A Perfect House

Thank you to everyone for the heartfelt messages.  Having an international community of support is priceless.  My heart goes out to those of you who have experienced or are experiencing similar situations.  I learned a lot from this move, not the least of which is to follow my own advice to live in the moment.

When our South Carolina house went under contract, we left for Michigan on a sweltering July day with the objective of buying another house.  Since Martin doesn’t drive anymore, the nearly 800 miles behind the wheel was left to me.  Many asked why we didn’t fly.  Martin doesn’t fly anymore either.  Airports are noisy.  Jets are cramped.  Even with the no check-in line, getting through security is a challenge for me alone.  For someone who must be spoken to slowly, succinctly without a surrounding cacophony just getting to the plane is a major stress.  I split the drive into two days with a stopover in Lexington, Kentucky at our favorite Man O’War Boulevard hotel.  Still, it was exhausting, for both of us.  It is what it is.

The closing on our SC house was scheduled for August 28 so time was of the essence.  On the advice of Martin’s neurologist I was working to take Martin from one house to the other with scarcely any stops in between.  Getting him settled into a new environment with as few adjustments as possible was imperative for his well-being and mine.

With the idea of downsizing both in house and land, we arrived with a handful of properties to view.  Houses in Michigan are most often built on basements, many with finished walk-out basements.  I knew there would be stairs.  With that in mind, I pursued only ranch styles to keep it to one set.  After all, I wanted a house where we could age in place.  We had a lot of advantages in our quest, from human help to technological help — the internet, smart phones and GPS; our Realtor, Faith, appropriately named for this adventure, is my daughter, Rachel’s, niece by marriage.  I felt confident there was a house for us among the ones identified.

However, none of the houses “spoke” to us.  Martin was especially discouraged.  After two days of intent looking, I found myself sitting on the sofa in Rachel’s sunroom at 4 a.m.  Our search was taking us further and further from her address.  There wasn’t a point of moving to Michigan if we were an hour away from help.  

During this introspection, an epiphany – instead of buying for the present, I was buying for a future I didn’t even know if we would have.  I had an idea where Martin’s disease would take us, but how many years away was that?  In 2018 his neurologist told us it was moving at a glacial pace.  It could be ten or even twenty years.  We are still in good physical health.  Martin bicycles 80 to a 100 miles a week at 21 miles per hour!  He can certainly climb stairs.  I needed to consider two story houses, two sets of stairs for the moment we were in, not the future yet to come. 

Later that morning as Faith drove us to look at more properties, I mentioned my thoughts to her.  We were minutes from Rachel’s house when she pointed to the right and said, “If you’re considering two stories, there’s a beautiful house behind all those trees.”   After pulling up the listing on my phone, scrolling through photos and showing Martin, I told Faith we wanted to see the house.

It isn’t a style I would have thought about purchasing.  This wasn’t downsizing; it’s nearly 3,700 square feet.  Definitely not the smaller piece of land I searched for, it sits on fifteen acres with a small pond and a slice of frontage along a small lake.  

As I stood in the huge kitchen that day, I caught a glimpse of Martin disappearing down one of the many paths through the woods.  I quickly asked Faith to go after him so I could look around some more.  I watched as her 6’2” frame vanished down the path after Martin.  With her spring green dress and long flowing blond curls, I felt like I was watching Alice chasing the White Rabbit.  I hoped we weren’t about to go down the rabbit hole.  Upon their return I put my doubts aside.  Martin was all smiles.  “Better, better, better” his way of saying this is the one.

There were other two stories, but this is the one.  This is the house for this moment in our lives.  We will grow old.  We will have health issues.  We will die.  All the advice, including mine, about having a house for aging in place deprives us of living in the present, the here and now, the joy of the moment.

This is the house with the family sized kitchen for cooking and gathering, dedicated spaces for the art studio, indoors bicycling when the snow flies, a writing room for me, the house in a private setting with deer, turkey, squirrels and chipmunks, the house with room for bird feeding stations, the house about a mile from a good riding route for Martin, the house with beautiful gardens to tend in good weather and add winter interest, the house with the dining room big enough for our family to enjoy Sunday dinners and the house close enough for help to arrive in minutes.  This is the perfect house for this moment.

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Are We The Captains Of Our Happiness?

My Journal Cover

 

In a word YES, we are the captains of our happiness.  I’m not going to offer up platitudes here about life handing you lemons and you mix up some lemonade.  There is value in sucking on the lemon for a while.  Identifying, then unloading negative emotions clears our mental outlook.  That said, what I am going to offer up are a few actions which help me get back to happiness after swallowing the lemon whole. 

As we travel through life, our time on Earth is fraught with lots of gloomy events — a serious illness, a job layoff, an economic downturn.  The list of negative life events and negative people can go on and on.  Even something as simple as the weather — rain, a snow storm, a sunny day are occurrences we can’t control, yet may effect our outlook. What we can control is our mindset. 

I will quote this truism, known as the Serenity Prayer.  For me, it proves a potent reminder of the power of acceptance.  

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  

Engaging in what I call mind-spinning, worrying about what may come, drains us of energy and leads to nothing.  Whatever is going to happen will happen whether we worry about it or not.  Better to not worry about it at all.

This morning I re-visited my gratitude journal from seven years ago.  Looking back at my life including my strengths, skills and accomplishments put me in a state of confidence, which led to a blissful feeling.  Over the years I learned a gratitude journal can do wonders for shifting my mindset to one of positivity, abundance and happiness.

For anyone seeking happiness, start journaling daily, listing what is good about your life.  Whether it’s a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the sighting of a blue bird in your yard, a child’s laugh at the grocery store, even a rain shower or a postcard view of a winter storm.  Anything from what appears to be a minor, trivial thing to an awesome event, write it down.

Take inventory of your personal assets.  I’m not talking about your material assets.  As mentioned above look at your abilities, skills, strengths, those assets.  That’s the stuff that got you this far and will take you through the remainder of your journey.  Hopefully, you are still growing, expanding those assets.  If not, cultivate curiosity about the world around you.

For many of us, we often associate happiness with occasions like buying a new car, shopping for a new outfit, taking a dream vacation, getting a promotion.  That brand of happiness is momentary.  The new car smell wears off, the outfit becomes last year’s style, the dream vacation but a memory.  And promotions?  Well, it’s lonely at the top. 

It’s recognition of the everyday simple things, which provide a feeling of well-being.  We can view our lives as one of scarcity or one of abundance.  What we need to survive is basic food, clean air and water, shelter, clothing and a good night’s sleep.  Everything else is an abundant life. 

While I don’t want to hang my happiness on someone else’s happiness, it makes me feel light-hearted to do a good deed for someone.  Volunteering for a favorite cause or just helping someone out through a chance meeting provides a shot of happiness.  Recently, at the entrance to a building, I encountered a frail woman using a walker as she approached a car at the curb.  Thinking she may need a hand getting into the car, I stopped and asked if I could help.  Just then two young men stepped out from behind a thick column.  I hadn’t seen her entourage. Their wide smiles and thank you’s for stopping lifted my spirits.  And, all I did was offer assistance.

Along with not depending on someone else’s happiness to define your own, refrain from comparing yourself to others.  In our social media world that is sometimes difficult to achieve.  A number of people have mentioned how they only put positive aspects of their lives on Facebook as they want FB to be a fun place to visit.  The downside to that view is other people begin thinking you have a lemonade life.  No one is without a few lemons.  It is a wonderful life, but no person has only good times.  Keep that in mind when you feel the urge to compare.

If there is one truly important lesson I learned as a caregiver, it’s take care of yourself.  In order for the good times to out weigh the negative, put some self-inflicted joy in your life.  Do what makes you feel happy.  Get out for a walk, join a gym, take a class, lose yourself in art, create a network of friends, meet someone for coffee or lunch, tour a museum or arboretum, get a massage, a manicure.  I recently learned my supplemental health insurance policy covers gym memberships 100%!  Now that’s a benefit to be happy about.  A local college offers a 60 minute massage by an advanced student for only $20.  Look for the happiness perks in your world.

No one is going to create happiness for you.  As the Dalai Lama says, “Happiness is not ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”  We are the captains of our happiness.

Wisdom

 

Six years ago today I woke up officially retired from the workplace, a new identity waiting to be formed.  Yes, six years!!!  And what a six years it has been.  

Prior to retiring I received lots of advice, most of it very useful wisdom, from people already enjoying a life filled with options of personal choice.  Whether you are now retired or looking forward to it in the future, these nuggets of insight are worth repeating.

The first piece of wisdom came from a couple I volunteered alongside at a local farmers market.  I still remember his face when he told me, “Guard your time jealously.”  In the moment I didn’t realize how many people would be looking at me as a person who needed for them to fill my time.  I found myself thinking of him and his advice again and again as well-meaning acquaintances, friends, even strangers, tugged at me to volunteer or join their organization of choice.  This is your time to use as you choose – guard it jealously!

That said, another piece of advice was to give some of your time to a cause you care about deeply.  I was already giving my time to volunteering at the agricultural extension’s information booth at the farmers market.  So, that one was easy for me.  That was my organization of choice.  I educated.  I taught people how to grow food, to create spaces for butterflies, bees and birds.  I helped people make their gardens and the Earth a better place.  It was fun.  Find a cause where you willingly, happily and whole-heartedly give your time and your being.

That brings me to doing something you love.  Whatever your lifelong hobby, now’s your time to enjoy it even more than ever.  I know people who golf or play tennis several times a week, spend more hours acting at the community theater, make their garden into a show place around their home or turned their art into a source of income.  Whatever it is up the ante.  Keep doing it at a quantum leap.

Then, try something you always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time.  Retirement affords the opportunity to start something new, fresh, fulfilling a dream.  For me, that was taking up watercolor painting.  I wasn’t good at it and didn’t enjoy it, but it led to other art mediums I do enjoy.  With retirement you can start anew as many times as you wish.  This is your moment for adventure!  Failure is o.k.  As a bonus of my adventures, I’ve met many other retirees in daytime art classes.  Some became new friends.

Speaking of friends, realize that many of your friendships will be altered.  The people who are still employed may drift away as your identity evolves.  Or you may drift away from them as you find new acquaintances with a shared interest and time frame.  Your social life will revolve around a daytime persona that is different from the work you.  Be open to meeting new people.

Along with the advice of guarding your time jealously, the second piece of wisdom the couple mentioned above dispensed, “Give yourself two years to adjust.”  It took all of two years and then some for me to settle in.  Others may take no time at all.  It depends on a lot of variables, such as your personality, your attachment to the type of work you did, how you left work – forced out, disability or planned exit, your retirement activities, your mental view and emotional feelings about retiring.  Two years.

Lastly, retirement is an opportunity.  It is not the dictionary definition of ceasing to work; it’s serendipity – the chance to do the kind of work you want to do.  It’s the possibility of tapping into your reserved longings, the savoring of freedom to use your time as you choose.  It’s the prospect of a fresh start in life.  And, I hope this shared wisdom helps you to do just that.

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.

Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

The woman looked at me with what I can only describe as pity as she said, “Getting old sucks.” I started to counter her assumption.  I found it condescending.  Then I closed my mouth. I was already in the middle of a disagreement with her; I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.

Getting old does not suck. What sucks is the view our society holds about getting old.

We all knew people who didn’t make it this far in life — relatives, friends, classmates, co-workers and neighbors who passed away at a younger age, perhaps even as children. People who didn’t get to fall in love, have a career, reach their full potential, buy a house, the first car, go to college, have children or see children grow or enjoy grandchildren.

No, getting old does not suck. It’s a privilege, a gift.

Yet, people still young, as well as some our age, look at aging as if it’s a disease, at the very least a time of decline, both physically and mentally. I have my share of infirmities, but most are not the result of old age. I had polio at three, which surfaces years later as post-polio syndrome. I also have occasional pain in my lower back, the result of lifting something too heavy for me when I was a mere nineteen. We all have health issues, some worsening from aging. Eventually, the parts will wear out. However, when I see a YouTube of an 89 year-old gymnast vaulting and landing on her feet, I realize the old adage of use it or lose it certainly applies.

Cognitive decline is not inevitable. Recent research and studies at most major universities around the world have shown the adult mind can continue to grow. The brain has plasticity meaning it can form new synaptic connections. We often think of children and young adults as the ones with growing minds. But adults at any age can continue to grow mentally if they exhibit the same curiosity, sense of adventure and learn new things just as they did earlier in life.  These discoveries are changing the view of aging, albeit slowly.

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is at the forefront of changing the stereotypes of what it means to get old. We all age. My grandchildren are aging. With kids, we refer to them as ‘growing up’; with over 60’s, we refer to them as aging. We suddenly become seniors, the elderly, the aged, old codgers. We also begin to be talked to as if we were the children, condescending talk.  Talk as if we are incompetent.  Or worse yet, we are ignored. Since I stopped coloring my hair, letting it go to its natural gray, I’m suddenly dear, sweetie, young lady and on and on or I’m invisible altogether.

I took Applewhite’s cue and used a situation as a teaching moment for an early twenties server at a restaurant. I noticed the couple at the next table who appeared to be in their late thirties were called ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I’d finally had enough of being called ‘dear’ so I told the server not to call me that. She looked at me puzzled and said, “Why?” My reply, “Because my name is Kathy, not dear. If I were your age, would you call me dear?” She didn’t know what to say. Maybe I raised her consciousness; maybe she thought I was just a crabby old lady. I don’t know. But if we are to change the way old age is viewed, the change starts with us.

Our society views aging as something to be cured or fought as in anti-aging creams and makeups, botox injections, plastic surgery and medications to combat normal body changes that come with maturity. One woman, upon seeing my graying hair, told me, “If I stopped coloring my hair, my husband would divorce me.” I have no idea if their relationship is that superficial, but in our youth obsessed culture, not dying has apparently been known to spark a divorce. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more gray haired models like Cindy Joseph, defying the idea that old is washed up, has been and not beautiful.

Getting old does not suck. Attitudes suck. Do not pity me, feel sorry for me or patronize me. I’m having a good time being old and retired.  You, too will be here someday. And, when you are, stay engaged with the world, realize that your brain still works and can grow, endeavor to try new activities, learn something. Realize you are still beautiful and vibrant. Stay physically active. Recognize ageism and use teachable moments to change attitudes. You are one of the lucky ones. Getting old is a gift. Do not squander it by believing in stereotypes.

 

 

 

Is There A Normal Retirement?


It was the end of 2012 when I first started looking for articles on what retirees did to create a happy retirement.  My queries on the web resulted mostly in articles about retirement timing and finances. There was little to be found about a normal, happy retirement.

Last week one of my readers mentioned, “retirement means different things to different people” (thanks for the idea, Walter). That led to my wondering is there a normal retirement? My current search of the web indicates that most people still plan on their date to retire and their retirement income, but not much else.

Gathering information from you, my readers, I’d say there is no normal retirement. While most people plan on retiring somewhere between ages 65 and 70, what they do after that varies widely. I did an informal survey a few years ago with most of you responding about taking up some type of artistic endeavor — painting, writing, drawing, music, dance, knitting, quilting, acting — there is a wide variety of activities covered under the term art.

I know several people who read, read, read and belong to book clubs. They love literature. One woman belongs to three clubs. She can indulge in her passion for reading stories, then gather with her groups for socializing and stimulating discussion.

Besides volunteering there are many retirees who return to work part-time, whether they need to or not. I know of several people who continue working part-time for the social connections, sense of purpose and challenge that work offers. One woman told me, “My goal is to work until I’m eighty.” Her husband of 56 years does not like her working, but the work gives her such enjoyment, she continues at her job. All of these retirees, in fact, have spouses who did not take up paid work in retirement, opting instead to attend classes, continue hobbies, volunteer and whatever else they want to do.

Some retirees choose to just kick back and let each day unfold itself to them. They reason they worked long hours for decades, had bosses telling them what to do every weekday and maybe beyond, wended their way through office politics and satisfying clients and customers. To them, retirement is a long awaited luxury to just be in their own space and time doing whatever comes along.

Some retirees choose to focus on physical fitness, playing golf or tennis, biking, hiking and swimming. Some take up yoga. I know a ninety-year-old who still golfs twice a week.  His mind is as sharp as his physical fitness.  Staying in good physical shape is important for all of us as we age.  Some retirees choose to make it their focus. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.

Then there are those retirees like me. I don’t ever want to go back to the old grind, but I also need meaning and purpose in my life like I need air to breath. Doing activities that are fulfilling to me is totally necessary to my happiness. I’m a proponent of finding new meaning and purpose in retirement. Admittedly, what defines new meaning and purpose is obviously different for different people.

I also know people who spend most of their day watching TV. One man has three TV’s going all the time on the same channel, so as he moves from room to room he can continue watching his chosen show. Sitting around on the couch in front of the boob tube all day isn’t a life.

With a possible twenty or thirty years in retirement, you may reinvent yourself as many times as you did during your working years. You may end up doing some or all of the above or any number of other activities. You may be content to just float from day to day for a while, then find yourself needing meaning and purpose. You may not want to return to work even part-time, then find yourself wanting to engage again. Retirement is no different, than any other time in your life. It has twists and turns, ups and downs, opportunity knocking on your door and days of wonderful quiet. Whatever you choose to do in retirement is the norm for you. But, for goodness sake, do something.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Nearly a year ago I wrote this piece. I think it bears repeating as there is much to be grateful for as we age.

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 what 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 clients, 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 my 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 or 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, not someone else’s.

7. I want less stuff. 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. Even my pets are more important than any material thing I could acquire. Doing the activities I enjoy is important. Giving of my time and myself to someone else is important.

These are a few of the benefits to aging I thought of. What are the benefits you see in your life?

A Stress-Free Retirement

Ahhhhh…retirement. Free at last from the stress of the workplace. No more stressing over meeting deadlines, competing for promotions or absorbing yet another policy change. No more training sessions for a new job and you better get it right or the boss won’t be happy with you. No more demanding co-workers, supervisors or customers to face every work day. Life will, instead, be a perpetual weekend or better yet, a vacation.

During the last two years I’ve met several people who retired earlier than planned due to the stress of being in the workplace. Stress happens when people can’t take one more thing. As the pressures pile up, they feel a lack of control. Overwhelmed.

Many, many years ago I read how the administrative assistant of the company CEO is under more stress than the CEO because the assistant has less control over their day. The CEO is the person at the helm, calling all the shots, and, therefore, feeling more in control. After all, the CEO gets to tell their assistant and everyone else in the company what to do, when to do it, how to do it. And, the employees aren’t necessarily told why they are doing it…just get the job done! Their perception is a lack of control while the CEO enjoys the perception of control. The idea of leaving all of that pressure behind as you enter retirement is, indeed, enticing. It’s also just another perception as the pressures of work are replaced by new pressures in retirement.

What would we have to stress over in retirement? Well, to the surprise of even those of us who believe we have enough money, the number one stressor is money. That constant feeling of insecurity lurking just below the surface of everything we do, as we check our portfolio, watch the ups and downs of the stock market and ponder our choice of financial advisor, is stress.

A close second to money is our health. Some of us retired due to health issues, which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor told me most illnesses are the result of inflammation in the body brought on by stress. Or you may have retired in excellent health only to be diagnosed with an unexpected condition such as diabetes, heart disease or even cancer.

Then, there are other people. Other people, it seems, is the number one stressor for the population overall and yes, other people are still a stressor in retirement. Heck, you may even find yourself stressed out by your spouse. After spending a lifetime apart during most days, to suddenly be together 24/7 may be overwhelming at first. But, remember, you are ‘other people’ to someone, which means you are someone else’s stressor. And, then, there’s the big question of, “What am I going to do that has meaning and purpose for the rest of my life?”

There is no such thing as a stress-free retirement just the same as there is no such thing as a stress-free workplace or a stress-free life. Toward the end of one Dynamic Aging class, our instructor brought in a stress coach, Donna Donnelly, to talk to us about stress as we aged. An enthusiastic and fun presenter, Donna not only provided lots of insight into the stress conundrum but infused the class with laughter. Laughter, it turns out, along with sex, is a major de-stressor as the extra oxygen produced goes to the brain. Extra oxygen is part of the relaxation response of deep breath from the abdomen, smile, relax.
With the invention of the MRI, we now know these activities light up both sides of the brain. They increase T-cells, which boost our immune system, helping us to fight off disease as we age. Smiling cuts down on stress. The brain knows when you smile because the corners of your mouth turn up and your lips part a bit. Your brain likes that warm fuzzy feeling smiling evokes and releases neuropeptides, which fight stress. If you’re not used to smiling, guess what? According to Donna, if you aren’t a smiler by nature, stick a pencil in your mouth and your brain will register that as a smile! Sound silly? If you imagine seeing people walking around with pencils in their mouths as they go about their day, it probably is, but, then again, just the thought of that image can put a smile on your face…sans pencil.

Besides smiling, here are a few other things you can do to reduce stress, many of which you probably know but now is the time to practice them, if you’re not already:

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, taking time at the end of each day to name the things you are grateful for in that day. It could be as simple as seeing a rose bloom in your garden or taking a walk around the block with a friend.

2. Accept change. If you are someone like myself, who needs the perception of control, use the Serenity Prayer to let go of the things in life you can’t control, which, by the way includes most things.

SERENITY PRAYER
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

3. Practice mindfulness. Staying in the moment, actively engaging with your environment of the moment and letting your thoughts and emotions arise and dissolve away, will help you let go of the past and keep you from worrying about the future.

4. Put together your support system. We all need other people, especially as we age. Family, very close friends and community groups all provide support. And, don’t forget pets. They also form part of our support system. My cats always know when something is off. They gather around and hang out to cheer me up.

5. Find stress relieving activities. Yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, a walk around the block or a hike through a nearby park can all relieve stress. Find your stress reliever and use it as your go to when you feel stressed out by life.

6. Get plenty of sleep. As we age, that seems to be a tough one for some of us. However, it is even more important than ever as it keeps our brains functioning at top capacity. So, aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

Even though retirement will never be stress-free, it can be a less stress time of life if we focus on the positive and adopt the above practices. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor the most intelligent that survives. It’s the one most adaptable to change.” Be a person who adapts. And, don’t forget to smile!

Peer Pressure

When I think of peer pressure, I usually think of my teenage grandchildren. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve encountered more peer pressure in retirement than I thought possible. Oh, it’s not the type of pressure kids face like being hassled to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol or experience an illegal drug. Rather it’s the push by peers to join the activities they enjoy assuming you will enjoy them, too. Or it’s the pressure to take part as a volunteer because volunteers are needed by their chosen organization. Or, it could be the person likes your company and may want to further the friendship by doing more together.

In just the last few weeks I’ve been asked to join book clubs, a monthly mahjong game, a gym, another writing group, a gardening club and a political action group. While I may certainly enjoy all of those activities, if I said, ‘yes’ to any or all of them, what is important to me would be swallowed up. In the past, saying, ‘no’ was not one of my strong points and sometimes it still isn’t. Why we agree to do something we really don’t want to do is usually based in our wish to keep the relationship.  Thus we try not to offend the other person by saying, ‘no’ to their request.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was busy nearly going down in flames because I didn’t say, ‘no’ often enough, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, ‘yes’ to me. This twist in my thinking made it easier to turn down the requests to join in too many activities. Not to sound mean, but I also figured out sometimes I was agreeing to partake with someone I didn’t really enjoy being around. My wish not to hurt another person’s feelings was taking a toll on me.

How did I arrive at this change in thinking, making self-love (not selfishness) a priority? I remember a spring day where I sat on the couch recovering from pleurisy. The night before Martin drove me the six blocks from our house to the local hospital. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack, but the hospital staff did. Describing chest pain and difficulty breathing got me an immediate wheelchair ride to the inner rooms of the ER where two nurses shoved oxygen tubes up my nose and took my pulse and then blood gases. Finally, a chest X-ray revealed inflammation of my lungs. Whew! In comparison to a heart attack, pleurisy sounded good. The ER doctor told me rest, rest, rest.

The thought of a heart attack scared me. Between naps, I spent the next day in deep retrospection of what my life was at the time. I likened myself to a small plane in a fiery nose-dive about to hit the ground, exploding into flames upon impact. This was not the first time I was in a nose-dive going down in flames. But, I knew it had to be the last.

As I sat in my internal revery that afternoon, a friend, who knew I was home from work sick, called to ask me to watch her eight-year-old daughter as “something” had come up that she just had to take care of. To my surprise I heard myself telling her I couldn’t possibly watch an eight-year-old in my condition. When she coaxed me with how quiet her daughter would be (I knew this kid was not quiet), I said, “Look I know you’re in a bind, but I’m also in a bind. I need rest. I have to take care of myself first.”

Even as I said it, I felt guilty, selfish. Yet, after we ended the conversation, I felt empowered. I felt good. I had said, ‘yes’ to me. That’s when I realized the operative word in these situations isn’t ‘no’; it’s ‘yes’… ‘yes’ to me. I needed to say, ‘yes’ to me and clear my life of activities and relationships that were not passionately important to me.

Although that may sound selfish, participating in activities because we feel we ‘should’ can take a toll on our psychological well-being. I call participating in activities we ‘want’ to partake in self-love as these are the activities that feed our spirit. Conversely, if an activity drains your spirit, it needs to go.

With the possibility of so much unstructured time in retirement, it’s more important then ever to know what you want, what is best for you and how to say, ‘yes’ to your priorities. In order to stay focused, write it down. The bucket list is a good place to start creating your agenda. If you are unsure about an activity, ask yourself if you are truly passionate about participating in that activity. With an unambiguous agenda it’s easier to set clear-cut boundaries with our peers. And, that helps us limit peer pressure at any age.

Crabs In A Pot

 

 

Crabs in a Pot

Crabs in a Pot

Growing up on the shore, we sometimes went to an inlet from the sea with an old bulkhead. As the tide went out, we searched for crabs clinging to the decaying wood. Back home in my parents’ kitchen, my younger brother and I played with the crabs on the floor as my mother boiled a large pot of water on the stove. Once the water came to a full rolling boil, my Dad put the crabs in the pot. It seems cruel to me now, but as children my brother and I liked to watch the drama of the crabs in the pot. You see, one of the crabs always tried to climb out of the pot while the other crabs pulled it back in until they all boiled together providing quite a show.

It wasn’t until I took the Dynamic Aging Program at Furman University that I heard crabs in a pot used as an analogy to describe people who are aging in the way our society expects us to age. According to the program creator, Dudley Tower, Ph.D, most people today just follow the expected norm, retiring to a life of leisure where they play golf or cards, travel, do a little volunteer work or whatever activity they choose to occupy their time, until they slowly decline mentally and physically, sliding little by little, day by day, inch by inch, toward death.

We expect to take care of ourselves by following a healthy diet, doing some type of exercise but, believing, inevitably, we’ll need assisted living and eventually, maybe, probably nursing home care. Prior to my mother’s death several years ago, she spent the last three months of her life in a nursing home. After visiting her with my husband and youngest daughter, as we rode the elevator down to the ground floor, I said to my daughter, “If I ever have to be in a facility like this, it is my express wish that you just shoot me.”

As dreary and desperate as that sounds, my view has not changed. So, the story of the crabs in a pot resonated with me. But what is the alternative? Is there an alternative? We all know we are all going to die. As my father used to say, “Nobody gets out alive.” Then, of course, he’d chuckle at his little joke. In fact, most of us have probably lived our lives based on societal norms and expectations of how we should behave. We went to school, grew up with little push back, got a job, got married, had kids, bought a house with a mortgage, raised the kids, advanced in the job and finally, here we are, retired. And, now, we are following the normal model of aging, retiring to a life of leisure and slow physical and cognitive decline until we have to go to a nursing home. In other words, we are waiting to slowly boil to death like crabs in a pot. Ugh!

Now, for the alternative to what was the normal aging experience for our parents and grandparents. People are living longer with more and more people in developed countries living to be 100. Retiring at 60 to 70 years of age could leave you with 30 to 40 years until you die. Think about it! If the idea of spending 20 to 30 years playing golf or mahjong or traveling or gardening or whatever and then going to assisted living followed by nursing care, is your idea of a great life, that’s entirely up to you. But, wouldn’t you rather do something more exciting?

I asked myself the question, “What would you do with the last third of your life if you were not afraid?” It is self-imposed limitations that hold us back. Self-imposed limitations are something we attribute to ourselves out of fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of ridicule, fear of whatever we are afraid of. What would you do if society, your friends, your family, your neighbors didn’t expect you to live a life of leisure until your world becomes smaller and smaller and you decline further and further? Would you go back to college, start a new career, open a business, learn a new skill, follow your heart, resurrect a childhood dream?

The last third of life offers a freedom like none we have ever experienced. What others think about what we do with our lives really doesn’t matter. We can let our imaginations soar. We can take some behavioral risk. Our society, however, does not readily support personal development as we age. Someone who is 20 or 30 or 40 or even 50 is expected to continue developing on a personal level. It’s a given, the same as society’s expectation of decline for our aging population.

By the time we hit the big 60, we are expected to slow down. We start hearing the ‘at your age’ mantras. Oh, yes, we hear on occasion about the 79 year old weight lifter with a great set of abs or the 89 year old gymnast still vaulting off equipment like a teenager or the 98 year old publishing a first book. Why aren’t we all striving to do something we always longed to do but never had the time to pursue?

Because we believe the aging euphemisms about slowing down, about being too old to do this or that. As children, we all had dreams. We all learned new things every day, day in and day out. Aging dynamically requires more than taking care of our health. It requires that we look inside ourselves and resurrect our thirst for learning, our thirst for living on our personal edge and maybe a dream or two. We really won’t know what we are capable of as we age until we throw out society’s expectation of aging.

Shortly after retiring, it occurred to me that retirement was not all it was cracked up to be. Sure, I enjoyed the honeymoon after leaving work, when everyday seemed like an extended vacation. It didn’t take long, however, for disillusionment to set in. I missed the challenge and excitement and camaraderie that work provided. Yet, I didn’t want to go back to work, at least not the traditional work place.

Instead, I resurrected a dream and have been pursuing it ever since. My dream was to be a writer. Long, long ago life got in the way. Having to support a family and taking a different career path, I gave up my dream. Shortly, after retiring, with the power of the internet, I started my own blog. I became a writer. Recently, I started taking courses in writing to sharpen my skills. I decided to seriously pursue writing as a craft. And, now I’m writing my memoirs along with some short stories. I may or may not find a publisher. I may have to self-publish. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the possibilities I am creating for myself.

 
I am feeling more alive and excited about the future than I have in years. I’m more mindful of what I am doing with my life. I have goals. I have a vision of how I want the rest of my life to play out. I am aging dynamically. And, that is the alternative. We can meet society’s expectation of how we will age or we can chart a new course, throwing away previous models and maps. How about it? Are you going to be a crab in a pot? Or, will you be the one who scrambles over the side to freedom? Come on…dream a little dream or two.