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.

Gratitude Revisted

This was one of my earliest posts first appearing on February 18, 2013.  By this date, I had an epiphany about retirement as in need of life purpose over many, many years.  In this season of hope, joy and peace I thought this post may inspire some resolutions for 2017.

 

A few years ago I made a gratitude journal listing all the things in life for which I was grateful — my husband, my daughters, grandchildren, extended family, love, friends, our cats, good health, good jobs, financial stability, a comfortable home, food in my garden and on the table.

As I counted my blessings, the list grew and grew. For a while, I continued to write down, with each new day, the gratitude I felt for  even the simplest occurrences. A beautiful sunrise. Flowers in my garden. A kind smile from a stranger.

Then, for whatever reason, life got in the way or I just plain got lazy, I stopped writing about my gratitude for the everyday gifts. This weekend, I pulled open a drawer and there was my journal. On it’s cover are the words, Inspire, Dream, Hope, Believe, Imagine, Create. Suddenly, I realized, these words describe what I want my retirement journey to be.

It’s been four months since we retired. And, after four months, we’re finally getting the hang of it. We’re finally starting to get into a rhythm of life without the structure of a career, which isn’t a rhythm at all. It’s more of an improvisation.

We’re relaxing more. We’re enjoying more. Each day is a fresh chance for a new adventure. We can do nothing at all or we can start a new hobby or work on an old one or read a new book or get in the car or on the motorcycle and drive to wherever we want. It’s been a while in coming, but as I looked at the cover of my gratitude journal, I realized retirement is not a destination; it’s a journey.

Now, as I think about my journey, I open the cover and revisit my gratitude lists. And, I add another item. I am grateful I have the opportunity to make this journey. Many others have died before they had the chance to enjoy this season of life. So, I thank God for giving me each new day at this age, in this way. And, I thank Him for giving me the wisdom to recognize the opportunity. As I continue reading, I feel a certain excitement thinking about the possibilities for my journey.

I know it’s February 18 but resolutions aren’t reserved solely for New Year’s Day.  I also make a resolution this day to stop complaining about aging. In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a few news stories about how the baby boom generation is in worse health than their parents’ generation at this age. Our poorer health is due to the way we eat and don’t exercise. So, there are more of us already in wheel chairs or using canes. More of us are diabetics and have heart disease — really depressing situations.

However, that’s not me. Even with all my health issues, which are truly normal aging issues, my health age is 53 not my biological age of 60. Martin, who bicycles about 100 miles a week, is in better shape than I am. With my garden, we eat well, watch our diet and we exercise. So, today I stop whining about getting old!

I’m in great shape! Oh, yes, I’m adding this to my gratitude journal along with note to self, “Do not whine about aging!”

Over the past few months, through a combination of writing this blog, research and actually living the transition into retirement, I’ve concluded life in retirement is no different than career life in that we need purpose. Retirees who continue to live their lives with purpose are happier.

I’m not sure what my purpose is. Perhaps, it’s simply to carry on with my loving family, my passion for gardening and mentoring other gardeners through the Master Gardener Program, painting and making art out of gourds and supporting SAFE Homes/Rape Crisis Coalition.

Whatever my purpose, I know my retirement is a journey, not a destination. This is a season of my life for which I am grateful.

Leaving The Comfort Zone

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lust For Life

This wasn’t the article I intended to post today, but lunch with a friend yesterday was quite interesting. She brought up the concept of lust. We discussed it. I also thought about it a lot after our meeting. It reverberated with me so much I got up early this morning to put my other article aside (next week) and hastily write this perspective on lust.

This isn’t a perspective on the sexual type of lust.  However, that’s where I’m starting.  Lust is, after all, most often thought of as purely sexual desire and often a sexual desire that is out of control, making it a titillating subject indeed. I, myself, have referred to people who abandon a spouse for a new lover as being in lust not in love. Lust is one of the seven sins. The Bible says lust is bad or bad for us if it replaces love. It also says we shouldn’t covet material objects belonging to another.

Looking for a definition outside my Biblical teachings, I found all reflect this one from Merriam-Webster.com: ‘a strong feeling of sexual desire; a strong desire for something.’ That last part is what my friend and I talked about mostly — other forms of lust. In between sips of chardonnay (it was a late lunch), we agreed, although we are aging, we still have a strong desire, a lust for something.

I call it a lust for life. A strong desire to continue living with zeal and fervor and excitement for what may materialize on our still glorious horizons.

If lust is a strong desire like a craving, we all crave things at one time or another. We may crave something as simple as ice cream or a long, hot bath.  We may crave a new car or trip to some far off place. Didn’t many of us have a strong desire to leave the work place and be free in retirement to do what we want with our time? We may crave hitting the road in our RV and kicking around the country for months on end. We may have a strong desire to help others. We may have a strong desire to volunteer, leave money to a charity or create a scholarship to help someone go to college. We may have a craving to reinvent ourselves in retirement and do something we always dreamed of doing. Our cravings, our desires, our lusting after something is not necessarily bad or bad for us.

We have been lusting all our lives. Remember that cute boy or girl sitting across from you in junior year English, the one who invaded your dreams at night? That was probably about the same time you were lusting after a drivers license and your first set of wheels. After that you went on to lust after a great many things. Perhaps the taste of your first adult beverage, a real job, promotions, your first house, a bigger house, a masters degree, a trip to Europe or India or the Fiji Islands. Lusting fired our engines, not just our loins.

When we are young, we lust after life with an eagerness to experience all that we can. We dream. We scheme. We plan. We have a boundless energy focused on the future we strongly desire, we crave, we lust after. We want to gorge ourselves on all that life has to offer — the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual — the entire smorgasbord.

I still feel this way to a certain extent. Oh, I’m a little jaded at times. I have my been there, done that moods. Yet, there are many, many things I want to do in life. I still crave some adventure, trying a new activity, meeting new people, seeing new vistas, straining my brain, pushing my physical boundaries, entering a spiritual dimension I’ve never explored.

Lust gets a bad rap. A little lust for life can be good for us, especially as we age.  In a cliche we are older and wiser.  We aren’t going totally off the deep end, over the cliff. We are a little jaded.  Grabbing the world by the shirttail and twirling it around to see what shakes out is good for us.

Even now, for me at 64, it’s a big wide world out there and it’s easier to access than ever before. There are opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of. There are surprises to be found. There are secrets to be unlocked. There are discoveries to be made. And, I intend to continue lusting after them with a lust for life.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconnecting With My Past

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Pike Place Market in Seattle circa 1988

Next week I fly to Seattle to visit a longtime friend. I’m looking forward to seeing both her and the Emerald City. Surrounded by two mountain ranges and boasting thousands of acres of parks within the city, it is truly the gem of the West. This is also a chance for me to reconnect with my past. I’m not talking about glory days or living in the past. I’m talking about a short visit to a place where I have emotional attachment.

I lived in Seattle for six years in the late eighties, leaving the city, my job and dragging my family back to our previous home because living in the West never felt right to me or to Martin. At the time, several people told me, “You can’t go back. It won’t be the way you remembered it.”

But, something was missing. Seattle never felt like “home”. Part of it was geographical. Having grown up on the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my inner compass felt out of sync watching the sun set beyond Puget Sound to the west. And, nine months of cloud cover with the Emerald City shrouded in a wet mist, the only glimpse of the sun as it set over the Olympic Mountains, was beyond my mental fortitude. While on one hand, I loved the rhythm of the city, I also eschewed the long commute, heavy traffic and constant noise. Moving closer to my roots would also put extended family into closer proximity.

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

My daughters on the Olympic Peninsula

So, we pulled up our stakes and left. No, as people told us, it wasn’t the way we remembered it. It was different. We grew and prospered and grew some more. We also moved again to South Carolina. We created the life we craved. No place I have ever lived, including my New Jersey cradle, has felt more like home than the South. When we left Seattle, we weren’t going back to reclaim the past; we were going back to claim a different future.

My trip to Seattle is purposed with a visit to reconnect with my friend and hopefully some others as well as to remember and honor my life there. Not only is my past in Seattle part of my personal identity, it was central to my learning what was important to me in life.

In retirement, after years of following the corporate money trail, people sometimes return to the place where they grew up. I know several who returned to South Carolina after years of living someplace else and many who left this locale to return to their roots. The emotional pull of a childhood home is powerful. The smells, the sights, the sounds, old friends and family are not just remnants of the past. They are the very fabric from which we are made. I feel the same way about my life in Seattle. It was an important part of my life’s journey thus far.

When we return to a past home, we don’t just revisit the past. We reconnect emotionally with a part of our identity, which lies at the core of our authenticity. Based upon what I know about my own struggles with creating a retirement identity, reviving your youthful selfhood with all its trappings may help with the transition. I’m not recommending that everyone move back to their childhood home or any home they loved in the past. For some, like myself, it’s not a practical or desired option. But, a visit, whether real or imagined, may prove helpful.

I visited my childhood home in 2008 when my mother passed away. Her memorial service was held in New Jersey providing the perfect time to reflect on both her life and mine. My childhood home was much the same as I remembered. There was yet another addition. The hedge my father faithfully clipped was gone. Yet, it looked much the same. My hometown was burgeoning, empty fields now held other homes, the highway filled with businesses. It was the type of busy, bustling place I steered clear of as a choice for my home.

While I wouldn’t go back, the visit reminded me of who I am at my core. The schools I attended, the beaches and boardwalk where I whiled away summer hours, worked my first job and dreamed of who I would become. The places I played with friends, the streets I walked selling Girl Scout cookies. Wreck Pond where I learned to ice skate. The smell of salt air and sea gulls gliding above the washed sand looking for a tasty snack. And, of course, the sun rising over the Atlantic.

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

Me in my Seattle office circa 1989

My visit to Seattle may well accomplish the same thing. While I loved the city and look forward to my visit, I am also reminded of why I left. I am reminded of my present identity, created by me for me, fashioned to replace my work identity left behind when I retired. Yet, this identity is more authentic than any I have ever claimed. It is not only a reflection of my past, but my hope for the future as I live in the present. I am going back to Seattle, not to reconnect with the past, but to reconnect with myself. And I will.

Six Ideas For Finding Your Retirement Life

Part of my retirement identity

Part of my retirement identity

Research in several western countries tells us that people who enjoy the most success in reaching retirement happiness are also those who enjoyed a work/life balance. In other words their entire identity did not hinge on their work or work title. They were deeply and passionately involved in their off time with hobbies and interests. When they retired, they had a safety net of activities to continue full-time in retirement.

In our “what do you do” society, someone who hitched their identity to their work title may have a tough time kissing that title goodbye because with it goes their sense of purpose and worth. I’ve written about the importance of finding a new purpose and meaning in your retirement life. Some of us can be totally happy doing whatever life dishes up each day. Most of us need a sense of purpose. Something we care about deeply and passionately.

For example, wherever I lived I built and left a beautiful garden. Even after putting in a ten-hour day at the office, there were times when you could find me at work in the summer garden when darkness fell. Martin would teasingly ask if he should bring me a flashlight or was I coming in for the night. Decades later, I still feel the same passion for gardening.

I’ve talked to many, many retirees who have a full calendar. Yet, they are still not happy. That’s because busy work doesn’t cut it for them. They may be the ones who, if asked “what do you do?”, will surely tell you all about what they USED to do. They will trot out their old work identity like a trick pony, bragging about all their accomplishments, living in the past. These folks need to get a life! A retirement life.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “If you haven’t found your passion yet, you probably never will.” However, there’s another part of me that believes people who were workaholic probably focused so much on their work they never saw, or perhaps ignored, their cues for passionate work. Now, they are stuck. Stuck in retirement with no place to go.

If you are stuck not knowing how to go about finding your retirement life, here are a few ideas to get you unstuck.

1. Most people have a bucket list of activities they wanted to do in retirement. These are usually the things they always wanted to do, but never took the time to do, because they were too busy working. Then, they retire and still don’t make the time for these activities. I’ve listened to several people who tell me chores gets in the way!!! What!? You have time to do the dishes but none to smell life’s roses? Be brave, macho, you go girl or guy, pretend you’re Nike — Just do it! The dishes can wait.

2. Learn to recognize self-imposed limitations and send them packing. If you find yourself saying things like, “I don’t think I’d like that” or “I know I’m not good at _________ (you fill in the blank)” or “my friends and family would think I was crazy to try that” or any one of many other forms of self-imposed limitations, stop the negative talk in your head. Kill off the “yeah buts”. Replace them with “YES I CAN!”

3. Go back to your childhood. You spent the first eighteen years of your life trying something new and learning all the time. Learning and experiencing was a full-time job. What did you like doing as a young person? What got you excited? What got your heart pumping and put a smile on your face? It’s no secret I loved writing. That’s the passion I reignited in my second childhood also known as retirement. Revisit your early years for clues about what might rev your engine now.

4. Realize it’s never too late. There are people out there in their eighties and nineties who are living their dreams. You, too can become one of them if you follow your heart instead of your head. Change your attitude to one of seeking your passion. Then, invoke numbers 1, 2, and 3 above.

5. Stop trying to fill up the calendar with busy, busy. Sometimes, the most important activity we can do is nothing. All stop. And listen. If you are constantly creating white noise in your life, how can you possibly hear your own heart beat? Sometimes I just be. No reading, no writing, no gardening, no classes, no working in the woods, no lunches or dinners with friends, no visits with family, just nothing. Nothingness. Just sitting with myself, me, my real self and letting whatever comes in, come.

6. Get yourself some business cards and put your new title on it. I got cards when I started this blog shortly after retiring. I listed myself as a Writer/Blogger. Be inventive. You could be World Traveler or Life Adventurer or Seeker of Fun or RV Road Warrior or Golfer Extraordinaire or Textile Artist or History Buff or Second Childhood Experiencer or whatever you fancy yourself.

Ultimately, you are the only person responsible for your happy retirement. You can do this by living with purpose to find purpose. Research has also shown us the happiest retirees are self-directed, self-motivated. No one has to tell them what to do with their day or their life. I like that. Retirement is a gift. Unwrap it. You might be surprised by what you find.

How To Stay Positive With Negative People

Aging, it seems, brings out the negativity in certain people. We all deal with negative people from time to time during our lives. When we leave the workplace, we at least leave any of the negative types from our work life behind. I’ve recommended putting any other negative types out of your retirement life, but that’s easier said than done.

It’s difficult to expel a parent, long time friend, sibling or the person you’re sleeping with. Depending on how someone views the aging experience, negativity can surface even in those who once lived life with a positive attitude. For example, their world view may become one of calamity today as they long for the good old days. Their perception of the past is one seen through the proverbial rose-colored glasses _ time has muted their memory leaving only the good times. Or, and this is the one, which grates on my nerves, they start mouthing statements such as, “You can’t do that anymore. You’re getting old you know. You have to slow down. You’re not as young as you used to be.” I recently had a young sixty-four year old tell me they couldn’t get out and walk every day because they were old! Arrrrrgh!!!

So, what do you do about the nerve grating negativity? Well, first, take responsibility for your positivity. While the negative person may grate on your nerves, the extent to which you allow that to happen is up to you. Counteract their negative effect by taking steps to increase your positivity. Cultivate your optimism.

Years ago I started keeping a gratitude journal after watching an Oprah show. I first listed all the things _ activities, people, places, ideas _ in my life for which I was thankful. They were as simple as a beautiful sunrise or my garden receiving enough rain. I wrote in the journal each night before going to bed. Not only did it help me sleep better as it gave me a feeling of peace, this ritual added to my optimism each day as I made mental notes of items to write in my journal.

As a former news junkie, I can tell you we are bombarded by the media with negative news. Negative sells! So, another step I took was eliminating the newspaper delivery, thus limiting my exposure to the local murder and mayhem. Then, I limited myself to thirty minutes of TV news, if that, a day. Many days I don’t watch it at all. Very rarely do I miss anything that makes a difference in my life. Getting caught up in the world trauma can create fear-based anxiety. While we want to be informed, we don’t want to be inundated. Fill your brain with positive thoughts, readings and encounters with other optimistic people. Try it. You’ll sleep better for it.

Fear is often the basis for the negative person’s pessimism. Fear about world events, fear about aging and declining abilities, fear surrounding financial independence and on and on. Our very impermanence is unsettling to most. However, a Yale University study found that people with a positive view of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than people with negative views. Don’t get sucked in by fear. It’s important to hold on to your optimism!

We all have negative events in our lives _ all of us. This last year was a tough one for my family. I experienced more than a few moments of negativity. I’m grateful for the friends and family who listened to my ramblings with patience. Here’s where a little compassion on your part comes in, both for the negative people you encounter as well as yourself.

This past autumn I took a class at the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at Furman University on living compassionately. Our instructor, Sandy Brown, taught us the tenets of loving kindness based on Buddhist philosophy. The thought of showing loving kindness toward someone engaging in negativity appealed to me. The appeal is actually seated in my own selfishness. It helped me let go of my negativity toward negative situations and people. I use the following prayer often, saying it mentally, but sending the thought toward the person who would otherwise be driving me nuts! It prevents me from expressing out loud how their negativity is, yes, grating on my nerves, which would only make the situation with them all the more difficult. And, drag me down into their negative spiral. Saying this simple prayer triggers acceptance of ‘it is what it is’. I’m becoming more patient, an attribute which often eludes me. With patience comes serenity. Try sending this thought yourself:

May you be well;
May you be happy;
May you be peaceful;
May you be loved.

Think of actions you can take in your life to increase your positive attitude in the face of negative people. By cultivating your optimism and practicing positivity, you may very well change the negative person’s outlook on life. If you stay mentally up, refusing to be dragged down into the depths of their despair, they will have their moment to vent, get it off their chest and then, maybe, join you in your positive views. If they don’t, well, at least your efforts will ensure you still have your sanity. You can walk away from the engagement with a smile on your face. No, you can’t put all the negative people out of your life, even in retirement. But, you can preserve your aging experience with optimism.

FORTY YEARS DOWN

A couple of weeks ago, Martin and I celebrated our fortieth anniversary. What does one say about such a milestone? I thought hard about this one. All the things we did. All the things we learned. Forty years of better and some worse. Not much sickness yet; mainly good health. As for richer or poorer, we scraped the bottom of the barrel some years and rode the wave of plenty in others. We certainly experienced the ups and downs of life and a committed relationship. Having read lots of ‘what I learned in forty years of marriage’ type posts, I decided against listing all the lessons. Mainly because I didn’t want to bore my readers but, also, because, to me, there is one big lesson. And, the big lesson covers a lot of territory.

We are nowhere near the same people we were in 1975, young, idealistic, starry-eyed about our future and each other. 1975 was, by all accounts, a year when our societal norms were different from even ten years before. Wannabe hippies, we married in a meadow, mowed, of course, on my parents 125 acres in a tiny hamlet in upstate New York. Cow country, I call it. Escaping the normal retirement trends of the day, my parents sold their suburban New Jersey home, bought the acreage with a barn and built a log cabin on a hillside overlooking Columbus, NY. For Martin and me, this setting appealed to our hippie tendencies of matching beads, long hair and a tad bit new age. This is where we chose to be married. Our nuptials were performed by an Episcopalian priest, H. Alan Smith, who, much to our liking, walked around town in a white t-shirt and blue jean overalls, sporting a beard and mustache. John Ludington, who worked with me and moonlighted weekends as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, performed songs like ‘Time In A Bottle’, ‘Annie’s Song’ and ‘The Wedding Song’. Our oldest daughter, three at the time, filled the role of flower girl. What I envisioned as a warm, sunny June day, was, instead, cold, with light rain misting on the meadow. Stuck in traffic getting out of Syracuse, H. Alan was twenty minutes late in arriving. Thinking my minister stood me up at the altar, my tear stained face stayed that way as I cried throughout my own wedding. After a reception of family and close friends, Martin and I went to our apartment. We took the week off from work, bought bicycles with the cash wedding gifts and that was our honeymoon.

Our Wedding Invitation

Our Wedding Invitation

From this rather unconventional start to our marriage, we developed a rather unconventional relationship. No, no, no. Get your mind out of the gutter. We didn’t become swingers or open marriage or anything really out there. It goes something like this. The only one in the family with a stable job on that cold, rainy day was me. Martin worked a temporary full-time job with the county. Did I mention I worked in banking, as a teller? Yes, I worked in a conservative industry. It was not long before I ditched my short skirts, beads and crazy shoes for a more conservative look as I applied for the bank’s management training program. I was the last person without a four year degree to land a slot in the program. Martin eventually shaved off his mustache, got a proper haircut and a permanent job before going on to earn a four year degree. We built our first house, acting as the general contractor, as well as putting up drywall after stuffing in insulation, laying the hardwood floors after putting in the subfloor and doing whatever else we could do with our four hands. Eventually, I got a bachelors myself. I was the main breadwinner for half our marriage and Martin took over for the second half. As a result of all our maneuvering in life, the relationship we developed is more of a mutual support system with both of us pitching in with the kids, cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work and repairs. As the years went on and on and on, we figured out who carried which strength and let that person run with that particular ball.

Matching Beads

Matching Beads

Recently, in a class at Furman University OLLI, the instructor mentioned how women are more attached to the house and home, while men are drawn to the yard and spaces outside the home. Of course, me, with my chainsaw and all, begged to differ. This idea was further discussed when one of my classmates came for dinner at our house. As Martin cooked a scrumptious shrimp scampi, she and I sat in the kitchen sipping wine after a tour of my garden. We talked about how Martin and I both have specialties around the house, including meals we make. While Martin’s Mr. Fix-It, changing out the kitchen faucet or working on our tractor, he is also likely to paint a pair of side tables for the great room or want to change out drapes in the dining room. As the one who plans, plants and maintains the gardens, I care less about interior decor. Knick knacks bring on hyperventilation as I think about all the dusting. I do most of the clearing of the underbrush on our property, Martin following with the bush hog to grind it down. Like I said, we each have our strengths. Since most people seem curious about how we came to this arrangement, I guess we operate differently from most couples.

After forty years, we just do what we do, naturally, without question, as a team. That didn’t come easy. We grew at different rates, at different paces, at different times. We experienced our share of wrangling. It was years into our marriage before I realized I married a renaissance man and just how fortunate that made me. Forty years of pinnacles and peaks, along with long days and nights in the valleys. Somehow we made it. And, that’s where the real lesson lies. Only one in my book. Not forty. Not a string of I learned this and that. As with everything else in our lives, we learned to accept change. We learned to accept change and growth in each other. We learned we are not the same people we were in 1975 but a matured, developed, personally stretched version of those people. We learned to roll with the punches, taking flexibility and sometimes patience to a new level, at least for us. Difficult at times, we each learned to adapt to the person, our partner, friend, lover, who came out on the other side of individual growth spurts. And, through it all, we stuck by each other with love and commitment and faith that we, us, our union would prevail. And, it did.

In true Merlino tradition, we celebrated our forty years, not with a trip to Italy or any other far off destination. Not with a big party with all the hoopla and family and friends. Not with any of that. Instead, we went an hour up the road to Asheville, NC, wandered through the River Arts District looking at good, great and bad art (my opinion), ate really cheap but really good fish tacos at The White Duck Taco Shop and spent the night in a cushy boutique hotel, where we ate a really expensive but really amazing dinner at The Red Stag Restaurant. There we lifted our glasses and toasted, just the two of us, as we wanted it, to another forty years.

TOP 10 AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS

A few weeks ago a reader commented, “I would love to read about your top 10 listing of things that have filled your time during retirement that you love!!” Hmmm…Did I even have a top 10? Especially a top 10 that I loved? This reader’s comment definitely sparked my thought process. Years ago, when retirement was but a dream, I read an article advising retirement wannabes to have at least 14 different activities to fill their time or face an unhappy retirement. I remember thinking, “How can anyone have that many hobbies, volunteer organizations, games or sports, family occasions, travel or whatever to add up to 14 different activities?” It seemed fantastical, unrealistic, to say the least.

Retirement today is not what it was for our grandparents or even our parents. I believe we are in the forefront of a cultural shift in the way we view aging (stay tuned for another blog on this subject). I read again and again at https://www.growingbolder.com how people are breaking the mold by pushing the boundaries and limitations our society has set for its aging population. As people eschew the notion that retirement means relaxation and seek, instead, to find further meaning and purpose in the last third of life, yes, I do believe there will be less busyness to fill our retirement hours and more personal evolution. Each evolution is very personal. The way you stretch yourself is different from the way I stretch myself. And, as always, the activities with my husband, Martin and our family is at the top of the list…wife, mother, grandma. That said, below is my Top 10 List.

1. When I retired, I asked myself, “If you were not afraid, what would you do?” So, number 1 on my list is this blog. It was a leap into the unknown, which, because of you, my readers, has returned so much more than I give.

2. A lifelong love instilled in me by my parents, is gardening. Landscape gardening, vegetable gardening, fruit gardening, herb gardening, gardening, gardening, gardening.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

3. Another newfound love in retirement, a surprise of surprises, is drawing. Trying new mediums, attending art classes, enjoying the company and community of other artists has opened a new vista.

Pencil Drawing of Portia

Pencil Drawing of Portia

4. As a Master Gardener volunteer, I found a volunteer organization where I truly enjoy being involved as it uses my skills as a presenter and teacher. A fun Saturday morning is working the Clemson Extension Master Gardeners booth where I tell people how to improve, grow or manage their gardens.

5. As you read in my last post, being a student at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Furman University is another retirement discovery leading to learning new skills or just plain having fun like the felting or card making classes I took. It’s also led to new friendships and engagement with other retirees.

6. Well, here’s an out of the ordinary activity. Bush Whacker is what I call myself when engaging in the endeavor to clean up our jungle of a woodland. With pine beetles destroying our Virginia Pine and pine blister taking care of anything they fail to chew, I am clearing the small pines, thousands of them. Taking my battery powered chain saw into the damp, dark woods and releasing the oak, maples, beech, dogwood and hickory from their pine prison has proven to be a form of meditation for me. As sections are cleared and apparently dormant wild flowers spring up beneath the remaining canopy, I am awed by the beauty of Mother Nature.

7. I am an admitted foodie…growing, cooking, canning, wine tasting or anything else which has to do with ingesting yummy stuff. Martin and I even tried winemaking and may give it a go again in the future. Like many other things in life, it isn’t as easy as it looks. On our first try, after the hydrometer slipped from my hand, shattering on the kitchen floor, we admittedly just gave up. Last year, the harvest from my 90 feet of planted wine grapes helped feed the wildlife on our property. No wonder the raccoons sported such beautiful coats this year!

Homemade Peach Pie

Homemade Peach Pie

8. Taking a cue from my older sister, I took up knitting as a winter hobby although it’s now extending into the warmer months. Amazed at what I can create with a ball of yarn and two needles has inspired me to create more lovely things. Occasionally, I join a sit n’ knit group, along with a neighbor, at a local Alpaca farm and knit shop. If you join one of these groups, don’t take anything too complicated to knit as it’s more of a social meeting with not so much knitting accomplished.

9. I cannot leave out my role as a cat lover, rescuer, caretaker, spoiler. I LOVE cats! Also known as the Zen Masters, cats are brave, loving creatures who just want to be loved in return. No, I have never met an aloof cat. I am the self-proclaimed ‘Cat Mommy-Slave’ even taking our three indoor cats outside for a 30 minute walk every day that weather permits, which is most days. After about 30 minutes, everyone heads for a door to the house (who says you can’t train cats?) and then it’s snack time followed by nap time. See, Zen Masters.

10. Last, but (sigh) should not be least, is exercise. I now walk an average of 4.33 miles a day either in my neighborhood, on my 6 acres or hiking in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and working in the garden and woods. While I love the views and seeing nature on my hikes, I can’t say this is an activity I really love but it is an activity I do out of love for myself.

After thinking about all the things I do, I could probably get to the fourteen activities I read about years ago. I also love to read, take an occasional trip someplace, go to trendy little towns with trendy little main streets and browse their trendy little shops. And, I love having lunch out with friends or going to a wine tasting at local wineries or visiting public gardens and arboretums for inspiration. So, there you have it…my Top 10. What’s yours?