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Posts Tagged ‘Anti-aging strategies’

Fitting “Work” in Retirement

Friday, February 14th, 2014

We’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we decide retirement means totally giving up work. Giving up the commute, the office curmudgeon, nasty customers, demanding bosses, and the overall stress level of a typical fulltime job certainly makes 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.  During the career years, you often barter that kind of work away for the sake of a betteer paycheck.  You do what the company needs and get paid for spending your time that way.

In retirement, the money you’re living on is there 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 can be maddeningly difficult.  So you either start doing everything you find–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. 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 because it had become a forced effort rather than a creative adventure.  It 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.  In retirement, it’s that balance that needs to be central.

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.

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 to 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.

 

How Ya Doin’ on that Big Dream?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

We all have big dreams–things we want more than anything. Most of us don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in a wildfire that we will ever get them. That’s definitely true if we just leave it at “having a big dream.”

Dreams only come true if you get involved in them–not by forcing them into existence but by believing in them.  Achieving your Heart’s Desire is possible, but not by sitting around waiting for it.  And not–like I am prone to do–by flitting from this to that, changing my mind every other week or by forcing myself to keep working on whatever it is I said I wanted when it really doesn’t fit any more.

Sonia Choquette’s book Your Heart’s Desire is a great resource for refining where you are going with this.  In a way it’s a workbook, but even more, it’s a wake-up call.  (It’s not a new book.  It came out in 1997.  But it’s every bit as relevant today as it was on it’s publication date.)

Choquette suggests there are nine principles involved in achieving your Heart’s Desire.  Quibble with the number if you want (I sure did), but don’t argue with the idea that there are things you can do to help yourself have the life you want.

The nine principles:

1.  Bring your dream into focus.  We all think we’ve already done that, but most of us haven’t.  Particularly in terms of retirement, we couch our plans in vague generalities.  “Spend more time with family.”  “Travel abroad.”  Give back.”  These are all going in the right direction–the idea that you are going to do something.  But exactly what is still out there in the fog.  It might take a lot of time and effort to get down to the real needs that are the basis of your Heart’s Desire.  You might even be surprised to learn that what you really want isn’t the thing you’ve been talking about for years.  Until you get to your real needs though, you really aren’t on target.  What’s important to you? What do you want to do about it?

2.  Gain the support of your subconscious mind.   Very often, what our rational minds want deeply and are trying to make happen is undone by the subconscious mind working in reverse.  This happens when you start to think about what you don’t want–because thinking about anything tends to draw it toward you.  Once you’ve refined what you do want, make sure what you are telling yourself is consistent with that.  I want to be a successful fiction writer.  All too often though, I think, “I will just do this one other non-fiction writing project first.”  That’s not a path; it’s a game of hopscotch.  I end up wandering all over the place on a trail that loops back on itself hundreds of different ways because I’m not enlisting my subconscious in getting on with what I really want..

3.  Imagine your Heart’s Desire.  Often, we are so convinced that we won’t get it, don’t deserve it, etc. that we don’t even let ourselves think about it.  But–as Earl Nightengale pointed out decades ago “You become what you think about.”

4.  Eliminate your obstacles.  They are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you should let them stop you.  Notice the reality of what you are trying to do and deal with it.

5. Be open to intuitive guidance.  Right now, I am trying to settle into a new home.  I’ve been furniture shopping more in the last month than in the last decade.  It’s great fun, but I’ve discovered it’s infinitely more productive if I am listening to my intuition–my direct line to the divine Interior Designer.  Then I find what I really need.

6.  Choose to support your dream with love.  If you don’t nurture yourself, who will?  This is not an act of greed or selfishness.  Loving the real you makes it possible for  you to give the world far more than what you can accomplish by pushing on as a solitary soldier, propelled by a sense of responsibility or competition.

7.  Surrender control.  We spend our career years thinking it’s our job to keep things under control.  But when it comes to reaching your Heart’s Desire, you must have more than that in the picture.  You need to be part of what you want but you also need to let the Universe decide how it’s going to come about.  Really.

8.  Claim your dream.  Finding a few people you trust whom you can talk with about your dream makes a gigantic difference.  Commit to what you want, claim it like a first-born child, and then get on with making it happen–in part by enlisting caring people with whom you can celebrate the milestones and heal from the mistakes.

9.  Stay true to your dream.    It’s the real you, not just something to check off your to do list.  Once you get to it, you aren’t done–you’re started.

 

 

Take the Stairs

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

I’ve been whining about missing my stairs ever since I moved from a two-story house to a rambler 18 months ago.  Those stairs really were a plus in my life–I got exercise without having to schedule it all day every day. But a week ago, in an editorial in Talent Management magazine, Mike Prokopeak upped the ante.  He suggested “taking the stairs” in the business setting as well.

He was making the same point I’ve been–the more we incorporate physical exertion in subtle ways to do the things we have to do anyway, the easier it is to maintain some semblance of fitness even when things get overbusy.

He pointed out that some business meetings are now conducted standing up (which accomplishes two things–it involves more physical effort, but it also makes the meetings shorter.)  Some managers conduct important one-on-one conversations by taking a walk with that person.  That also has some extra pluses.  Difficult subjects are easier to address while walking.   Creative ideas also seem to come more easily when you’re moving on foot.

But after I thought about his suggestions for a while, I realized this is not just about being less sedentary in business settings.  It’s not even about real stairs.  It’s about taking the more demanding route on anything and everything just for the extra benefits that those approaches often bring.

Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi advocate something similar to this interpretation of “take the stairs” in Super Brain.  If you want to keep your mind operating at optimum capacity for the long haul, you can’t just do the same old stuff the same old way and hope for the best.  Look for a new restaurant instead of going back to the same old favorite every time you eat out.  Learn a new sport instead of relying exclusively on the one you already enjoy.  Make a point of meeting new people and going new places.

To live well as we age, we need a steady diet of new stimuli.  According to Chopra and Franzi, that keeps our brains creating new synapses and the more synapses you have, the better you can weather a situation where some of them are injured or die.

To create those synapses, we need to “take the stairs” as many different ways as we can.

Every time we decide instead to run on autopilot, we lose the chance to build more brain strength.  We lose the chance to build an even stronger social network.  We lose the chance to find new ways to love deeply and be involved in new things that are meaningful.  Those are the real elements of a rich life.  Why forego them just to avoid exerting yourself a bit?

Once we retire, even if it’s to–or in–a single story home, we need to remain committed to “taking the stairs.”  Do something that takes more effort than “same old same old.”  It will make a huge difference as time marches on.

 

Wait? Or Act?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

While we are actively working at “a career”, there is rarely a question about whether we need to make something happen or whether we’re better off waiting for it to happen.

If it’s your job and it’s supposed to happen by a certain time, you’re on it.  If it’s a goal you set for the business, even if it’s your business and you’re the only employee, you get it done.  At home in support of the person earning the paycheck, you still get it done because money you need to live is on the line. But once you leave that world behind, knowing when to act and when to wait is far less cut and dried.

To some extent, this notion that we’re all supposed to sit around doing nothing in retirement is to blame.  There’s no expectation that we’re supposed to get anything done.  To the world, it’s no big deal if you do that thing or not.  It’s almost heresy to think you should be “getting something done.”

If that lifestyle is working for you, great.  But if you’re frustrated that you don’t do the things you say you want to do—or worried you won’t once you retire, look a little deeper for what may be getting in the way.

  •  Are you convinced you need (or want) to do it?  Well, maybe you are today, but then tomorrow it doesn’t look quite as important.  Unless there’s a strong sense of purpose at your core, whether or not you want to put effort into any given action will change day to day.  Find your purpose.
  •  Do you believe you can do it? If it’s something new, your confidence about whether or not you can pull it off will also waiver.  Right now, I am shying away from setting up a new piece to my blog.  It’s very doable, and I need to get it done.  But I’ve found an unbelievable array of ways to avoid it—day after day after day.  My inner wimp is afraid of that work because I’m going to have to be a beginner to do it.  When it’s new, you’re going to feel like a beginner.  It’s wise to make peace with being a beginner again the day you step into retirement if you haven’t already.
  • Are you afraid of something about doing it?  Most of us don’t face physical dangers every day like our ancestors did.  But our brains are still wired for that.  Current day fears are more often based either on things that have already happened or things that might happen.  The part of our brains that triggers fear doesn’t differentiate.  So we are ginning up a lot of fear about things that are already over and non-events that will never happen.  Now is the only time we have for taking action.  Decide based on what’s real now and get on with it.

There’s another piece to this that’s equally frustrating once we retire though.  After so many years where we had to make things happen, it’s harder to see when it would be wiser to wait.

Sometimes, waiting for things to fall into place is a much better solution.  At the moment, I need to find a house.  I’ve been at it for two months; it feels more like ten because I haven’t found anything close to what I want.  Sure, some people really do knock on the front door and ask the owners if they want to sell when they see a house that appeals.

But that’s not what’s called for here.  At least if I am wise.  Every time I go out with my realtor (who is a saint), I learn more about what I like, see features—or issues–that I hadn’t considered, and discover solutions to problems my eventual house might have.  I’m still getting educated on this.  Making the decision before I know all I need to know is not in my best interest. But that doesn’t stop my ego from throwing a tantrum every once in a while.

So how do you know when to not take action?

If you want to take action because it gives you a feeling of control when the situation isn’t yours to control, your action might be a bad idea.  Acting as General Manager of the Universe usually just makes things worse.  Are you desperate for control?  Simmer down and see what else you need to discover about what you’re trying to do.

The time to act is when you’re avoiding what you know you want to do because you’re afraid.  The time to wait is when you want to take action to feel like you control a situation where that’s not the case.

Let’s Dance!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

When was the last time you danced? Have you ever? Or are you intimidated by the intricate footwork and synchrony of the couple stuff on TV?

We all need to dance. Not just at weddings. Not just with old friends at a favorite watering hole with live music. Every day. It’s a good way to keep your body and soul on the same page.

I’ve always advocated walking. Walking helps you think and problem solve. It reduces stress. It’s a great cardio workout. Walking, at its most effectively practiced, is non-denominational meditation. As your shoes move across the land, you move closer to the forces of the Divine.

But dancing is another multi-purpose marvel for creating a satisfied life. The joy side of the coin. I’m not talking about the ballroom stuff where you have to follow prescribed steps and keep rhythm a specific way though. I’m not even talking about Western culture’s classic “man-leads-woman-of-his-choice-in-movement-on-a-dance-floor” stuff. I’m talking about any situation where you move your body to music.

There are many more fun ways to dance than the stuff we learned was dancing in junior high. You don’t have to wait for a guy to ask you–or to decide on which woman you’re going to dare ask.  You don’t have to limit yourself to places with an official dance floor. And ballroom dancing, with all its choreographed steps and showmanship, is a long way from the real fun. So let’s forget the Dancing with the Stars stuff for now. Please.

Dancing is celebrating. It energizes your soul. It takes you beyond your mind and your aches and pains. Good dancing generates joy. And joy makes everything else better.

So find the dancing that appeals to you. Line dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, folk dancing, salsa, swing, zydeco—and that’s just a quick list. There are groups doing this stuff all over and many of them offer lessons before the dance itself to help you get started. Most of them have websites or else list their events on bulletin boards.

If you don’t want to break into an existing group, take a class—ballet, jazz, tap. That way, everyone is starting together. If not that, you can get involved in a dance practice, where the movements of your body are a form of prayer. The options “out there” for dancing go way beyond the foxtrot.

You don’t even need to be at a defined venue to dance. Dance while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up. Or while your coffee is brewing. In the elevator. In line at the grocery store. Wayne Dyer tells the story of a toll booth attendant who danced his entire shift every day. When you got to his window, you paid your toll at a dance party.

Dancing isn’t about putting your feet in certain places in a defined sequence with a specific beat with other people doing the same thing. Dancing is simply moving to music. And the music can be in your head if that’s all you have to work with.

When you can dance in a social setting, milk it for all the fun you can. A dear dancing friend and I liven up an evening by getting other people up dancing. Sometimes it’s women; sometimes it’s men. Those we coax out on the floor seem to have a much better time than if they’d just kept watching. And we do, too. The younger kids have one upped us on doing this well. Not only do the women go out to dance “uncoupled”(either alone or in groups of more than two), in under 30 crowds, you’ll see the guys doing it, too.

Avoid reducing dancing to “exercise.” That’s a terrible waste of a good time. When aerobic dance first made the scene, I took a class taught by a college instructor who specialized in folk dancing. Lord that was fun! (A classmate suggested all that was missing was a basket of fruit on my head.) Unfortunately, “fitness types” decided aerobic dance needed to look more like exercise. Now, even Zumba comes across as just another workout to music. If you want to get the most out of dancing, find something where the music and moving to it—i.e. having fun–are more important than reaching you target heart rate.

Dancing is not a matter of “knowing the steps.” Dancing is about having the guts. Find some music and start to move. Be a kid again—dance like nobody’s watching (because they really aren’t). You don’t need a partner. You don’t need lessons. If you don’t have music, use what’s in your head. Be happy. Spread joy. Boogey down!

 

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.

*************

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.

Why the Golden Years Idea Doesn’t Work

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The prevailing assumption is that as we age, we like living where people are all like us and activities are ready-made. Active retirement communities are built on those two assumed needs. The whole thing is a tragic loss of vitality for those who buy in.  Diversity is essential to good mental health.  And when you fill your days with “something to do” that has no impact beyond your own entertainment, life gets confusingly empty after a while.

Playing all day every day is not all that satisfying for competent adults.  And that is why this leisure-centered mentality we have about retirement is all wrong.

Writer Calvin Trillin easily noticed the “frantic busyness” of Sun City, Arizona residents when he visited in the early 1960’s.  He observed that there was little to delineate the value of their assorted activities when the Golden Years model was still new. Yes, there were a lot of things to do, but few were meaningful.  Over fifty years later, we’re still trying to wring blood out of the same turnip.

Even volunteer programs that could add essential meaning are too often focused on “keeping the old folks busy” rather than maximizing the use of their experience and skills for that cause.  “Doing something” for the sake of being active is a far cry from doing something that makes a real contribution.  But as a culture, we’re still stuck on the idea that “old people can’t do much and need to be entertained.”

Recent research clearly establishes the importance of meaning and purpose for both mental and physical health. Human beings do not thrive doing nothing.  In particular, we don’t thrive doing “whatever I want” all day every day when we are old enough to retire.  We are capable of much, much more and need to be finding that.

Ken Dychtwald, one of the foremost experts on aging and retirement, established the following pattern in how “the Golden Years” mindset plays out:

  • 15 to 6 years before retirement – Imagination: you start to see retirement as part of your future and visualize it. You see the pluses—the adventure and empowerment that’s possible because you don’t have to show up for work every day.
  • 5 years before retirement – Anticipation: you begin to realize it is actually going to happen on a specific date and start the countdown to that. Your emotions become a combination of euphoria over your impending freedom and worries about whether you really do have enough money to stop working.
  • Retirement day to plus 1 year – Liberation: the freedom you’ve just been blessed with makes you euphoric. “Doing nothing” or at least doing whatever you want is fun.
  • 2 to 15 years after retirement – Reorientation: Feelings of emptiness and boredom surface as you tire of the lack of meaning in your life. Self-worth begins to suffer, sometimes resulting in emotional meltdown. You search for ways to give your life value.
  • 15+ years after retirement – Reconciliation: You find enough of what you need to settle into an acceptable groove as a retirement lifestyle. Your life is less exhilaring than the Golden Years model intimated, but it’s good enough.

This is Dychtwald’s summary of how it works based on research with thousands of people. Your personal route through that desert may not be that drawn-out. When my aunt, who raised seven kids and held a challenging job as a civil service employee the whole time, retired, she spent the first month in her pajamas because she was too depressed to do anything else. She was to disenchantment without any sense of liberation at all.  Lee Iacocca said he lasted about three weeks before he gave up and went back to work.

The Golden Years approach was better than what preceded it. Before this model, those who retired had neither ways to contribute or ways to play that were intended specifically for them.  But it’s simply not enough given how much has changed since The Golden Years idea made the scene 70 years ago. We are healthier and living longer. The economy has moved from manufacturing to information in terms of the heavy lifting. And there are way more of us.

It’s no longer a case of moving workers who can easily be replaced out of the picture and giving them the chance to putter for a few years. As a culture, we need to be using every ounce of talent we have the best way we can for benefit of both society and every individual—no matter how old they are.  There are too many problems that need solving to squander this talent pool.  And there are too many retirees who need more than fun to stay healthy.

Having a sense of purpose is critical. More and more research is coming out to support that. But to get a bead on your sense of purpose, you have to know yourself on a very intimate level. Your sense of purpose has to mesh with what you think is important if you want it to sustain you. Most of us haven’t had the chance to take a serious, straight-on look at what we value since we joined the work force.  You really want to do that.  Now.

 

How to Be Old

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Old has so many definitions, but what I’m looking at here is how we advance in years. And I have become a bit of a snob about it. This surprises me since a few years ago I was rather put off with a local newspaper columnist when she pronounced “I’m not interested in interviewing anyone unless they are over 70.”

Now I’m limiting my own admiration for amazing things done in advanced age, to people not over 70…or even 80. I save my awe for what folks in their 90’s are doing.

My first dose of this was a newspaper article about a local retired teacher that came out a couple months ago. This nonagenarian is just doing what she likes to do but she’s still going strong and making a huge difference to young readers with her effort.

After she retired, she decided to volunteer as a reading tutor with kids who were having problems. But as she worked with these kids, she realized the materials available weren’t what the kids really needed. So she created her own materials.

Cool, huh? That was just the start. The materials worked so well that teachers in the schools noticed and wanted the resource themselves.  So with the help of her daughter–who did the illustrations–she made them into a formal set of materials. GoPhonics was born.

When I read the article, she was just embarking on even another step–to create a program for teaching teachers how to use those materials–because that’s what is needed now. Sylvia Davison is in her 90’s. You would never know it by how she is living her life.

Just this last weekend, I read of another amazingly active person who’s less that a decade from the century mark. Fred Oldfield is has been a commercially successful artist for over three quarters of a century, specializing in Western art,but also doing a lot of murals. He still paints, but even more amazing, he’s active in teaching kids painting and in raising money to help fund art education for kids.

Don’t picture this as doddering old guy who shuffles between his easel and his bed for a few hours every day. Don’t think this guy is just the facade for other, younger volunteers.  He still rides his horse regularly and makes his way around the Heritage Center where he teaches with the ease of someone much younger. Fred Oldfield is 95.

A recent AARP interview with Dustin Hoffman reveals I’m not the only one intrigued with these outliers of continued vibrance. Hoffman mentioned two whom he’s noticed. Manoel de Oliveira is still directing at 104. And then there’s the 94-year old guy who, after finishing a triathalon, was asked if he was going to run anymore. His reply, “Oh, yeah. I got to keep going until I get old.”

That’s a funny line, but it’s also the gyst of what’s going on with these folks. They do not see themselves as “old.” And that is the best way for all of us to advance in years. How many birthdays you’ve had is completely irrelevant to what you will be happiest doing with your time, effort, and resources.

These people are all deeply interested in something and spend a lot of time and effort on it. Age is a totally useless concept for them–at least in terms of themselves. (The ones who are working with kids may have age parameters for the kids they work with, but that’s a whole different thing.)

I preach a lot about having a sense of purpose–something to do that goes beyond your personal comfort and pleasure. That is definitely an essential piece of becoming a centenarian superstar. But there’s another piece to this that we all need as well.

We need to stop thinking the “old” thoughts. When something aches or I don’t have the energy, I can often make it go way if I’m not excited enough about what I am planning to do.  I won’t do that if I tell myself “Well, that’s just what happens when you’re my age.”  It’s way too easy in this culture to start telling yourself that!

I want to be like Grandma Moses.  She got to into painting in earnest when she was 78 and created over 1,500 canvasses before she died at the age of 101.  She went from displaying her art at a local drugstore for $3 each to national renown (and $10,000 price tags) in less than a decade. Her example is far more compelling than that of my maternal grandfather who retired from a corporate job at 65 like everyone else and then just sat there because he “had a heart condition.”  He kept breathing for another 20 years, but he wasn’t really living  them.

The more energy you use, the more you have–no matter how many candles were on your last birthday cake.  Dustin Hoffman, quoting Bill Connelly about the point of the movie Quartet in which they were both involved, had it right: “Don’t die until you’re dead.”

 

Get Ready to Age or Stay Young?

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

“Aging in place” home modifications are gaining traction as a way to “get ready” for retirement.  We do need to put some thought into what it would take to be able to live our later years in the surroundings we have come to love in the decades before. But “aging in place” changes can be way too much like “getting ready to die.”  That is a terrible waste of a lot of good years.

Have you ever ended up in the “handicapped” motel room because it was all they had left when you walked up to the registration desk? When this happens to me, I fret a bit about taking it when someone else might really need it.  But that slight bit of empathy is really a disguise for something much deeper.  The message that rumbles from the depths is This is not me!  I feel like I am staying in a hospital when I end up in one of those rooms.  It’s not a place I belong, and I usually don’t relax very well.

Doing a bunch of “aging in place” upgrades to your home in case you might eventually need them can creat the same dissonance.

So if someone is advocating that sort of remodel before you retire so that you are “ready” IF you end up infirm, please think long and hard about what’s being recommended.  How likely is it that you will end up needing those specific things?  What is your family history?  What is your health like now?  Will you enjoy your home as much with those changes as before they were made? Would you even want to remain in your own home if things came to that?

One of the biggest drawbacks of this approach is that it can actually drain away things that would have kept you from getting infirm in the first place.  Gardens can be extremely soothing, and gardening gets you out where you can soak up vitamin D.  It also works your muscles and gives you a sense of accomplishment.  Running up and down the stairs every day gets your heart rate up.  Don’t stop doing stuff you like to do until you have to–whether it’s weightlifting in the garage or having your bedroom on an upper floor or taking three dogs for a walk–separately– every day.

Deciding that you should  have it easier now, even though you can still do all that easily means you don’t get that exercise from here on.  That exercise may have kept you healthy enough to never need any of the modifications you made.

And if you are thinking that you need to move someplace where someone else is responsible for the lawn, run the numbers before you get in line for the newest model.  Homeowners Association dues that include lawn service aren’t geared to cover just that.  You might be able to get all the lawn service you need for much less than what you’d owe the HOA every month at that nice new retirement compound if you just stay where you are and pay to get it done when you need to.

Doing a bunch of modifications to “get ready” before we actually reach the point of age-related decline can be way off base with what we actually end up needing, too.  It might be your sight not your back that fails.  Instead of that wheelchair, you might end up having to work standing because of back problems.  So much for those lower counters!

Let’s find the right balance on this.  If you are buying or doing a major remodel, assuring there’s flexiblity in what you select so you can make changes later if you need them is probably enough. Put money aside for modifications you may need later if you can–for a the new place or the home you’ve loved for 50 years.  That makes a lot more sense than doing a bunch of stuff you might not ever need now and ending up living in a sterile, unauthentic place from here on.

When you reach the point of decline (if you ever do), you may decide there’s a better way than continuing to live where you love now, too.  You’re not going to know what you need then until you get that far.  Trying to get it all set up before you reach that point is silly–particularly since you might never need anything at all modified!

Think about this stuff, yes.  But don’t make  a lot of changes until you know what you need to accommodate.  Instead, focus on staying vibrant as long as you can.  That’s not running away from advanced age–it’s redefining it.

 

Gated Communities

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Living in a gated community is supposed to be a big plus. I am currently trying to adjust to that lifestyle, and I can’t find it.  When I leave in the car, I have to wait for the gate.  When I come back, I better have the remote with me or I will have to pull around to the keypad at the main entrance (which is not the most direct route to my house) and enter the “secret code”–and then wait for the gate.  If I want to go for a real walk without doing laps (which has all the allure of watching paint dry) I have to have a key.  If I don’t, I am locked in. This gate has way too much control of my life, and I dislike it intensely.

I suspected this would be the case when I agreed to live here for a year, but it’s still good to check it out.  Okay.  I’ve checked it out.  This gate sucks.  Lucky for me, it’s a temporary problem.

My simmering resentment of this gate has brought some interesting insights.  Gates have two purposes–to control what gets out and to control what gets in.  In the developer’s zeal to keep “the bad things” out around here, we are all essentially kept in–or at least required to wait while access to the rest of the world is granted.  How many of these “gate” situations am I adding to my life without really thinking about them?

When I first started living here, I would just walk inside the gate because that was the obvious solution to the gate’s existence.  When I did that, I let my everyday world shrink big time. That was a very scary realization.  There I was, giving up access to things that should be in my life because of some artificial and arbitrary restricted access.

I also started seeing the world just outside the gate–which has similar houses, the same police protection, etc.–as “dangerous” simply because they were outside the gate.  Did the crime stats support that.  Of course not.

The gate also severely limits who can come into my life while I am on the premises.   My friends and family have to fiddle with the keypad or call from the phone at the gate to have us let them in.  One brother used to stop at my house when he was in the neighborhood and leave his business cards in funny places if I wasn’t home.  Now, he’d have to leave it at the gate.  Delievery drivers who miss the few hours when the gate is open on  business days either have to come back or make me come get what they were supposed to deliver.  I am not seeing this as a big advantage.

Why do we have this gate?  It’s supposed to make us more secure.  The “bad people” can’t get in so we are supposedly safer.  There may be a few residents who love the “exclusivity of it.”  I am not in that camp.  We’ve created our own little ghetto.  What is the point?

There are good places to use gates.  You need to keep the cows in.  You need to keep the baby out of the stairwell.  You need to be sure your inventory is not at the mercy of anyone who decides they need that size lumber or stone or motorcycle or bonzai tree.

But this idea that we can be kept safe from Life by a couple of gates is just plain wrong.  It’s easy to start believing that you need that protection, that going out into the world is too dangerous to attempt.  This kind of thinking–more than the real physical aging of our bodies–makes us “old.”  We worry about safety and seek the predictability of the status quo instead of searching for new adventures and fresh things to experience and learn.

It’s true, the world can be dangerous.  But it can also be wonderous and full of excitement.   Besides, that gate isn’t all that effective. An article on the International Foundation of Protective Officers website looked at whether gated communities deter crime.  Studies they cited found only a small benefit, mostly related to car thefts.  The article noted that Neighorhood Watch programs are far more effective.

But Neighborhood Watch efforts can’t be packaged in slick real estate advertising.  So we buy into that new development with the gate because of a real estate sales pitch and stop worrying about getting to know our neighbors and staying aware of what’s going on around us when we are home.  And think we are safer when we aren’t!

Gated communities are just one more way to complicate our lives while reducing their richness.  Knowing your neighbor is a whole lot more fun than waiting for a gate. Think twice before you go for the gated community–whether you’re 55, 85, or 35.