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What Do I Want to Do Next?

May 1st, 2014

“What do I want to do next?” We all need to ask ourselves that question on a regular basis. Not so much as we work through the tasks on that pesky To Do list as to keep the sense of adventure in our lives.

What do I want to do next?  Next year?  Next as a focus for learning something?  Next as a way to “give back?”

Asking that question can seem kind of pointless when you are stuck in the daily grind of work, kids’ needs, and then more work.  It still needs to be asked then–as a way to visualize the “brass ring” of getting beyond the hectic schedules and overwork that modern culture expects of us during our career years.

Maybe we don’t ask that key question very often when we’re younger, but after retirement, asking that question becomes critical.  Otherwise you end up in a boring rut of “same old same old.”

When I left the corporate world, my answer to “What do I want to do next?” was easy–write novels.  I set about learning how to do that with the same intensity I’d used to succeed in business.  It didn’t work out the same way though.  Other things came along that deserved my attention.  I had time, and I willingly gave it.  A month wandering around Florida in January makes perfect sense for a resident of Colorado.  Helping sort my deceased brother-in-law’s household so his only brother (my then husband) could get it on the market?  Of course I will do that.  A world cruise?  Of course!

When I finally got back to writing with any kind of regularity, I decided that what I really needed to write was screenplays.  So I took a year-long course online with UCLA.  I do love screenplays.  You have to tell the story in images.  What you write is just the blueprint; a whole team has to use that to actually create the desired product–a movie.  I love teamwork.  This was my last best thing to do.

Then reality intervened again.  You know those complaints about Hollywood ignoring screenwriters over 30?  They’re real.  I was furious after one particularly blatant ageist encounter.  Then “What do I want to do next” was answered with Change this attitude!  After I calmed down, I could see that the Hollywood attitude toward older people wasn’t the most important thing to change.  The important change was with the older people themselves.  So I worked on what eventually became Supercharged Retirement.  And I pushed myself to get it out there as fast as I could rather than writing it and then putting it in a drawer.  (Which is a lot easier, trust me.)

When that book came out, there wasn’t much about how to get the stuff other than money figured out for when you retire.   What I had to offer did make a difference.  I went back to using other skills I’d developed in the workforce to do seminars and promote the book.  Now there are a lot more resources for people to use and that’s good.  For them and for me.  With plenty available, I can look around for “What do I want to do next?” again.

This time, the answer is a rerun.  I want to write novels.

So I am going back to following that bliss.  I think.  The retirement stuff is still important and there are still issues and insights that need to be explored and explained though.  So I’m going to do both.

How this is going to work is anyone’s guess.  I just know it’s time to try.  Stay tuned.

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Mary Lloyd is a writer and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  Her first novel Widow Boy will be out Sept. 15, 2014.  For more, see her website.

What Do You Bother With?

April 24th, 2014

Figuring out a Purpose (capital P) is daunting at any stage of life. It’s a key piece of getting retirement right, but that capital P generates a massive amount of angst.  Purpose is supposed to be a “big deal.”  We want to “make a difference” and “give back” and maybe even “leave something for posterity.” All that’s fine if you can pull it off. But often, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

Then what?

Well, maybe it’s time to let go of the ego trip of the big deal “Purpose” and go with what you can find that you think is worth bothering with right now.  Sometimes, that’s definitely not a big deal.

I just got in from a walk.  It’s after dinner, and usually by then, the walk has either happened or it isn’t going to happen.  Tonight I walked.  Why?  Partly because the sun came out.  But more so because I worked in the garden today.  My back needs a walk every day to stay happy.  And the days it needs it most are the ones where I give it a workout in other ways–especially playing in the dirt.  So I walked.  Not because I’m trying to set a good example for others.  Not because I am committed to good health for all.  I walked because if I don’t, my back hurts.  It’s not Purpose, but there is purpose in doing it.

It’s nice when you have a sweet, juicy Purpose in front of you.  It’s exciting to know you’re involved in something bigger than yourself.  Making a contribution is the magic potion of self-worth.  But those big deal opportunities don’t come everyday.  But we still need a sense of purpose–a sense of worth–every day.

Think of these “bothers” as mini-purposes–something to give you a sense of direction while you are waiting for the big expedition to start–whatever it is.  Life coaches suggest that you do something toward achieving your heart’s desire every day.  That’s something worth bothering about.  But so is keeping the relationships you cherish in good repair.  So is taking care of yourself–body, mind, and spirit.  So is cleaning the garage if it’s making you (or your partner) crazy when you need to find stuff in there.  These purposes aren’t the epic endeavors we’re taught to look for, but they are better than nothing.  They are a place to start.

If you can’t see your Purpose right now, settle for doing whatever you can see that seems worth doing.  That action may help define your grander direction outright.  It may just be setting the stage for something else that does.  Choosing things to “bother with” everyday does help you zoom in on Purpose.  The things you make the effort to do over the days and weeks and months create a map of what’s important to you and where your interests lie.

So if you’re stuck on this Purpose thing, give yourself a time out and just find something to bother with for now.  If you keep committing to something day after day, your Purpose may well become evident in the pattern you create.

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

Give a Caregiver a Hug

April 14th, 2014

Adult caregiving hijacks your life. None of us agree to do it because it sounds like fun. But when a loved one needs it, we step up.  Ongoing, it’s a daunting job; at times, it’s downright harrowing.  Once you are in the middle of it, reality warps.

An article published by the American Medical Association reported, “One of society’s greatest assets is the many family members who provide care to ill or disabled relatives.”  One study estimated there were over 15 million American adults serving as unpaid caregivers—in 1998.  And yet, the needs of those doing it remain unnoticed.

Last week in a single four-hour stretch, I spoke with three different women friends, each up to their ears in challenges related to caregiving for aging loved ones.  Each had taken on the caregiving role in addition to the ample responsibilities they still held as professionals.

The first was weathering a major health scare with the man in her life. She had taken him in when he got sick and then became his advocate through all the tests and procedures.  She was struggling to find the right boundaries in what she did for him.

The second needed to find a way to convince her parents to let the housekeepers, who were provided as part of their assisted living rent, into the apartment to clean.  Her folks said there was no need.  But she could smell their unit when she got off the elevator.  She’d been cleaning every time she visited and worrying in the interim that they might get evicted.

The third has been spending her own money for a caregiver for her husband, so she can continue to work as a college professor.  He has a non-Alzheimer’s version of dementia.  She has power of attorney and pays his bills.   His funds could easily cover the cost of the caregiver, but she thought she had to pay for it herself because he would have refused to let her spend money for that if he could still think.  Reality tilts in odd ways when you’ve been a caregiver for long enough.

It’s easy to think it would be different if you had to do it.  That you would draw clear boundaries and insist things be done your way.  But that’s the cruelest part of the caregiver role.  When it gets intense, you don’t realize the boundaries are out of whack or that what you’re doing doesn’t make good sense in the broader scheme.

It’s a lot like the classic experiment with frogs.  They did a study where researchers put a frog in hot water.  It jumped out to safety immediately.  But if the water was cool when the frog was put in and was heated gradually, the frog kept swimming until the water was so hot the frog died.

We do the frog-in-slowly-warmed-water thing as caregivers.  As the disease progresses beyond what we can really handle, we just keep going.  Our own lives evaporate.  We think we are doing fine when we’re not.

Three years ago, I became caregiver to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Every day there was a new problem, and always one with which I had zero experience.  With each new side effect, I had to figure out something new that was needed to keep him safe and, hopefully, comfortable.  The volume of work was massive, and the possibility I might hurt him by not doing the right thing was terrifying.  Yet when friends asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Fine.”  I wasn’t being a stoic angel of mercy.  I was too worn out emotionally to find more honest words.

In an ideal world, unpaid caregivers would have mandatory breaks.  No one’s going to legislate that.  So it’s up to the rest of us to make a difference.  If you know someone who’s caregiving, do what you can to provide support.  A hug is a good start.  But then offer to do something specific.

I am all too guilty of saying “Call if you need anything” and leaving it at that.  For a long-term caregiver, there’s not enough mental juice available to convert those words to something useful.  “Would you like me to clean the kitchen?”  Or “Why don’t I sit with Aunt Irma for the afternoon so you can get away?” works better.

Caregiving is hard duty.  If we all remember this and offer support in all the ways we can, we can keep each other from ending up in need of care ourselves because we carried too big a load alone.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Solving the Symptom

April 5th, 2014

For the past 10 days, I’ve been getting bids for dealing with water in my crawlspace. It’s been a great refresher course in the difference between solving a problem and treating a symptom.

To be sure, I don’t like having standing water under the house. But if I want to solve this for good, I need to think in terms of what put it there instead of just how to get it out. I can get it out on my own–a submersible pump and then the Shop Vac (both borrowed from my older son) are all I needed.  I got th water all out myself a week ago.

But after getting it “squeegee dry” on a Saturday evening, it was already starting to come back in the next morning. That’s when I started asking for bids.

I’ve had four different outfits look at it. Two had variations of the same approach in mind–because they were selling the same patented system (which I did not know when I asked them both to bid). That system is great at solving the symptom–water in the crawlspace–or more often, in someone’s basement. It just collects it and pumps it back out automatically, using a largely inconspicuous collection system.  It even has a double back up on the sump pump to be sure it keeps pumping under all circumstances.

My landscape guy suggested there’s enough slope on the lot that we can channel the water to a corner of the crawl (which has a concrete floor) via grooves and get it out with just a gravity drain. That’s lots cheaper and would probably be just as effective–at solving the symptom.

Day before yesterday, a general contractor I’ve used for remodel projects took a look at it. He really looked at it.  He checked where the drainage from the underground downspout system was coming out.  He looked at the outlet for the surface drainage.  He dug down on the lowest corner of the house to see what was actually going on at the foundation/footing contact.  Then he suggested a cost-effective way to solve the problem.  

The problem in this case is that water is using the foundation of my house as the easiest way downhill when it rains.  I need to create an easier way for it to go–and make the route next to the house harder.  It looks like we can do that for less than what the guys with the razzle dazzle system would charge.

What I do or don’t do with my water issue isn’t the point here.  How often do we “solve the symptom” when we think we’re really solving the problem?  The doctor says your blood pressure is high.  He recommends taking medication for that.  Symptom solved.  But what’s causing the high blood pressure?  Stress?  And undetected underlying medical condition?  You can help yourself better if you know and deal with that.

Same idea in a financial context:  You don’t have enough money at the end of the month to make the mortgage payment.  So you change that payment to earlier in the month.  The symptom is no longer creating discomfort but the problem remains–you’re living hand to mouth.  Why wasn’t there enough money at the end of the month?  Are you spending more than you realize?  Is someone who has access to your funds using them for a drug or gambling addiction?  Is your lifestyle more than you can afford?  Is someone just plain stealing from you?  You won’t discover these things if you just deal with the symptom and move on.

As a nation, we’ve become focused on eliminating symptoms instead of solving problems.  We vote to extend unemployment benefits rather than getting on with the reforms that are needed to get the economy humming on a stronger note.  We make laws about carrying guns and then leave the epidemic of mental health problems unaddressed.

As individuals, we can choose better every day.  Let’s solve problems.  That eliminates the pesky symptom but goes a whole lot farther toward keeping things on the right track over time.

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

Happy Shoes

March 25th, 2014

Do you have a pair of “happy shoes?” Maybe you need one.

I am blessed to have a son who is  one of the world’s happiest people.  If left to his own sense of how the world works, he always manages to see something good to focus on.  He clued me in to the idea of happy shoes.  He’s a tall guy and wears size 13’s.  When you see him in a pair of bright yellow vinyl sneakers with happy faces on them, you can bet something wonderful has happened in his life.  He recently wore them for his daughter’s birthday party.   But the real reason for the shoes was adversity that dogged him for five years.

He was the nice guy in the wrong place when the financial markets turned to goo.  He’s financially conservative but the company he’d been working for had gone in a bad direction and ended up imploding.  Prior to that event, he’d been able to find another job in a matter of days if not hours.  But with gazillions of financial professionals out of work, most of the jobs drying up, and the blot of “that company name” on his resume, the months turned into years.

His financial conservatism meant they’d been saving for this potential disaster.  Plus his wife still had a well-paying job.  The hit was ugly for the family wallet, but it pegged to downright grotesque in terms of its potential for destroying his self esteem.  He was a professional with good credentials.   In the aftermath of the finance sector’s meltdown, that probably worked against him even more–the “overqualified” issue.

But he didn’t sit on his hands while he waited for the right job to come along.  He  did all the things they advise doing.  (You will never find a guy more effective at networking.)  And when things didn’t turn around quickly, he didn’t head for the bar in frustration.  He just kept on believing it was going to work out while he did everything he could think of as the process dragged on and on.

He started studying for the CFA–an arduous credentialing process that some say is more demanding than an MBA.  He also remodeled their entire downstairs and  rebuilt a rock wall in the backyard.  He was in the middle of remodeling the kitchen when “the right job” finally materialized.

At some point in all that, he found these shoes–for when he would begin to celebrate the wins again.  He believed things were going to go right eventually. And they have.  When he passed the CFA’s (which really does take years), he sent a photo of his foot–in a happy shoe.  The image filled me with joy–and I wasn’t even the one who’d gone through the massive work effort to make the achievement happen.

I have a pair of silly shoes–pink suede, slide-on, sneaker style, 3″ platform shoes.  I got them for a costume party and they make me laugh.  (I am 5 foot 8.)  So I keep them.  But are they my happy shoes–or just my silly shoes?  What would it take to make them my happy shoes?

That’s beside the point.  The question here is how do you–and I–celebrate our wins?  And are our loved ones in on that?

Early in my writing career, I would treat my husband to dinner out when I finished a book  manuscript–simply because I wanted to celebrate that.  (Let’s not quibble about who’s “supposed” to buy in such circumstances.  Reality is often less romantic than we’d prefer.)

Going out to eat (at least if you don’t do it all the time) is a nice way to acknowledge completing a big job.  But you’re done  with the celebrating in an hour or two and the loved ones who are a thousand miles away don’t get to feel your joy.  Happy shoes send the message all day long and over the internet if you snap a photo.

I think I need some happy shoes.  I think you do, too.  Life is good–and when it’s even better for the moment because something good happened, it’s nice to mark that well.

Please note:   When I become adept at getting photos off my phone camera and into blog posts, I will include the images of these shoes as well as one of me wearing whatever my happy shoes are at that point–to celebrate the fact that I finally got that figured out.

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

Lessons from a Butterfly Cake

March 13th, 2014

Sometimes, it takes a while to “get it.” I learned that via my two-year old granddaughter’s birthday cake a few days ago.

I’ve coveted the role of designated birthday cake baker for four years now—ever since her older sister turned one.  But, alas, I am not the only grandma, and I’ve somehow ended up second in line until this most recent birthday.  So when I got to do this cake, I was ridiculously excited.

I have done plenty of birthday cakes.  I’m from a family of nine; I started making birthday cakes before I was ten.  Plus I made my own kids’ cakes.  But my children are sons.  I’ve done trucks and volcanoes and even manufactured enough fake pies for a birthday pie fight one year.  But I’ve never had the chance to make a little girl’s cake.  I really wanted to make a butterfly cake.

Late last week, I got that chance.  And I went nuts. If you cut a round cake layer in half and then cut each half again on the diagonal so one piece is twice as big as the other, when you lay the four pieces on a tray with the curves on the inside and the small pieces below the big ones–ta da!–you have a butterfly.  Thank you, internet.

But a butterfly needs a body…and a head…and antennae.  I wanted those parts to look more real than the piece of stick candy the original pattern called for.  And the wings had to be beautiful, which meant colored sugars in the perfect hues and assorted sizes of colored candies.

I searched the baking and candy aisles at two grocery stores, the cake decorating section of two craft stores, the candy aisle at Toys R Us (a bonanza—unless you are into childhood nutrition), and the food section of an import store looking for this stuff.  It is not an exaggeration to say I spent more time trying to find the perfect materials for that cake than I did buying a couch.

Eventually, I hit on the idea of shaping pieces of cooked spaghetti into really cool antennae. They hold shape nicely once dry.    (They were probably the healthiest thing on the cake, too, since it was whole wheat spaghetti.)  I flattened neopolitan coconut candy with a rolling pin and cut circles for the head using an antique bouillon tube my mom kept for cutting donut holes.  By stacking four circles on top of each other, I could secure the antennae and eyes (candy coated, chocolate covered sunflower seeds).

The razzle dazzle, orange sparkly, store-bought decorating sugar looked like cellophane shreds on a trial run, so I de-emphasized that in the “wing design.”  I scuttled the sprinkles because the colors were too garish.  I ended up custom dyeing granulated sugar in an attempt to get just the right hues.  For five days, my highest priority was that cake.

All went well with the baking, frosting, etc.  I sorted candies by color and applied them one small piece at a time with a jeweler’s pliers. I put the candy coated sunflower seeds around the base for extra effect.  I added more candy dots on the wings.  I fussed with it.  And fussed with it some more.  I was way past “overboard” by the time I decided I was finished.

And when it was done?   It was….just a cake.  A cake that looked like a butterfly.  A cake that was just a small piece of a fun day for an adorable little girl.  The two pink candles were blown out with wide-eyed innocence.  It tasted fine.

The cake served its purpose well.  But I felt oddly off balance.  Why I didn’t feel better about what I’d spent so much time creating?

Then I finally got it.  The obsession hadn’t been about a perfect cake for my granddaughter.  A burst of wild creativity had inundated me once the dam of “permission” had been breached. I didn’t need to be a grandma to make that cake.  I just needed to let myself “go play.”

I was happy I got to do Cora’s cake, but sad that I waited so long to bake a butterfly.

I liked being part of helping my granddaughter turn two.  But even better, I will bear no resentment if the other grandma wants to make all the cakes from here on.  She does it well.   (We’ve had a ladybug, a sand castle, a princess, and a fairy castle, all beautifully done.)  I don’t need “my turn” doing the girls’ birthday cakes.  My priority will be to encourage their own creativity.  And the way to start with that is to not wait for permission to indulge in creative play myself.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.

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Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, a guide for readers to build their own best retirement.  Her first novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

How Do I Fit This In?

February 28th, 2014

Once fulltime work is in the rearview mirror, getting the things you want done personally should be easier, right? If you want to do a certain thing, you just use your time on that, and ta da! you accomplish it.  That’s not been my experience with the freedom we’re blessed with in retirement. There’s a lot more room for waffling at this stage of the game and some very good reasons that keep the productivity level low.  That piece of this puzzle is a big challenge for me.  Especially at the moment.

I am a writer.  I need to write.  I know that.  I want to do that.  Earlier in retirement, I wrote first thing in the morning.  Once I had the “important work” done, I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of the day.  I got a lot of writing done that way.  But I was seeing my life through the old “career” lens–where work trumps everything else and automatically claimes the top of the list–and, for me, the top of the morning.

I’m finally growing past that, and it’s creating an unexpected frustration.  I want to live each moment of the day well instead of focusing on what I accomplish as the measure of the day’s success now.  That’s positive, but it’s creating a negative ripple with my writing.  I do other things first in the morning now–things that nurture me at the soul level and that I need to do then.  Things that let me start the day with myself squarely in the center of it.  That means I need to fit writing into a different part of the day.  I haven’t been doing so well at that.

I’ve also discovered that I need a much larger dose of fun than I’ve existed on in the past.  (That’s the absolute best way to “live the Now.”)  That means I’m likely to be doing social things rather than writing in the evening far more often.   (This week, that has been the case four days straight.) Before, I would write in the evening and get even more done.  That’s not the case anymore either.

So how do I find a new routine that gives me what I need for my writing?

Just telling myself to do it the old way doesn’t work–that’s a big step backward.  And not bothering to find that new writing routine isn’t an option either–I am not a happy person when I don’t write.

I’m still figuring this out, but some interesting pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place in the last couple days.  I’ve been ignoring an important clue.  I’ve noticed there are parts of my day that are empty and/or boring.  Time spent watching TV news programs for example.  I can keep abreast of what’s going on in the world without ingesting two minutes of ads for every minute of content.  So the time I have been using for the news can be for writing.

I’ve also noticed another void later in the evening.  I’ve thrived on 7 hours of sleep since I was a teenager.  Some medical expert said you really need to get at least 8, so I decided I needed to do that.  Every night, I tell myself it’s time for bed. ThenI  diddle around doing not-much-of-anything for that “extra” hour rather than really using it.  That particular hour may not be fore writing, but doing something relevant then will free up time at some other point in the schedule.  I’ve just caught on to this search for the “empty spaces.”  I suspect I will find more.

Plus I can now see that it’s wise to look at the intensity of my commitment when I am writing.  There’s writing and there’s writing….just like there’s skiing and skiing!  If I am on fire with what I’m doing, I am going to use the time I do have a lot better.

That intensity is also likely to motivate me to “find time” every day that’s beyond what I set aside for writing on a routine basis.  Doing that is probably every bit as much a part of living the Now as opting for fun whenever I can.

I’m finally gaining on this!  To live retirement well, I don’t want to get too locked in.  But I don’t want my life falling out all over the place because I don’t have the structure I need either.  I want to be flexible–but not derelict.  That means coming up with new ways of getting what I want done without stamping out the progress I’m making on living in the moment.

Stay tuned.

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

Get In (or Out) of the Habit…

February 21st, 2014

Recently a friend insisted I read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. What a good friend.  Duhigg deciphers the eternal question of why we do what we do as habit–and translates the physiology and psychology of it into language we can all use to make sense of our lives.

For starters, we can’t totally get rid of those bad habits.  Just willing ourselves not to do that thing anymore usually doesn’t make that change happen for the rest of our lives.  Sometimes, the attempt fails from the get-go.  And when you do pull it off initially, quite often you find yourself right back in the old habit when things get stressful.  (“Mom isn’t doing well with this surgery.  I need a cigarette just this one time….”  Or “Work is insane, and I’ve done a great job of getting rid of that 15 pounds.  I can have a donut….”  We can’t erase old habits, but we can modify them.  Duhigg does a great job of clarifying that distinction and demonstrating how.

When we get to the point we can “give up work,” habits become particularly frustrating.  The ones that structured our lives for the sake of doing the job are no longer needed.  Those good habits don’t go away either.  Sometimes, they turn into not-so-good habits in the new context.  During your career years, work came first.  You’re used to getting things done on the job before anything fun even hits the radar.  If you’re giving whatever you’ve substituted for that work the same kind of priority, you’re going to find yourself cleaning the garage on a glorious spring day instead of taking your golfing buddy up on a spontaneous round.  Same deal with fun.  If you’re used to going to the casino every Friday night as entertainment because it was what helped you unwind after the work week, you might be ruling out things that would be even more fun for Friday night because you’re coming from habit instead of conscious choice. (And you may be missing out on good stuff that happens at the casino venue on other nights of the week.)

Habits help us do what we want to get gone.  They are formed and perpetuated in a different part of the brain than conscious choices.  They are far more automatic.  Once in place, you can count on them.  They happen even when you have gotten into one of those maddening “indecision interludes” when even deciding which pair of socks to put on in the morning results in second and third guesses.  Good habits help create the “Good Life” when you’ve retired and the whole day (and week and month and year) is up to you.

We have learned an amazing amount about what happens physically to create a habit.  There’s also a huge body of work about the psychology of human motivation that comes into play.  Duhigg explains all of that well, and it’s worth the time to read just for that.  But he also addresses what most of us really want to know:  How can I have better luck dealing with my own habits–both the bad ones I want to change and the good ones I want to add?

We are all “creatures of habit.”  Willpower enters into the equation, but so does knowing what triggers the behavior and why you find it rewarding.   You can change things more effectively if you understand the process and the pieces of the puzzle.  Duhigg didn’t write the book just for the retirement scenario.  But when we get to making that transition, paying attention to our habits and tweaking them to serve us better in the new territory is a major plus.  If you want to address that challenge, The Power of Habit might make it a lot easier.

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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 LoveFor more, please see her website.

Fitting “Work” in Retirement

February 14th, 2014

We’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we decide retirement means totally giving up work. Give up the commute, the office curmudgeon, nasty customers, demanding bosses, and the overall stress level of a typical fulltime job.  Yes, letting go of all that certainly make sense.  But that’s different than giving up work.

Work is not just doing a job for pay.  Work—sustained effort toward a desired goal–is an essential piece of being happily human.  It connects us to the world, proves we are capable, and makes us think.  Work helps give life both structure and meaning.  We need work—even if we choose not to be employed.

Once you retire, you need to pay a lot closer attention to doing the right work—the work that makes you happy though.  During the career years, you barter that right to choose what kind of work you do for the sake of a paycheck.  You do what the company needs and get paid for spending your time that way.

In retirement, you get paid whether you work or not.  That sounds like heaven, but for many retirees it’s the road to decline.  When you don’t have to do anything, deciding what you do want to do is often downright difficult.  So you either start doing everything with little satisfaction because it’s not a good fit or you do nothing and get more and more depressed because of the emptiness.  Once you get stuck in either of those grooves, it’s hard to get out.  And both set the stage for health problems.

Please believe me: we do need to work once we retire.  Let go of the notion that you have a right not to have to do any work once you stop going to the office or the shop or the mill.  Think twice before you hire the yard guy and a housecleaning service and start going out to eat every night.  Continuing to do the parts of those kinds of work that bring you joy makes a lot more sense.

To find the right things to put effort into, you need to listen to yourself rather than loved ones, retirement gurus, get-rich-quick experts, or even your spiritual advisor.  Knowing yourself is not a luxury or a New Age bluff at this stage of the game.  If you want to be happy once you retire, you not only need to know what kind of work you get excited about, you need to know how to structure it and how much of it is enough for your personal satisfaction.

Sounds easy but it’s not.  I have wasted years pursuing my writing like I did the jobs I held in corporate America.  That meant I lost steam after a few months on a project, regardless of how excited I was about it when I started.  I took me a long time to learn that when I make writing the ultimate and exclusively important priority, I lose the balance with the rest of what I want in my life now in a matter of a few months.

Typically we assume the dissatisfied feeling comes from having made the wrong choice about what to do as work.  But be sure it’s not a matter of having relied on an outdated approach to structuring it before you scuttle the whole dream.  If you make everything else wait until it’s done, start with an unrealistically large pile of it every day, and rush to make it all happen—just like the good ol’ career days—you are on the wrong track.  That is not satisfying as retirement.

This is our last, best chance to live a balanced life.  Work really does need to be part of it.  But so does play, rest, personal adventure, spending time with the grandkids, sitting with a sick friend, learning to ride a bicycle, or whatever else beckons you.  If you go at the work you choose as if you were back on the job, you gobble the time you need for the  other things.  To get it right at this stage of the game, you need to come up with a way to structure your work time so that it leaves room for the rest.  You need a more comprehensive priority scheme that includes everything that’s important to you in how you plan your day.

Knowing yourself well is the place to start to get this right.  If you haven’t already done it, that’s your first retirement work.  Use Supercharged Retirement or any book that helps you.  Talk to a life coach or other advisor whose opinion you value.  Think quietly, regularly, and carefully about how you want work to fit into your overall blueprint.  Then live that way.

This article originally appeared in the Feb 2014 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a consultant and speaker and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, a manual for building your own best retirement.  Her first novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

Getting Fired

February 5th, 2014

A month ago I got fired. Not from a job (that’s one of the perks of working for yourself–you get immunity from being fired). No, I got fired from a romantic relationship. Once it happened, it was obvious that doing what I’d been so committed to doing was way off course for me personally. But I had to get fired to learn that.  And that got me thinking about getting fired in general.

Sometimes, the firing really isn’t fair, right, or reasonable.  Those are really hard to get past because the hurt seems so legitimate.  But most of the time, getting fired also means that what you were doing was not a good fit for who you are.  Perhaps it was a matter of skills.  Perhaps it was a matter of personality.  Perhaps it was a matter of motivation.  Perhaps it was a matter of morals (and yours may have been higher than theirs). Regardless, it was a case of a bad fit.

I will not pretend this is easy.  Your ego takes a massive hit, and you may end up asking yourself “Am I good for anything?”  The answer is YES.  And that’s the beauty of getting fired.  That event removes the major obstacle to finding the right place to be…the right work, the right “significant other,” the right group of friends, whatever you got “fired” from.  Getting fired from what really wasn’t a good fit for you gives you a wide open shot at finding what is.

It’s embarrassing to get fired though–especially for those of us who joined the workforce when it was pretty rare and usually the result of flagrantly bad behavior when it did happen.  But embarrassment is temporary and the opportunity that results can make a huge positive difference for the rest of your life.

So back to my own recent firing…

Since that event, I have rediscovered myself in numerous delightful ways.  I have more energy.  I get up excited about the day and spend it trying to make a difference somehow.   I have reconnected with an unexpectedly large number of people I’d lost track of for the sake of “the relationship.”  I am doing things my way and loving the space I’m in as a result.  I am connecting with nature when I am out in it (instead of worrying about “keeping up” or “why isn’t he talking to me?”).  I am more alive.  Far more alive.

That potential resides in every firing-even if it looks bleak beyond words.  Sometimes, the Universe gives us a good swift kick instead of a gentle nudge.  It’s time to do something different.  When that’s the case and you don’t get on with that yourself, you just might find yourself fired.  Be grateful.  It offers a ton of potential for being something much, much better.

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