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.

From There To Here

This post first appeared on May 6, 2013.  It actually took another 18 months to find real satisfaction in retirement.  But, this was a turning point. 

One of the Rolling Stones most popular hits was a song titled “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. That seemed to be my theme song for the first 6 months after we officially retired. But, finally after 6 months plus, we have adjusted to our new life. So, today I’m posting what I believe are the steps for getting here from there.

Like most people preparing for retirement, we focused on the financial aspect. And, I don’t want to make light of how important that factor is. It’s, in fact, the single most important factor. No matter where you are in life, if you don’t have enough money to at least meet your basic needs, you aren’t likely to be happy. But, as we approached retirement, the big surprise for us was how our enthusiasm gave way to stress and emotion at saying goodbye to a forty year way of life.

Planning your financial security is a piece of cake compared to addressing the emotional components in your retirement planning. Early on I posted The Transition about being broad-sided by the emotional aspect of retiring. We planned, planned, planned for the money but didn’t put a lot of thought into the psychology. I guess that’s because most books, articles and web sites focus on the finances. We had lots of activities, family and friends and a wish list of travel and learning. But, we were very unprepared for the emotion and stress. After 6 months of ups and downs, corrections in mindset and adjustments, I am able to identify what we should have done to make the transition more painless.

What is the saying about hindsight? It’s 20/20. I hope my 20/20 hindsight vision will help anyone contemplating retirement. Here we go…

  • When we decided to retire, we looked at retirement as a destination. What I realized about two months into it is retirement is a journey. Hence, the tagline for my blog. There is no one place you are going to. It’s, instead, a never ending adventure. Wrap your head around that because your mindset is very important to entering your journey. You need a forward looking attitude. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program offering a few weeks of free counseling as one of the benefits, take advantage of it. Even if you think you don’t need it, see a counselor and take your spouse or partner with you. You don’t know what you don’t know. Does that make sense? I hope so. A counselor can help you focus on this next part of your life and how to make the transition less bumpy.

 

  • With that in mind, sever the emotional ties to your old work place as soon as possible. Sounds harsh. But once you really say goodbye, you are free to focus on your new life. So, move on as quickly as possible. Martin was really good at saying goodbye. I had a more difficult time. Staying in the loop on your old employer’s activities, politics and (brrr..shudder) the gossip is counterproductive to what you really want to accomplish by retiring. I’m not saying discard true friendships developed through work. I have real friends I met at work, but we have lots of other things in common, which is why we’re friends. Ditch the relationships based on nothing but the work. You left work because you are looking for a new community and activities. Don’t cling to the past.

 

  • Like many people we chose our date based on birthdays. Sounds logical because, again, it’s all about the finances. Right? Wrong! You can start collecting from your 401K or IRA at 59-1/2. You can start collecting social security at 62. Base your date on these events and you may be making a big mistake. In choosing your date forget the finances and look at your activities. What are you planning to do with your days? Plan for this just like you plan for your finances and be specific. That was our mistake. When people said, “What are you going to do in retirement?”, we gushed about motorcycling, bicycling, gardening, hiking and some travel. Most of our activities are fair weather types. In South Carolina, the weather is such, you can normally do some outside activities even in the winter. However, we had an unusually rainy, cold, long winter. In fact, as I write this, it’s 52 degrees and 3-5 inches of rain pouring down in May! Even our travel destinations were not conducive to a lot of sightseeing during this winter. We went some places anyway but it was not as enjoyable as anticipated. Fortunately, we had plenty of indoor activities and we stayed open to trying new ones. Choose your date carefully.

 

  • Speaking of timing, if you have a spouse or partner, who is also retiring, choose the same retirement date. One of the most difficult transitions was my adjustment to Martin being at home. You see, I left work two years earlier. My routine was mostly just up to me. Once he left the house every day, I did things on my schedule. I’m also less structured than Martin so part of my routine was no routine. Suddenly, I had someone else in the house all day wanting to know what I was going to do with my time or wanting me to tag along with them when I had other ideas. It took the first three months for us to mesh our wants, needs and routines. I’d like to say that occurred without a lot of stress, disagreements and negotiation, but I’d be lying. This is an area where an EAP counselor could have made a difference for us.

 

  • Next up, be sure you have enough activities to occupy your time. If you work an eight hour day with an hour for lunch and a 30 minute commute one way, that’s ten hours of activity per day or 50 hours a week you have to replace. The first couple of weeks you feel like you’re on vacation. Enjoy that feeling of just kicking back and doing nothing. But, after that, you need a boat load of activities to take up 50 or 60 hours each week. Make a list of your hobbies, crafts, volunteer activities and how much time will be dedicated to each one on a weekly basis. Martin and I have also been watching one of our grandkids two days a week. He’s also continued to visit his parents for lunch weekly. We had a few maintenance items, which needed performing on our house and property. Include anything like that as well. If you can’t come up with at least 40 hours of activity to replace your work time, start looking around for clubs to join, new volunteer adventures or classes to take. And, once you retire, keep your mind open to learning new things and taking on new adventures. I’ve read retirees watch way too much TV. Don’t become one of them! This is an opportunity to grow and re-energize your life. Don’t squander it on the boob-tube. We’ve quickly figured out how taking up a new project or learning a new skill adds excitement and purpose to our lives. I want those feelings to continue, don’t you?

 

  • We also found the word ‘retirement’ in and of itself was a negative. The definition and societal view of retirement is such a has-been, life is over connotation. I kept reading every article I could find on the terms used to describe someone who is growing older and retired. All of them so dreary. I also read several articles about others trying to find a better definition for the words ‘retiree’ and ‘senior’. So, I’m not alone. I guess my subconscious was just working away to find another term because a couple of months ago, it just popped into my head. I’m a PIM…Person of Independent Means. The definition is since I no longer need to work for money I can do whatever the Hell I want with my time, including working for money, if I want to. Even retirees who have to work part-time can be PIM’s as they also have some independent means. Being a PIM instead of a retiree is liberating. It gives you a whole different mindset about this segment of the journey of your life. We have choices. We are healthy. We are active. We get to write a whole new chapter on our terms. And, the term is PIM!

So, how do we feel about being retired…errr…PIMs? We could not even begin to think about returning to the work force. That’s how we feel. We’re having too much fun.

We’re enjoying the freedom of so much choice. We’re enjoying the challenge of finding new and interesting things to do. We’re enjoying the exploration and the thrill of discovery. We’re enjoying meeting other PIMs and developing a new community of friends and acquaintances. We’re enjoying not having to make a 30 minute commute to work in the pouring rain and instead, making spaghetti sauce, chocolate chip cookies, snuggling in to read, write, knit, spin on the stationary bike and talk. Then, later, opening a bottle of red and enjoying a delicious dinner.

 

I guess the final step is just relax, give yourself time to adjust and keep an open mind. The journey to here from there is just beginning.

How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever

dream-pic

Standing in line at the grocery store, I read the magazine covers as I waited my turn. There it was as it always is — ‘How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Ever’. Every December with the current year not quite over, the editors trot out their list for creating a spectacular next year. The Christmas tree is just up and we are in the holiday rush, but don’t forget to forge your campaign for taking on the following twelve months.

Admittedly, when I worked for a living in the corporate denizens, I paid attention to such things. I read the articles on self-improvement and marketing my skills to the boss. I listed goals to be achieved in order to gain a promotion or larger paycheck. And, yes I did this in the throes of the holiday rush of decorating, gift buying, cookie baking and parties. Working in real estate, especially commercial real estate, this was also the busiest time of year. Rush, rush, rush.

Now I’m the boss. I do what I want when I want. Oh, to be sure, I have looked ahead to 2017. I have reflected on 2016, a rough year for most of the world. These days my contemplation is done at a slower pace, no need to squeeze it in along with the galloping pace of the holidays. But, if I were to make a personal list now for creating the best year ever, this is where I would start.

1. Slow down. There is no need to rush into the new year or anything else for that matter. Enjoy the present moment.

2. However, continue to make goals for yourself. Without a compass, you could lose your way. Goals provide direction, clarity of purpose. We still need purpose in our lives.

3. Try something you always wanted to do. Discover your passion. Ask yourself what you always wanted to try, but were too busy, too timid, too concerned about what others might think about you, to try it.

4. Meet new people. Staying engaged with other people is known to keep your mind and body from declining. Join a club. Volunteer for a non-profit, hospital, school or religious organization. Go to your local senior center.

5. Learn something new. Learn to play guitar, speak a new language, play chess, knit a scarf, paint a picture.

6. Travel in your own backyard. What is your area known for? Are there parks, museums, historic sites you never visited even though you toured someplace thousands of miles away? Take a local tour in 2017.

That’s where I would start to make 2017 the best year ever. I may even wait until January 1 to create my specific list. After all, it’s only December. No rush.

Glory Days

This post first appeared on April 8, 2014.  When I recently saw a comment on social media asking if we didn’t wish we could go back to the way things were in our youth, I decided to repost “Glory Days”.   

 

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

Decades ago when my mother was close to my age, she remarked about an old friend wanting to get together to reminisce about the good old days. At the time I thought my mother was being a bit of a cynic as she went on to say she had no desire to relive the past. She didn’t believe it was all that wonderful.

Today, I tend to agree with her.  In many ways life is better today than it was in my youth. If people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation do, is this a phenomenon, which occurs with each generation as we age? Or is each decade really worse than the previous or each 100 years really worse than the previous 100? I doubt 1916 was better than 2016. I doubt 1940 when my mother was a young woman was really better than 1980 when her friend wanted to revisit the good old days. Each moment in time is fraught with its problems and imbued with its excellence.

As a baby boomer, when I look back to my youth, I remember social turmoil as minorities and women fought for their civil rights. I remember limited opportunities for women. When I entered the management training program at a local bank, I was told to my face both at work and by men and women in the community how I was taking a job away from a man with a family. Gee, I guess my husband and two kids weren’t a family. See, I can be cynical, too.

I remember horrible diseases where there was no vaccine to spare child and parent from the specter of death or disability, including the dreaded polio, which I had at age 3. I managed to escape the disease relatively unscathed.

I remember a communist under every bed as we kids lined the school hallways scrunched down on the floor as air raid sirens blared a practice run in the shadow of the atom bomb threat. By the time I was 10 we didn’t line the hallways, but got under our desks as if that would save us. I remember seeing violence on the news every night as leaders were assassinated, Soviet tanks crossed borders, the civil rights movement erupted with bombs, tear gas and murders and the Vietnam War grew into a colossal loss of life.

I remember an economy, which unraveled as gas prices soared sending us into a long recession coupled with runaway inflation. Were there good times? Yes! There were great times. But, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were also not as rosy as some portray those decades.

I think Bruce Springsteen hit it out of the park with his song, “Glory Days”. All of the people he sang about longed for the days of their youth when they were riding high or life lay before them fresh, new and awaiting. Late teens and twenties seem to be the age most people gravitate toward with their stories of good old days. For some, it may be early thirties.

I’m one of those early thirty types. When I think about the past, there’s a time in my life starting at exactly age thirty where the entire world seemed to open up for me. It actually evokes a very pleasant feeling all warm and fuzzy, eternally rosy. When I think of this time, I get that warm feeling as my mind fills with wonderful memories. It was an exhilarating time of high success as my career took off. I jetted all over the country for my job. We made money, money and more money. Our kids took piano and ballet and played softball and basketball. They went to the best schools in the area. We went out to dinner at tony restaurants, were invited to parties where celebrities were also on the guest list, took vacations and belonged to local museums and art centers. We bought beautiful homes, cars and furniture and were what was known at the time as yuppies. The dreams and possibilities for our future seemed endless as we road this huge wave of personal and material success. The pictures in my mind and the warm feeling filter out how stressed I was as I scrambled to meet the obligations of career, spouse, family and community with little or no time for me. My filtered view of that time in my life doesn’t appear to be all that unusual. In the end, it was a time when I went from soaring heights to nearly going down in flames.

As we age, it seems to me we have experienced plenty, enough to make us feel as if our moment in the sun is over. It’s akin to that mid-life moment when we say to ourselves, “Is this all there is?” But, as it is in that moment, so it is in this moment. The biggest challenge in retirement is finding activities, which challenge us mentally, emotionally and physically. We can choose to be jaded and cynical about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or we can choose to seek out fresh, new horizons.

It is up to us to fire up the engines one more time and search for a reason to get out of bed every day, greeting the sun with excitement for the possibilities of today and all the tomorrows we have left. While it is fun to reminisce and essential for passing on family history to the next generation or getting to know a new acquaintance, recognize the past for what it is — the past, with all the good memories, flaws and imperfections. Instead of reimagining the past, use your imagination and energy to create a glory day today.

Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Caring About What Others Think

A few months ago I saw a bright pink plastic rabbit head ring on the finger of a woman I recently met. Obviously, full of life and living her life her way, she also sported the dark red hair of the unorthodox among our younger generations. The ring looked like something my five year old granddaughter, Sophie, would be wearing _ not someone in my age group. “I love your ring.” I said. “Thanks. I’m not dead.” She replied. I laughed and told her, “That’s what I tell people who think I’m a little out there these days. I’m old; I’m not dead!” In return, she said, “I’ll believe it when you dye your hair purple.” While I haven’t taken up her challenge and most probably won’t, I instantly admired this woman for her courage to be herself.

All of us are concerned with what other people think of us, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge that concern. How we act, what we say, how we dress are all tied up in the human desire to belong. Most of us want to be accepted and liked by others. Part of that want is our survival instinct. Long, long ago when our ancestors depended upon the tribe for safety and food, humans conformed to ensure the tribe continued to accept them.

Fast forward to our modern times and our modern retirement. After leaving our work tribe behind, comes an opportunity to be less concerned about what other people think of us. An article in Huff Post/50 about Dick Van Dyke turning 90, quoted the actor as saying, “As you get older you care less and less about what people think.”

When I was younger, I was concerned about how I dressed and what came out of my mouth, especially at work. I wore lots of grey, beige, black and navy suits _ conservative for the conservative industry in which I worked. I called myself a little brown bird trying to blend into the forest. I was concerned with conforming and fitting in. Van Dyke’s statement hit home with me as I realized how much I’ve changed since retiring. This bird is free and flying!

Retirement can be a time of self-actualization, of freedom to say and do what we want, a time of creativity. While we still need to act with a certain amount of decorum in order to glue our society together, the way we dress, the people with whom we socialize and what we do with our time is entirely up to us. We choose how we engage.

Someone once told me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This interesting little twist on perspective is freeing, no matter what your stage of life. Even though I often told people trying to force feed me their advice, “No one knows what’s best for Kathy like Kathy,” I also often worried about coming off as rude or arrogant. After all, and this holds especially true for women, we were taught as children to play nice and get along.  Being a ‘nice girl’, or boy, all the time can rob you of being yourself. Experience taught me to follow my personal drum beat to a certain extent, but survival in the corporate jungle was still my priority. Age and retirement has given me the gift of not caring who thinks what about my life.

It takes courage at any age to follow your heart and mind but the reward is living a fuller life, living your life, not someone else’s life. Life is entirely too short not to be true to yourself. Once I left the world of work, a shift in my outlook began. I didn’t stop caring about my appearance but I did stop caring about what someone else thought of it. I also speak my mind more freely and just shrug off any raised eyebrows.

In retirement I am more my authentic self than at any other time except, perhaps, childhood. Maybe that’s what retirement is _ a second childhood. I freed myself from the constraints of what others think of me. Instead of looking at what the outside world thinks of what I do and say, I’m looking inside myself. The only person you can ever please fully and unconditionally is yourself. You will never please all of the people all of the time. So, don’t even bother trying. If, like me, you spent time thinking about what others think of you, stop. This is your time. Take it without guilt. Fly, little bird, fly!

Just for fun!

Just for fun!

On second thought, maybe I will add just a little streak of purple to my hair.

REFLECTIONS

This time of year offers a moment to reflect on the year almost past. It’s a time to honor the memory of those who passed from our lives, whether a family member, a friend or anyone else who affected our lives, even a beloved pet. We may review world events, ever-changing and more often seeming to be filled with loss and strife than hope and healing. The impermanence of the universe is a constant reminder of our own impermanence. A sobering thought indeed. Of course, many of us also make New Year’s resolutions.

Most years I also review what I accomplished, or didn’t. During this same time of contemplation in 2014, I decided not to make specific resolutions. Each year I try to take up something different in terms of learning. It could be a new hobby or intellectual pursuit or growing a new plant in one of my gardens. But, a year ago I decided 2015 was to be the year of no goals, no self-imposed pressure to succeed, no new activities unless it struck me in the moment during the year. Lazily, I set all specifics aside. Instead, my New Year’s resolutions were open-ended generalizations:

1. Remain open to change;
2. Accept what is without fighting it; and
3. Practice mindfulness.

Three simple yet potentially life changing practices _ more of an attitude adjustment than anything else. This week, taking stock of these three ideas, I asked myself:

1. Did they improve my life?
2. Did they make me happier?
3. Did they work well for me?

The answer is yes, yes, yes.

For starters I didn’t sweat the small stuff so much. A hundred years from now, no one will even care what I did today or the past year or at any time in my life. In 1915 World War I raged. In 2015 are you thinking about what the average person was doing to survive World War I? Highly unlikely, just as it’s unlikely anyone in 2115 will be thinking of me or you and what we were doing on the eve of 2016. Oh, the historians will document wars in the middle east, terrorism, refugee crises, political upheavals and the like. But, it will be documented as a block of time in history not each individual story.

An epiphany during the latter part of 2015 led me to feel more tolerant and accepting of what is without having to think about it consciously. Railing against a perceived injustice or having a ‘why me’ pity party doesn’t change the past. While it is still cathartic to get something off your chest, it is what it is. Don’t let it define you. Accept it and move on. Sometimes I even laugh at my misfortune or foibles.

I also gloried in my success _ finally success _ at losing weight. For all the years losing weight made my list of New Year’s resolutions, I never lost much, nor did I keep off what I did manage to lose. Without pressuring myself to lose, without the lofty goal of twenty pounds hanging over my head, I actually lost the elusive twenty pounds. I didn’t really take up the cause until March and I made my goal a realistic one of eating healthier, instead of losing pounds. By practicing mindfulness with my eating and exercise habits, I changed my approach. That small shift in thinking made all the difference.

And, I started writing more. Joining a close-knit group of writers with a leader who inspires and encourages, I formed the habit of writing often, initially just so I had something to read to the group each week. As the end of 2015 nears, I find myself writing almost every day with focus and purpose. While I may never be a Eudora Welty, my first short, very short, story was published this month in an anthology of poems and flash stories. It’s a start.

Although the pundits recommend specific goals to start the New Year, I’m repeating the same resolutions for 2016. They worked for me in an odd way. As someone who lived my work life ultra-organized with lists, goals and structure, being able to relax that standard in retirement is a gift. While I want a life with continued meaning and purpose, part of what gives life meaning is the ability to enjoy life’s gifts. If this is the time of year to honor the past, it is also a time to appreciate the present. That, too, is a gift.

As I reflect on the past, I look to the future mindful of the present with an openness to change and a willingness to accept what is.

Happy New Year!

I HEREBY RESOLVE TO…

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

Following are my resolutions for 2015:

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

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

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

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

With love,

Kathy

MYTH BUSTERS

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR TRUE POTENTIAL

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

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

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

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

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

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