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Archive for June, 2013

Good Versus Easy

Friday, June 21st, 2013

The tee shirts are right. “Life is good.” They are also right in not proclaiming  “Life is easy.”  Or even worse “Easy is good.”  A good life is not easy–at least not all the time.

More to the point, easy is not always good.

It’s important to keep these distinctions in mind once you start looking at retirement.  A good life is not a matter of finding the easy way to get through each of those leisurely days.

If you compare the two words in the thesaurus, they aren’t even close.  Synonyms for “good” are things like respectable, honorable, decent, honest, kind, stable, obedient, etc.(That list goes on and on.)  Words listed as synonyms for “easy” are leisurely, simple, and lenient.  “Easy” lets you off the hook.  “Good” puts you on it.

But we’re encouraged to take to heart the notion that “easy is good” once we are ready to retire. Please don’t.  Easy is not good.  Easy, especially for a retired person, is death.

Use it or lose it is a very real phenomenon.  It’s easier not to climb stairs–but when you don’t, there goes muscle mass you could have kept and aerobic exercise you really need to keep your vitality.  It’s easier to watch TV than go out and meet new people.  But TV doesn’t stimulate you cerebral cortex and talking to others, or even better, learning something new with them, does.  Being engaged in a community of some sort helps ward off everything from Alzheimer’s to depression.

But we still feel gyped when we don’t have it easy after we retire.  We want “easy” when we hook up the TV, DVD, or whatever electronic device currently has us buffaloed.  What we really need is the challenge we’re trying to shirk.  We expect “easy” when we shop and “easy” when we transact personal business.  We get irate when things aren’t easy.

We want to believe we are entitled to “easy.”  That is like insisting we are entitled to smoking a pack a day.  Easy is not good for us.

And good is not easy.  That’s why it’s so satisfying when you pull it off.

Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving.  Don’t let your life be easy.  It means you’re sitting on the sidelines letting your brain cells die and the rest of your body atrophy.

Life is good.  But–if you want to be good to yourself–it should not be easy.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Want a Better Life? Layer

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

We’ve all heard it in terms of clothing. When you ski or hike, you layer so different needs are met simultaneously–a base layer to wick sweat away from your skin, another layer to keep you toasty even if the temperature dips, a layer to protect against the wind–and/or the precipitation.  Layers add up to a much more complete clothing solution for dealing with the environment you’ve opted to put yourself in.

If you’re fashion-conscious, you’ve also learned it’s the means to a polished appearance.  Layering makes you look “put together.”  The right jacket or sweater over the right shirt over the right shell (or the right jacket over the right button shirt over the right muscle shirt) says you know what you’re doing with your clothes.  When the stuff you have on “works,” you feel like you know what you’re doing overall.

It’s tempting to spend the rest of this post exploring why we tend to stop “putting ourselves together” once we retire, but that’s not the point of this.  It’s important to see your whole life as a combination of layers, not just your clothes.

In career mode, we tend to focus on one thing most–doing well at work.  Everything else–even time with loved ones–gets wedged in around the edges of what you need to do for your job.  Going back to clothes, that’s like putting on the same flowered dress–or blue sweatpants and shirt–every day and calling it good.  It may be functional, but it’s not “finished.”  It’s not how we’d like to see ourselves.  When life is job-centric, something is off but dealing with it stays on the back burner as long as the job keeps demanding most of your time.

As we move into the stage of life where work is no longer center stage, the natural tendency is to look for one other thing that will replace work as the center of your universe.  The cultural stereotype assumes this will be “play” and that all our time will be spent pursuing pleasure.  For some of us, volunteering has more appeal.  For others, health issues quickly take over the limelight.  That one thing becomes the focus–and we are still in that damn flowered dress.

Even if you have to wear the dress, you could “finish it” by pairing it with the right shoes, a sweater that makes it look less like your mother’s, a scarf, whatever.  No matter what seems to be in the middle of your life at any given moment, find things to layer with that to give yourself both a more complete solution to what’s happening and a broader sense of yourself.  Layer in some volunteer work if you’re having health troubles.  (Yes, I said that.)  Add a class or at least a book to help you tap into your creativity if you’ve filled your days with Bunko games and Red Hat outings.  Invite someone to dinner if most of what you’re doing has been alone.

As you look at how you want your retirement to go, keep layers in mind, too.  Build them in from the start. Planning your retirement is like creating a beautiful garden.  You start with dirt–and have to decide the shape and size of that, just like you decide when you’re going to stop working.

A really great garden starts with the shape of the ground, but proceeds from there in three dimensions of layers.  Hardscape–big rocks, edging material, a piece of driftwood, a gazebo–comes first. Then you define the “spine” with the largest plants you are going to use.  You’re aiming for an interesting third dimension to that flat X by Y space in the yard.

Then come “understory” plants to enhance that third dimension and create interest with different textures.  These are often plants that provide seasonal interest–stuff that blooms, turns color in the fall, and/or adds winter interest with texture or shape variance.  Maybe you decide to add some annuals for more color pop.

And last you add yard art–maybe a hummingbird feeder or a fairy crafted from an old water heater.  This last step gives your garden personality.  But it’s not because of the yard art.  It’s because the yard art is the last layer of a complex effort.

Your personality is not less complex.  Layer what you are doing with your life.  If things seem same-old-same-old, you’re probably schlumping around in the same flowered dress.  You may need to replace the central focus of your life, but even if you do, add some other pieces over it to make life good.

Get creative.  Volunteer.  Find an adventure every week–or every day.  Take a risk instead of sitting in front of the TV.  Don’t make that new thing you discover you like the only thing you do, either.  Layer what you’re doing again and again and you’ll your life a lot better.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

 

 

Get in the Game

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

We all are playing it, whether we accept that or not. The game is Life and how well it goes isn’t just a function of luck.  And no, I am not talking about the Milton Bradley board game.

Real life–what goes on for each of us all day every day–is better or worse depending on how thoroughly we engage with it.  The two obviously bad strategies are dwelling on the past and obsessing about the future.  But there’s another, more subtly bad idea that deserves some scrutiny.

You can’t live life well if you don’t get involved in it.  Staying on the sidelines and watching is a pretty sparse version of living, but it’s easy to take that road because it’s looks like it’s the safest route.  But it’s a shortcut to a desert of frustration, not the wisest way to Nirvana.

Get in the game.  Take personal action about what’s going on in your life.  Waiting for someone else to make you happy is silly–most of us are already well aware of that.  But so is waiting for someone else to trigger what you need to happen or for someone besides you to make things exciting.

There’s a balance to the game of life.  If you don’t see that and learn to achieve it, things will be out of whack for you emotionally most of the time.  We do need to put ourselves in the center of our own lives.  But that doesn’t mean ignoring a loved one when they need help.  What you get out of helping is different, but it is still about helping yourself be really alive.  That helping may give you a sense of connectedness and the softness of compassion rather than a good night’s sleep–or an interrupted workday, but you still gain from getting involved in what’s going on around you.

It’s not always about meeting someone else’s needs instead of your own.  Sometimes, it’s being willing to do things a new way.  Take haggling for example.  Much of the world does business with this technique.  The first few times I tried it–after being coached by the travel professionals running the trip, I felt like I was bullying the person I wanted to buy something from.  It seemed like a heavy-handed way to prove I was a more savvy bargainer than my “adversary” on the other side of the shop table.

Eventually I realized that those who do business this way see it as part of the fun.  It’s definitely a more engaged way to purchase than simply taking something off a shelf, running it through the self-serve checkout, and leaving the store.  I was at the bazaar near the New Mosque in Istanbul after I’d gotten comfy with this aspect of the Game of Life when I learned an important lesson about making it work.

On one of the less-travelled alleys, we found a vendor with a table of knit and lace ladies tops.  They were beautiful and much as I really didn’t need one, I wanted one with more passion than I typically have for clothes.  I asked the vendor how much he wanted for one I liked best.  He ignored me.  A younger vendor nearby said something to him in Turkish and then asked me in English to ask the question again.  I did, and the older vendor traced “15” on the palm of his hand. His friend said “That is American dollars.” That was reasonable, but I wanted to do it right.  This was a haggling situation.  So I said that was too much and offered half–just like I’d learned.  When his friend translated, he shrugged.  After a few minutes of just looking at each other, I turned to leave.

His young friend gave him a quick flurry of instructions in Turkish and called me back.  He explained that the older man was just starting and asked me to try again.  I again offered half of his asking price.

The way it’s supposed to work is that he then counters and we reach a price between his high and my low.  Instead, he shook his head “yes.”  I turned to his more experienced friend.  The younger guy sighed.  “It is yours for that price.”

The shirt I bought was lovely–a deliciously soft, heathered knit with pretty lacework dyed in the same gentle teal blue.  I loved the shirt when I saw it.  But once I owned it, I felt bad wearing it.  We hadn’t played the real game and I had accidentally stolen it.

I can see now that it was a round in the Game of Life where I’d come to play and my vendor had not.  I felt gypped even though I’d gotten the “deal.” More often, I am on the other end of that fulcrum.  Either way, when you don’t “get in the game,” everyone loses.  That moment in life is less because of your reluctance to play an active role.

Engage in life.  Roll up your sleeves and get involved.  Give. Take. Try. Make a difference.  That’s the only way to be really alive.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.