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Posts Tagged ‘non-financial retirement planning’

Do Something?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

One of the biggest challenges of retirement is knowing what you really have to do.  Well…the death and taxes stuff is still in place, but there’s so much you can blow off after you decided to do it once your past the career stage.

Even if you’re accustomed to setting goals once a year–or once a month or once a week–and have been really good at making them happen, you are vulnerable on this.  Once you retire, the number of people who care if you get things done is dramatically reduced.  And that means the probability of you getting the things done that you said you were going to do goes down.

The goal setting process we used in business doesn’t work as well here.  The only accountability is to ourselves, so the need to get on with whatever we said we were going to do it a lot less pronounced.  In addition, any thing that looks like “work” becomes suspect.  We’re supposed to be playing, right?

I’m not sure I know what to do about this problem in total.  I do have some clues that have come into focus lately.

1.  If you want to feel like you are “doing something” once you retire, the most important thing to do is define your sense of purpose before you load up your calendar.  Othewise, you end up doing a lot and not feeling like you’ve gotten anything done.  If you don’t know your purpose, experiment for a year or two or even more.  That then becomes your goal–to find your sense of purpose.

2.  The second most important thing to do is to find something you can do every day to honor that purpose.  It doesn’t haven’t to be an eight-hour daily commitment.  Maybe for now, all you need to do is spend ten minutes in the morning visualizing yourself successfully doing the thing you want to do.  But it does have to be daily.  Otherwise, you lose track of what you said you wanted to do very quickly and drift along in the backwater of what everyone else suggests you do–feeling slightly restless and more-than-slightly bored.

3.  It also helps to find an “assistant.”  This isn’t about having someone else do the computer work.  The assistant you need is someone to whom you tell your goal and who then bugs you when you aren’t getting on with it.  At the moment, I am the official poke-in-the-ribs for a friend who wants to get an important document up on her website before she goes on vacation next month.   Last summer, she was my “catcher.”  We agreed I would send her a chapter a week of a book draft I wanted to get done.  She agreed to accept it–and that made a huge difference in how I honored my commitment to finish a chapter a week.

4.  The last piece of this part of the puzzle is to believe in yourself–particularly in the early stages of retirement.  It’s very easy to talk yourself out of what your heart really wants to do.  It is far too simple to just “not do it” because friends dropped by for a surprise visit or your daughter needed help cleaning out a gutter that was flooding her family room.  If you really want to set yourself up to “do something” at this stage of the game, you need to believe that it’s important.  Not just some of the time.  All of the time.

Martha Beck calls the senseless fears that stop us for doing the things we truly want to the Inner Lizard.  These fears are a misfire of what is, for the most part, a survival mechanism from the very first years humans roamed the earth.  Then, we needed to be ready to handle physical dangers on short notice.  Now, that same mechanism manufactures things to be afraid of because the real thing–saber-toothed tigers and such–are no longer part of our experience.  That old brain needs something to be afraid of in order to come up with a strategy for surviving it.  And being afraid is another thing that will keep you from doing that something you really want to do.

Our higher brains–and our hearts–are more accurate beacons for retirement effort.  Most of us are reasonably safe by the time we reach retirement.  The things we worry about quite often don’t even happen.  So instead of that old brain, we need to find a new driver for what we are going to do.

We could do something logical, relying on the frontal cortex instead of the “reptilian brain” at the top of our spines.  But even better is to start from your heart.  Yes, do something.  But choose stuff that makes you smile.  That makes you swell with pride about getting involved in making a difference on something important.  That makes your smarter and more informed today than you were yesterday about something you really want to know.  That makes you feel like you are doing something

Yes.  Do something.  Do set goals.  But make them golden instead of the ordinary stainless steel ones that were good enough while we were on the job.

 

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 again. 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.

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.  Swinging on the swings at the playpark, dancing to music on the radio, stomping in puddles.

To have it happen, you need 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 a  place where I can start a creative project and leave the mess out so that I can work on it whenever I want without all the rigmarole of getting it all back out from where I stored it.

Many of us 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 the needed space, 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 displaying is obsolete but still in place. Get rid of everything you don’t really love, 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.

Why the Golden Years Idea Doesn’t Work

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rekindling Old Loves

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Nope. I’m not talking about re-sparking old romances. It is rather heady to reconnect with your high school sweetheart or your first crush.  But there are other loves that pack as hefty a punch at this stage that have nothing to do with “boy reconnects with girl.”  The magic I’m looking at here is the delight of coming back to things you used to love to do but lost track of.

Yes, we evolve. Some of what we spent the bulk of our time on no produces a glimmer of excitement.  Listening to Beatles songs and swooning over that George Harrison poster don’t ring your chime like they did when you were thirteen.  Likewise, pitching green apples at passing cars is probably not up for a reboot.  I’ve gotten three great lessons in things that you do want to resurrect in the last few days though.

I met two new friends today, in two different contexts.  Each had a story to tell about something they’d recently reconnected with that was making a big difference in their lives.

The first was a woman with a strong pedigree in finance who owns her own business and is venturing beyond the safe and familiar in what she’d doing with her career.  Simultaneously, things have been very challenging personally, particularly with her mother’s increasing dementia and her dad’s denial of that reality. The poor woman probably doesn’t have time to turn around given all her current responsibilities.  But six months ago, she decided to go back to something that had always brought her joy—ice skating—in a new way. She joined a synchronized ice skating team.

She’s not the youngest member of the team, but she’s not the oldest either.  She was like everyone else in one very important way.  She loves to figure skate.  Being part of the team is an ideal version of this joy for this time in her life.  A team effort means she has to focus on the team’s workout instead of whatever is crashing down around her ears beyond the rink.  She has teammates—wonderful people who support her.  Even better, they’re good—a great way to confirm your own worth when the personal pieces seem to be in tatters.

My second new friend is returning to an earlier version of work that he loved.  He’s not shifting his career back that way though.  He’s chosen instead to “dabble” as a strategy to move in that direction as he prepares for his version of retirement.  His passion?  Publishing.  Only now as he starts to play in that arena again, he has years of experience with business plans and management as well a deep love of books and writing to help him make things work.

You can hear the excitement in his voice when he speaks of the project where he’s currently testing his combined old and new skills.  His vision of retirement is uniquely his, and it’s already adding energy to his life.

The third example is me.  For the last seven years, I’ve focused on creating resources to help our culture create a wiser blueprint for what we do after 50.  I’m still passionate that we need a smarter approach for everyone’s sake.  But that message is now coming from more and more voices so my role can start to diminish.  My treat is to myself is to write fiction.

After a self-imposed hiatus, I’m back to the delight of “playing God” in the stories I come up with.  I, too, have had some difficult challenges of late.  Knowing I’m going spend time with my stories every day makes those challenges less difficult.

It’s hard to describe the joy of coming back to the favorite pursuits of younger years.  It’s a bit like meeting a dear but long-lost friend, learning all over again how much you enjoyed having him/her in your life, and then discovering that very special person is moving in next door to you.

We are so lucky when the things we love circle back and catch our attention and devotion again.  Usually, it’s not exact same effort as when we were so enthralled the first time.  Most often, it’s even more magical—both because of all the things learned in the meantime that make you more effective and because you cherish it more because it was lost.

You’re not living in the past if you pick up old pastimes.  You’ve had the chance to reconnect with an old friend.  Enjoy!

 

Leisure — The Salt of Life

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Some folks may be feeling sorry for themselves because the Great Recession trashed their Golden Years retirement plans.  That makes as much sense as being upset because the caterpillar turned into a butterfly.

We spend our working years looking forward to not working—to long lazy stretches of lying on the warm sand at a sunny beach or relaxing in a favorite recliner.  Reality is different though—100% leisure isn’t satisfying in the long haul.   Yep.  It’s a bad idea even if you can fund it.

Leisure is like salt–when you sprinkle a little on what you have cooking it brings out the flavor.  But if you try to exist on a steady diet of just salt, your meals are going to be not only very unpleasant.  They will be dangerous.

Too much salt can kill you.  That’s true of leisure as well. Leisure steals a lot of important emotional nutrients from your diet if you resort to it too often.  You don’t feel competent because you haven’t done anything to prove your mettle.  You lose confidence in yourself because you aren’t doing anything significant.  You start to ask yourself scary questions like “Why am I even here?” You lose your enthusiasm for life.  There’s no zing in “doing nothing.”

Leisure means you expend little, if any, effort.  It is not the same as play.  Play is far more active and personal—and much more essential.  According to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, play helps our brains develop, makes our empathy bloom, helps us navigate complex social situations, and is essential to creativity and innovation. Play is for everyone, too—not just kids.

Most of us do need more play when we retire.  Careers are built on the mantra of productivity and play is, by definition (at least by Dr. Brown), not productive.  So we don’t value play.  Stuart notes that the opposite of play isn’t work.  It’s depression.  So yes, we do need to play when we retire.  But play is active.  When you play, you are doing something and having fun at it.

Play is fun and we like to do it—at least once we can get past that productivity thing.  But we don’t need an exclusive diet of that either.  Play is like sugar—it sweetens up your life and makes things a lot nicer.  You need more of it than leisure—just like you use more sugar than salt in your cooking (unless you’re making dill pickles or sauerkraut).

But the real deal is flour.  (In a gluten-free environment, it’s just not wheat flour.)  You use flour—lots of it–in bread and pasta.  You use it for gravy and coating the chicken you are going to bake or—gasp!—fry. And, of course, there’s flour in cookies, cakes, and pastries.  In my kitchen analogy, the piece we need the most of, the “flour”, is work.

We need work, just like we need starch in our diets.  But just like whole grain flour is good for you and bleached white flour is not, meaningful unpaid work is better for you than anything you do for money that you don’t have your heart in.  The work you need when you retire should be more wholesome and more enriching—but it should be there.

Having to let go of the old Golden Years idea of retirement is probably the nicest “downside” of an economic mess if you’re looking at the last third of life.  If you can’t do the leisure-centered version of retirement, rejoice.  You didn’t need all that leisure.  You need a chance to play and a chance to do meaningful work along with that leisure.  With some effort and reflection, you might be able get both of those things in work you continue to do for pay.  If that’s not possible, you can still fit them into your day with a bit of ingenuity and effort because none of the three is a 24/7 requirement.  (Only basics like breathing truly fall in that category.)

Human beings are not made to sit around the swimming pool sipping mojitos day after day.  That kind of experience is only fun as an interlude–a break between more emotionally, mentally, and physically engaging activities. A little is pleasant.  A lot is a maddening prison.

Learn to play.  Find good work.  Sprinkle in some leisure every once in a while.  You’ll be miles ahead of the folks who packed the car and moved to Easy Street the day they stopped working.

 

Gated Communities

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Magic Word…Flexible

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

When you get past 50, you need to pay more attention to what’s flexible. It can make your life a whole lot more pleasant in a surprisingly wide array of ways.

First, of course, is the need to keep your body flexible.  For me that means finding some new ways to challenge my muscles since I recently left behind the “automatic” exercise of navigating the stairs to a second floor and caring for a large, weed-magnetic garden.  I can do that with a yoga class–or maybe pilates or zumba.  And I’ve told my family I’ve available for free as a “garden wench.”

But there’s more to keep flexible than your back. Beware of calcification of your mindset. This became distressingly clear to me when I started assessing how well my transition to the “new place” was going. Without any real need to complain, I launched into an alarming mental litany of bitches. “This isn’t like it used to be.” “That isn’t like I had it at my old place.” Uh-oh.

My life works best when I keep it changing. New challenges, even if they are just how to fit the dresser in the bedroom and where to hang my favorite mirror, keep me from getting in too much of a rut. Time to do a better job of embracing them.

There’s flexibility I have just plain ignored claiming, too.  Music and movies have turned to stone in my world because technology has taken both in directions I have not yet gone. CD’s are still available, but the real action in the music world has moved beyond them.  If I learn to access my music online, I will have more selections and more ways to play it.  Viva flexibility!

Same deal with movies.  A few years back, if I missed something while it was in theaters, I could catch it by renting it at someplace like Blockbuster. Those “someplaces” are gone–replaced by Netflix and assorted streaming options. I’ve been standing at the side of the road as they all marched away without even waving at me.

Okay…find a yoga class, buy some music “the new way,” and sign up for Netflix. Is there more?

Well, yes. I also need more flexibility with my “stuff.”  We have one room that needs to function as an office for two of us and as a guest room.  We solved the “guest room” function with a Murphy bed. We now have a queen-sized bed  hidden upright on the wall behind some nice cabinetry when not in use, thanks to a kit from an outfit in Idaho.

The desk situation is trickier. We need two since I am at mine every day for hours. At the moment, mine is a 2 foot by 4 foot folding table from Costco mismatched with a small hutch from a former office setup. Three file boxes are stacked next to that, the top one open.  It works but it looks like I’m a penniless grad student.  There’s method to this madness though.  Really.

My last office furniture was lovely, large and lavish–and a nightmare to move. This temp setup has been to see what I really need.  And what I need is components, each piece small enough that I can move it, assembled, in my Subaru.  There’s some of that at Ikea–sort of.  But we also want good quality in the drawer rails, easy access to all the files in the drawer, etc.  So this flexibility will take some work–and probably come from both that European big box and an office furniture store.

I want a similar flexibility in what we buy for a “couch.” (Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move your couch in your car?)  I want to buy it in three or four pieces instead of one big long upholstered train. If each seat is a separate piece, we can put two on one wall and two around the corner. Or three and one…or.. You get the drift.  Not sure I can find that, but I’m going to try.

It goes even farther. I want my clothes to be flexible.  (Convertible hiking pants are sooooo ingenious.) I love being able to use a shirt as a jacket or a scarf as a belt.  Reading material should be flexible.   (One reason “e-books” are gaining steam.)  Food should be flexible.  (That way I will be able to use all of it before it goes bad without eating the same thing for an entire week.)

Flexibility makes things easier.  Life has more room for fun, adventure, and new ways to grow if I’m not focused on dusting a house full of knicknacks or making sure all three vehicles have had the oil changed. Why own a vacation home, SkiDoo, or garden tiller if I use them once a year and can rent them?

Flexibility is magic.

 

Knowing Yourself — A Key to Happy Retirement

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Knowing yourself sounds so…well…selfish. But it’s a big piece of getting retirement right.  When you know who you are, what you value, and what makes your heart sing, you spend a whole lot less time and money on things that don’t.

I was saddened to hear of Ray Bradbury’s passing this week. As a writer, he did a lot to make science fiction a noble genre.  As a person he did more–at least for me personally.  I was lucky enough to particpate in the Santa Barbara Writers Conference one year when he was in residence.

He gave the keynote address, which was about really being  a writer.  That was good stuff. But observing him being himself for that week was an even better source of lessons for me.  Bradbury was a regular at the conference.  So were Larry Gelbhart (the genius behind the M*A*S*H  televisions series), and Charles Schultz (of Peanuts  fame).  The three of them, as well as the conference organizser Barnaby Conrad, served as kind of an aging Rat Pack.  Bradbury, Gelbhart, and Conrad appeared every morning in wrinkled bermudas and white, white, button-front shirts, the ensemble of each finished off with a jounalist’s vest.  (Schultz was more conservative–and pressed.)  So it was easy to know who you were looking at when they were part of the scene.

They were the Wise Men of the conference–but they were also capable of mischief and mirth.  Bradbury in particular seemed adept at bridging that gap.  I hung on every word he offered the group, but laughed as hard as anyone at the shenanigans.  I think at that point he was in his mid-70’s, but as a member of that community, he was timeless (and still is).

He seemed to be happy in his own skin.  He knew who he was.

If you are thinking that happens automatically, think again.  It is very hard in this culture to know who you are without putting any effort into it.  We spend our adult lives striving the please assorted others–bosses, spouses, parents, kids, friends, neighbors, your rabbi, etc.  Knowing what makes our own clocks tick is not part of that drill.

When you retire, that need to please shifts.  Instead of being vital to the company, community, and church, you move to postscript status unless you make the effort to clearly define yourself.

Sure, you can do any kind of volunteer work that comes along without knowing if it’s right for you–but you won’t do it well if it’s not.  And you won’t be satisfied with the role.  You can do all the things family members ask you to do, but it will feel empty at this stage of life if it’s not consistent with what you value and get satisfaction from doing.

When I left the corporate world, I was asked to be on the Board of a women’s agency whose work I admired.  Of course I said yes–without ever exploring if it was a good fit.  It wasn’t, and within months they were looking for a new director after I backed away.  A few years later, I pursued a path as a mediator the same way–and backed away from that within months as well.

Trial and error is a legitimate approach to finding new satisfaction, but starting and then quitting a lot of things makes you feel like a loser.  Once I finally figured out what I really like to do, the process bore much sweeter fruit.

Getting to know yourself isn’t an awful assignment. Once you start to dig into the reality of what makes you you, it can be kind of fun. Treat this exploration as what it is–one of the most interesting searches for information that you will ever undertake.

Expensive relocations that don’t pan out, exotic travel that leaves you wondering “what’s the point?” and purchases that leave you feeling empty are all signs that you don’t have a good handle on who you are.  It’s never too late to figure it out.

How do you do that?  That’s the first thing you’ll determine in getting to know yourself.  How do you like best to learn?  There are lots of books (Supercharged Retirement being one of them) to help you get a better sense of your values, priorities, interests, and yearnings.  Or sign on with a life coach.  Or take classes.  Or find resources online. Some of us do well with just the question “who am I?” and a series of long, solo walks.  Some of us need to poll our entire circle of family and friends.  Some of us might grasp it best taking an online assessment tool.  All of us need to do something.

To have a satisfying retirement, you have to be who you really are.  Until you know the specifics of that, you are going to be shooting in the dark.

 

How Much Is Enough of Your Partner?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

One of the big challenges of retirement is figuring out how to be married all day every day–or finding a different alternative that works for both of you.  Getting those decisions right is sort of like a final exam in something many of us have been tested on–more or less–for decades. And that’s finding the right balance between “together” and “apart.”

At first the scales tip one way. The romance of new love makes most of us yearn to be inseparable.  Just parting to get through the workday, school day or other separate demands seems like cruel punishment.   Then, as you stay together for a while, that “time without” becomes a more easily endured aspect of life.  Life goes along smoothly with those two separate grooves because there are good reasons for them–work, kids, ailing parents who need our time, etc.   Eventually, especially when the “being alone” is because of something a partner needs time to do, many of us  begin to savor and look forward to solo time both for the serenity it offers and the self-attention it allows.

And that’s about the point that you start thinking about retirement.

What then?  Are you still going to have those separate grooves or are you expecting a magical return to that heady “I can’t live without you right by my side” fervor of young love?  If you aren’t talking about that with your partner, you might be in for a rude awakening when the time comes to actually step into that new version of life.   It’s not likely you’re in exactly the same place on this.

Waiting until retirement looms to start this discussion isn’t wise either.  To get this part of “a relationship” right, you need to be very clear about three things long before it’s time to retire:

How much solo time do you need?  The first step of having a good relationship with another person is having a good relationship with yourself.  What do you like about doing things on your own?  What needs does that kind of time meet for you?  We are all different and what works for me won’t necessarily even be in the same ballpark as what works for you.   So know what works for you.

A primary reason for that career -and the related “apart” time–is a paycheck.  Retirement means the funds come from somewhere else.  But your work is usually a source of satisfaction that goes beyond the financial.  If you can’t replicate those satisfiers with things your partner/spouse/signficant other is able or interested in doing, you are probably going to need significant time without him/her after you retire to meet those needs.

How much “not-together” time is ideal for your partner?  The other half of your duet needs to answer that same question.  One of the most dangerous assumptions a working spouse can make is that the non-working spouse is just waiting for the day when you’ll be home all the time.  According to Miriam Goodman in Too Much Togetherness, this is a major cause of couple trouble once the working spouse retires.    Whether there’s been a paycheck involved or not, each of you has a life.  Much of it is lived separately.  Figuring out how to spend more time together is a worthy goal, but being joined at the hip is probably not (unless you are in a sack race).

Figuring out what you need yourself is hard.  Figuring out what your partner needs is harder.  Both involve soul seaching and personal exploration–which can be really fun.   But then there’s the communication phase and that takes a skill most of us think we have but don’t.

How do we get what we each need and still enjoy time together?  The vast majority of us are not good communicators, especially in our primary relationships.  We rely on assumptions that we don’t check regularly and expect the other person to “just know.”  When we do talk, it’s about everyday drivel like garbage schedules and what to have for dinner.  This is a different conversation.

To do this well, you need to joint problem solve to figure out the best way for each of you to have the alone time you need.  A big piece of the challenge is to be honest about needs, too.  If your sweetie assumes she/he can come along and you really need the time on your own, you’re either going to have to admit it or waste time and emotion resenting the tag-along later.

Being part of a couple and yet complete on your own is not unique to retirement.  But when you get that far, you’ve reached the championship game and the stakes are higher.  Once  you give up work, your primary relationship tends to become even more important.  Work on those balance issues all along.

 

Retired and on Fire

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

I met supercharged retirement in the flesh yesterday. Cate and Dieter Benz are ablaze with what they believe and what they want to do about it. And they are going in more than one direction with all that enthusiasm.

A few weeks ago Cate emailed me to ask if they could republish a blog post I did on being a good healthcare consumer. At that point, I thought they lived somewhere far away. Turns out they live in the same metro area I do. So we met in person and shared stories over a glass of wine. I came away grinning from ear to ear because what they are doing is what I firmly believe is what we all need to be doing to have satisfying lives once we retire. They are living today with gusto by standing on long-held values and using well developed skills to do something that they believe is important now.

They also seem to have a good sense of how to combine their disparate skills to make a stronger team effort. They are on fire together.

Cate has background in property management and real estate, but has also created bookkeeping software for small business that she currently markets in one of her own small businesses. Dieter made his mark in leadership positions in the automotive and railroad industries and has a weakness for owning historic buildings. While they are still active in those pursuits, their current passion is RestlessBoomers.com, a web resource they are building to help boomers find solid information for navigating that no-man’s-land we call retirement.

They are interesting as a couple, too. This is not a lifelong partnership where they met in high school and have been sweethearts ever since. Though Dieter grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and Cate in Santa Monica, California, they met after they had both moved to the Pacific Northwest. Even then they were willing to use the technology available—they met via an online dating service. (About which, Cate admitted, she had to kiss a lot of frogs before Dieter came on the scene.)

Cate seems to be taking the lead as company nerd, but they are both hot to learn how to use what’s available now in online technology to offer what they are firmly convinced is an essential service for Boomers—a clearinghouse that vets the information before passing it on. Their intent is to provide a trusted resource where boomers can learn of new products and services that they’ve already checked out.

Their vision is to build “a community where millions of likeminded Boomers can share and bond in celebration of accomplishments and struggles while moving forward into the future.” Their mission with RestlessBoomers.com is to help you “achieve exciting new goals and dreams, build confidence, maintain optimum health, grow wealth and obtain true happiness.”

The benefits they want you to reap from accessing the site are:
~ Reducing your cost of living without reducing your living standards.
~ Creating innovative and fun income streams that don’t require large investments or tie you down.
~ Longevity strategies that not only don’t break the bank, but actually reduce healthcare expenses.
~ Medical breakthroughs that affordably and significantly extend life.
~ Protecting and Growing assets at a time when life savings & pensions are under extreme assault.

Only time will tell if they can pull all that off, but they are certainly on fire with making it happen.

Though they are still in development with some sections of the website (and will be for as long as the effort continues given their zeal for employing the latest and best options in what they provide), it’s already worth a look. Check it out at www.restlessboomers.com.