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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 than if you’d just selected for one issue.

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, not just your clothes,  as a series of layers.

In career mode, we tend to focus on one thing–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 sweat suit–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 the vast marjority of the time available.

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.  Bur regardless of which of those roads you go down, 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 read 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 solo creative work.

Building a satisfying retirement is like creating a beautiful garden.  A really great garden starts with the dirt–both the quality and shape of the ground where you are going to plant.  It 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 and more variations in height, bloom time, etc.  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 no less complex.  Layer what you are doing with your life.  If things seem same-old-same-old, you’re probably schlumping around in that same flowered dress (or sweat suit).  Even if you replace the central focus of your life, it’s going to stay boring if there’s nothing else to who you are.

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 the new thing you discover you like the only thing you do, either.  Layer what you’re doing again and again and your life will feel a lot richer and more satisfying.