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Posts Tagged ‘living well as we age’

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.

Are Cookies Wrong?

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

I owe my older son three batches of homemade cookies. It’s the remaining part of a gift certificate for “one six-month taster membership with Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs.”  I gave it to him for Christmas.  Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs is just me having fun in my kitchen, and this gig has been fun for both me and this son.  (And that doesn’t even count the Guinness Brownies we tried on St. Patrick’s Day).

But I’ve been reading The Abascal Way, a book that explains why what– and how–we eat as a culture is all wrong, and what makes more sense.  Cookies are definitely not part of what makes more sense.   So I’m having second thoughts about saying “I love you” to my son with refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.

I’ve given cookies as a demonstration of love ever since I was old enough to make them.  Both my sons, my step grandson, and each of my life partners have gotten full batches of their own favorites many times.  I even managed to ship a batch to Australia that were still edible when they arrived.  I’m a good Cookie Mom.

I do put thought into making them more nutritionally commendable.  Whole wheat flour works–sometimes.  Dried cherries—high in nutrients—taste pretty good.  Really dark chocolate is “healthy.”  The molasses cookies I made with oat bran in them when my sons were teens were favorites for a few years.  (Alas, Abascal doesn’t consider oat bran particularly healthy…) The guys in my life have been okay with me sneaking “good for you stuff” in their goodies over the years.

But this book made me look at this fun part of my life through a stronger lens.  Am I harming my sons—and all of my loved ones—with these nutritionally derelict professions of love?  No matter how much good stuff you cram into them, if you want a cookie that tastes like a cookie (rather than cardboard), you need to use significant amounts of refined sugar, refined flour, and bad fat.

I’ve focused on keeping my kids healthy since they were born.  Have I been wrong with the cookie thing all these years?  Or does the plus of being a tasty “I love you” offset the negative that they’re made with “inflammatory foods?”

This dilemma isn’t just about cookies.  Am I being loving when I serve red meat to guests?  Am I doing the right thing when bringing gourmet macaroni and cheese to a potluck?  Where does “smart eating” intersect with “having fun together?”  It’s just not the same when a group of friends sits down to brown rice, steamed veggies, and ice water.

There are a lot of “shoulds” in this nutrition thing.  How many of them are legitimate? How many of them are essential at all times?  How many of them are too much?

The first piece of the answer lies in giving up the General Manager of the Universe title (one more time).  The only thing I control is whether to create and give the cookies.  The recipients are adults–they decide what to do with them.

When my kids were little, they didn’t get cookies whenever they wanted them.  They had to eat balanced meals and cookies were a treat in addition to those.  They grew up to be both wise about their nutrition and good cooks.  They don’t exist solely on cookies when I give them.  For all I know, they may be choosing to throw most of them away (but I doubt it).

Abascal adds a bit of advice that helps.  She recommends that when you give yourself a treat made of “bad stuff,” you promise yourself to eat some vegetables soon.  It doesn’t have to be in the next fifteen seconds, but sometime that day, eat a few extra antioxidants.  Progress!

I don’t have a lot of traditions with my kids.  I did that on purpose because there were too many when I was a new mother and it was an incredible source of stress for my young family.  But cookies are one of our traditions.

So, after much thought and a bit of angst, I’ve decided there will be more cookies from the Pacific NW Experimental Cookie Labs.  I might try to make some with brown rice flour.  Or they may arrive with a bouquet of curly kale.  If I give them, they will be tasty though—and they will say “I love you” as always.

This article originally appeared in the May 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.

What Do I Want to Do Next?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Bother With?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

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

Then what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give a Caregiver a Hug

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.