Firsts

When was the last time you did something for the first time? For me, this was a week of a lot of firsts giving me plenty to write about in future blogs.

Workshop site

This was the first time I took a class on self-publishing, hoping to figure out the daunting task of getting my book out there. It was the first time I met Alex, the psychology student assigned to interview me for her Adulthood and Aging course at Furman University. It was the first time I ever went to a talk on Dementia Conversations about how to broach difficult subjects with someone experiencing dementia. It was the first time I started building a small workshop on my property so Martin and I have a dedicated space for creating art. It was the first time Martin and I took the BrainSpan testing that I’ll write more about after we receive our results. It was the first time I built a fobot (fake robot) with one of my grandchildren. Wow! What a week of firsts!

Working with my eight-year-old grandson reminded me how we did firsts all the time as kids. He’s curious and willing to try whatever. He uses his imagination without hesitation. If something didn’t work well building his fobot, he immediately moved on to another idea. He didn’t give up or lament the failure of the first idea. And, he had fun.  We had fun.

Take me to your leader!

As we move through life, we often get comfortable, sometimes too comfortable, with our routine, eschewing any firsts. That’s when we plateau. Avoiding meeting new people, taking on a new project or learning a new subject or skill seems easier than breaking away from our comfort zone. We like our routine. It feels, well, comfortable like a favorite old shirt or chair.

A couple of weeks ago Martin and I took a drawing workshop. All we did for three hours was learn how to draw our hands. We used our observation abilities to the nth degree studying both the palm and the back of our hands. One exercise was to then draw our hand without looking at it too much. I mentioned how I didn’t like doing the exercise. Our teacher quipped, “That’s because it makes you feel uncomfortable. You’re not used to doing it.” Ah-ha!

We adults don’t like doing things that make us feel like a fish out of water. On the other hand, kids expect to learn new things, every day, every week. That’s their routine, isn’t it? To do different tasks, learn different skills, gather up new experiences to add to their preparation for living a successful life.

As we continue to age, many of us go on to ask the question, “Is this all there is?” or worse yet, “What happened to me?” When we start asking questions like that, it’s probably time to take the plunge off the plateau or start climbing the mountain. It’s time to do something for the first time. Your routine isn’t all there is. What’s happened to you is you avoid firsts because they make you uncomfortable.

This week a friend mentioned she had applied for ten days at a silent retreat. While the attendees do chores like housekeeping, they also have six hours a day to meditate. This is not my idea of a good time, but my friend is excited about it. Being open to new experiences doesn’t mean we have to try everything we come across. Personally, this would be more of a challenge than observing and remembering the details of my hand — I don’t think I could keep my mouth closed for ten days let alone meditate for more than five minutes. If it doesn’t appeal to you on some level, a new experience just may not be for you. That said, keeping an open mind can lead you to a first that becomes part of your routine because you love doing it so much.

Think about it. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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Summer Camp For Adults

JCC Historical Registry Sign at Keith House

A couple of weeks ago I made a second escape to John C. Campbell Folk School (JCC), this time with my longtime friend, Anne. As we sat at lunch the first day, we met Laura, who was on vacation. When Anne asked her how she found the school, Laura said, “I put in summer camp for adults on my computer and this came up.”

When I Googled summer camp for adults, lots of alternatives popped up — camps for horseback riding, canoeing, camps reliving childhood with crafts during the day and bonfires at night, camps with open bars. JCC is a camp any time of the year for artists or aspiring artists or people just wanting to do something different for vacation.  You won’t find any open bars at JCC.  Learning about or improving upon an artistic pursuit is the focus. A side benefit is meeting other people and having fun. John Campbell is what I would call a working camp experience.

Since I often hear retirees saying they need a vacation (I guess everyone needs a break from routine), I decided to write a second post about this unusual school where the focus is learning folk art. Yet there is a certain building of community throughout the week. After hours and hours spent with teachers and fellow artists and three shared meals a day, you can’t help making new friends. By the time evening arrives, you may be too bushed to engage in the night time entertainment of dancing, singing and storytelling. The first night I took a hot shower and hit the sack at 8:15 p.m.

My birdhouse using an old tin can for the roof

This time around I took Tin Can Art – Anne’s choice, but I ended the week in love with this art form – hauling two large garbage bags of raw materials, gleaned from local antique and junk shops, with me in my SUV. At least six hours a day are spent learning your chosen art form with most teachers opening their studio in the evenings as well. Two extracurricular evenings was more than enough for me. Our outgoing, buoyant instructor, resident artist Trish Nicholas, gave us more than our money’s worth in techniques, tools and projects. By days end I was too tired to even say so.

On my first visit with Martin, we shared a private room and bath. This time, I had the private room, but shared a separate bath with another student in the Bidstrup House. I also took a coffee maker with me, especially since I didn’t have Martin to fetch coffee from the Keith House each morning. The spartan accommodations are clean, but as staffer Tammy tells you at orientation, “It’s not the Hampton Inn.” There is no TV, coffee maker, blow dryer or phone in your room. You won’t find an ice machine in the hallway. No one makes your bed each morning unless you do. I didn’t bother. Quiet time is designated as 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and it is plenty quiet. Set in the woods around the corner from the vegetable gardens, I encountered a rooster each morning as I left Bidstrup House to walk through the rhododendron filled woods to the dining hall.

Native rhododendrons in bloom

 

Unlike my visit in February the flower gardens were in full bloom. I took several walks just to enjoy the sights and smells of day lilies, yarrow and herbs. For anyone with aching muscles (or not) the school also provides chair and foot massages at $20 for 20 minutes. Sign up early as the time slots fill up fast!  A glass of wine or a beer in your room is o.k.  So, is reading on a porch or in a common living room at any of the houses.  Or just enjoying the mountain views.  Ahhh wilderness and relaxation.

 

 

 

While going to summer camp may not be for everyone, it is certainly a fresh experience for some of us. I’ve enjoyed my time at John Campbell Folk School and will most likely return in the future — silk making is calling my name. For anyone looking for something different to do this summer besides the usual travel sightseeing, check out summer camp for adults. You just may enjoy something out of the ordinary.

 

 

If Your Resolutions Don’t Stick, Try This

 

Mark Twain said, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.” Twain was, of course, referring to another well-known saying, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions’.

I always had good intentions when it came to making New Year’s resolutions, but as Twain indicates, it took no time at all for me to abandon them. With that thought in mind, a few years ago, I stopped making the annual list of good intentions. If I couldn’t do it at any other time of the year, putting a fresh calendar on my wall wasn’t going to give enough incentive to do it now.

A couple of years ago I noticed a new trend toward resolutions when a fellow blogger wrote a post about his word for the year. Then, last year another blogger wrote about her word for the year. Consequently, I began noticing more buzz about choosing a word to give the new year a personal theme. Perhaps it works. Maybe because a word/theme is more general than specific resolutions. I don’t know because I haven’t seen any follow-up articles extolling the virtues of choosing a theme.

That said, I’m adopting this recent trend for 2017 just for fun. Who knows? Maybe it will become my yearly custom. I’ll let you know how it went for me when 2018 appears on the horizon. Now, for the word I am choosing…ta da — Creativity.

Reading these pages you already know I am a proponent of creativity as a means to maintain brain health as we age. And, this is not just my theory. It is backed up by scads of research dating back decades. A creative mind is an open, flexible mind. Remember my mantra, ‘change is the only thing you can count on in life’. If, instead of dwelling on the past, including your glory days, you are open to change and new experiences, you stack the odds in your favor for aging well.

Creativity comes in all shapes and forms. It is not just arts and crafts, although that is certainly a great way to engage your mind in new activities. When I’m planning my garden for the spring crops or deciding what to do with extra plants, I’m being creative. If you belong to a chess or mahjong club, you are engaging in analysis, options, making decisions. You are being creative. When you review your budget, analyze your portfolio, figure out your next financial move, you are being creative. When you volunteer for an organization and are faced with dilemmas, your solutions are a form of creativity.

We are all creative. How we express our creativity is up to us. The key is attitude. One of an open, flexible mind. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t — you’re right.” If you think you are not creative, you won’t be creative. If you think retirement has nothing to offer, you will come up empty. On the other hand, if you think of yourself as creative, innovation, opportunities and new experiences will abound.

My big, fat word is CREATIVITY in all aspects. During 2017 I intend to continue cultivating an openness to new experiences. And, perhaps that is, after all, a New Year’s resolution.

Wishing all my readers a happy, healthy, creative New Year!

Love,

Kathy

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

Last week’s post “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know” received a lot of comments. One of the comments came from Nancy, who cited a book another reader mentioned in an earlier comment. Nancy is reading the book and highly recommends it.

After reading some reviews of the book, I decided to pass the information on to everyone as it looks like it can help you find your path in retirement. Deanna originally mentioned the book back on June 11 in a comment and I thank her for that. Although Nancy picked up on Deanna’s comment, I obviously missed the import of the book. Ain’t that a kick in the pants! This scenario reminded me I don’t know what I don’t know and need to keep my eyes, ears and mind open.

The book, “It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again — Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond” is written by Julia Cameron. It should show up in my mailbox today, so I have not read it — just reviews and parts of it online.  I did read her book “The Right To Write”.  Cameron, 68, is an artist. Stop right there. The book is not about becoming an artist although there are many, many forms of art and you may end up finding one you like. Cameron is also a creativity teacher and her books include exercises and prompts for helping you figure things out.

In the introduction to this book, Cameron tells us why she wrote it. I think this will resonate with some of you as it did with me.

“Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book on creativity called The Artists Way. It spelled out, in a step-by-step fashion, just what a person could do to recover — and exercise —their creativity. I often called that book “The Bridge” because it allowed people to move from the shore of their constrictions and fears [self-imposed limitations] to the promised land of deeply fulfilling creativity. The Artists Way was used by people of all ages, but I found my just-retired students the most poignant. I sensed in them a particular problem set that came with maturity. Over the years, many of them asked me for help dealing with issues specific to transitioning out of the work force.”

Cameron goes on to describe the book as her attempt to answer the question we all have about this stage of our lives, “What next?” Along with the many forms of art, there are also many forms of creativity. No matter what your career consisted of doing, from engineer to fashion designer, you engaged in creativity in some way. I was a banker and real estate executive yet business required a certain amount of creativity to get the job done. Inventing your retirement life will also take a certain amount of creativity on your part. Cameron’s step-by-step approach may well help you figure it out.

One of the steps involves memoir writing. This exercise is not to make you into a writer. It is there to put you in touch with your life experience. It’s in keeping with my advice to re-visit your childhood self. About 18 months ago I took a memoir writing class. Since than I’ve taken several other writing classes and continued with memoir writing. Why? Because it caused me to drill down into my past and excavate so much of myself buried under a lifetime of working. It helped me remember me. It helped me to fully transition from work to retirement. I regret not passing this piece of wisdom on to my readers earlier. It took reading the reviews about Cameron’s book for me to realize what a gem this exercise is for finding out who you are and who you want to be in your third stage of life.

That said, if you do read the book, I would love to hear what you think and if it did indeed help. As always, I love to hear from my readers. You often pass on wisdom or information such as this and that helps all of us. A great big thank you and hugs to Deanna and Nancy!

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Occasionally I receive questions or comments from readers describing their unhappiness in retirement. Some ask how to get to their happy place. My belief, and this is just that, my belief, is we create our own happiness. Our perceptions of self and how the world looks to us is created by our beliefs, like the belief I just attributed to my thinking. I also ascribe to the notion of I don’t know what I don’t know. If there is something about my life I don’t like, I go in search of answers and change my outlook in order to change the outcome.

When I was searching for satisfaction and happiness in my own situation after retiring, I came across the concept of self-imposed limitations. I realized I was the creator of my unhappiness because I was engaging in self-talk that limited my view of retirement, which in turn limited my options. That, folks, kept me in the same holding pattern, circling the same airport with the same destination — unhappy retirement. In order to fly to a new destination, I had to break the pattern.

While you are writing to me about your unhappiness, describing what you don’t like and don’t want to do, on my end I am reading ‘self-imposed limitations’. You write, “I don’t like crafts”; “I’m not a hobby person”; “I’m not a joiner”; “I don’t like doing volunteer work”; “I’m not artistic”; “my husband, wife, friends don’t want to do this or that”; and I read ‘self-imposed limitations’. These are all statements describing your personal belief about your reality. They are beliefs that limit what you are doing or will do in your life. YOU are the person standing in the way of YOUR happy retirement.

Retirement is a time to reach your personal potential as a human being. Self-imposed limitations are negative self-talk preventing you from putting your dent in the universe. The first step to ridding yourself of this mindset is to recognize it. What are you telling yourself that is limiting, negative and without a proven basis?

For example, I waffled back and forth about taking drawing classes after my perceived failure at watercolor. I told myself things like, “I’m really not artistic. Who am I kidding? I can’t even draw a straight line.” I was talking myself out of taking the class using self-imposed limitations. Fortunately, I have a husband who encouraged me to try it. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I made the discovery of a lifetime. I still can’t draw a straight line, but I can draw people, animals, flowers and a lot of other things. And, now, I’m trying watercolor again, with some success.  Think about what you may be missing in life because you are filling your mind with self-imposed limitations. Recognize them and replace them with positive self-talk.

There was a TV show about getting people to face and overcome their biggest fears. Though I never watched it, I remember seeing a clip of someone facing their fear of snakes. What are you afraid of that keeps you from trying something new in retirement? What is your snake? Dig deep. Be honest. Sometimes we don’t try, failing before we even start, because we are afraid of exactly that — failing. “What if I have to drop out because I really am not good at __________(you fill in the blank)?” “What will my friends say?” “How embarrassing to fail.” “People will think I’m a loser if I don’t finish.”

So what if it doesn’t work out? This is not like it was in your work world where if you couldn’t rise to the task or the promotion, you might face all kinds of humiliation from co-workers, family and friends. You are retired. Expect to try new activities and expect to have some stick and some not. That’s part of the retirement adventure! Face your fears. Challenge yourself.

Choose to do something you told yourself you don’t like or won’t be good at doing or you are not the type of person who does that. Then, do it. And, do it with an open mind and heart. Determine up front to give it your best.

I told myself for years I was not athletic. I never did well in gym or sports as a kid and carried that picture of myself into my adult years. That was a self-imposed limitation. After having my second child, I took up running just to lose the extra pounds I couldn’t seem to shake. That’s when I discovered what I didn’t enjoy was team sports. I preferred to rely on my own steam, my performance and mine alone. I ran three miles a day every other day for several years until an overworked knee put a stop to it.

Until we try something, we don’t know what we don’t know. We must continually challenge ourselves to try new activities or new twists on old activities in order to discover our true potential and talents. Enlist a spouse or friend to advocate for you when you start talking yourself out of doing what you signed up to do. My husband played that part in the scenario with the drawing class. Now he and I remind each other when we are applying self-imposed limitations. It helps to have a buddy to keep your mind both aware and open.

This is our last third of life. We can create the life we envisioned with an attitude of exploration, discovery and adventure or we can choose to languish with self-imposed limitations until the day we die. I hope this post will encourage at least some of you who seem to be stuck to dump the self-imposed limitations and choose adventure.

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW

Native American in pencil

Native American in pencil

Since I was traveling this week, I’m reposting a previous post from July 2014.  I hope you enjoy it a second time around.  I’ll be back next week with a fresh post.  Until then…

We need purpose in life. That is a given. And, that is one of the challenges we face throughout our lives. Retirement is no different. While you lived your work life, you probably reinvented yourself many times, developing new skills, taking on a new position or switching careers altogether. If you looked for a new job at a new company, you probably threw yourself into job hunting, updating your resume, looking at different companies and opportunities. This may have been a very exciting endeavor giving you a renewed sense of purpose. During this time, you may have also taken on the role of spouse and, then, parent. More transitions, adjustments and challenges as you wended your way through these new roles. Though stressful at times all of these provided purpose in your life.

Now, you have waved goodbye to the regular work life and the kids have flown the nest (hopefully). And, as some of you have written, retirement is not all you dreamed it would be. Setting aside the normal transitioning, disillusionment, grieving the good parts of your old work life, in order to reach a state of renewed purpose, put yourself in the same mode you did when you went after a new position, a promotion, a job with another company. Become open and exploratory. Prepare to reinvent yourself in order to re-purpose your life. The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find satisfaction with your retired life.

A reader recently mentioned how they would love to hear more stories about people successfully transitioning into retirement. So, would I. If you have a story to tell, please pass it on.  To get us started, here’s how I found retirement bliss or Atchley’s Stage 5 of a Retirement Routine. It took me about two years. For some it will be shorter; for others, it may be longer.

If you don’t have a bucket list, make one. Though it’s become something of a cliché these days, the bucket list is a very useful tool for getting your dreams down on paper. I have my bucket list and, for those of you who have been with me for a while, you know one of my dreams was to take classes in watercolor painting. I didn’t expect to become world famous or even be all that good as I never thought I had any artistic talent. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised or felt the disappointment I did when the class turned out to be a disaster. But, being the trooper I am, I decided the real problem was not knowing how to draw.

On a whim, I signed up for a drawing class. Then, the little voice in my head started saying things like, “Who are you kidding? You can’t even draw a smiley face so what makes you think you can draw anything at all?” Doubt, that destroyer of dreams, would not get out of my head. I decided to cancel. But, my dear husband, talked me into sticking with it and giving me an out. If, after a couple of classes, I felt the same as I did with watercolor, I would just drop the course.

'Bella' in pencil

‘Bella’ in pencil

Well, I never dropped it. Instead, by the fourth class, it was exhilaratingly apparent that not only can I draw, but I am talented. Since then, I have taken two more classes, moving on to pen and ink and colored pencils. I spend hours upon hours drawing. I’ve made new friends. In addition to the art, I enjoy the camaraderie with the other students.

I’m looking forward to more courses this fall with a new instructor and other perspectives. I have not felt this much excitement about a discovery of my personal abilities since I was 16 and took my first journalism course. Learning to draw has changed my life. And, think about it, I almost didn’t even give it a shot. What seems like a masterstroke from the outside, I know was nothing more than the luck of the draw. I tried something that stuck.

‘Autumn Joy’ pen & ink pointillism

If you are carrying around old notions about your likes and dislikes or what you can or can’t do, discard them now. If doubt clouds your thinking, kick doubt to the curb. Henry Ford once said, “Think you can, think you can’t; either way you’ll be right.”

Reinventing yourself, repurposing your life requires an openness to new possibilities. It requires a willingness to try new activities. It requires taking some risk. In order to be a success at anything, you have to be willing to fail. After my perceived failure with watercolor, I didn’t want to fail again with drawing. It was easier to cancel then to face the possibility of another mistake. But, in retirement, all bets are off. Put yourself out there today and find your purpose. And, send me your story.

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.

Putting Your Dent In The Universe

 

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The universe as seen from the Hubble telescope

Everyone has unique potential because everyone has innate talents just waiting to be used by the universe. For example, while cleaning out a box of keepsakes a while back I looked at my second grade report card (yes, I still had it) and noticed how I excelled at spelling and grammar, not so good at arithmetic. Spelling abilities later led to A grades in English, which led to Journalism classes and a stint as copy editor of my high school newspaper. See, even as a child my gift for verbal acuity was clear, innate. Retirement is a time to discover or rediscover talents, passions, gifts. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. If you haven’t done that to date, your last third of life is your last opportunity.

A couple of weeks ago a reader, Paul Wilkes, sent me a copy of his most recent book Your Second To Last Chapter. Paul has written some twenty books so writing a book isn’t unusual for him. However, what he writes about in Your Second To Last Chapter is in keeping with much of what I spout on this blog.

Paul’s small but insightful book chronicles his feeling empty and unfulfilled in retirement until he found, yes, I’m going to say it again, new meaning and purpose. The cover catch phrase “Creating a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms” sums it up nicely. Paul already had a very enviable gig as a visiting professor at a university, a supporting role to his wife, Tracy’s volunteer work and the ability to travel to far off destinations. Yet, he felt something was missing in his life.

Then, on a month-long trip to India he serendipitously met a former street beggar at a home for girls. Her story and the conditions at the home would tug at anyone’s heart strings. But, Paul decided to take a small step to help the girls’ home. What began as a quest to obtain mattresses for the girls, so they wouldn’t be sleeping on straw mats laid upon a concrete floor, turned into a full-fledged passion to change their lives completely. In doing so, Paul changed his own life, filling up the empty place inside him.

While we are not all cut out to raise huge sums of money and wend our way through the logistics to transform a home and educate children living in deplorable conditions, we are all cut out for something bigger. Oftentimes, in my life, while going on my merry way, something happens out of the blue, something unexpected, which if I stop and listen, may change my life or someone else’s life or both.

I call this a personal Black Swan Event. Technically, a Black Swan is an unexpected, surprising event with huge cultural changing influence on the world in general. Behind a Black Swan Event is an outlier. For example, Bill Gates is an outlier, a person, who through their actions, brings about a world-changing event, such as Gate’s software to run personal computers. We all have events in our lives that, in hindsight, changed our personal trajectory.

I’m no Bill Gates, but I have done a few things in my life, which changed some other lives. For several years I helped raise money and planted garden beds at a domestic abuse shelter. I pleaded with friends and neighbors, business connections and anyone who would listen to give. I called and emailed state and Congressional legislators to support bills to thwart domestic violence. A starving cat eating bird food off of a rock wall behind my house led to my rescuing many, many cats.

I did not seek out these causes. They just knocked at my door and I chose to open it and let them in. There are others I turned away from because they did not speak to my passion.

Another event that knocked at my door was the creation of this blog. I know from your comments and emails, I have helped more than a few of you figure out some things about retirement or, at the very least, know there is more to retiring than having enough money. Writing a blog was not even a tiny seed of a thought in my mind when I retired. My personal frustration with finding answers to what I was feeling led me to dust off my innate writing talent and launch the blog. Then, you found me. Thank you for the following! I humbly hope I continue to offer insights and ideas of value.

Finding our passion is not easy. Even if we approach this quest with an open mind and heart, the answer can elude us. Our society is one of accumulating stuff, spending money to make ourselves feel better about the emptiness gnawing at us or to add a moment of pleasure or excitement to our lives.

That moment, however, is a flash in the pan as the feeling, the newness of our purchase quickly wears off. Ditto for retirement adventures such as traveling the world or buying an RV to see the country. I’ve spoken to plenty of retirees who spent years in the retirement honeymoon stage of enjoying themselves with travel, golf, tennis, book clubs, art or whatever. Then they woke up one day like Paul Wilkes and said, “I feel empty. Now what?”

None of these leisure activities put our dent in the universe unless, of course, we take them, somehow, to creating something meaningful, purposeful. All they do is take up a patch of time and temporarily fill the hole in our soul and help fuel the economy, making Wall Street happy, but doing little to permanently fill any personal void. With the possibility of living to be one hundred becoming more and more likely, you could spend ten years playing and still have twenty years or more left to put your dent in the universe. Then what?

If you are one of the people voicing disillusionment with retirement, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is there something I did as a child or teen that excited me yet I never thought it possible? We all had childhood dreams. You may have an adulthood dream but backed away from trying it for fear of failure. I met a man last year who didn’t go to college until later in life because he thought he wasn’t smart enough. He thought he would fail. Conversely, some people back away because they fear success. How will they handle their dream if it actually materializes? Will they be able to step up to the plate and keep their success afloat?
  2. Do you give up too easily? Paul Wilkes talks about the obstacles, the set backs, the mistakes. His passion for what he is doing moves him forward. We never know what we are capable of doing unless we try.
  3. Speaking of trying, are you willing to try new activities until you find your passion? Or, do you place self-imposed limitations on yourself? Being open is imperative to finding your passion. Remember the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’? Keep going until you find the activity that sets your soul on fire.

If you are spending too much time on busy work, if you are spending too much time meeting people for coffee or lunch, if you find yourself watching too much TV, if you find yourself depressed in retirement, if you spend money on stuff you don’t need, if you find yourself bored, if you’re complaining a lot, if you don’t like your life, if you don’t have an activity that feeds your soul, then take the leap.

 
Get out of your comfort zone. Be open to finding your passion. Be open to listening to life as it whispers to you about how to use your unique potential. We only have one chance to put our dent in the universe. Don’t blow it!

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.

AN ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT

After writing my last post, many of you wrote telling me what gave you renewed purpose in life after transitioning from work life to retirement. THANK YOU! I enjoyed reading all of your stories, comments and notes. There were a couple of surprises from this informal survey but most of you found renewed purpose by finding a new activity, which struck a personal cord. There was an undeniable thread of joy, which ran through all of your stories of self-discovery. Now, I’d like to share the results with all my readers. Since many of the writers asked for anonymity, I’ve decided not to post any comments received on the previous post nor give too much detail.

Most of you retired as I did, cold turkey. No part-time work to ease into retirement like my doctor suggested as the ideal scenario. In fact, a few wrote about leaving work due to stress. For the most part, it wasn’t clear what type of stress but a couple of people wrote about age discrimination and being pushed out by a younger supervisor and/or co-workers. One writer mentioned feeling an urgent need to find new purpose in order to fully move forward in life and leave the stress behind. There was only one writer, but it’s good news we had one, who chronicled a five-year transition into retirement, working three-quarters of the month, including some telecommuting for the company that employed them for 37 years. This writer’s spouse enjoyed a similar arrangement with their employer. So, I guess we can count that as two who were able to transition into retirement the way my doctor suggested. Even after this transitional period, the employer still wanted to keep them around for special projects. Smart employer! Since this person did a lot of pre-planning and transitioning into retirement, when the moment finally came, it was more of a non-event with little transitioning left to do. Most of us, however, do not have the luxury of such an accommodating employer.

The big surprise for me is how most of you found renewed purpose in arts and crafts. While there are a few of you who fell in love with gardening, even a couple who have hobby farms, it seems most retirees are part of an arts and crafts movement. And, gardening can even be considered a type of art form for it requires a certain amount of creativity. Far from unusual, I am not the only one to discover artistic talent after a career in a vastly different environment. After life as attorneys, accountants, bankers, realtors, office managers, manufacturing jobs, medical technicians, teachers, IT administrators, nurses and more, most of you found renewed purpose in painting in all mediums…watercolor, acrylics, oil, jewelry making, sculpture in both clay and metal, glass bead making, knitting and felting, stained glass, photography, weaving, quilting, wood carving and collage art. Two of you mentioned supplementing retirement income with the sale of your art work and one is even teaching an art class. Some of you spoke of travel but it was almost always in conjunction with your ability to photograph new scenes or explore local art and culture. You also spoke of making new friends within the arts and crafts community, joining clubs and social networks centered around your chosen art or craft. I recently spotted a sign in an art shop. It said, “Artists never retire.” Perhaps that’s why we are drawn to our creative sides in retirement. We have now created a job for life.

Another surprise was how no one mentioned volunteering as an activity, which offered renewed purpose. Only a couple of you mentioned any volunteer work at all and even that was as an aside, an “I also do this” type of remark. As a volunteer for the Master Gardener Program, I fully enjoy working the booth at the local farmers market where I answer gardening questions and hand out information to all kinds of people from all walks of life. It makes for a fun morning. However, it’s not something I want to do everyday. Yesterday, at lunch with a friend, I asked for her thoughts on this as she, too, does volunteer work, but, it’s not her focus. Her not-so-surprising comment, “ I don’t want to be scheduled.” I believe, for most of us, volunteering is too much like working a job. It comes with time constraints, supervisors and work-like responsibilities. Many of us want to give back to our community in some way but in retirement, we also want to enjoy a less structured, more relaxing life. If anyone has other thoughts or ideas about this, please chime in.

To all of you, no matter where you are, no matter what your circumstance, I thank you for all of your heartfelt responses. I hope this post inspires those of you who have not yet found a renewed purpose in life to explore the possibilities, explore your wants and needs and perhaps ignite a spark within, which you didn’t know was there.