Retired Spouse Syndrome

Last Wednesday I joined a small class of Furman University students along with Professor Lorraine DeJong and other retired adults in an intergenerational course about what it’s like to be a “senior” in today’s society. Members of Furman’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) were asked to participate voluntarily in order to bring the experience to life for the students. I signed up for a couple of classes. The subject for the class I attended last week was relationships. While we discussed family, adult children, grandchildren and friends, the segment that caught my eye was retired spouse syndrome.

Researching retired spouse syndrome, I found many articles as well as research in both Japan and Italy referring to it as retired husband syndrome. It’s no secret men have a more difficult time than women when leaving the workplace behind. More of a man’s identity is tied up in his job description and title.

Conversely, women have taken many roles throughout their lives from work to being the main caregiver of children, perhaps even staying at home for a few years while raising them. Women also are more apt to be the caregiver of parents in their later years. And, for most couples women are the ones who maintain the social calendar. As a result women are more flexible about identity.

That said, I experienced unexpected feelings of sadness and loss when I left work. Those feelings were repeated when Martin retired as I also had many ties with his co-workers over his long career at a single company. Admittedly part of my identity was immersed in his identity. When he retired I was no longer the wife of the vice-president.

As Professor Phyllis Moen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota and author of numerous books, points out, the first two years of retirement can be a time of enormous stress on a marriage. Both men and women experience the strain as they struggle to create new identities, both as a couple and as individuals. While single men and women also struggle, they may or may not have a partner to consider.

Shortly after Martin retired, I had to remind him I was not going to be his only employee for the rest of his life. Suddenly, the way I filled the dishwasher and the time of day I put clothes in the washer was all wrong. Mind you, we have had a marriage of equal partnership where he washed clothes and did dishes, too. We both cook. It was our habit that whoever cooked dinner that night, the other one of us did the kitchen clean-up. This arrangement worked for decades without comment until retirement.

As I have chronicled in these pages, when we retire, our world shrinks. As it becomes smaller, we are sometimes caught up in minutiae. As I’ve also pointed out, it takes about two years to adjust to a new life and discard the old identity. Avoiding retired spouse syndrome requires an awareness of it in the first place. Once you are aware of it, then it takes commitment and communication as a couple to create the identity you envision for yourselves, together and individually.

Oftentimes, we forget the us factor. Us doesn’t mean we are joined at the hip 24/7; it means we honor and respect each other as we forge new identities. Listening is part of the communication, perhaps the most important aspect. One of the tools Martin and I used was the bucket list. We’d made bucket lists before retirement. We made others after retirement. Then we compared lists. It helped to ignite an honest discussion of who we were and who we wanted to be and whether or not our wants meshed. They did.

As for the dishwasher? Martin loads it — every night.  Renewed purpose takes many forms.  And we do laundry whenever we need to.

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.

A Daily Life

 

This post originally appeared June 26, 2013.  It has been updated.  One of the surprises of going back and reading posts from a few years ago is how much my writing has improved!  The more we do something, the better we become at doing it.

 

Up until recently, I had a blogging routine. I wrote my weekly post on Friday. On Saturday morning I got up, edited the article, then posted it. That routine was broken when I decided to write a book. Writing a larger piece required a new routine. Routines are important, even in retirement. Routines add structure to our lives and it is structure which makes it possible to meet challenges, accomplish whatever we set out to do and makes the special moments special.

 
After years of getting up at the same time, getting ready for work in much the same way and having to be at your desk, office, station, work site at a specific time every day, suddenly all of that comes to a screeching halt. With retirement, you can sleep in everyday if you want. You can get up and throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt or hang out in your pajamas until noon or all day. You have no place to go unless you manufacture a place to go. You have nothing to do unless you create something to do.

Part of challenge in retirement is how will you create structure. Why? Do you really want to spend the next thirty years of your life sleeping in and sitting around the house in your pj’s doing nothing more than watching the tube, surfing the net and leafing through magazines?

After placing in the state time trials, the question Martin has been asked most often is, “So, what will you do now?” It’s also similar to an often asked question since we retired, “What do you do all day?” And, therein lies the rub. After 40 years or more of someone telling you what to do all day, there is suddenly no boss.

There are no corporate directives. There are no promotions to a higher level. There are no new products to roll out. There are no employees bringing you problems to solve. There is no job description. There is no company policy manual. There are no rules. In retirement it is up to you to determine your fate. That, folks is the number one challenge of being a person of independent means.

Martin has already decided he won’t be competing in the national time trials. He’ll continue to ride for exercise and his own enjoyment. He’s already exploring taking a college course or two in photography and/or painting with acrylics. We can always find something new to challenge our brains and satisfy our creative vision. But, understand this. Determining your fate isn’t one big round of finding something creative or challenging to fill your days. Your days also need some of the usual — the everyday. The often times mundane. Because one of the things which has also vaporized with your work life is structure. Maybe not entirely, but a significant amount of your routine is gone.

When working, long weekends and vacation days become moments when we do something special in between the structure of work. Structure is the juxtaposition to the excitement of say racing in the state time trials or running a marathon. To be sure, there’s the structure offered by laundry, grocery shopping, house maintenance and family obligations. The latter remains even in retirement. Although for us, shopping and errand running on the weekends and evenings is replaced with doing those chores early morning weekdays when the stores are close to empty. Now we do laundry whenever the hamper is full. House cleaning is whenever we feel like it or, to motivate ourselves, we invite someone for a visit or dinner.

After years of dinner sometime between 6:30 and 7:30, in our new life, we enjoy starting dinner early and eating around 5:30. Structure. Thanks to a little diluted orange cat named Carmen, Martin still gets up in the morning around 5:30 to 6 a.m. Carmie doesn’t care that Daddy doesn’t go to work anymore. She sticks to the routine she was raised with, meowing at the bedroom door in anticipation of Martin rising and giving early morning pets and breakfast.

I sleep in until Martin brings me a latte bedside around 7 a.m. That’s right, he makes me a latte every morning…structure!

Even our choice to age in place on our six acres provides routine, albeit different routines during the different seasons. With an overgrown woods looking like something the Prince had to hack through to reach Sleeping Beauty in the castle, winter’s routine is bushwhacking. Summer mornings are spent picking berries and vegetables, deadheading flower beds and doing chores in the garden. Then, there’s house maintenance like cleaning gutters, painting the trim, fixing a leaking toilet and all the other things you now have time to do yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you.

No matter what you plan for retirement, skydiving, bungee jumping, spending a year in an RV traveling the country, going to Europe or Hawaii, sailing the seven seas, no matter what you plan for excitement or challenge, in order to make it truly exciting, you’ll need a daily life of the usual. You will need structure and routine. And, even if you have a book to write, you can take off spur-of-the-moment to parts known or unknown.

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.

Coping With Bad News

 

A couple of weeks ago a reader wrote me about receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer. This reader and I have corresponded for the last three years. Although I’ve never met her, I feel like she is a friend. She asked if I had ever written about coping with an illness. I had not. She wrote, “This is not part of our plans!”

When we retire, and especially if we retire early, the last thing we expect is news of a serious illness. In 2014 I met a man who told me when he received his cancer diagnosis, everything important in life came sharply into focus. Much of what he worried about was suddenly trivial. After beating cancer, he continued to center his attention on his newfound vision.

While we may not have received a cancer diagnosis, we all encountered blows of some kind in our life experience. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls. It’s almost never expected, whether we just retired or were at some other juncture in life.

As I researched for this post, as usual, much of what popped up was how to handle a financial set back. With retirement, whether it is preparation or crisis, money takes center stage. It took quite a bit of digging to find information on coping with an illness. In the process, I asked myself what I would do if I received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

If I received bad news, I would re-visit previous life skirmishes asking myself how I coped.  What did I do that worked for me?  What would I do differently now? What lessons did I learn, which could be applied to the present situation?

For the last two years I’ve practiced mindfulness, mastering the skill of staying present. The past is behind us; the future has yet to unfold itself to us. What we have is the present, the here and now. Focusing on the present has reduced the number of times my mind runs headlong into the future on mind spinning mode, creating worst scenario outcomes. Mind spinning often results in our conjuring a bad situation into an even worse situation. In the case of devastating news, staying present can provide calm in the face of the hurricane. Add a few deep breaths.

Fight or flight. I tend to go into fight mode when receiving bad news. Rather than run from it emotionally and mentally, I start gathering as much information as I can. I like to make informed decisions. Knowing what I’m facing also provides a sense of some control in what is potentially an uncontrollable situation. Never one to throw my hands up and say, “there’s nothing I can do about it” instead I dig deep for information. Knowledge is power.

Like the man I mentioned above, there may actually be some good news embedded in the bad news. He had an epiphany about what was really important to him in life. Everything small by comparison just fell away, leaving him with a sense of really living.

Another woman I know forced a rosy outlook during her battle with cancer. She said she didn’t have time to be negative.  The fact is we have emotional ups and downs during any crisis. I meditate.  One of the objectives I appreciate about meditation is letting the negatives into your thoughts, dealing with them, then letting them go. It’s ok to feel down at a time like this. We can’t be up all the time. To me, constantly projecting Little Mary Sunshine in the face of bad news is a stress in itself.

Bottling up emotions may also block others from helping you. If you have a spouse or life partner, it is probably as important for their welfare as it is for yours, to open up and let them in. They are also in pain. Most probably they are worried about you. Shutting them out by pretending everything is still normal may do more harm than good. The situation is not normal. They may need to cry along with you — let them.

Take your partner or a close friend with you on medical appointments. I know many, many people who did not include their spouse thinking they were shielding them from more bad news. If you are really partners, now is not a time to dial back the relationship. They can be an advocate for you, perhaps hearing something from a medical professional you missed. Emotionally, they can hold your hand during any delivery of news, either good or bad. And you can hold theirs.

You both need all the support you can get. Include family and friends with information. Back to the woman who put on the rose colored glasses, she never shared any news of her condition. I always wanted to hug her. She was even resistant to that. I know people who didn’t want their children informed of a diagnosis, robbing them of the ability to support and, in worse case situations, say a meaningful goodbye.

I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but I am an advocate of going to a counselor when needed. Receiving any devastating news may be a time when counseling is in order. Talking to a professional can help clarify positions, direction, actions to be taken, not to mention dealing with the emotional toll. Seek professional help for your mind and emotions just as you are seeking professional help for your body. Attending to your spiritual self by talking with a minister or priest may also help.

This is just my personal take on what I would do if faced with devastating news such as a cancer diagnosis. As always, we have to do what works best for us, as individuals, and our family in any particular situation. It is not easy to retire and receive bad news. However, as in any other moment in life, there are actions we can take to move us in the direction of a more positive outcome.

For the reader who inspired this post and all of my readers dealing with bad news of any kind, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Are You A Caregiver?

To Do List

To Do List

Some of my best ideas for posts come from friends, family and, of course, my readers. A friend, who is in the process of finding nursing home care for her 92 year old mother, suggested I write this post on caregiving. With reader comments about their caregiving responsibilities, it’s a subject I’ve looked at before. Admittedly I avoided it because caregiving is such a broad subject with many layers. Where to begin? I decided to begin with the caregiver, a many layered and varied subject in and of itself with as many scenarios as there are people.

According to caregiving.org in 2015 there were nearly 44 million unpaid caregivers in the United States alone. With 10,000 baby boomers arriving daily at their 65th birthday, that number is expected to rise. Boomers are not only giving care, they are needing care. However, caregiving.org reported 1 in 10 caregivers were over the age of 75. Forty percent of caregivers report the care as being a high burden for them and higher hour (44.5 hours a week) caregivers are stressed. The physical burden, especially at an older age, appears to carry a larger emotional burden as the hours of caregiving amount to that of a full-time job with little or no time for a personal break.

As a wife and mother I’ve been in the role of caregiving in the past, one that comes as a natural part of raising children or caring for a spouse recuperating after an accident. Most of the caregivers are, in fact, women. I can imagine that as we age and find ourselves caring for someone, we may not view ourselves as caregivers. It’s what we have always done for family or sometimes, even friends.

I’ve known many people, like my friend, who are either caregiving directly or are responsible for arranging caregiving. It is a complicated subject. There is no one size fits all. Some people are caregiving for an aging spouse or other relative or friend, while others are continuing the care of handicapped adult children and others still are taking on the upbringing of grandchildren. Some retired not expecting to be in this role.

Earlier in the summer I had the pleasure of having one of my grandchildren visit for two weeks as he accompanied Martin and me on a trip to Michigan to visit our oldest daughter and her family. An active, engaging seven-year-old caring for him takes a lot of energy. There are the usual undertakings like making sure he is eating his vegetables or getting a bath or off to bed at a prescribed time to the unfamiliar activities of assisting with the technical gadgets this generation carries with them as a matter of course. Then there was keeping track of him, keeping him occupied, making sure he is spending his time well. I found myself more tired in the evening. What was a snap when I was thirty takes more effort for the aging me. And, I wasn’t having to be concerned with school, financial responsibilities or healthcare.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago when I was interviewing the local Alzheimer’s Association as a volunteer for United Way. The woman representing the organization remarked about how stressful the role of caregiving is for the caregiver, impacting their quality of life and even their health as they care for their loved one. Support and a respite, if only for a few hours a week is important. Depending on the extent and duration of the caregiving, it can be stressful, especially as we age.

According to the Center for Disease Control more than half of caregivers said they do not have time to take care of themselves and almost half said they are too tired to do so. It’s easy for me to say because I’m not in that role, at least not yet, but this brings to mind one of my favorite sayings, “Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, you may not be able to help the other passengers.” If you are in the role of being a caregiver, it is important to take care of yourself so you are able to continue to care for your loved one. Otherwise, what will happen to them if you leave this world first?

That means eating well balanced meals, finding time for some exercise, getting your immunizations, health check-ups and taking any medications you may need. A support group where you can share your story and network for needed services can provide some relief for the stress. Is that easier said than done?

As I mentioned above, caregiving and receiving care is expected to take on more significance as baby boomers age. This generation’s huge numbers is expected to be an opportunity for companies in the healthcare and senior care industries. Most of this generation wants to age in place using in-home services. Realistically, they may not have the financial capacity to go to assisted living facilities.  Aging in place may not be by choice but necessity.

As also mentioned, some of my readers have written comments about caregiving responsibilities. I’d like to hear from any and all of you who are engaged in caregiving be it a spouse, parent, adult child, grandchildren or friend. Caregiving runs the gamut of taking someone grocery shopping, to the doctor or doing some housework to being responsible for attending to all physical and personal needs, finances and even some medical or nursing duties.

For starters:  What are your responsibilities?  How does your caregiving impact your hours for taking care of yourself?  Do you have time for activities you enjoy like a hobby? Do you feel burdened by caregiving responsibilities or is it something you enjoy doing? Why is that? Did you expect to be in this role when you retired or did it catch you by surprise? If you didn’t expect to be a caregiver, how did it change your retirement? Do you consider yourself in good health? Has being a caregiver caused your own health to decline? Do you feel more stressed or is caregiving just one more hat to wear? And whatever else you want to comment about.

Let us know what it’s like on the front lines of caregiving. Tell me your story.  I’ll post your comments and pass your observations on to others in a future post. Your story may help someone else.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.