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Posts Tagged ‘living well as we age’

Give a Caregiver a Hug

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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 probably 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 God, the 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.

What is your Heart’s Desire?  What are you doing about it?

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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.

Ending 2013

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

We are to that point in the calendar where we officially write THE END on the current year.  Each of us comes up with our own rituals for marking this.  It’s different for me now that I’ve “given up work”–not as straightforward or obvious.

When I was in corporate America, Dec. 31 was my favorite work day–partly because most of the office had taken vacation and I could get a ton of work done.  But every Dec. 31, after everything else was buttoned up, I’d also spend an hour reflecting on the year that was ending.  There were always things to point to that made me proud, excited, happy.  It was a great little ritual because it never occurred to me to dwell on what had gone wrong.  I left the office and walked into the new year with confidence.

Now, I’m not so good at that.  It’s tempting to tell myself that it’s because I haven’t gotten anything done in the dying year that justifies being happy, proud, or excited.

But I can finally see that’s not really what’s going on.  (Thank heavens!)

Once we are out on our own, it’s harder to set a course and stay on it.  That’s one of the side effects of that flexibility retirement blesses us with.  As we age, things tend to get less predictable as well.  Illness or injury of course, but also opportunities that make us veer off course from the things we said we were going to do.  Two weeks in Mexico with the perfect travel companion?  Of course the volunteer work you were going to find can wait.   A friend with a litter of puppies that have him overwhelmed?  You love puppies–why not help out?

So how do you assess a year once you’ve given up the annual goal setting process at work?  Do you even need to ask “Was this a good year?”

I think we do.  All of us want to be competent and deciding that the year was done well is an example of that.   But the parameters need to change.

Instead of looking at work projects and milestones with kids (graduations, potty training, whatever), at this point we need to ask ourselves more personal questions.  These are the ones I’m going to use day after tomorrow when I end this year:

  • Did I do the things I felt were important?
  • Was I authentic in how I lived this year?
  • Did I offer kindness when I had the chance?
  • What did I create?
  • How did I have fun?
  • If I was starting again on January 1, 2013, what would I do differently?

That last one is just to prime the pump for 2014.  Endings are beginnings after all.  As I close this chapter, I’m laying the foundation for the next one.

It’s not about whether you meet all those goals anymore.  It’s about how well you’ve lived this particular chunk of your life.  Only you know what’s important about that so find the questions that resonate for you.  And then be happy, excited and proud of all you did with this twelve months.

Happy 2014!

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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 novel Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

 

 

 

How Much Information?

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Decision making works better if you have good information. That holds true as much in personal life as professionally.  But how do you know when you have enough good information to get on with deciding?

Whether it’s buying a new car, choosing a new town to live in, or figuring out what you’re going to do about health care insurance, important decisions are typically not knee-jerk.  We look at the alternatives.  We try out different scenarios.  We compare options.  At least if we are intent on doing it well.

But how much is enough?  I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.  I’m buying a house.  I’ve been pretty thorough about assessing what locations would work the best, what kind of house would be the wisest, what level of upkeep I want to have to maintain, how much yard I am willing to take on, etc.  I looked at 43 houses before I was comfortable making an offer.  That was a big decision.  I needed a lot of information.

But now I am dealing with smaller decisions–what color to paint the kitchen walls, what materials to use in replacing the current flooring, even what to put where once I  move in.

Those decisions don’t warrant anywhere near as much precision in the information I gather to support my decision-making process.  It’s important I recognize it’s time to switch gears.Yes, I may not like the carpet I choose, but that’s not on the same order of magnitude as buying a house with a major structural flaw would have been.

So how much is enough on the current spate of decision-making?  I’m not sure it’s cut and dried, but it seems the following are going to be part of doing the research part well:

  • What’s going to happen if I don’t get this right?  If someone is going to die or your are going to be homeless, you need to do all the research you can.  If it’s just going to mean I spend a weekend repainting that room once I’ve moved in, go ahead and decide, will you?!
  • What are my options?  All too often, we choose the first possibility that comes to mind because we didn’t bother to take the time to think of the rest.  This is not good in any guise.  (You could have had pan-seared shrimp and fresh broccoli, but the first thing you noticed were the mashed potatoes that have been hiding in plain sight in the refrigerator for almost a week.)  Even if it’s just deciding whether you want to go out your driveway to the left or right, notice consciously that you are at a decision point–and that there’s more than one option.  There’s always more than one option–or else there would be no decision to make.
  • Know when to stop. Right now, I am researching flooring options.  I’ve spoken with four different vendors as well as a friend who is in the business (far far away).  Is that enough?  For the first pass, yes.  I have learned the jargon and recognize what the issues are going to be for me.  I will need to get some of them out to do bids, but I can’t make that call yet.  (I won’t own the house until next week…)  For now, I have enough information on that.  When I move to the next step, maybe not, but I need to assess that then.

There are a lot of reasons to keep gathering information after you’ve obtained enough to get on with deciding.  Most of those reasons are forms of “analysis paralysis.”  After a certain point, “enough information
becomes “too much information.”  If you are well enough informed that you can make a solid decision, then you need to decide.  The exception to this is if you are waiting for someone else to provide more current information–but be careful with that.  Once you understand the issues and can compare the relevant dimensions for each option using solid information, it’s usually time to decide and get on with your life.

Don’t get hung up on amassing information  Be aware of what you really need to know before you decide and of how much of that you already have in the pipeline.  Ask yourself if you’ve already reached the best point in the overall process for making this decision.  If so, decide.

Good decision making relies on a variety of skills.  One of them is gathering the right amount of good information.  If you find yourself saying “I knew that” again and again as you speak with yet another resource, it’s time to get on with it.

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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.

What I Learned Buying a House After 60

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Life lessons don’t always come from expected sources. I’m buying a house. the lessons I’m learning go well beyond real estate.

For the last 18 months, I’ve lived with my boyfriend in a gated, 55+ community–in a new house he bought three years ago.  That’s been hard for me.  It’s not a lifestyle where I can thrive.  Our trial run at living together was an essential step.  We’ve learned living separately works better for us without having invested in real estate together.  That’s not exactly how “everybody does it.”  So there’s Lesson #1:   The next step for you is not always the one that works best for everyone else.

I sold my last house 18 months ago.  It was time.  I knew that for sure when I got an excellent price and had a done deal in less than a month.  I thought I needed to sell that house because it had a lot of yard—with elevation.  That wasn’t the real reason, but it got me to take action.   Lesson #2:  The reason you act isn’t always the reason you needed to act.

About three months ago, I knew it was time to get back in the game.  But did I need a house?  How about renting instead?  How about a condo?  I moved through this phase fairly quickly once I admitted something everyone in the family already knew.  I am a compulsive gardener.  I need dirt   Rented dirt doesn’t work.  Lesson #3:  Be honest with yourself.

I listed what I wanted in this new house—and promptly sabotaged myself big time.  I rejected my own preferences, telling myself I needed to heed the “prevailing wisdom” about what older people need as housing instead.  I wanted stairs—but what if I needed single-story living later in my life?  I wanted a garden, but what happened if I couldn’t handle the physical demands of that eventually?  This ageist crap clobbered me hard.  I was looking for a house I could “grow old in” and conjuring up all sorts of limiting scenarios.

A conversation with my older son saved me.  When I told him I planned to live in this house for the rest of my life, he laughed—and then told me that wasn’t likely.  I challenged him, thinking he was assuming I would not be able to live on my own for that long.  His reply?  “Mom, you’re a gypsy.  You aren’t going to stay in any house that long.”  Okay, Lesson #4:  Admit who you are.  Let’s throw in Lesson #5, too:  Beware of insidious ageist thinking!

So I learned I needed to buy the house for now.  Then the challenge became where.

I’d told the realtor I wanted to see things in areas I was familiar with, where friends lived and I already knew my way around.  We looked at 43 houses.  None of them came remotely close to fitting the bill.  All were older than I wanted, needed significant updating, and/or had chopped up floor plans that didn’t work for me.  I was thoroughly disheartened.  Time for Lesson #6:  When it’s not working, you need to change something.

I decided it had to be where I was looking that was wrong.  And it was wrong because I was thinking rationally instead of feeling authentically.  When I finally admitted what I really needed and wanted at an emotional level, I realized I needed a new location to explore—but one that was closer to family.  Lesson #7:  Important decisions should start with your heart and be handled rationally after the emotional aspects are clear.

Once I realized I needed to be somewhere new, an amazing thing happened.  I discovered an area that I’d been assuming was “too far away from everything” was actually closer to my family than the places I’d been looking. The homes were of the age I like.  The neighborhoods were a delight for walking.  Right on cue, a house I loved came on the market.  The right size yard.  The right amount of floor space.  The kind of floor plan I love.  So that’s Lesson #8:  Keep going.

I’m still jumping the real estate hoops on the deal—offer, acceptance, inspection, etc.–but I feel really good about this house.  It’s helped me learn so much already.

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue 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 (which she wrote for those who want a better life than the current retirement stereotypes define).  Her first novel, Widow Boy will be out in 2014.  For more, see her website.

Forward and Back

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

A good dance involves both forward and back. The Dance of Life is the same.  Some of us get hung up on moving forward.  Some of us get stuck in looking back.  But the best comes when you have a bit of both in how you live your days.

Forward is held in high regard–has been for a long time now.  “Youth and progress” started trumping “the way we’ve always done it” when the Industrial Age took over from farming a couple centuries ago.  Moving forward is important.  Babies learn.  Companies grow and become more effective.  Moving up is part of most career plans.  Progress is a good thing.

But progress without an appreciation for where we’ve already been is a little like trying to do the waltz without ever moving back to the first spot on the floor–more like stomping than an elegant dance.

Forging ever onward at all costs feels too much like a forced march.  There has to be some looking back.  Time to reflect on the mountain you’ve been climbing or the beauty of the sun as it sets behind you.

There’s a difference between looking back and getting stuck in the past though.  It’s tempting with all the forms of awfulness that have manifest lately to yearn for the good old days.  Life was simpler in 1963.  At least for me–I was still in high school and hadn’t experienced the down side of growing up yet.  No lay offs.  No divorces.  No difficult step children.  No boss from hell.  No idiotic Congressional logjams.  Some days it just seems like that life was a better life.  But it really wasn’t.

Still, once we retire the “good ol’ days” can sing a siren’s song.  You start thinking “What would happen if I went back?” to a place that held good times before.  You can go back and live in the  town where you were raised (well, unless it’s been turned into a giant manufacturing facility or is at the bottom of some reservoir).  But you can’t go back and live that life anew.  It will not be the same life, even if you can get all your high school pals to move back with you and you do the very same things that were so cool then.  You are different because of what’s gone on in your life since then.  They are different.  And the town is different, even if it doesn’t look like it. (My hometown sure doesn’t.)

A wiser move is to attempt to re-create what you liked about that time past.  The sense of camaraderie?  The bliss of living near a lake?  What was it about that experience that made it good?  Finding a way to get that in the life you are living now is moving sort of like forward and back at the same time.

Too often, we get stuck in either/or.  But life is a dance and we need both when it comes to forward and back.  One two three.  One two three.  Float on the delight of what’s happening now.  On where you’re going next.  But with a sense of who you are that comes only from looking back at all you’ve come through.

Sometimes it’s salsa.  Sometimes a waltz.  Sometimes you’re dancing your socks off to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.”  But it’s always a matter of forward and back.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

Leave Enough Room for the Kid

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

You think I’m going to talk about your offspring, right? Nope. The kid I want you to make room for is your own kid–the one you used to be before responsibility and adulthood and career and parenting and … made you lose track of him or her.

Once we are well enough off to give up work, we need to find that kid. To start having regular play dates. To relearn how to have fun without worrying about all the adult things for a few hours.  Being a kid again isn’t just about not being responsible. Being a kid involves creativity, spontaneity, friendship, and yes a bit of mischief.

No, I am not advocating the Off Their Rockers kind of dumb stunts. But it is a good idea to go back to having uninhibited fun at least occasionally. Fun that you forgot you knew how to have. Sometimes that involves silliness. Sometimes it involves reconnecting with the people you used to do those kinds of things with. Sometimes it’s just a matter of remembering that you loved doing it as you do it with your grandkids.

But you have to leave room for it. Room in your schedule. Room in your physical dwelling. Room in your heart. Please leave room for your kid.

At the moment, I am shopping for my next house. Yes, it does need to be a house. I am a dirt person. My little kid needs a patch of ground where she can plant flowers and vegetables and see what grows this year and try all over again next year.

And it will be a little bit bigger than some might think I need at this stage of the game. Why? Because I also need a messy room. I need someplace where I can start a creative project and leave the mess out so that I can work on it again without all the rigmarole of getting it all back out from where I stored it.

We do not revel in messes as adults but kids have to have them. (We really need them, too, but we’ve been brainwashed.) This new house is going to be different. In the past, the important thing was to get wherever I lived to look like a home decorating magazine article. That’s nice. When you use the things that mean something to you (and that have “stories”), that effort really is an essential part of feathering a nest.  But it’s not the whole story.

We also need blank spaces–fresh canvas for the things we have yet to create in our lives. The kid in us does not relax with a finely finished room. She needs a place to express herself.  That requires empty spaces and blank pages in the calendar.

If you’ve been living in your space for a long time, this is still true. To make space for the Kid there, you need to do occasional purges (or “sort and pitches” as I call them). Is what’s taking up your space useful? Is it beautiful? Joyful? If it’s none of these things, maybe you need to let it go so you have room for the Kid. So much of what we end up with is either given to us and doesn’t serve us or is obsolete but still in place. Get rid of everything in those categories so there’s room to grow.

Same deal with your calendar. Are you doing things that are fun? That you feel good about contributing your time to? If you stop doing things that no longer satisfy you, there’s a lot more room to find new things to do. Things your Kid will enjoy.

It’s easy to get into serious volunteering when you retire. Watch out for that. The Kid is a good giver and an enthusiastic helper, provided you are doing something that’s really you. Adults can fake enthusiasm. Kids cannot.

Retirement is the chance to hit the reset button–to come up with a calendar and a home that match the real you. When you start working on that, be sure you remember the Kid. You will enjoy the rest of your life a lot more if you leave that child plenty of room to play.
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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.