Leaving The Comfort Zone

 

This post originally appeared March 28, 2013 when I was not quite comfortable with retirement.  The story of the lottery winner reminded me it takes time and effort to acclimate to retirement just as it takes time and effort at other junctures in life.

 

Earlier this week there was mention on the news of a man who won a $30 million lottery. Of course, with his newfound wealth, he left his job at a concrete company. That’s probably the first thing we’d all do. Then, we would go off on a travel log or buy the dream home or the Ferrari.

Well, within a month, this accidental retiree asked for his everyday grind of an old job back. For the millions who play the lottery dreaming of winning, this guy must seem like he’s crazy. He told his former co-workers he was bored. Bored? Are you nuts? With $30 million to spend on whatever, unless this guy has zero imagination, it’s hard for me to believe he’s bored. More likely, he was moved outside his comfort zone.

We all have a comfort zone where we feel safe and secure psychologically. Stepping outside your perceived zone can be challenging, upsetting or even exhilarating, depending on your personality. That’s what happens when you retire. Like the lottery winner, you leave behind the known, which even if your job is just a daily boring grind, offers a certain security because it’s a given. There’s security in the routine. There’s security in your work community. Even if you work with someone you don’t like, there’s security in knowing they will be their engaging selves every day, day after day. Even if your routine at work is upended, you still have a sense of security in the safety net of your work community and place.

During my 40 years in the workplace, I stepped outside my comfort zone on many, many occasions. I even worked at one company where employees were deliberately placed in positions, which took you outside your zone, if only for a while. If you were an accountant, get ready to work sales. If you were in sales, get ready to work in operations. Our CEO thought it was beneficial for people to stretch their limits. He believed if you did something new for a certain amount of time, it would eventually become routine — old hat — part of your comfort zone. Exposure to new ideas eventually make you a more resilient person.

So, at that time in my life I was stretched plenty just by doing my job. I went from working in an office 8 hours a day to flying into a new (to me) city just about every week for a year. This was a time when there was no GPS, no cell phones. At most airports you still walked across the tarmac to board your plane!

Once you reached your destination, you went to a car rental company, standing in line for your turn to rent a car. When your turn came, a customer service rep ran (and I mean ran as in at the mouth) through your choice of rental cars, pushing a couple of forms in front of you to sign, a map of the city ripped from a thick pad of maps on the counter (remember, no GPS) finally handing you a set of keys.

In the rental lot you joined other souls wandering around looking for their rented vehicle. Once you located your car, if you were lucky, you found your way out of the lot and onto the highway where your ability to read a map and drive at the same time was tested.

That was before carrying out my job in each unknown city with people I’d never met before. After the first year of doing this, my CEO was right, it became routine. My comfort zone expanded. I also learned how taking some risk, trying something new, shaking things up is actually an opportunity to grow.

 
Over the next twenty years 77 million baby boomers will step out of their comfort zones and into retirement just as Martin and I did. Most won’t have the $30 million the lottery winner-turned-accidental-retiree has. Unlike him, I’ve learned I like shaking things up. Finally getting acclimated to neither of us going to a workplace, we’re creating a new comfort zone for our lives. It’s been more stressful than we anticipated. In many ways, it’s also been more rewarding than we anticipated. One of the rewards is we can shake things up whenever we want by trying something new on our terms.

Choices. That’s what the lottery winner has in common with us – choices. With a $30 million dollar lottery win, he can pretty much choose to do whatever he wants. But, his first choice must be to step outside his comfort zone. Don’t go back to your old job, fella. Take a chance. Take some risk. Shake things up. Buy a Ferrari, shop for the dream home and get yourself a great travel agent.

Coping With Bad News

 

A couple of weeks ago a reader wrote me about receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. This reader and I have corresponded for the last three years. Although I’ve never met her, I feel like she is a friend. She asked if I had ever written about coping with an illness. I had not. She wrote, “This is not part of our plans!”

When we retire, and especially if we retire early, the last thing we expect is news of a serious illness. In 2014 I met a man who told me when he received his cancer diagnosis, everything important in life came sharply into focus. Much of what he worried about was suddenly trivial. After beating cancer, he continued to center his attention on his newfound vision.

While we may not have received a cancer diagnosis, we all encountered blows of some kind in our life experience. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. It’s almost never expected, whether we just retired or were at some other juncture in life.

As I researched for this post, as usual, much of what popped up was how to handle a financial set back. With retirement, whether it is preparation or crisis, money takes center stage. It took quite a bit of digging to find information on coping with an illness. In the process, I asked myself what I would do if I received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

If I received bad news, I would re-visit previous life skirmishes asking myself how I coped.  What did I do that worked for me?  What would I do differently now? What lessons did I learn, which could be applied to the present situation?

For the last two years I’ve practiced mindfulness, mastering the skill of staying present. The past is behind us; the future has yet to unfold itself to us. What we have is the present, the here and now. Focusing on the present has reduced the number of times my mind runs headlong into the future on mind spinning mode, creating worst scenario outcomes. Mind spinning often results in our conjuring a bad situation into an even worse situation. In the case of devastating news, staying present can provide calm in the face of the hurricane. Add a few deep breaths.

Fight or flight. I tend to go into fight mode when receiving bad news. Rather than run from it emotionally and mentally, I start gathering as much information as I can. I like to make informed decisions. Knowing what I’m facing also provides a sense of some control in what is potentially an uncontrollable situation. Never one to throw my hands up and say, “there’s nothing I can do about it” instead I dig deep for information. Knowledge is power.

Like the man I mentioned above, there may actually be some good news embedded in the bad news. He had an epiphany about what was really important to him in life. Everything small by comparison just fell away, leaving him with a sense of really living.

Another woman I know forced a rosy outlook during her battle with cancer. She said she didn’t have time to be negative.  The fact is we have emotional ups and downs during any crisis. I meditate.  One of the objectives I appreciate about meditation is letting the negatives into your thoughts, dealing with them, then letting them go. It’s ok to feel down at a time like this. We can’t be up all the time. To me, constantly projecting Little Mary Sunshine in the face of bad news is a stress in itself.

Bottling up emotions may also block others from helping you. If you have a spouse or life partner, it is probably as important for their welfare as it is for yours, to open up and let them in. They are also in pain. Most probably they are worried about you. Shutting them out by pretending everything is still normal may do more harm than good. The situation is not normal. They may need to cry along with you — let them.

Take your partner or a close friend with you on medical appointments. I know many, many people who did not include their spouse thinking they were shielding them from more bad news. If you are really partners, now is not a time to dial back the relationship. They can be an advocate for you, perhaps hearing something from a medical professional you missed. Emotionally, they can hold your hand during any delivery of news, either good or bad. And you can hold theirs.

You both need all the support you can get. Include family and friends with information. Back to the woman who put on the rose colored glasses, she never shared any news of her condition. I always wanted to hug her. She was even resistant to that. I know people who didn’t want their children informed of a diagnosis, robbing them of the ability to support and, in worse case situations, say a meaningful goodbye.

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but I am an advocate of going to a counselor when needed. Receiving any devastating news may be a time when counseling is in order. Talking to a professional can help clarify positions, direction, actions to be taken, not to mention dealing with the emotional toll. Seek professional help for your mind and emotions just as you are seeking professional help for your body. Attending to your spiritual self by talking with a minister or priest may also help.

This is just my personal take on what I would do if faced with devastating news such as a cancer diagnosis. As always, we have to do what works best for us, as individuals, and our family in any particular situation. It is not easy to retire and receive bad news. However, as in any other moment in life, there are actions we can take to move us in the direction of a more positive outcome.

For the reader who inspired this post and all of my readers dealing with bad news of any kind, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Glory Days

This post first appeared on April 8, 2014.  When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “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, children respected adults 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.  In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. 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 imbued with its excellence.

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 weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.

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. I managed to escape the disease 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.

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 toward 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 road this huge 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. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.

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. 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 jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.

It is up to us to fire up 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 and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and 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.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

I HEREBY RESOLVE TO…

Today is the last day of 2014. Tomorrow we begin anew with a fresh slate. Tradition in many cultures is to start the new year by resolving to be better in some way. The most popular resolutions are typically (1) lose weight, (2) exercise more and (3) quit smoking. Despite their initial determination, most people don’t reach their goals. I know I’ve been one of those people. Though I never smoked, the first two options have been on my list for years with little headway made after the first couple of weeks into the new year. So, this year I’m just going to cut to the chase and not make those resolutions. I’ve recently lost 7 pounds and kept it off over the holidays so I feel like I’m already a winner in regard to that situation. I thought about making no resolutions. However, after reading some of my posts of 2014, I decided to make more long-term commitments. I invite you to join me.

Following are my resolutions for 2015:

1. Remain open to change. I’ve written that change is the one thing in life we can count on. The future is unknown and often delivers surprises. Instead of grumbling about those surprises, look for opportunities, even in adversity. I once worked with a man, who, in the face of business upsets, would always, ALWAYS, sit calmly and ask, “How can we turn this into an opportunity?” His success in life was not an accident; it was his acceptance of and adapting to a changing world, which made him a success.

2. Accept what is without fighting it. My friend in Number 1 accepted downturns as a fact of life. Instead of fighting what is, he decided if there was a way to turn the outcome to his advantage, making lemonade of his business lemon, he would gladly accept that glass. Philosopher Lao Tzu advised, “Practice not doing.” Not doing means not complaining about the circumstance we can’t control, not expending energy fighting the obvious, thus creating stress in our lives, but instead, embracing it.

3. Practice mindfulness. My mantra the last couple of months, which goes hand in hand with Numbers 1 and 2, is, “Let my emotions arise and dissolve.” If life throws me a curveball, I work to stay in the moment, acutely aware of everything in that moment, as I respond from my left brain. I pretend I’m a little duck letting the water (emotions) roll off my back before I swim into the deep end creating unnecessary stress. This has lightened my self-created burdens already so I plan on continuing to travel light in 2015.

These are my resolutions for 2015 and beyond. Simple yet life changing ideas, which have altered my attitude toward aging. If these don’t work for you, think of attitude changing ideas, which may work. Or, you could decide to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier or something else. Or, you could do nothing at all. Whatever you resolve to do, from me to you, my readers, I wish you much joy and positive living in 2015.

With love,

Kathy

MYTH BUSTERS

It’s the time of year again when we start looking forward to what a new year will bring as well as saying goodbye to the recent past of the old year. Auld Lang Syne as poet Robert Burns called it or days gone by. Thinking of the recent days gone by, I ruminated on how much I learned in the last year about the changing face of aging. I read plenty of dreary articles about the supposed inevitable cognitive decline, which comes with aging. There are the articles advising us to talk to our children in our sixties about our finances and health and how we should make a plan for the kids to take over for us on both fronts as we age. Well, poppycock. That’s how I felt as I processed what these authors advised. I kept thinking about all the eighty and ninety somethings with complete control of their minds, senses and lives, often continuing to live in their own homes rather than an institutionalized housing arrangement. How is it that a few maintain their cognitive selves right up to their last breath, while the majority slowly decline into a muddled mental state? Was that even true?

As it turns out, the belief that our brain inevitably declines is totally untrue. There is nothing inevitable about it. At universities like Stanford and Cornell, studies of the brain over the past ten years using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have busted a number of myths concerning our brain power, from children to aging adults. Back in the 1970’s when I was just getting my first buzz on from a nice glass of cheap wine, we used to sit around imbibing and joking about killing off brain cells with alcohol. Ahhhh, youth. At the time, it was believed we only had so many brain cells and alcohol was a brain cell killer. But, hey, we also believed our twenty something brains were at their peak performance and would soon begin the inevitable decline toward old age when we couldn’t even balance our checkbooks anymore. But, the technological revolution of the late twentieth century produced some incredible gadgets with even more incredible computing power, among them the machine responsible for mapping our brains during different experiments with various aged subjects. Though the research is complicated and there’s a lot more out there on the subject than I could ever hope to cover in these pages, the bottom line is cognitive decline is NOT inevitable. There are even indications your brain is actually at its peak somewhere in your 50’s.

September of this year, I heard the term neuroplasticity for the first time. Neuro what, you ask? Plasticity meaning the brain is pliable, adapting to its changing circumstances a lot like plastic can be molded into different forms. The term use it or lose it never held greater meaning. Our brain may actually have the ability to grow additional tissue if we just keep using it. In fact, over the past couple of years, as a survivor of one of the last polio epidemics in the United States, I researched findings on post-polio syndrome. One of the theories behind the recovery of people like myself who exhibit few residual effects from the disease is the idea that polio victims’ neurons grew extensions to compensate for the damage done by polio. Our bodies heal from cuts and broken bones by growing new tissue. Our muscles can be strengthened, the minute little tears from exercise mending to create more mass. Why is it, then, we bought into the belief our brain can’t grow more intelligent or recover from an occasional sip of wine or even trauma or maintain its capacity to manage our finances as we age?

In our society there is a strong belief that if we eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, take vitamins and use the medications our doctor prescribes, we can stave off aging…to a point. Our society believes it is inevitable our bodies and cognitive abilities will decline. The specter of dementia looms ever present as we have ‘senior moments’ when we can’t find the right word, walk into a room and can’t remember what we came for, or we forget where we left the car keys. Well, eventually something will lead to our demise. But, believing our brain is most certainly one of those parts is no longer justified. Research is now proving that belief to be a myth of aging. Sure, we’ve all heard of the heart doctor still performing surgery in his nineties. But, that’s unusual, right? What if that’s really what the norm is if we all believe we can continue to maintain our cognitive capacity and we work at it and I mean really work at it, instead of buying into our societal myth of inevitable mental decline? If we continue to use our brain, our mental capacity can stay intact. Using our brain means staying engaged with other people, with life, with learning new things, accepting new ideas, absorbing and growing like a baby in the first year of life, opening new neural pathways. A growth mentality where we continue to learn and grow, even as we age, is the key to keeping our cognitive abilities intact.

As we move into 2015 and leave 2014 behind us, let’s also leave the myths of aging behind us as well. Make 2015 the year you take control of your aging process. Determine right now to add a new activity to your 2015 calendar. Learn something new. Try something new. Go somewhere new. Get out of your comfort zone. Live on your personal edge. We are the generation who can reshape attitudes about aging. We are the myth busters. And, the first step is to use our brains.

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, some of which may be the result of stress in the workplace. My doctor has said 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, cross wise, of course, 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. Engage in 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. Cat naps are ok, too.

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!

YOUR TRUE POTENTIAL

It’s been five weeks since I started the Dynamic Aging Program. Yes, time still flies! I wish I could tell you, “Here are the five things you need to know in order to age dynamically.” But, it’s not that simple. In fact, between the class time, books to read, websites to visit, personality and intelligence tests to take and the class forum questions, I feel like I’m back in college. Class alone is over 4 hours on Wednesdays, which, for someone who has been out of the workforce for a few years now, requires a bit of effort to remain focused toward the end of each session. But, enough whining about the work load. What you really probably want to know is what am I learning.

Well, this could be categorized as cheap therapy as self-examination, self-awareness and self-actualization are at the center of all this time and effort. As I’ve chronicled in this blog and, as most of you surely must know, most people who have a career and retire, usually have identity problems. According to what I’ve learned so far, they also apparently think they are going to continue with the same hobbies, pastimes and activities for the 20 to 30 years of their retirement. That is, until the loss of identity and boredom set in, which is the moment in time for introspection. While self-examination can be done at any time in life, all the stars and planets are more apt to be perfectly aligned during our last third of life when our basic needs are met, the career is over, the kids are raised and we finally (finally!) have time for ourselves.

While making personal development a priority may appear selfish on the surface, if we are to reach our full potential as human beings, which puts us in a position to truly give our best to the world, then personal development must be a priority. If we are to age dynamically, enjoying a higher quality of life where new meaning and purpose emerge, we must continue to expand our personal capabilities. Another benefit for taking this less traveled path is greater self-esteem as we discover our unique potential. The difficult part in all of this is taking responsibility for your personal evolution, especially in the face of societal norms, which tell us we need to wind down instead of gearing up. Choosing to take action means you will not be one of the flock. You will most certainly encounter people making comments about how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or how these are your golden years…relaxation is what you’re supposed to be doing. You earned it. Right? Wrong. What you’ve earned is the right to reach your unique potential. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this course, it’s that stability is not an option. We live in a rapidly changing world. That world will continue spinning at light speed. And, it belongs to the people who are ready to change and grow with it, including those of us in the last third of life.

Clearly, as we age, our bodies will decline, health issues will arise, the parts will wear out. However, cognitive decline is not a given. Continued dynamic interaction with other people will keep neural pathways open, fending off cognitive decline. So, another benefit of working toward finding our true potential is maintaining our cognitive function. Rather than crossword puzzles, which apparently only open new neural pathways to a point, my instructor recommends Mind_Spark or Lumosity computer games. But, the best option by far is continued meaningful engagement with other human beings.

What is meaningful engagement, you ask? Well, again, in order to answer that question, you have to take responsibility for your personal evolution. That’s the part requiring introspection, thought and self-awareness. It’s work. And, working toward something meaningful, especially when you don’t know what that something may turn out to be, takes a leap of faith. The first step is identifying any self-imposed barriers to your personal growth. Our barriers often show up in negative self-talk such as, “I was never any good at doing that kind of thing.” or “I never liked doing __________.” You fill in the blank. The key here is having (1) an open mind; (2) a willingness to recognize your personal barriers as self-imposed limitations; (3) an openness to new possibilities; and (4) readiness for change. You don’t have to go jumping out of an airplane or off of a bridge with a bungee cord but you do have to be willing to ask yourself, “If I could do anything, what would it be?” And, give yourself an honest answer. You may want to read one of the recommended books for this course, “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer, to put you on the road to identifying any self-imposed barriers to your self-actualization.

There’s a lot of self, self, self here but aging dynamically is all about yourself. You are much more than your ego, your work identity, your family, your community. What could be more fun in life than seeking your true potential as a human being and actualizing that potential? What could be better than giving your family and community your full potential as a human being? The work I have done in the last few weeks has left me more open to new experiences, more aware of living in the present moment and more willing to trust my own feelings and instincts. It is absolutely empowering. As I think about what I want to be when I grow up, I feel more alive than I have in years. So, that’s where I am with the Dynamic Aging Program. There will be more to come in the next few weeks…stay tuned. In the meantime, try taking a leap of faith. No bungee cord needed.