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Posts Tagged ‘Life skills’

Ahem…about Your “Stuff”…

Monday, July 7th, 2014

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that line of work…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up, leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!” so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
1. Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
2. Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
3. Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
4. Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
5. Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
6. Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
7. Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
8. Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
9. Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
10. Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.
I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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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. For more, see her website.

How Do I Know?

Friday, June 27th, 2014

This post is mostly an e-mail from my sister Kathryn Winz, retired professor and part-time caregiver to two beautiful special needs grandsons.  It grew out of a conversation we’d had the week prior about how to know when you are no longer able to do what you’ve been doing effectively.  She did such an eloquent job of bringing an even larger issue to light–that sometimes the pros who are supposed to be telling you how don’t know themselves–that I asked her permission to use her words.

You remember how worried I was, when we talked last, about installing a deadbolt lock keyed from the inside, to keep Ezra from running away in the middle of the night? I installed the lock, even though there is a chance of a medical emergency in which I won’t be able to open it.  A week later Kelly told me this while she was cutting my hair: her Uncle Jimmy, who is 42 and has Down syndrome, needs another hip surgery because he has a difficult time getting up and down stairs. He and his 85-year-old mom live alone in the big old family farmhouse, where the only bathroom is upstairs. Isn’t your family worried? I asked. They have always been this way, and they’re fine, Kelly said.

Well, I don’t think they are fine. Nobody manages forever in such a difficult situation. So I scheduled an appointment at my local counseling center to talk about how to recognize signs that age has started impinging on one’s abilities.  I asked if they had an expert on the problems of aging, and the receptionist assured me that they did.

I met lovely, fragile Gloria in the waiting room. Her long silk skirt billowed a little in the air conditioning. She looked carefully around the empty space (it was late in the day – the receptionist had gone home), going down the short flight of stairs to look near the front door. She came back toward me and said, “You must be Kathryn.”

Her office would have pleased Bilbo Baggins, or Merlin. Things were arranged four-deep on every surface. Pictures of adorable children and grandchildren, toys that I believe belonged to the kids back in the 1970s. Mementos of travel. Diplomas from everywhere, including Masters and Johnson. I was looking at a rich, full life, I knew. I tried the leather chair, and sank so far I knew I would have trouble getting out at the end of the hour.  So I moved to the couch, and sank again.

I told my story. “Don’t borrow worry,” Gloria said. “Do you have your grandsons living with you?” No, they visit every weekend, I told her, again.

“How old do you think I am?” Mid-fifties, I answered. ” I’m seventy three,” she said. “I don’t worry.”

“Your daughter must really need help,” she said after fifteen minutes of somewhat inane conversation. “Are you able to help her at all?” Yes, I said, the boys often stay overnight with me. But I don’t know how I will be able to tell if that is not safe anymore.  “Don’t borrow worry”, she responded.  I wondered if in her intro she just picked an age one year older than the client in front of her.  Maybe she didn’t even know how old she was.

I remembered my colleague who in the final years of teaching his crime lab course made his students fingerprint each other for an hour every class for the whole semester. That’s all, just taking fingerprints, even after the messy process of inking had become obsolete.  He doesn’t even recognize his children any more.

And then there was another friend and long time prof who infuriated the dean because he could talk for an hour about anything, but when the hour was done, you couldn’t pull out a single point that he had made.

How will I know? How can I tell when I am no longer making sense and providing for others safely?  When someone grabs me by my spindly shoulders and says, “Get it together!” I guess.  Or maybe I won’t know, and there will be a disaster.  I won’t borrow worry.

But this is a legitimate worry and an issue worthy of a good plan.  So what do you do?  How do you know?  She and I had another exchange of e-mail where we took it beyond “asking a professional” (who might be beyond that needed awareness personally).  Professional counseling is good for many things, but for this, you need people who have known you for some time and care about you.  People who can say, “Your driving is deteriorating.”  Or “Do you realize you’ve said that three times since I stopped by to visit?”

This is the work of the courageous and the members of that advisory council need to be carefully chosen.  We need to find them and sincerely ask for their help before it starts to become a concern.  This isn’t a way of giving someone else the authority to limit our lives.  It’s the most effective means we have of accurately seeing reality if our own grasp of it starts to loosen.

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Kathryn Winz is retired and is a delightfully diverse fiber artist.  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 Mary’s website.

Savoring Summer

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

I just caught myself doing the unthinkable–worrying that summer is going to be over before it’s even started! Time for me to refocus on how to savor the pluses of the moment instead of worrying about what’s likely to come after them.

I live in the Pacific Northwest–with some of the best summer weather you will ever find anywhere. In addition, because of where we sit on the globe, we get really long summer days (balanced, of course, by really short winter days, but we don’t need to get into that right now).  We do have rainy days and cool weather as part of the overall summer pattern, but summer here is largely a matter of moderately warm, mostly dry, and more often than not sunny.

The last few days of May were a delightful hint of what my particular environment will be like for coming months–sunny with highs in the mid- to high 70’s.  As I looked out at all the gorgeous green and listened to the bird song, I caught myself in a disconcertingly negative thought though.  In 20 days, we will begin the progression of shorter days again.  Once summer starts, we’re marching toward winter.

Oh come on!

There is always a progression going on.  Sometimes we know what the next thing is going to be (drizzly gray days that go dark at 5:00).  Sometimes we just project what we’re afraid it’s going to be (boring, scary, not-fun, demanding…whatever).  The point is the same regardless:  When you fail to notice the good stuff going on right now and focus instead on worrying about something less positive that’s on the way, you are squandering your life.

Most of us learn to worry before we even make it to high school.  Noticing that something might go wrong is useful–it gives you a heads-up so you can do what’s needed to make it go right instead.  But not noticing that things are going right at this very moment makes you miss the real sweetness of life–the delight of really living those moments where “all’s right with the world.”  That is a tragic waste.

The sun is shining.  The sky is blue.  The birds are singing.  I’m on it.  I’ll worry about winter later.

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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.

Grieving by Peeling Onions

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Sometimes you have to peel onions–not to make stew, to make sense of what’s just happened.

Last week, my youngest brother died unexpexctedly. It was a massive coronary event and we’ve been assured he didn’t suffer. But he only got half of the “Live long; die fast” mantra to work. He wasn’t even 60 yet.

Shock comes first. Deep sadness quickly after. Then a whole bunch of stuff that you never expected that feels an awful lot like peeling onions. When your family dynamics get adjusted, lots of stuff bubbles up through the new cracks.

I am part of a fiercely loyal family with seven kids. We take care of each other, whether it was running for help when a neighborhood bully was hurting a sibling at the playground or anteing up to cover expenses for someone who truly needed an assist. That doesn’t mean the relationships have all been smooth as gourmet ice cream. That was particularly true of this brother since he had both physical and mental health challenges of significant proportions.

So in addition to the sadness of losing a family member, there are assorted versions of relief, some of which don’t feel very noble.  I am relieved that he won’t have to go into assisted living.  We weren’t even sure we could find a place that would accept someone with as many challenges as he had.  I am relieved that he got “home safe.”  He lived life differently than most and that made him vulnerable to physical attack from someone bigger and afraid of those differences.  But I am also relieved that I don’t have to worry about what he will need next.  That’s the not-so-noble one.  They are all part of peeling the onion.

What I definitely did not expect was the flood of memories that have come that have nothing directly to do with this brother.  He wasn’t even in the band.  But in talking with one of my other brothers, the memory of a band director who died in my junior year of high school returned.  My brother worshipped him and still does.  I thought his death was a miracle.  Much as I didn’t have the words then–and was way too naïve to use my brain to figure it out–I knew the man was grooming me.  Now we call those people sexual predators and they go to jail.  When I was in Catholic high school?  Not gonna happen.  But then he died and I was safe.  Why is my other brother’s death making me experience all that again?

There are other traumas, experienced long ago and buried that are bubbling back up now, too.  I was not ready for that, but I need to let it happen.  Perhaps my outer shell is more easily cracked because of the primary loss.  Perhaps it’s just time.

I want to honor my brother for who he was–and he was a rarity.  He was amazing with his grasp of physics and mathematics.  The web of fantasy he constructed inside our reality was in a class by itself.  He was not a “regular guy” but he was, even with the distortions his mental illness caused, a good person.

He is giving me something in death that I could never had gotten out of conversation with him.  His death has presented the chance to peel another onion–to go deeper into who I am because of what I have already experienced.

I will miss him–do miss him.  And I will keep on peeling onions.  I promise.

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Mary Lloyd is an author and speaker.  For more, see her website.

Solving the Symptom

Saturday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Thursday, 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?

Friday, 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…

Friday, 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

Friday, 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.