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.

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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 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 but in a things are better today than they were in my youth sort of way. But, if people from my mother’s generation glorified the past as much as people from my generation, is this a phenomenon which occurs with each generation as we age or is each decade really better than the previous or each 100 years really better than the previous 100? I doubt 1914 was better than 2014. 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 its excellence. So, why do we look back in fondness and yearning for the good old days?

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 aren’t a family. See, I can be cynical. 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 and managed to escape 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. So, why are some boomers putting on the rose-tinted glasses as they view this particular past?

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

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. No more euphoric waves to ride. 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 a bit jaded, cynical, worried about today and the future and seek comfort in our glory days. Or, we can choose to seek fresh, new horizons. It is up to us to fire 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. While it is fun to reminisce and it is 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.

STAGES OF RETIREMENT II

Last Sunday, as Martin and I sat in the kitchen waiting for dinner to finish baking in the oven, we sipped a glass of wine and talked about our latest projects. Suddenly, I realized the day before was our one year retirement anniversary. A year!?! Gone already! And, we didn’t even celebrate having made it a full year. A year of ups and downs as we adjusted our way to a fulfilling retirement routine. Mind you, we’re not there yet. But, we managed to make it into Stage 4, the Reorientation Stage. With six retirement stages, we’re more than halfway there. Yipeeee!

Last week I wrote about Disillusionment, Stage 3. After meeting someone who was obviously disillusioned with retirement and having been there myself, I felt the need to forewarn as many people as were willing to read my post. But what happens before and after disillusionment? Well, in the past year we’ve experienced all the before.

Pre-retirement, Stage 1, was filled with euphoria. We planned what we would do in retirement. Martin gave his notice at work. His employer threw a catered retirement bash. Bucket lists were made. Lists included all kinds of things we always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time for. Travel made it onto the list, an activity we never liked much before, so whatever made us think we’d like it in retirement, is anybody’s guess. After a work life of travel, travel, travel for both of us, we decided travel was, in reality, one of the last things we wanted to do. Little did we know, this was just the beginning of adjusting our retirement goals and outlook.

Initially, Stage 2, Retirement, aka the “honeymoon” took on a feeling of perpetual vacation as we motorcycled, hiked, gardened, bicycled, engaged in some artwork, sat on the screened porch reading in the warmth of sunny fall days. Winter arrived to a long trip to visit family for Christmas, a luxury we never enjoyed while we worked. That was followed by lazy mornings sipping lattes by the fire and staying in my jammies ’til noon as I took on the new hobby of knitting.

But disillusionment was seeping in. Spring arrived to six months of perpetual vacation giving way to a feeling of restlessness. A feeling of missing the challenge, the mind stimulation, the purpose afforded by the everyday grind of work. What!?! Miss the rat race? No. Not possible. And worse of all, we were getting on each others very last nerve. Our marriage, made in heaven, was being tested at every turn or so it seemed. We arrived at Stage 3, Disillusionment, not even realizing what it was or that it happened to most retirees. But, we did know, something had to give. So, once again, I trawled the web for answers. I’m here to tell you, there’s not a lot out there, not even on the so-called “senior” (I hate that word but that’s what we have) websites. However, in one Google search, I stumbled across Robert Atchley’s research into the stages or phases of retirement and voilà!, a lot of things fell into place. For starters, we made a conscious decision to aim for Stage 4, Reorientation.

To me, Reorientation, is a couple of things. First of all, you put on your designer cap and pull up all the creative muscle you can find on the right side of your brain and start designing a retirement lifestyle to put you smack in the middle of your happy place. Secondly, kiss the rat race goodbye. Let it go. Sever old ties, if necessary. You still need people in retirement. You still need human connection. You still need to network. But, staying in touch with the old gang still tethered to the work place can keep you tethered there as well. Keep the real friends. Let the rest go. And, give them permission to let you go.

Retirement is a reinvention of who you are. For us, we are right brain people who lived our work lives in a left brain world. We wanted to explore different art mediums in retirement but held ourselves back. You know, the old fear of failure specter. What if I can’t draw? Can’t paint? Can’t carve? What if I produce ugly stuff nobody likes? Scary as the thought was, when we decided to seriously enter the world of artists, that is the precise moment we started our reorientation. After several enjoyable weeks of watercolor class, yesterday I took my first drawing class. Don’t even think it…I already know I put the cart before the horse. Anyway, my drawing instructor told our class, “After today’s class, if anyone asks you what you do, you tell them, you’re an artist”. He went on to tell us how he wanted us to start thinking of ourselves as artists. Think it, feel it, be it. (I really like this guy.) Besides classes, we’ve become involved in a couple of artists’ guilds, Martin helping out with the fall arts festival, both of us attending openings (wine, cheese and art…doesn’t get any better than that) and me joining a board of directors. We’ve made new friends. Artist friends who encourage and support. We feel like we’re well on our way to creating a rewarding Retirement Routine, Stage 5.

Once we are comfortably settled into our new retirement lifestyle, we intend for it to last a long, long time. What about Stage 6? you ask. Stage 6 is the Termination of Retirement. That’s when you’re so old and frail, you can’t do any of this fun stuff anymore. You’re focused on meeting your maker. As I said, that’s a long way off. Until then, I’m an artist.

THE HOLE IN THE SOUL

There’s a Spanish proverb which says ‘self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement’. We can’t start to improve until we know ourselves. As mentioned in other posts, during the last few months, Martin and I have both received interest and questions from people ages 20 to 60 wanting to know how we pulled this off. So, my next few posts will address this inquiry in greater depth, which, I hope will enable you to move forward with your plan to retire or retire early, depending on where you’re currently situated in life.

Over the years I’ve met many who started out with good intentions to budget, pay off debt and save more. Making a budget is the easy part. Today there are all kinds of computer programs to help you set up a budget. I started out years ago using paper and pencil then graduated to Microsoft Money. Now,there are sites like mint.com to help you keep track of your spending. Whatever you use to set up your budget, know this. Coming up with a budget is the easy part; sticking to it takes WORK! But, that’s another post. Today, I want to talk about what I call ‘the hole in the soul’.

When I talk about the hole in the soul, I’m not talking about going to church, although going to church certainly may help. I’m talking about a life situation, which causes you to spend unnecessarily. Some of us are stress spenders. The more stressed we become, the more our particular button is pushed, the more we spend on things we don’t really need. Instead of addressing our stressor and resolving the issue, we avoid our inner discord and spend money to make ourselves feel better. As you read this, keep in mind, masking our stressor with purchases isn’t usually a conscious decision. So, my question for you is do you have such a stress point? Do you have the hole in the soul? Now, understand, not everyone prevents themselves from being successful with a budget or saving more or carrying less debt because of the hole in the soul. I’m just saying, it’s been my experience, my observation that quite often there is a stress point. So, what I’m asking you to do is take a good, hard look at yourself and your buying habits and honestly assess whether or not you have a particular stressor, which is preventing you from being financially successful.

Most often the hole in the soul is centered around relationships or the lack thereof or life regrets. If you have such an issue, which carries tremendous emotional weight, until it’s addressed and resolved, it’s very difficult to focus on financial health. Some people can soldier through and accomplish their financial goals anyway. But, they are the exception. You may even have a hole in the soul because of your relationship with yourself. That was my particular hole in the soul. I never took time for myself without guilt being attached to it. I’d dance as fast as I could at work, at home, in the community. I thought I could be super woman. It wasn’t until I almost went down in flames that I recognized why I held this misconception about myself. In fact, this is when I coined the term, ‘the hole in the soul’. The lesson I learned was if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else, least of all you. When I learned to put my own oxygen mask on first and realized it wasn’t being selfish, then I was ready to save instead of spend.

I once read that top CEO’s only make the “right” decision 10% of the time! The trait which put them at the top of their game was their willingness to correct and change course. We often think we are stuck in life circumstances with no alternatives. Or, worse yet, we’ve put our lives on automatic pilot and just keep flying along without taking the controls back to manual. So, if you have the hole in the soul, plug it. See a counselor, if necessary. Have a heart to heart with yourself or whoever you need to talk to be it children, spouse, parents, in-laws, bosses or co-workers. Make peace with your regrets. Take action. Until you do, you may not be able to stop yourself from buying more shoes, jewelry, knick knacks, cars, boats, trips, trips and trips, bigger houses, more furniture, stuff, stuff, stuff while you convince yourself you deserve all this. Once the hole in the soul is plugged, you’ll realize what you deserve is financial independence. Money is nothing more than a tool. Once you harness your money instead of your money harnessing you, you’ll realize what financial freedom is. That is when your spirit will truly soar!

WHO AM I?

As a kid my friends and I played a game called ‘Who Am I?’ One child was the guesser. The rest of us would pretend we were teachers or firemen or train conductors or nurses or doctors or some other type of worker. The guesser would have to ask the rest of us kids questions one at a time, questions such as, “Do you wear a hat?”. If the answer was yes, then the guesser asked the next child if the hat was black or red or white or whatever color they chose until they guessed the correct color. After I grew up, at business functions and social gatherings alike, the question changed to “What do you do?” as people sought to find common ground with a new acquaintance. Now, “What do you do?” has once again become “Who am I?” as I grapple with my retired self’s identity.

I’m still asked the inevitable question of “What do you do?” as was the case a few weeks ago when I met someone for the first time. When I answered with, “I’m retired”, my new acquaintance uttered, “Retired?” The question was accompanied by a look of puzzlement on his face followed by nothing more than a simple, non-committal, “Oh.” I hurriedly told him how I “used to be” a real estate broker and banker. But, this, too, fell flat as it was obvious he wasn’t impressed by who I used to be. Apparently, he wanted to know who I am now. So, who am I? Without an occupation, am I anything less than who I used to be? Many retirees struggle with these questions in much the same way I am now. They also struggle to find value and worth without the occupational title they held for so long.

Recently, a friend challenged me to fine another word for retirement. Believe me, I’ve searched for that other word. And while our perception of retirement is changing, all the dictionaries I checked still define it as a withdrawal from active working life, ceasing to work, a termination or end. Synonyms include withdrawal, pullback, receding. How dreary. Finding a word which adequately defines the breadth and depth of possibilities laying before retirees today, is, indeed, a challenge. Retirement may be the end, the termination of our career but it is also the beginning of a life full of endless possibilities.

Perhaps, the bigger challenge is the question we must each answer for ourselves. What is it that creates our sense of value and worth? What is it that gives us a sense of purpose in our lives? Isn’t it really a matter of our own perceptions of ourselves? Our perceptions often confuse what we do for a living with who we actually are. When we’re younger, we’re always running the race for more money, more recognition, more promotions, more clients, more accomplishments to add to our resume. The last several weeks I’ve come to realize I’m not what I did for a living and never have been. Regardless of the word we use to describe it, retirement is, in fact, an opportunity to become more of who you already are rather than what you did for a living. In retirement who I am…wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, gourmet cook, gardener, motorcycle Mama, artist, writer, blogger, volunteer…is no longer overshadowed by an occupation induced persona. Retirement has made clear what I am at my core without the external trappings of a career.

In retirement, folks, we can relax. We can appreciate and enjoy what really matters. We can be curious as we explore new interests. We can tackle a newly discovered hobby with the zeal of full time attention. We can choose to introduce ourselves to an ever widening array of activities or stay with what we know. We can be kids again playing a grown up version of “Who Am I?”.