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Author: Mary Lloyd

I run a company dedicated to providing useful, current, relevant resources to those who want meaning and satisfaction in the years after they retire. To address the non-financial aspects of planning for and living this stage of life we currently offer: Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love, A practical, fun to read book with exercises to help you chart your own course. www.mining-silver.com, a content-rich website on the topic Planning Tools for Bold Retirement, a workbook of exercises to help you figure it out, and Living Silver, a four-part, eight-hour course on how to make this phase of your life sparkle. I left an executive position in the natural gas industry at 47 thinking I had it all figured out. After 13 years of working on how to make it work, I am now ready to make sure I can help everyone I can reach learn that the current "Golden Years" model falls far short of what we need to thrive for as much as another 30 years once we no longer have to go to work.
Success via “No”

Success via “No”

 Yesterday, I was caught by an online headline offering “the one habit that Warren Buffett says separates successful people from everyone else.”  I lived in Omaha for ten years.  I like Warren Buffett.  And anything about behavior lures me because my academic background includes a lot of psychology.  So I clicked.

The article was by Marcel Schwantes for Inc.  The quote it attributed to Buffet was:  “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”  

photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Schwantes then goes on to quote Steve Jobs about what constitutes focus: “”People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

You have to pick what you say yes to–carefully.

This isn’t just about business decisions.  The advice applies across the board.  For most of us, the Yes comes without even thinking for pretty much everything.  And that is where the trouble begins.  Yes to everything means you can’t do anything very well.  It also means you are running around like a chicken and living on a few hours of sleep every night trying to get it all done with even a C grade.

We need to learn to be far more lavish in doling out No’s.

Okay, so what do you say No to?  The new project at work?  Having dinner with the neighbors?  Taking the kids to the park?  Visiting your mother-in-law in the dementia unit? Working out?

It depends. There is no guru cradling a Magic 8-Ball, but it’s not all that hard.  You say No to the things that are not important… to YOU.  You say No to the things that will distract you from what is important.  You say No to things that waste huge amounts of time without gaining anything important.  You say No to the things that you can see before you even get into them are going to throw your life off balance.  You say No when the opportunity, request, or, even demand, is going to jeopardize an important Yes.

And that means you have to know what IS important.  This is not something for your wife/husband, mother, best friend or kid to tell you.  This is stuff your heart has to tell you. That’s one of the few places we say No a lot. To what our hearts begs of us.  We have this so backwards.

You also have to have the courage to step up to that No.  That is also up to you.  You can learn how to do this well—it is a SKILL.  (I remain a fan of Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection for how to do that.)

This ability really does separate the successful from the not-quite-there.  People who know what they want and can stay focused on those things get them much more readily than the rest of us who chose afresh every day (and thus, start from scratch again and again on what we are trying to achieve).

If you are focused on the important things, your life will be happy.  Even when there are big challenges and things are not going well, you know you’re working on the things that truly deserve your effort.  You know you are making progress on things that mean a lot to you.  You know what you are doing is worthwhile even if it’s difficult.  And you also know that the other Yes’s are in balance.  All is well with your world.

Workaholics are not happy.  Doormats are not happy.  Learning how and when to say No can literally transform your life.

Who Should Pay?

Who Should Pay?

A recent article in a friend’s online newsletter was a rant that the guy should always pay when on a date with a woman.  That seems grossly unfair to me—if you both have money, taking turns seems more appropriate.  This friend likes the “old fashioned way.”  She has as much of a right to believe that’s best as I do to believe otherwise. 

But there’s a bigger question here.  How can we be effective in deciding when to pay and when to have another pay?

Another example is the current trend for kids to live with their folks for free, even if they are gainfully employed.  Who benefits with that?  From the outside, it looks like nobody.  The kid is denied the chance to learn how to meet their own needs with their own resources.  The parent continues to shell out for additional groceries, higher utility bills, etc. instead of being able enjoy things that meet their own discretionary needs.

Then there are the parents who insist on paying every time even though their adult kids are ready and willing to pick up the tab.  Who wins there?  Nobody.  Again.  The kids are left to be “dependents” long after they have matured beyond it.

And then there are friends.  The poor money manager kind, especially.  They can be quite comfortable with you footing the bill all the time because “you have more money.” Maybe that’s true, but it’s likely, at least in part, to be because they didn’t and don’t do good job of money management.  If you want to do something expensive they can’t afford and want them along, open your wallet.  But if every time you go to lunch, they choose a place beyond their own means and then expect you to pay, give it some thought.  Being someone else’s sugar daddy is a dead-end. 

What does paying say about the situation? 

Treating someone else to something that costs money is a way to say “I love you.”  So most of us find some situation where paying the bill is important.  But it also says “I believe in you and value your competence” when you give the other person the chance to pay.  And it can be saying “We’re friends, and we share the load—and it’s your turn this time.”

It’s not about dollars.  It’s about power—who is going to be subordinate by being “taken care of”.  The very old sometimes need to be “taken care of.”  And the very young, certainly.  But if you are taking care of everyone all the time, stop.  You’re throwing things off balance big time.

We need to pay attention to the message we are sending when we choose to pay.  Is it

  • Treating a loved one to something special?
  • Setting a good example for kids not yet old enough to have their own resources?
  • Carrying out the responsibilities of a specific role—like caregiver or bookkeeper?
  • Celebrating something that makes you feel prosperous with friends?

These are all legitimate.

OR is it

  • Accepting doormat status and paying for someone else’s good time who should be paying for it themselves?
  • Treating your grown kids as if they aren’t capable of paying when they reached that status long ago?
  • Relying on old practices without confirming that’s how the one you expect to pay wants to do it?

Sometimes, having the other person pay is the most responsible, loving thing you can do.  And sometimes it’s selfish, immature, and lazy.

As for who should pay on a date?  Well, if all you are after is a nice dinner, then insisting he pay may be the way to go.  (You may never see the guy again, but perhaps that’s your MO.)  When I date, it’s to get to know a guy.  I want to see what he’s like when he has the power and when I take it. If you can get in sync about who does when, you are well on the way to being good friends at a minimum.   When you insist he is always the one to pay, you’ve lost the chance to learn many important things. What’s he’s like when someone else has the power? Is he comfortable with give and take?  How does he handle his resources?  Does he respect yours?

Come to think of it, that’s all stuff to look at when deciding if the kids or friends should pay, too.

Ending the year

Ending the year

This article originally appeared as Ending 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 quite often, 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 as 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, what would I do differently?

That last one is just to prime the pump for the coming year.  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 the last twelve months.

Happy New Year!

The Wisdom of Seeking Wisdom

The Wisdom of Seeking Wisdom

This article originally appeared May 7, 2009

One of the many sad consequences of our preoccupation with youth is that we don’t pay much attention to wisdom. That’s like worrying about what color to paint the garage and ignoring the Ferrari that’s housed inside.

Wisdom, per Merriam Webster’s is “accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: KNOWLEDGE” or “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships:INSIGHT” or “good sense: JUDGMENT.”Roll it all together and you get “a wise attitude, belief, or course of action.” Wisdom is a key to living well. But aspiring to it is not typically on our lists of New Year’s resolutions or personal goal statements.

That’s probably because to acquire it, you have to accept you’re getting older.  We don’t like to go there.

First, let’s face one unavoidable fact. Every single day of our lives, we get older. It’s the normal course of events. The only alternative is to die—and I’m not voting for that option. So if we’re going to get older anyway, why not do it gracefully? Why not do it in a way that makes the reality more compelling? Why not work on becoming wise?

Going back to the definition I started with, there are three pieces to this—and then the decision to live that way (which is the attitude part).

Knowledge

Jokes about hiring a teenager because they know it all have been around forever. And we’ve all met precocious ten-year-olds who could go on for an hour on a topic they found interesting. But the knowledge that serves as a basis for wisdom has to be more comprehensive than the knowledge of youth. Becoming wise requires an accurate picture of the real world. And that means you need to have lived there a while. And paid attention.

Too often, we live in the realm of what we assume to be true instead confirming what is. Buying a car—or house—that you can’t afford is an example of that. But so is staying in a dead-end job because you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough for anything better. Not believing in ourselves is the stingiest approach of all to life. But it takes wisdom to see that–and to stop doing it.

Gaining knowledge hinges on paying attention to what’s going on around you. People who have learned “what comes  next” again and again are more serene about life situations. A wise person knows the bad times will end and can work patiently toward that day. She also savors the good times because they, too, are temporary. What we learn of the ebb and flow of life—by living it consciously—gives us a more solid foundation.

Insight

Knowing about life is important, but you need to find the patterns in it, too–even when they’re hidden in the shadows. Insight is combining information from the disparate sources you’ve observed and drawing astute conclusions about what’s going on.

One of my dearest family members reacts intensely to overwork. Until I understood that pattern, I found myself in the middle of emotional upheavals that left me baffled and hurt. Without a conscious assessment of previous episodes and an effort to extract what was common to them, I believed—as she was prone to insisting in those moments—that I was inadequate as a person and a loved one. Now, I just find the quickest route to the sidelines. Getting out of the way for a bit is a much better solution for both of us. This is wisdom. It’s practical. It’s loving. And it’s not going to show up unless you’re getting older. You have to watch things for a while to see patterns.

Judgment

Judgment is not about deciding you’re better than someone else. The judgment that comes with wisdom is about choosing an effective course of action.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. If the house is on fire, you get out and call 911. But if you’ve been worrying for weeks about whether to go on vacation in June or August, maybe you need to let go of it for a while. Wise judgment is knowing when NOT to decide sometimes. Ever spend months feeling awful that you weren’t getting to something that “had” to be done only to discover it didn’t need to be done at all?

Wisdom includes intuition when employing judgment. Knowledge and insight are essential, but so is “gut feel” if you want to get it right. As we get older, we become more willing to hear—and honor—that “little voice.” We make wiser choices as a result.

Wise as an attitude

We don’t become wise instantaneously. Wisdom comes in small increments. To get all the way to unflappable, ongoing serenity, we need to decide we want to become wiser. Every day. For a lot of days…weeks…months…years.

Appreciating Little Bits of Genius

Appreciating Little Bits of Genius

Another blast from the past. This was originally posted Dec. 28, 2011. Here it is again with a few minor changes.

One good way to make your life better is to notice the ways it already is.  There are so many little bits of someone else’s smarts that we get the benefit of.  Usually we take it all for granted and notice the “not quite right” parts instead.

For a good day, start with your shower.  Hot water, on demand, where you want it on your body.  That wasn’t part of what was here before humanity started asking “what would happen if…?”   How lucky we are that someone figured out fire…and how to heat water with fire…and how to keep water hot in a tank…and get it to the bathroom via a network of pipes.  How wonderful for us that some genius figured out how to blend hot and cold water so that we can have it just the right temperature, turn it hotter–or colder–and turn it off when we didn’t need it any more.  A lot of people put their smarts into what has become a taken-for-granted part of modern life.

And at the breakfast table, how about orange juice–or whatever juice you drink?  Someone had to figure out that it would be cool to separate the juice from the fruit–or vegetable.  And someone had to learn how to store it once that was done.  And then how to transport it so that it stayed palatable and safe to drink.  If you make your own juice, someone probably helped you with that process by designing a machine to extract the juice in your very own kitchen.

The little things are good reminders of the big things.  We are blessed with machines that accomplish important stuff for us–everything from getting us to Point B from Point A, be it by car, train, airplane or space shuttle to making us coffee.  We have a wide range of options for gaining information–computers, books, newspapers, personal conversations.  Everything we know depends on someone else’s smarts for us to be able to access it.   Our lives are so much easier because of other people’s effort and ingenuity.

John Donne’s quote “No man is an island” is particularly true when it comes to our convenience.  We are so lucky that so many were so smart about so many “little things.”

As we end this year, let’s benefit even more by noticing them.  What little pluses do you rely on every day?  The barista’s skill at making your machiatto?  Someone came before them to invent a machiatto.  And to figure out that picking, roasting, and grinding coffee beans was worth doing.

The subway system?  The daycare to whom you entrust your child–or your grandchild?  Perhaps a nod to those who invented animal and graham crackers is in order. How about the clothes you’re wearing? There’s a ton of smarts in a good pair of pants.

These are just bits and pieces of a richly complex life of conveniences.  Our lives are so much easier and more pleasant in so many ways because of someone else’s thinking and ingenuity.  Lucky for us that they wanted to create those things.

In our current jaded take on commerce, the thought might come, “Well, they made money on the deal.  I don’t need to be grateful.”

Oh come on!  Most of the good that’s come about in the world is because someone wanted to solve a problem, to make something better.  Until recently, it was never about the money.  It was about the satisfaction of improving life for oneself and others.

A little gratitude for all those bits of creative effort and smarts puts you right with the world you’re blessed to be in.  So appreciate that stoplight–what chaos you’d have to endure if it had not been invented.  Appreciate the time clock if you punch one.  It keeps an accurate record of all the time you worked.  So many have done so much to make our lives easier.  Be happy about that–and then see what you can do to add to this glorious collection of little bits of genius.

Balance….noun or verb?

Balance….noun or verb?

This article was originally posted Jan 24, 2012. It’s worth taking a look at again.

Is balance something you possess or that you pursue? Are you assuming someone else decides whether you have it?  Or do you see it more as an ongoing effort on your part?

Back in graduate school, I was delighted to discover work by Martin Seligman that talked about “learned helplessness.”  The term was used to describe the mindset of individuals who assume that they’re at the mercy of “powerful others”–God, the Establishment, whatever–who decide what happens in their lives.  Their assumption that someone else holds all the winning cards keeps them from even seeing what they can do to help themselves.

Life balance is vulnerable to that kind of thinking, even if you don’t go in that direction on everything else.  It’s really easy to assume that your life is out of balance because of  the load at work, the phase your child is going through or a favor for a friend that’s gotten far more complicated than you expected.  Life should just flow smoothly and balance should be a given, right?

Nope. Assuming that is just one more way to be a “victim.”

Seeing balance as an ongoing process rather than entitlement to Nirvana keeps you in the game.  And brings you closer to it even when you can’t get the “full meal deal.” Why?  Because seeing balance as an on-going process puts you in control. You can do things to move toward that version of emotional symmetry you prefer.

The good life isn’t about always being in balance.  It’s about getting good at recovering that balance when it goes away, which it will.  Often.

Some things to consider as you work at it:

Not all efforts to achieve balance work.  If getting up an extra half hour in the morning to exercise makes you cranky for the rest of the day, forget it.  Look for a another way.

Not all options are total improvements.  Okay, you want more time with your kids.  That doesn’t mean they want to shovel snow with you.  But when they are part of getting the work done, you feel less like poorly paid hired help, right?  So find a way to have FUN shoveling snow.

Sometimes your balance is on a different dimension than you planned.  So that snow shoveling wasn’t the fun “quality time” you were hoping for with whoever  you drafted to help.  You still had more time to get everything else done, right?

Balance isn’t always intentional.  Perhaps you got the surprise of your life when you insisted on help in cleaning up that snow.  Sometimes working together really is, fun.  Yes!  A nudge from a different direction.

Balance is as much about assumptions as it is about reality.  Quite often, what’s out of balance is what you are telling yourself about what should be happening.  A classic definition of stress is “the difference between what’s happening and what you think should be happening.”  Getting a solid handle on what’s reasonable under the circumstances can take you a lot closer to balance than a major overhaul.  Accept reality.  Then change as it changes.

Balance changes moment to moment.  Even if you do get into perfect balance, you’re not going to stay there.  At least not if you’re human.  The key is whether you elect to stay out of balance or put effort into moving back toward equilibrium.   As life changes, make your own changes.

A good life is balanced but it’s up to you.  It will aways require awareness and effort on your part.  And that’s all just fine.

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2010. It’s still relevant, so here it is again. (Happy Holidays!)

This time of year, stress is everybody’s “best friend.” No matter how hard you try to “keep things under control” the holiday season seems to devolve at some point into a meltdown, a blow up, or both.

Why?

Probably 80% of why things go wrong is because we are pushing so hard to make them go right. “I have to get my cards out in the next two days.” “Little Jennie is going to be so disappointed if I can’t find that baby doll that cries real tears.” “It’s the holidays, I need to bring something more interesting to the office potluck than veggies and dip.”

The overload comes with the best of intentions. And the worst of consequences. When things go very wrong at this time of year, it feels a thousand times worse. Not only have I not done that thing that everyone was counting on me to do, I have now come unglued in front of God and everybody during “the holidays.”

You don’t even see it coming, most of the time. Suddenly, someone does something minor, and you react in a major way. A few days ago this became very clear to me when a guy in a pick-up half a football field behind me when I changed lanes pulled up behind me at the next stop light honking and waving his middle finger. Did he really think he had exclusive rights to the lane? Or was some “holiday thing” getting the best of him.

I have discovered that, left to automatic responses, I tend to find fault more at this time of year. (How’s that for “Happy Holidays?!” )  Maybe you’re doing that, too, and don’t realize it.

At a minimum, let’s all do each other a favor and throttle back on all the huge elaborate plans. We don’t need to have prime rib and lobster for Christmas dinner. Expecially not with Yorkshire pudding and drawn butter and seven different sides. We don’t need a huge tree, seventeen gifts for each family member, and four family events within the same 24 hours.

Whatever holiday you are actually celebrating, it didn’t start because of a need to outdo the next guy with yard displays and open house spreads. So instead of rushing around trying to get every elaborate idea you’ve come up with accomplished,  stand back, take some deep breaths, and think “Goodwill” or “Peace” or “Bless us one and all.”  Or maybe “What, of all this, am I enjoying?”

The twelve-foot tall wooden solder to greet your party guests on the porch really isn’t worth it. That Grinch, Mr. Stress, is waiting behind it, and you don’t need him.

RIP retirement?

RIP retirement?

It’s time to admit the obvious. Retirement has outlived its usefulness.

New labels for what comes after fulltime work continue to proliferate.  Instead of “retire, it’s “rewire.” Instead of leisure, we’re urged to take on an “encore career.”  We should see it as a transition to a “portfolio life.”  We have become the Third Wave or Second Halfers.  We’re in the Third Act. Instead of the old “golden years” we’re really stepping into the “silver years.”  Every one of these terms has been used by a well-meaning author and advocate to help clarify “what you really need to get retirement right.” Except they don’t.

The sheer volume of alternatives to the word “retirement” is fascinating.  “Retirement” doesn’t really capture the realities of this stage of life, so why haven’t we found a better word and gotten on with it?  For almost a decade, I’ve been assuming we just hadn’t found the right new word—that we were on the right track but hadn’t stopped at the appropriate station yet.   Daylight has finally dawned and guess what.  The train is just plain going to the wrong place.

We don’t need a catchy new label for assuming roughly the same thing.  It’s time to retire the concept of retirement, not just the word.  We’re moving in a whole new direction in how we choose to live our years after tthose we spent in the conventional workforce.  It’s not a matter of repainting the signs with new names.  We’re not all going the same place.

Yet we continue to hold onto the old paradigm (“retirement”) when reality has us doing a whole lot of other things. People who “don’t have enough money to retire” are tarred for being bad planners or impulsive spenders. That may be true. But they may also be onto something those who “got it right” so they could retire with financial security have yet to discover. Buying into traditional retirement might turn out to be like buying 8-track tapes or typewriter ribbons.  The world has moved on to new options.

There are many ways to live life well no matter how old you are. The options don’t all evaporate the second you stop working fulltime. And continuing to work fulltime is not the mark of an inept person. Some of us are just going to work until our last breath–for a wide variety of reasons. These are personal choices based on individual situations and preferences. The notion that those who are not doing the traditional version of retirement are “wrong” is, itself, very wrong. As long as we’re still here, we have as much of a right to craft whatever life we want as the twenty-somethings.

So what does this new world include?

Work–at least some of the time.   To keep life interesting and to avoid mental, physical, and emotional decline, you need some kind of work.  (This is as true at 27 or 48 as at 68 or 82.) If you don’t need the money, it doesn’t have to be for pay. But it does have to get you jazzed. Whatever work you do needs to make you want to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it can be as mundane as cleaning the garage. It may not be all day every day. but over the long haul it has to be FUN.

Balance.  One of the big differences from career years is that you can pay attention to whatever you decide is important. You’ll run out of interesting things to do in a hurry if all you focus on is what you haven’t been able to get to though.  There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to this stuff–it didn’t have the priority.  Build a lifestyle that gives you time with those you love, time to create, time to reflect, and time to play–and time to work at something meaningful.  Get your minimum daily requirement of fun. Stay open and try new things.

Flexibility.  This is the central tenet for replacing the old retirement model.  In fact, finding ways for every worker—not just the oldest ones—to have more control over when they get the work done would probably unleash a wave of creative genius and productivity to rival the Industrial Revolution. But this is not just about the work piece. Learning to adapt effectively (and gracefully!) to new developments will get you past health detours and relationship changes as well.

Curiosity. The happiest people are the ones who want to know more…. who notice that something has changed and explore why that happened….who want to meet the new person in the building….who see an unfamiliar make/model of car or a word on the page and learn about it. Life presents opportunities to be curious all day every day. It’s a matter of noticing and acting on the ones that most intrigue you. No matter what the date on your birth certificate happens to be, curiosity keeps you vibrant.

Traditional retirement is about stepping away from life into a familiar, comfortable world.  More and more research is sounding the alarm about the negative impact of doing that. We have better options. If you need to keep it in the closet for a while to be sure, do that. But you probably don’t need “Retirement.”

Beginnings are messy…

Beginnings are messy…

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2011. It deserves another read.

The farther you move through life, the more tempting it is to want to have everything under control.  Bad plan.  That strategy is a nice straight road to boredom.  Being a beginner until the day you die is an important piece of creating a good life.  And beginnings are not controlled situations.  Beginnings are messy.

Sunrise 1.28.19 M. Lloyd

When you move, things are total chaos for a while.  When you start an art project, everything you might need gets hauled out of drawers and closets.  To renovate your yard, you usually create a mud bog at some point in the process.

To make something better, most often, you need to make a total mess of what you already have.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it may be an essential piece of appreciating what you have once you’ve completed the change.  My mom’s yearly version of this process was the family camping trip.  Dad was great about getting everything needed by a family of nine packed in–and on–the car, getting us there, getting the tent set up, etc.  He was really good at making order of the inevitable chaos.

Mom, however, was better at appreciating the chaos.  “Going camping” was our vacation and that meant new adventures for us kids and the chance to break from the routine for our parents.  But “going camping” also made us all appreciate that routine when we got home and had everything put away.

The disruption and confusion of going in a new direction can be unnerving–and almost always is when you change anything significant.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.  It’s just wise to realize what you’re getting into.

Beginnings involve going in the wrong direction.  When  you start something new, even if you have a full set of instructions (which most things in life don’t have), you make mistakes because the whole idea is new and a challenge to grasp.  Mistakes are every bit as much a part of getting things to go the way you want as the things you get right the first time.  Wrong turns help define the context of what you’re doing and help make it work well.  They’re most valuable if you use them–figure out what they’ve taught you and then move past them.  But if you can’t get that far about what went wrong, at least relax about the fact that they happen.  When you start something new, there are going to be mistakes.  Sometimes lots of them.

Beginnings usually involve a few restarts.  Thinking that it’s going to be smooth sailing from the get-go just invites frustration.  Redirects are inevitable. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are trying to go when you start out.   And when you need to change course, you often need to just plain stop before you do so.  So if the project doesn’t keep going at a steady pace, don’t be surprised.  And for heaven’s sake don’t get all torqued about it.  Starting something new takes courage.  Finishing something new takes patience and tolerance–for clutter, confusion, and starting again….and sometimes again and again.

Beginnings often don’t look like beginnings.  Starting in a new direction is often disguised as something old ending.  This probably makes the messiness of a beginning even harder to endure.  When what you had worked for  you and was not something you wanted to change, it’s very hard to get on with the messiness of starting over.  That old reliable version of life was…well…yours, whether it was with a mate who died–or left, a job you lost, or health you took for granted. Pining for what was makes getting on with what’s next a lot more difficult.  Letting go of what you don’t have any more and stepping into the chaos of a new start is the only way to get on with your life.

Know that the disruption is essential and temporary. It’s easy to begin to feel like the turmoil is never going to go away, but that’s not what’s going on.  Psychologically, being able to predict what’s going to happen is as calming as being able to control it.   Reminding yourself that there’s an end point to the chaos gives you that predictability.

Beginnings are essential.   Beginnings can be intimidating simply because of the disorder and confusion they engender.  Begin anyway.  Having a good life is not a matter of having everything under control.  You need to keep your world expanding and to do that, you have to begin something new.  Again and again and again.

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Over the weekend, a group for which I have written grants in the past blew up. Not literally, but in terms of the cohesion of the volunteers. One of life’s little train wrecks. Sometimes it’s a community effort, as this is. Sometimes it’s a work group. Sometimes it’s a family. What’s the lesson when it happens?

I’d like to believe that as we get older, we get better at not only staying out of the middle of this kind of stuff, but of also being peacemakers–the force that helps knit the group back together. In this case, the older ones were nowhere near that. I’m not central to this group, and my role in the weekend disaster was as a spectator. But there are positive things to learn just by watching.

The group is a niche historical society, tasked with maintaining and providing access to a lighthouse and related structures in a city park. They have been diligent over the last 25 years. Six of the seven buildings in the compound have been restored, and they are in planning to do the last one–the lighthouse itself.

One of their annual community events has been an afternoon tea at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage during the month of December. These folks weren’t spring chickens when they started doing that, and they’ve been at it a while. They’ve been thinking they needed to stop hosting the tea because they didn’t have the stamina anymore.

Then several new volunteers agreed to do the tea. Problem solved, right? It should have been. Instead it turned into this train wreck. Usually, something trivial triggers this kind of disaster. In this case, it was two words–“Holiday” and “Christmas”.

The email I watched spool out was to okay the flyer announcing the tea. What should have been a routine nod, turned into a major email argument over whether they were going to call it a “Christmas Tea” as they had since when they started doing it or a “Holiday Tea” as the team planning the event deemed appropriate.

At first it was civil: “Please change it back to Christmas.” Then people started to “vote” with more heated words. Then Santa (the guy who said he would BE Santa for the event) said he wouldn’t show up if it wasn’t “Christmas.” My thoughts ran in two directions as I watched: “This is so sad” and “This would be really funny in a sitcom.”

Except it wasn’t funny. I also don’t think it was political. (I live in the Pacific NW, a proud part of “the Left Coast.”) No, the problem was an inability to let go that the longtime members couldn’t even see in themselves and a frustration with that for the newcomers who had to use their energy and enthusiasm to deal with the roadblocks instead of the event.

I tried to defuse the situation by asking whether they were planning a community event for our diverse, current community or a reeneactment of what the lighthouse keeper would have celebrated in the early 20th century–aka “Christmas”. But it wasn’t a rational situation so that went nowhere. (Silly me.)

Eventually, one of the new volunteers forthrightly described how difficult it was for the team that was so ready to make it happen to have everything they suggested and planned shot down or stonewalled. That was brave. But it didn’t stop the wreck either. The oldsters involved have “hearing problems” that have nothing to do with their auditory acuity. No one stepped up to that truth from the old guard.

In her last sentence, she quit. I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the new volunteers will follow suit. It wasn’t about “Holiday” versus “Christmas.” It was that the old guard wasn’t able to do the work any more, but they weren’t able to let go of dictating exactly how it was to be done.

So….the lessons…

First, I do NOT want to do that. Ever. If I can’t do the work, how it’s done isn’t my call. No matter how many times I excelled at doing it in the past.

Second, peacemaking is a lot easier if people are willing to be rational, but that’s not the typical terrain in this kind of train wreck. You can try, but don’t be surprised if you get ignored.

Third, there will be differences of opinion when you’re part of a group. Respecting and addressing them is best done face to face, and, if possible, one on one. Also right away and bravely.

Fourth, some things cannot be fixed. This organization may end up folding because they are so inept at giving full status to new volunteers.

There’s no good lesson in having that happen.