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.

 

 

Getting Old Does Not Suck!

Enjoying my age!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Should You Join AARP?

This article was originally posted in February 2014. It is still one of the most read posts on my blog, so with a little editing, I’m reposting it today.

During the last year I’ve read a few articles posted on other retirement blogs and in magazines asking this same question. Should you join AARP? All of the articles, like most information about retirement, focus on the financial aspects of becoming an AARP member. In other words, are the discounts on travel accommodations, insurance and restaurants worth the $12 per year membership fee? Every article ends up saying for the most part you can get the discounts anyway just by virtue of your age as many companies give senior discounts starting at age 55 or 60. So, instead of flashing your AARP membership card, simply flash your driver license with birth date and you receive the discount without spending an additional $12 a year to obtain it. If you’re looking at AARP strictly for discounts, this is probably true, unless you’re in the 50-54 age range, in which case, joining AARP at 50 may get you some discounts you won’t otherwise receive. But, I didn’t join AARP for the discounts. And, I think there’s a financial aspect being overlooked in these articles.

When Ethel Percy Andrus founded the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 1958, I was only knee high to a grasshopper, just learning how to spell in Miss Niles’ first grade class. Spelling ‘retirement’ wasn’t even on my radar much less what it meant. For Andrus, however, it meant taking up the cause of aging persons seeking dignity, quality of life and, yes, health insurance.

In 1958 she saw a need to expand the organization she founded in 1947 for retired teachers seeking health insurance. At a time when health insurance was pretty much non-existent for older Americans, Andrus approached many insurance companies looking for one that would insure retirees. While many view AARP as started by insurance companies to sell insurance, I beg to differ.   As Andrus lobbied insurance companies to cover retirees, I believe AARP started out as and still is, a lobbying organization for older people — retirees, seniors, persons of independent means. Whatever you want to call us.

AARP is a voice for us in Washington and even some other parts of the world. Spending $23 million a year on lobbying efforts and with nearly 40 million members, it is one of the largest lobbying organizations in the United States. AARP makes American seniors a powerhouse to be reckoned with and listened to. Having graduated from Miss Niles’ first grade class to baby boomer rabble-rouser, making my voice heard in Washington, even as I age, is the main reason I shell out $12 per year to be a member of what is now officially only known by the acronym AARP.

Yes, I like the discounts I use from time to time. I like the magazine and newsletter I receive. And, since I’m also on the information highway, I like receiving financial, health and lifestyle newsletters in my email inbox. I particularly like their advice on movies made for adults (get your mind out of the gutter…they’re referring to intelligence and maturity). How else will I know which flicks are trending now and worth watching? Yes, I could trawl the web, Google this or that, and probably come up with the same info. But, being a little on the lazy side, I’m willing to shell out the $12 for someone else to do it for me. And, included in this bargain is a membership for your spouse, no additional charge. But, the biggie…a gargantuan lobby.

While some believe AARP’s agenda is too liberal with its focus on hunger, income, housing, health insurance and isolation, the organization certainly keeps the needs of older people in the minds of our politicians. With today’s political agenda of budget cutting and wish to eliminate items like Social Security and Medicare or at least drastically alter these programs, there could not be a more relevant reason for joining AARP.

And, with the money and sheer numbers, it’s enough to make any aspiring politico think about what could happen in the voting booth. With a family history of longevity on my side, I figure I have about 30 years left on this planet. And, being part of a generation who is used to having its way in the world, I have no intention of leaving my voice behind with the workplace. So, when I read about the financial ups and downs of paying out $12 a year, that’s $1 a month, I think there’s a financial component not being addressed. Just think if there was no AARP. Do you think our friends in Washington would hesitate to rip Social Security and Medicare to shreds? I don’t know the answer to that. But, I do know I’m not willing to chance it, not for $12 a year.

For more information about joining AARP, go to http://www.AARP.org.

Is There A Normal Retirement?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living On The Edge

At the podium (all photos courtesy of WAHHI)

At the podium (all photos courtesy of WAHHI)

I am sometimes asked by readers what they should do to have a fulfilling retirement. That is a very personal question, which only they can answer. What I do know is they have to live on the edge — their personal edge. Living on your personal edge means leaving your comfort zone. Last week I did exactly that.

Back in November a question came to me through the blog from Lilabeth Parrish, Program Chair for the Women’s Association of Hilton Head Island (WAHHI) asking if I ever did speaking engagements. Before emailing an answer I thought about the question. Prior to retiring, speaking before audiences was a regular part of my routine, especially as a real estate instructor. After I retired, I gave several presentations on gardening as part of the Master Gardener Program. Did I speak publicly about retirement? No, never, because, until now, no one ever asked me to.  However, I was open to the idea.

After a phone conversation with Lilabeth and WAHHI President Kathy Reynolds, I agreed to give the presentation at their February 8 luncheon. To my surprise and delight I learned this is an organization of several hundred. Giving a speech before even a fraction of that number was enough to make my knees quake.

I was definitely about to live on my personal edge. From the get go I would be leaving my comfort zone. I would need to write the speech. I would have to practice the speech. I would have to deliver the speech. I would have to be confident and assured. I would have to motivate, inspire and entertain all at once.

Kathy Reynolds, Me and Lilabeth Parrish

Kathy Reynolds, Me and Lilabeth Parrish

The entire process reminded me of work, but in a good way. I felt challenged, excited and even a little afraid. My mind conjured the usual self-imposed limitations. All the what-ifs crowded in trying to supplant my confidence in my ability to deliver. I pushed them aside, enlisted the help of some friends to read the speech, listen to the speech and give me honest feedback. Thank you Claudia and Paulette! The speech was written, re-written and re-written and re-written so many times I lost count. It was recorded and played back, and recorded and played back, and recorded yet again and played back yet again.

On February 8 I was uncertain no more. Quite comfortable with what I was about to do, I mingled with this wonderful group of women. Their February mission was collecting cookies for first responders in the community and jewelry for a Valentine’s surprise for nursing home residents. Valentine themed centerpieces adorned the tables and many of the women wore red or pink. The organization’s energy filled me to the brim.

A meaningful retirement belongs to those of us who take a leap into uncharted territory. If someone told me five years ago I would be standing on a stage in Hilton Head giving a speech on The Changing Landscape of Retirement, I would have thought them crazy. At that time, this blog was not anywhere on my horizon. Stepping outside my comfort zone created a new work life for me in retirement. And, I love what I’m doing.

Living on your personal edge at any time of life provides a feeling of empowerment. You did it, whatever ‘it’ is. In retirement it’s easy to sit back in the comfort of what you know. Taking some risk, trying something new, discarding self-imposed limitations is the only way to find what fills you up in your retirement. By doing exactly that, I found my personal edge — what’s yours?

Crabs In A Pot

 

 

Crabs in a Pot

Crabs in a Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fences

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries

In the past few weeks I’ve had more than one friend tell me how, now that they are over 60, they’re having an easier time telling people what they actually think. They are having an easier time saying, “No” and putting their needs first.

One said, “Do you think that’s selfish?” My resounding answer was and is, “Absolutely not! In fact, it’s healthy.”

On the other hand I encountered someone trying to please everyone. As she found out, not for the first time, pleasing everyone is an impossible task. I’ve learned the act of trying to please one person often means being unfair to another person. Then, when that person squawks and you try to alter the situation to please them, the first person is affronted. What a mess! It’s a no-win situation for the people-pleaser.

Being a people-pleaser takes its toll on our stress level. While the people-pleaser is trying to please others, they are usually putting their feelings and needs aside. We already have our own problems. Increasing that burden by accepting ownership of someone else’s feelings or problems also increases our stress level. The current mantra of “Not my circus; not my monkey” is a healthy thought. Leaving someone else’s monkey on their back means you are setting boundaries.

All too often we look at setting personal boundaries as building fences that keep others out. In reality we are making others responsible and accountable for their situation. Remember the old saying, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Just like a physical fence along a lot line, setting personal boundaries tells others which space is yours and which space belongs to them. It sets the tone of respect for your emotions, your time and your well-being.

One of the situations I’ve come across in retirement is people who think I am sitting around with lots and lots of time on my hands just waiting for them to give me something to do. Before I retired I was warned by an already-retired acquaintance how I would need to guard my time jealously. He was correct. This is where I found it necessary to set boundaries time and again as people thought I would make a great volunteer for their organization or I had time for one more class or an afternoon of playing cards or joining one more club or group. I struggle at times, but for my personal sanity I learned to say, “No.”

Most of the time I’m in a give and take relationship where my decision is accepted graciously. There is mutual respect. However, if my decision is not respected and pushback ensues, I have no qualms about pushing back myself. And, yes, I find it easier to tell people what I want, need and think now that I’m in my sixties. After decades of caring for others, sometimes to my detriment, this time is for me. Oh, I still have people I care for and want to take care of, but I put my needs at the top of the pecking order.

Working on self-awareness is wholly necessary to reach self-confidence in setting boundaries. Being mindful of who you are in retirement, what you want from these years and what you need emotionally to achieve a fulfilling lifestyle will help you stay on your chosen path. Fences do not keep people out; fences allow you to thrive on your terms.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

This post first appeared on March 18, 2013.  Given the tumultuous political season just past in the US, I decided to post it again.  Change comes from everyday people taking courage to do extraordinary things.

 

When I started this blog, this post was not the kind of post I had in mind. This is not meant to start any kind of political debate. Nor is it meant to place blame. It is simply something which has been on my mind due to what I’m seeing in the news. Just like every post I write, these are simply my thoughts put in writing. That said, if you have constructive thoughts you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a few stories in the news and read some posts on other blogs and list serves about sexism and ageism in America. The views range from Sheryl Sandberg’s view that women must rid themselves of the internal barriers to gaining power in the workplace to male nurses are paid more than female nurses because, well, because they are male. Reading through the conversations on a senior forum, the answers behind the question of ageism from this group of mainly professionals, seems to be the mindset of both the general public as well as workers in the senior care professions. As someone who is categorized as one of the point women fueling the feminist movement of the 1970’s, I say we’ve come along way, baby, but the consciousness raising ain’t done. Mindset on both counts.

So, how is mindset changed? And why is it important to change it? Well, the first answer is that old-fashioned (yes, the tools of the 1970’s are now old-fashioned) consciousness raising is what changes mindset.

I’m not talking about what is politically correct here. I’m talking about our internal beliefs brought to life each and every day through our words and actions. I’m also talking about changing those internal beliefs because it’s practical to change.

That brings me to my answer on the second question. I see sexism and ageism as being linked. And, it’s important to change the attitudes because our society has evolved, but our mindset hasn’t kept pace with the evolution.

It’s no secret. In general, women still outlive men. Yet, women, and their partners, don’t take their working and saving and, yes, contributing to Social Security, as seriously as they should.

The majority of women work today. We are also still the parent who puts aside career in favor of raising our children to a certain age before we head back to work. As a working mother, I know first hand how hard that is and how important that is. From a practical standpoint, I also know, currently, the Social Security Administration will take your 35 highest income years to compute your Social Security benefit.

I have also met many women who forego maxing out their 401k contribution in favor of their spouse’s plan. Why? Mindset. The reason many women live their old age in poverty is because they tend to take care of others before taking care of themselves.

The change in mindset starts with women just as it did in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It is up to women to demand equal pay for equal work. The fact that John Doe has been on the job longer is a red herring if Mary Doe is up to the same speed. You might even say, if Mary can rev her engine at the same rpm’s as John, without the years, then Mary may be the better qualified employee.

It’s also up to Mary to start taking care of Mary by saying to her partner, “I’m putting as much in my retirement fund as you are, Honey”. And, by the way, I need 35 years in the workforce making as much as I can, so if you die first and leave me alone, or, if we’re among the 60% who divorce, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from in my old age.

Reading the comments on ageism, I found it interesting how several people thought our society needed a Gloria Steinem or a Rosa Parks to make a stand and raise our consciousness about ageism. As someone who watched Gloria Steinem on the evening news way back in the late 1960’s, I must say she was an influence on the direction my mindset took. However, the real work was done by everyday people with the courage to stand up in the face of societal norms and say, “That’s not acceptable anymore.”

Well, people don’t age the way they used to. The reason Social Security and Medicare are in trouble isn’t because of any federal deficit or economic downturn. While the reason is a lot more complicated than this, the short and the long of it is we are living longer. We have better medical care. We have more options available to us. Seniors are more active, more involved than ever. When seniors leave the workforce, if they do at all, they aren’t going home to die. They are going on to a new, exciting chapter of their life journey. Our society has changed. Retirement has evolved. Yet, we hang onto the old stereotypes of aging and the aged — ageism.

Mahatma Gandhi is credited with the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, if we want to get rid of sexism and ageism, it’s up to each of us to first get rid of the internal barriers preventing each of us from changing our mindset. We don’t need a Rosa Parks or a Gloria Steinem or a Mahatma Gandhi. After all, at one moment, each of them were just ordinary people willing to take action, to speak up. So, all we really need is the courage of our convictions. Catching up with our societal evolution depends on it.

Second Fastest Old Man In The State

This post first appeared on June 18, 2013.

At the finish line

At the finish line

After nine months of training including over 3,000 miles of bicycling, we headed to the coast for Martin to compete in the South Carolina State Time Trial Championships. When he was working, he didn’t have the time to dedicate to rigorous training and a chance to place in the top three. So, the time trial made it onto his retirement bucket list.

The championship breaks the riders up into age categories. Even though Martin is only 59, on his next birthday, he’ll be 60 so he is in the 60 – 65 year olds. Weird, but that’s how they do it. Being one of the youngest riders in his age category also presents the opportunity to check a gold, silver or bronze medal off his bucket list.

Packed and ready, Friday morning we drove the three and a half hours through the Land of Charles to Charles Town for the race. For you history buffs, Carolina is latin for Charles. The “Merry King” Charles granted the land of the Carolinas to his buddies, but named it for himself. Then, his grateful friends, named the sea port Charles Town, which eventually became Charleston. A liberal bastion in a conservative state, Charleston is known world wide for its gracious southern hospitality, beautiful historic district, jazz clubs and inspired regional cuisine. However, the area is chosen for the time trial, not for any of the above, but because it is flat, flat, flat.

Following a yummy lunch of chicken and pasta in fresh tomato sauce at the Kings Street Grill, Martin and I head north on Highway 17 to find the time trial course. The 25 mile course starts at Seewee Outpost north of Charleston.

Driving the highway, the first thing I notice is the lack of buildings and parking lots up against the street. Looking down the road, it appears we are in the middle of no where. All I see are towering pines and oaks with an occasional sign announcing a shopping center or business hidden behind the green space. These folks do not want an ugly view of brick, steel and asphalt.

Whoever’s in charge of city planning is really in charge. The green space isn’t the usual landscaped facade put up after all the natural vegetation is bull dozed to oblivion, then burned or hauled away. It is the natural vegetation. It’s the green stuff Mother Nature put there. Under mature pines and oaks is what most folks call scrub brush. Saplings, native grasses, Spanish bayonet, Dogwoods, vines, whatever Mother Nature dictates. Peeking through the deep expanse of green, I spy the most beautiful Walmart I’ve ever seen. Yes, really — a Walmart in full brick, huge curved front wall and columned portico on its face.

Looking at all this, we somehow can’t find the Seewee Outpost. Well, maybe it’s because the navigator (me) is too busy looking at the great big nursery we pass. But, with all the green space, we zip right by the Outpost. Looking at our map on the iPad (no, we don’t have a GPS…we’re old fashioned that way), I know it should be on the edge of Francis Marion National Park. So, I tell Martin to pull into the Education Center and I hop out to just, quick like a bunny, run in to ask where the Outpost is.

Inside, the ranger tells me the Seewee Outpost is about a mile back on the right. As I listen to her I see a table filled with info on native plants, habitat building and attracting butterflies. When she finishes giving directions, I tell her how I’m a Master Gardener with an interest in native plants and ask if I can take some of the flyers. “Oh, I have something for you! Just come with me,” she says.

wildflower-poster

Wildflower poster

I follow her into a back room.  We keep chatting as she pulls open long, narrow drawers and starts handing me beautiful posters on slick paper. Posters of South Carolina wild flowers, edible plants, mushrooms and trees. By the time Martin starts worrying about me and comes inside to hunt me down, I have four posters, which the ranger and I are rolling up to secure with a rubber band.

Saying goodbye to my new friend and wishing I had more time to spend at the Education Center, Martin and I drive back to the Seewee Outpost, buy some bottled water and then drive the time trial course.  This is so he knows what to expect with the terrain. It is flat, Baby, flat. Before heading back to our hotel, we stop at the big nursery and, of course, I buy a plant.

Next morning race registration starts at 7 a.m. so we arrive at, you guessed it, 7 a.m. Martin registers. Then, we forage for breakfast. He’s #67. Time trial starts at 9 a.m. with a rider pushing off every minute. That translates into a start time of 10:06 for Martin. The wait begins.

Returning from breakfast, he wanders around talking to other riders and watching the first ones out of the gate, while I start taking photos and log in to Facebook to post the event for our family and friends. The well wishes come rolling in.

Another rider assists

Another rider assists

Shortly after 9 Martin starts getting ready, squeezing into his, well, skin tight skin suit. A 76 year old rider, the oldest person in the time trial, holds the bike for Martin as he gets into his shoes, shoe covers and tear drop helmet. Then, off he goes to warm up. I keep shooting photos and posting, family and friends engaged in our event as the “likes” and comments keep coming.

10:06 a.m. and he’s off! I won’t see Martin again for another hour plus a few minutes. So, I stand near the finish line, talking to other waiters as we listen to the officials shouting “rider coming in” and watch each competitor pedaling furiously toward the end.

As the riders stop and talk to each other, I overhear comments about a 10-12 mile an hour wind — headwind in both directions. How is that possible? One after the other, they report not their best times.

As 11:10 turns into 11:15 and still no sign of Martin, my heart sags. His time is not what he expected. He probably won’t place. Yet, a part of me holds hope the riders talking about the wind interfering with their times represent all the riders. If everyone’s having slower times, Martin could still place. I remind myself he’s a winner no matter what, just for all the effort he put into training and then, showing up. But, I want him to place. I want him to proudly check this off his bucket list.

Finally, I see him. Even under the helmet and sunglasses, I can tell by the way he’s pedaling, he’s out of energy. Tired. Like every other rider, Martin summons a last ounce of will power and pedals wildly to the end as I snap a photo.

Whizzing by me he pedals down the road, slows, turns around and comes back. He can hardly talk. Sweat pours down his red face. Is he shaking? Yes, he’s shaking. I ask if I can get him a water. He mumbles, “Later,” then, s-l-o-w-l-y rides back to the car. I stop at the water tent anyway where one of the officials gives me some type of energy drink. “He’ll like that,” the official tells me.

As I hand Martin the drink, I see disappointment on his face. We talk about how his time wasn’t good and I tell him about the other riders’ comments about the wind. “Yes,” he says, “the wind was awful both ways.” I see a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

As Martin sips the energy drink, he recovers from the stress of the ride and walks down to the officials’ tent. They are close to posting everyone’s time. He walks back to the car to tell me. Well, at least the wait will be over.

Back at the tent, crowding around a board with all the other riders, Martin looks on the sheets of paper for his age category and name. Reading across, he sees it. And, next to his name under state ranking is the number 2! Wahoooooo! A silver medal!!!

All smiles now, he finds me. “It’s official,” he beams. “I’m the second fastest old man in the state.”

Check.