenly fulfilling, stress free. This transition didn’t happen by accident. It took a certain mindfulness to achieve.

Traditionally, October is the month when I do a quick and dirty assessment of our income taxes. If there are any surprises, knowing about it gives me a couple of months to make adjustments before the wolf…er…IRS is at the door. It also affords the opportunity to sort through files and be sure I have receipts to date. Yes, I’m organized and its effortless really because I’ve been doing it for decades. One shortfall in my organizational plan is a college type notebook of blank paper I keep on my desk. This is where I write lists, reminder notes and squirrel away slips of paper with more notations, pictures and whatever else I don’t have a file for. This year as I sorted through the minutia I pulled out a paper with a saying I’d come across much earlier in the year. Apparently, it didn’t resonate enough at the time for me to try to internalize its meaning. But, that sunny day in October it hit me with a punch and I mean a whopper of a punch.

I read a lot. Somewhere, I read this quote by Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu and jotted it down. “Practice not doing and everything will fall into place.” What does that mean? Am I supposed to turn lazy and do nothing? And, take my taxes for instance, nothing will fall into place if I’m not organized and on it. Not only did I read the quote again and again, turning it over in my mind for meaning, I did what any internet surfer would do, I Googled it. After reading about the life of Lao Tzu, who lived about 600 years before Christ, I came across an analysis of some of his quotes. This one means life has a natural flow to it, including the ever constant and dependable change. In fact, change is inevitable. Yet, as human beings we like our comfort zone so another constant is our inevitable resistance to change. How many of us have worked someplace where a change occurs and, without fail, someone will say, “But we’ve always done it that way.” Wailing, complaining and resisting all the way, they make life miserable for themselves and everyone around them perhaps even to the point where they are fired. Tzu’s philosophy says resistance to life’s changes and the natural ebb and flow only creates strife, pain and sorrow. Instead, accept what is. Let reality be reality. Allow the natural order of things to move forward without resistance. Acceptance creates a less stressful life. Hmmm…Was finding a fulfilling retirement simply a matter of acceptance of what is?

I began asking myself, on a scale of one to ten, how bad is this issue or that issue? Is there anything you don’t have right now this minute such as housing, food, clothing, even good health? Is there anything in your life right now this minute which is truly a crisis, a problem? Mentally, I assigned a number to each issue that arose. If the issue was put in perspective, well, then, it didn’t seem so bad. Yes, being stung by 8 yellow jackets and having your hand swell to the size of a small cantaloupe while a red streak courses its way up your arm is scary but it isn’t cancer. With my changed view, stress just seemed to evaporate as I put the stuff life dishes out in perspective, accepting it. What is, is.

Resolutions? No. I decided to just keep following Tzu’s philosophy. Resolutions are unnecessary. No sweat here. Instead of being a week into the New Year and already casting my resolutions aside, feeling guilty at letting myself down, in 2014 I’m just continuing to practice not doing. Heck, I might not even look at the tax file next October.