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Posts Tagged ‘living well’

What Can I Do About Mental Illness?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

My youngest brother died a month ago. It was sudden. It was a shock.  But it was somewhat expected.   He hadn’t even made it to 60, but his body was giving up on him.    His mental health was declining even more rapidly.  That was an “elephant in the living room” though.  He’s been mentally ill since grade school but he did not—and would not—acknowledge that.  We all danced around it in trying to relate to and help him—with varying degrees of success and compassion.

Along with the grief and sadness of losing him, I am feeling relief.  He lived on the very edge of our common reality, and that made him vulnerable to every well-muscled redneck with a dislike of “weirdos.”  Now that he’s passed, I can let go of the worry and helplessness of not being able to protect him from 2000 miles away.

But I’m also relieved that I don’t have to try to communicate with him anymore.  It was very hard work.  That relief brings regret—I wish I had done more to make sure he knew I loved him, even if his replies sometimes came in such word blizzards that I couldn’t take them in.

My brother “made it home” without getting beaten up.  He also didn’t hurt someone else—a consequence of mental illness that we are seeing more and more.  The killing rampage at UC-Santa Barbara is just the latest example of how much is wrong for so many.  Why are disenfranchised, angry men (yes, virtually all of the rampages have been instigated by men) deciding the “solution” to their own demons and nightmares is in killing other people?

I can grasp that my brother’s disconcerting behavior was because of illness, and that it wasn’t’ something he chose.  It wasn’t something he could change.  But that didn’t solve the problem.  The illness itself made the likelihood of him agreeing to the help he needed unlikely.  The mentally ill 20-year old who went berserk on the UC-Santa Barbara campus had parents who were desperately trying to get him help.  It wasn’t enough.  What do we do with this problem?  How do we stem this epidemic?

What can I do?  What can any of us do that might make a difference?

Trying to get these individuals to change to what’s more familiar and comfortable to the rest of us does not work.  That’s like expecting a person without legs to grow them because you bought them a new pair of socks.  Getting them to take medications for illness they don’t even think they have is a hard sell.  Plus how much are the meds contributing to the situation?  Side effects can take years to manifest and what’s good for one body might not work in the next one—or the 100,000th one.

Is there a way to mitigate this that starts before the alienation becomes extreme?  Can we do anything to keep this deep, painful version of aloneness from developing?  One idea keeps coming back to me.  Perhaps part of this deluge of horrible personal atrocity starts with a lack of connection that each of us really could be doing something about with very little risk to ourselves.

What would happen if we all tried to be friendlier—even to the kid who’s looking at his shoes the entire time you talk to him?

What would happen if I smiled at strangers?  Would it help if I gave a friendly nod to people who don’t seem to be “like me”?  What would happen if we projected an attitude of acceptance in casual encounters?  Like saying “Hello” or “Hihowareya?” or “Howzitgoin?” to those we pass.  And waving to neighbors.   Maybe offering a simple kindness like letting that meek person with two items who’s behind us at the checkout go first.    Would this start to change if we were all a little warmer automatically?

This year’s commencement speaker at the University of Texas was Admiral William H. McRaven, Commander of Special Operations and a highly decorated Navy SEAL.   As part of his comments, he talked about the compounding effects of what you do to help other people.  His point: if each member of that graduating class did something to improve as few as 10 other people’s lives, they really could “change the world” over generations.  (Check out the whole speech, about 20 minutes long.)

Maybe simply noticing the people who are “not like us” and being friendly is where we need to start with changing this.  We’ll only find out if we try it.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 edition 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.

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.

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.

About “Experts”

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

How much of what we get from people who call themselves “experts” is truly helpful?  We seem to be in a societal groove that assumes “somebody else knows what I should do here better than I do.”  Is that so?  Is that even realistic to assume is possible?

Last week I did a session for a group of life coaches that billed me as an expert (with my concurrence) on non-financial retirement issues.  I did not feel good about that session.  I’ve been trying to figure out why ever since.  What I am discovering is a surprise–and a relief.  I do not want to play the “expert” role.  I do not like being an expert.  I like helping.  Those two things are different.

There’s an old joke that defines expert is the combination of “ex”–a has-been–and “spurt”–a drip under pressure.  Not very flattering.  And probably true more often not.  Why, as a society, do we value “experts” so highly?

The amount of information now available for any significant decision  makes it impossible to have a complete grasp of exactly what’s needed and how to go about making the right things happen single-handedly.   Finding someone to help sort the situation out–so you working with the best information–and to help identify what needs to be done–decisions, actions, etc.–is a major plus.  That kind of expert is a treasure.  Sometimes you pay those people; sometimes they are family members or friends.

Too often these days though, “experts” jump up to offer services before you even ask.  These “expert” practices are designed more to make them money than to give you help. These are experts you don’t need.  How do you winnow out the people offering themselves as “experts” who–well intentioned and personally committed as they might be–really aren’t useful to you in getting things figured out?

I keep dancing back and forth on this dilemma.  I don’t like the idea of being an expert.  So that devalues the role for me significantly.  But I also know I need help from people better versed in what I am ignorant about but need to get on with.  Right now, my experts include a plumber, an HVAC guy, the folks who will install carpet next week, my accountant, and my financial advisor.  In a few weeks, that list will also include my sons and brothers–who are far better than I am at getting large pieces of furniture from where I am now to where I am going to live then.  These are practical experts.  No problem using them and paying them as the situation dictates.  (Sometimes that’s money; sometimes it’s “Thank you!”

But every day I am bombarded with people who want to show me how to grow my business, create a better social media presence, lose weight, etc.  These people approach me–which is the first red flag.  If I don’t know I need the help, using it–even if I do get it once I sign the contract–isn’t likely.

Some other red flags:

Does working with this person help?  I’ve spent money on people who didn’t have a clue about what I was trying to do or what the details of my project were–even after I provided information on both.  These people offer the same cookie-cutter solution for any problem a client describes.  If the solution is already laid out in a glossy brochure, it’s probably not the solution you need (unless you’re looking for a product rather than an effective problem-solving process).

Is working with this person about YOU?  The “expert” who goes on and on about what s/he knows isn’t valuable no matter how much he knows and how much he charges.  The focus needs to be on your problem or project, not on how wonderful the expert is.  If you find yourself mesmerized by “war stories” about previous clients and wanting to be them, get outta there!

Is this something someone else could even know how to approach?  Very often, we turn to experts when what we really need is to turn inward and learn our own truth.  Having some well-paid third party tell you to lose weight or ditch the unsupportive significant other or buy a house is so much easier than accepting that reality yourself.  But that other person’s opinion doesn’t get you very far in terms of staying motivated.  A good expert in that kind of context gets you off the dime so that you start to do what needs to be done yourself.

Being an expert is not a good gig.  It’s too easy to get caught up in “being the expert” which dilutes your ability to help solve the current problem well.  So please don’t seek me as an expert.  I can tell you what I see from my perspective in terms of what you’re trying to do.  I can help you find the right information in my area of expertise.  I can explain concepts that you don’t understand and offer insights that I’ve gained from working on the same kind of problem with other people.  But I don’t want to offer you a canned solution or to have you  rely on me to make your decision.  You need to do that.  Period.

My work is more that of a wise friend.  I want to be one of many you can count on as a source of help and motivation–in what I blog, the books I write, in what I offer if you e-mail me.  Please don’t confuse me with all those “experts.”

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Mary Lloyd is a writer and CEO of Mining Silver LLC.  Her book Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love was written to help people in or approaching retirement learn about themselves to make their retirement years vibrant and positive.  For more see her website.

Do You Ask for Help?

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

This time of year, we usually have too much to do. But asking for help doesn’t come easy for most of us.  It’s just easier to do it all yourself, you decide.  But really, it’s not.  And asking the right people for the right help builds the kind of bonds we all yearn for.

But there’s a lot more to effective asking than deciding to do it.  First, you need to have a good grasp of the help you need.

  • Is it something you really don’t know how to do?  Trying to fix something better done by a professional (like electricity and cars) may end up in injury—or worse.  But we get off track in the other direction, too—like calling the electrician when all that was needed was to plug in the cord.  Check the obvious solutions before you call for help.
    • What really needs to be done?  When you ask for help, choosing the right resource hinges on knowing what needs to be done.  So get as clear as you can with yourself about what you need.  If you don’t know, admit that when you ask for help, but don’t send your savior down the wrong road by being lazy with the information you provide.
    • Is it just a matter of time versus money?  I have friends who pay to have their houses cleaned.  This works for them because they would rather spend money than time on that.  But asking for help is not about taking advantage of family members and friends just as busy as you are (or busier) simply because you don’t want to do that work.  If you need this kind of help, pay up, one way or the other.  When you don’t, you build resentment not those nurturing bonds you’re looking for.
    • Can someone else do it well enough that you’re going to be okay with the results?  If it’s critical that the results are perfect and you’re sure you can do it more perfectly than anyone else, then you need to do it.  But is it really that critical?  And are you really the one who will do it best?
    • Are there extenuating circumstances?  Sure, your cousin George has built three fences on his own properties and needs the money, but if you have a picky HOA and a bunch of restrictive architectural requirements to keep in mind, maybe hiring the fence company that’s done all the other fences in your subdivision is wiser.

Then there’s the actual asking.  For many of us, this is where the whole idea stops. There’s no high school class on how to do this well.

  • Be clear about what you need.  It’s tempting to assume that the person you ask will just know.   Nope.  Be precise and complete in explaining the situation.  This is true whether you are paying for a top-notch reupholster job or asking your sister to prep the potatoes for dinner.
  • Get on the same page about timing.t assume another person is on the same wavelength in terms of timing.  But be honest about when you need it done.  Do you really need that light bulb changed before the next commercial?  Or are you just trying for a power grab with a fake emergency?
  • Ask wisely.  This is particularly true when you are asking for unpaid help which is basically a favor.  Pay attention to what the other person is doing before you ask.  Expecting someone to drop everything just to hear your request is setting yourself up for a “No.”  Don’t ask for more than you really need either. And when someone says, “Sorry, I can’t,” find someone else to ask rather than acting like a five-year old and asking again and again.
  • Keep asking.  If what’s supposed to be happening isn’t once someone agrees to help you (paid or otherwise), it’s wise to follow up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make a federal case out of it.  People forget (even the ones you pay to do something.)  But if nothing’s happening and your gut is telling you to find another resource, pay attention.  Sometimes there’s more than forgetfulness at stake and the longer you wait to deal with it, the bigger that kind of problem gets.
  • Have more than one option.  If you do need to shift gears on how you are going to get something accomplished, it’s a lot easier if you’re already have other options identified.  This is as true of who’s going to pick up Aunt Jen at the airport as it is of getting your cellphone fixed.

“The strong individual is the one who asks for help when he needs it.”  – Rona Barrett, columnist and businesswoman.
During the holidays, it’s likely you’re going to need it. So be strong and ask for help.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 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 LoveHer novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

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!

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website.

How Much News is Enough?

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Remember the adage “No news is good news?” What happened to that?  Now, no news means you’re either dead or lost in a South American jungle where even satellite reception falters.

“News,” at least in the dictionary, is “information about recent events or developments.”  Sometimes it’s in print.  Sometimes it’s on television and radio.  Sometimes it’s through the computer.  News is information about what’s going on where we aren’t.

If we care about that place or have loved ones there, of course we want to know what’s happening.  But what’s the point of being thoroughly informed about all the bad things that have occurred all over the world in the last 24 hours?

In this morning’s newspaper, I read about a train wreck in Spain that killed 79 people, a bus crash in Italy that killed 38, and an accident in Switzerland where two trains collided, seriously injuring five.  I live on the West Coast of the United States.  The only reason I can think of for needing to know of those three disasters is to pray for those involved.  But does such specificity improve Divine access?  Would I do any less good if I skipped the news and prayed “God, bless everyone who needs it right now”?

In my own life, there’s local news, sports news, national news, weather news, business news, and financial news.  Our local TV news starts at 4 AM.  The 24-hour news channels give me a dose whenever I choose to look for it.  The internet can even custom tailor alerts about whatever I’m interested in.  Around here, “the news” is often on midday, for as much as two hours at dinner time, and another hour or two before we go to bed.  Is that a good thing?

It’s nice to be able to find out what’s happening regardless of when I decide I need to know.  But being connected to everything that’s going on in the world all the time carries a lot of stress.  There’s nothing I can do about most of it.  Why is “the news” such a big presence in my life?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and there’s only one thing I’m 100% sure of.  I need to go on an information diet.  A lot of what I take in isn’t even good as “news.” Journalistic junk food.  A while back, I used a stopwatch and learned that over 50% of what I was getting from the local 10:00 news was ads.  Just how much of my time do I want to dedicate to car commercials and lovey-dovey couples touting erectile dysfunction drugs?

“News” can also be defined as “somebody or something interesting or something previously unknown.”   If I think about it that way, I can chart a wiser path to the information I really want to ingest.  If I want news about someone I love or want to get to know, a phone call or e-mail beats Inside Edition.  If I want to learn about something new, surfing the Net or going to the library will get me a whole lot farther than waiting through five minutes of ads so I can hear the 30-word follow-up to the 20-word trailer the evening news teased me with before going to commercial.

We hear way too much about stuff we don’t need to know–politicians who should have kept their pants on; paramours who should have kept their mouths shut; financial difficulties and deceits; personal tragedies and traumas.  We hear about crime and mayhem all over the globe. We hear the same awful stuff multiple times a day.  It’s not just me.  This is not good for any of us.

A steady stream of bad news is hard on you, even if you have no emotional connection to the people facing the problem.  The very best we can hope to get from witnessing the current horrible thing is a fleeting moment of “feel good” when we write a check or text a donation in response.  The rest is a combination of unrequited compassion and insensitive gawking.

I do want to be informed about what’s going on in the world.  And I do care about people.  But you can get too much of a good thing.  Am I an informed citizen of the world or a news junkie?

I’ve decided I need to learn to imbibe more responsibly.  Which means I can’t put as much of this in my system.  From now on, I’m going to make myself answer three questions:  Do I really need/want to be fully informed about this?  Is this the best sources for the information I need?  And, much as it makes me uncomfortable:  Am I just watching/hearing/reading this news as a bogus way to feel connected?  If the answers aren’t yes, yes, and no, I need to pass.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Life Goes On. Go With It.

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

No one is immune from the occasional cosmic gut punch. Stuff happens in every life that’s life threatening, gut-wrenching, and/or soul crushing. We’re dazed initially when it happens, but eventually, we literally need to come back to Life.

There is no better place to remember this than at Mount St. Helens.  I had the chance to hike there this week.  Seeing what’s going on there 33 years after its own cosmic gut punch was amazing.

On May 18, 1980 at 8:32 AM Pacific Time, this previously  dormant volcano in Washington’s Cascade mountains roared to life with stunning devastation.  The top 1500 feet of the mountain slumped off the north side after a 5.1 earthquake.  Horrendous volcanic explosions that hurled rocks and hot gases at over 300 miles per hour followed in seconds.  The heat of that caused the snow and  ice on the mountain to melt, resulting in massive mud flows that swept a slurry of muddy water, ice, rocks, and trees over the landscape and into local lakes and rivers.

The blast downed or killed over 217 square miles of timber.  Virtually every bird in the vicinity, most of the mammals, and many of the fish died.  The debris was as much as 150 feet deep.  At the end of that day, the devastation  was complete.  The landscape was as inhospitable as the moon. Much of the mountain still looks that way:

Mount St. Helens hike 001

The dome in the center near was is now the top of the mountain grew after that unbelievable day.  The volcano spewed lava for six years, but in more subdued fashion.  It’s quiet now, but still on fire inside.  The dark area shows how much the debris has been carved by ground water in the ensuing years.

Thirty-three years isn’t even a nanosecond in terms of geologic time.  In the grand scheme of seismic change, it’s like we are still in the same moment the mountain blew up.  But if you look closer (or in this case, behind you), the evidence that life goes on is all around at Mount St. Helens.

The area is now a National Volcanic Monument, and the US Forest Service does a nice job of explaining how that happened.  Even when the entire mountain was convulsing, pocket gophers were safely burrowed underground.  When the violence stopped, they started digging out.  That action shoved dormant seeds to the surface.  Within weeks, those had sprouted and plants were starting to grow.

Some of the fish avoided the catastrophe because they were below the ice of a still frozen lake, which helped moderate the impact of the heat.  Once the lake thawed fully later, their existence continued as if nothing had happened.

But even in the lakes where everything had been killed, life returned with unexpected speed.  On land, mammals and birds carried seeds from beyond the blast zone back on hooves and feathers or in intestines, giving even more plants the chance to germinate and grow.  And now, not even four decades after the blast, Mount St. Helens has more a more biodiversity than it did before the top blew off.

Yes, the timber companies harvested many of the downed trees and planted many more to replace them.  Yes, it looks different.  But life really has gone on at Mount St. Helens.  The day we were there, wildflowers were screaming their colors in the sun all along the trail.

 

Mount St. Helens hike 008

The red of Indian paintbrush, the fragrant lavender blue of prairie lupine, a variety of different yellows flowers dancing happily in the breeze and even an occasional young spruce tree made the place look like a garden.  Entire forests of alder trees have grown up.  (Alders create a better soil for later trees.)

You can’t get much more destruction than what went on at Mount St. Helens in 1980.  And yet, life there is back without hesitation.  That’s such a great lesson.

Even if what happened is awful.  Even if what it left you with is far “less” than what you had before, go on.  Be part of it.  It might be different, but it can still be rich and diverse and beautiful.

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

Want a Better Life? Layer

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Get in the Game

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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