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What Do I Want to Do Next?

What Do I Want to Do Next?

“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.  It will probably fold back in as well.

How about you?  What do you want to do next?  Once you’re retired. this is mostly about doing what you believe in, what you have fun at, what you want to learn more about and become better at.  (So if you answered “Clean the garage, ask yourself the question again.)

Happy Shoes

Happy Shoes

Do you have a pair of “happy shoes?” Maybe you need one.

I am blessed to have a son who is  one of the world’s happiest people.  If left to his own sense of how the world works, he always manages to see something good to focus on.  He clued me in to the idea of happy shoes.  He’s a tall guy and wears size 13’s.  When you see him in a pair of bright yellow vinyl sneakers with happy faces on them, you can bet something wonderful has happened in his life.  He recently wore them for his daughter’s birthday party.   But the real reason for the shoes was adversity that dogged him for five years.

He was the nice guy in the wrong place when the financial markets turned to goo.  He’s financially conservative but the company he’d been working for had gone in a bad direction and ended up imploding.  Prior to that event, he’d been able to find another job in a matter of days if not hours.  But with gazillions of financial professionals out of work, most of the jobs drying up, and the blot of “that company name” on his resume, the months turned into years.

His financial conservatism meant they’d been saving for this potential disaster.  Plus his wife still had a well-paying job.  The hit was ugly for the family wallet, but it pegged to downright grotesque in terms of its potential for destroying his self esteem.  He was a professional with good credentials.   In the aftermath of the finance sector’s meltdown, that probably worked against him even more–the “overqualified” issue.

But he didn’t sit on his hands while he waited for the right job to come along.  He  did all the things they advise doing.  (You will never find a guy more effective at networking.)  And when things didn’t turn around quickly, he didn’t head for the bar in frustration.  He just kept on believing it was going to work out while he did everything he could think of as the process dragged on and on.

He started studying for the CFA–an arduous credentialing process that some say is more demanding than an MBA.  He also remodeled their entire downstairs and  rebuilt a rock wall in the backyard.  He was in the middle of remodeling the kitchen when “the right job” finally materialized.

At some point in all that, he found these shoes–for when he would begin to celebrate the wins again.  He believed things were going to go right eventually. And they have.  When he passed the CFA’s (which really does take years), he sent a photo of his foot–in a happy shoe.  The image filled me with joy–and I wasn’t even the one who’d gone through the massive work effort to make the achievement happen.

I have a pair of silly shoes–pink suede, slide-on, sneaker style, 3″ platform shoes.  I got them for a costume party and they make me laugh.  (I am 5 foot 8.)  So I keep them.  But are they my happy shoes–or just my silly shoes?  What would it take to make them my happy shoes?

That’s beside the point.  The question here is how do you–and I–celebrate our wins?  And are our loved ones in on that?

Early in my writing career, I would treat my husband to dinner out when I finished a book  manuscript–simply because I wanted to celebrate that.  (Let’s not quibble about who’s “supposed” to buy in such circumstances.  Reality is often less romantic than we’d prefer.)

Going out to eat (at least if you don’t do it all the time) is a nice way to acknowledge completing a big job.  But you’re done  with the celebrating in an hour or two and the loved ones who are a thousand miles away don’t get to feel your joy.  Happy shoes send the message all day long and over the internet if you snap a photo.

I think I need some happy shoes.  I think you do, too.  Life is good–and when it’s even better for the moment because something good happened, it’s nice to mark that well.


Getting Fired

Getting Fired

A month ago I got fired. Not from a job (that’s one of the perks of working for yourself–you get immunity from being fired). No, I got fired from a romantic relationship. Once it happened, it was obvious that doing what I’d been so committed to doing was way off course for me personally. But I had to get fired to learn that.  And that got me thinking about getting fired in general.

Sometimes, the firing really isn’t fair, right, or reasonable.  Those are really hard to get past because the hurt seems so legitimate.  But most of the time, getting fired also means that what you were doing was not a good fit for who you are.  Perhaps it was a matter of skills.  Perhaps it was a matter of personality.  Perhaps it was a matter of motivation.  Perhaps it was a matter of morals (and yours may have been higher than theirs). Regardless, it was a case of a bad fit.

I will not pretend this is easy.  Your ego takes a massive hit, and you may end up asking yourself “Am I good for anything?”  The answer is YES.  And that’s the beauty of getting fired.  That event removes the major obstacle to finding the right place to be…the right work, the right “significant other,” the right group of friends, whatever you got “fired” from.  Getting fired from what really wasn’t a good fit for you gives you a wide open shot at finding what is.

It’s embarrassing to get fired though–especially for those of us who joined the workforce when it was pretty rare and usually the result of flagrantly bad behavior when it did happen.  But embarrassment is temporary and the opportunity that results can make a huge positive difference for the rest of your life.

So back to my own recent firing…

Since that event, I have rediscovered myself in numerous delightful ways.  I have more energy.  I get up excited about the day and spend it trying to make a difference somehow.   I have reconnected with an unexpectedly large number of people I’d lost track of for the sake of “the relationship.”  I am doing things my way and loving the space I’m in as a result.  I am connecting with nature when I am out in it (instead of worrying about “keeping up” or “why isn’t he talking to me?”).  I am more alive.  Far more alive.

That potential resides in every firing-even if it looks bleak beyond words.  Sometimes, the Universe gives us a good swift kick instead of a gentle nudge when it’s time to do something different.  at some point, you will probably find yourself fired.  Be grateful.  It a painful, embarrassing, but incredibly effective shortcut to being something much, much better.


How Much Information?

How Much Information?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s easy to get hung up on amassing information  Be aware of what you really need to know before you decide and of how much of that you already have in the pipeline.  Ask yourself if you’ve already reached the best point in the overall process for making this decision.  If so, decide.

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

And once you do, for heaven’s sake, don’t go back and make the same decision again and again.  Get informed, make the decision, and keep going.  Getting stuck remaking your decisions is even worse than getting stuck amassing more information than you need to make them at all.


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.

Wait? Or Act?

Wait? Or Act?

While we are actively working at “a career”, there is rarely a question about whether we need to make something happen or whether we’re better off waiting for it to happen.

If it’s your job and it’s supposed to happen by a certain time, you’re on it.  If it’s a goal you set for the business, even if it’s your business and you’re the only employee, you get it done.  At home in support of the person earning the paycheck, you still get it done because money you need to live is on the line. But once you leave that world behind, knowing when to act and when to wait is far less cut and dried.

To some extent, this notion that we’re all supposed to sit around doing nothing in retirement is to blame.  There’s no expectation that we’re supposed to get anything done.  To the world, it’s no big deal if you do that thing or not.  It’s almost heresy to think you should be “getting something done.”

If that lifestyle is working for you, great.  But if you’re frustrated that you don’t do the things you say you want to do—or worried you won’t once you retire, look a little deeper for what may be getting in the way.

  •  Are you convinced you need (or want) to do it?  Well, maybe you are today, but then tomorrow it doesn’t look quite as important.  Unless there’s a strong sense of purpose at your core, whether or not you want to put effort into any given action will change day to day.  Find your purpose.
  •  Do you believe you can do it? If it’s something new, your confidence about whether or not you can pull it off will also waiver.  Right now, I am shying away from setting up a new piece to my blog.  It’s very doable, and I need to get it done.  But I’ve found an unbelievable array of ways to avoid it—day after day after day.  My inner wimp is afraid of that work because I’m going to have to be a beginner to do it.  When it’s new, you’re going to feel like a beginner.  It’s wise to make peace with being a beginner again the day you step into retirement if you haven’t already.
  • Are you afraid of something about doing it?  Most of us don’t face physical dangers every day like our ancestors did.  But our brains are still wired for that.  Current day fears are more often based either on things that have already happened or things that might happen.  The part of our brains that triggers fear doesn’t differentiate.  So we are ginning up a lot of fear about things that are already over and non-events that will never happen.  Now is the only time we have for taking action.  Decide based on what’s real now and get on with it.

There’s another piece to this that’s equally frustrating once we retire though.  After so many years where we had to make things happen, it’s harder to see when it would be wiser to wait.

Sometimes, waiting for things to fall into place is a much better solution.  At the moment, I need to find a house.  I’ve been at it for two months; it feels more like ten because I haven’t found anything close to what I want.  Sure, some people really do knock on the front door and ask the owners if they want to sell when they see a house that appeals.

But that’s not what’s called for here.  At least if I am wise.  Every time I go out with my realtor (who is a saint), I learn more about what I like, see features—or issues–that I hadn’t considered, and discover solutions to problems my eventual house might have.  I’m still getting educated on this.  Making the decision before I know all I need to know is not in my best interest. But that doesn’t stop my ego from throwing a tantrum every once in a while.

So how do you know when to not take action?

If you want to take action because it gives you a feeling of control when the situation isn’t yours to control, your action might be a bad idea.  Acting as General Manager of the Universe usually just makes things worse.  Are you desperate for control?  Simmer down and see what else you need to discover about what you’re trying to do.

The time to act is when you’re avoiding what you know you want to do because you’re afraid.  The time to wait is when you want to take action to feel like you control a situation where that’s not the case.

It Isn’t Always Either/Or

It Isn’t Always Either/Or

We have a bad habit going as a culture. We tend to see most of our decisions as either/or. Either I go to college or get a job. Either I have a career or have fun. Either I keep working or I retire.

The assumption is that if you do one of the things, you aren’t going to be able to do the other.  Looking at it that way makes for rather stark choices.  Most of the time, it really isn’t “either/or.”  It’s a matter of figuring out how much of both you want and then shaping your solution to get that.

Many have gone to college and worked simultaneously–some holding more than one job.  As a society we tend to feel sorry for these people.  They have a lot in a day, yes.  But if it’s what they need and feel works best, why are we pitying them?

Most of the time, doing the if-this-then-not-that kind of choice is more impoverishing.  If you only take classes (i.e. “go to college”), you have no clue what a day at work is all about until you start on that first rung of your big-time career ladder.  College graduates without work experience are not the first to be hired.  They are untested in terms of knowing how to show up on time, understanding what is part of “working” and what is not (texting and talking to friends and family on the phone).  If you just take college courses for those years, you will be a bigger risk for an employer and require a longer learning curve than the guy (or gal) who worked either between semesters or while enrolled.

In addition, there are points in most college careers where what you are doing starts to get boring.  It is very tempting to quit.  Maybe you haven’t gotten to what you’re really interested in yet in terms of the coursework.  Maybe you have a new love that’s not at the campus where you’re studying.  At various times while getting my undergraduate degree, I worked as a grocery checker, a deli clerk, and in the finishing room at one of the local paper mills.  Numerous times, my commitment to stick with getting that degree came from what I knew about what else was out there as a job if I didn’t finish college.

So why I am talking about this in a blog that’s focused on retirement issues?  The dumbest “either/or” thinking we do is about retirement.  Either you keep working or you stop totally.  Why?  Who decided those were the only options?  If you want to get retirement right, this is the very first decision you need to put some sophistication into.

The question is not “do I keep working or do I stop working?”  The question is “How do I want work to fit into the retirement stage of my life?”  Work will be there in some form once you retire unless you have severe health issues.  Perhaps you’ll prefer to volunteer rather than earn a paycheck.  Maybe you will get into creative endeavors instead of helping customers.  But do find a way to continue putting regular effort into something as an ongoing part of your life.  If it is work, it needs to be work that works for you–work you love. How much of it you want to be doing is a decision that’s uniquely yours as well.

Sometimes, it’s wise to totally give up the work you have been doing during your primary career years.  A few days ago, I met a woman hiker who’s within 14 months of being able to retire from UPS.  She needs to step away from that job because it’s physically demanding and her body is starting to object to lifting 70 pounds and driving a route for 12 hours a day during the holiday peak.  But she sees that it’s not “either/or.”  When she reaches that magic milestone, her goal is to move into a kind of work that gives her more flexibility.  That way she can hike on Wednesdays without having to be on vacation.  That way she can be part of the family things that she didn’t get to participate in during her career as a UPS driver.

Either/or decisions are fine when you’re deciding where to go for dinner–or even on vacation.  But limiting yourself to either/or on the life decisions will leave you sadly shortchanged.

The real question is not “this?…or that?”  (Well…maybe if you doing an eye exam….) It’s “What do I want out of this situation and how can I get that to happen?”



Being Perfect Is a Bad Idea

Being Perfect Is a Bad Idea

Perfect is for amateurs. Happy people don’t worry about perfection–in themselves, in those they love, in what they experience, in what they acquire. I have spent way too much of my life being this kind of beginner though.  And you probably are doing more of it than you realize.

The expectation that things have to be perfect before we can just enjoy them has deep roots in the way a lot of us were raised.  It may have started as an overly critical parent, but more likely, it came from people who clearly telegraphed that they were on your side–and just trying to help you become the best person you could be.  It’s important to strive for improvement.  That’s an essential piece of living a good life.  But using feedback to do even better than what you did the last time is different than deciding you’re inadequate because what you did the first time wasn’t 100% perfect.

A lot of what we learn growing up becomes outdated or was just plain wrong to begin with.  Our ideas about being perfect are in that category.  My entire family (of nine) considered Mom the font of all knowledge when it came to facts.  We would bring the interesting rocks we found in the wild places to her for identification.  In particular, I relied on her for the names of flowers or weeds. All I needed was to remember what she’d said, and I’d be right.

Not really.  I’ve had the chance to dig into gardening on my own for decades now and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned was “Mom was not always right.”

I wish I’d learned that before she died though.  Our mutual dance of expecting ourselves–and each other–to be perfect ruined a lot of good times we could have had together.  Instead of savoring the strong women we were, we kept poking at our own and each other’s imperfections.  This particular dance didn’t even involve a lot of words about the situation.  The expectation of perfection was a given.

Being perfect is a bad trip.  It’s like flying to Hawaii and then sitting in the closet of the condo the whole time you’re there, dwelling on how dark it is.  Expecting other people to be perfect is not good for them, to be sure, but it’s even harder on your own good time.  Yes, sometimes a person uses the argument “I can never do anything right in your eyes” to mask controlling behavior of his/her own that sabotages a relationship.  But if you are expecting perfection from that person (and most likely yourself in the bargain), there’s some painful truth in the lament.

Seeking perfection ruins your enjoyment of what’s already there.  Expecting it in others sends a message that they are not good enough unless they improve.  Every time you find them less than what you think they should be, the chance to enjoy each other’s company erodes.  That’s a highway to loneliness over the long haul.

When you do it with your kids, you set them up for the same dissatisfied life.  If you insist that every detail of what they’ve done be perfect, you teach them that as adults, they must take that same “high road.”  And thus, this most negative of all behaviors gets passed on, often with few words and even less scrutiny.

Perfection is not possible.  Many of us can accept this truth rationally.  Some of us embrace it spiritually.  But a lot of us add, “but I’m going to doing everything I can to be perfect anyway.”  That caveat sets everything you experience up as “not good enough.”  Because you’ve decided you’ve been specially annointed to be perfect, you must always get it all right and everyone you interact must be perfect as well.

You’re telling yourself you don’t do that, right?  You may want to take a deeper look.  Most of the judgements we pass are attempts to make our own world perfect.  When you take issue with what someone said, did you do it because the comment was really that unbearable?  Or did you decide that the person “should” be treating you in a more perfect way?

None of us are going to get it all right.  And we certainly aren’t going to get it all right all the time.  Letting go of that expectation can be a massive stress reducer.  It is also one of the best ways you’ll find to get closer to those you love emotionally.

There will be differences that still need to be addressed.  That’s part of living with imperfection.  But your decision about whether to ask for a change in someone else or not needs to be based on whether the current situation is good enough, not on whether it’s “perfect.”



New Magic Word…Flexible

New Magic Word…Flexible

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.


Solving the REAL Problem

Solving the REAL Problem

Fifty percent of good problem solving is knowing what the problem is. Too often, that step gets lost in the rush to make things “right.”  When that happens, instead of solving a problem, you just create more.

How do we miss on figuring out what’s wrong in the first place?  Lots of ways!

On the top of that list is the tendency to assume that a symptom is the problem itself.  It’s wet under your sink.  If you assume that’s the problem, then you will just mop up the water.  Problem solved?  Not really.  If it’s wet under your sink, something is leaking.  If you don’t find and fix the leak, the water will collect under the sink again and again, eventually rotting the wood.

It’s also easy to assume you know what is causing that symptom.  I had a nice little reminder of that last week.  I recently recoupled in terms of living arrangements and we are living in his house.  So all the peculiarities are new and different.  When the whole house circulating fan went on after I’d started my morning routine in the bathroom a few days ago, it included a rather irritating rattle, which kept going and going  and going.

I assumed it was the ceiling fan and went on with the teeth brushing, face washing, etc.  It was only when I had finished and opened a drawer to put away my hair brush that I found the real cause of the problem.  Once the drawer was opened, the rattle became much louder.  And when I investigated, I discovered I’d accidentally turned on the little battery powered gadget that takes fuzz off your clothing.

That example isn’t a big deal.  We hadn’t spent hundreds–or even thousands–of dollars to get the “not real” problem assessed and “repaired.”  But there have also been several situations where that kind of expense was involved.  Both were related to health care.

My significant other has a genetically transmitted kidney condition.   He does a great job of managing his diet and his lifestyle so that it’s not an issue for him.  But when he gets sick, the medical community automatically assumes it’s because of this condition.

The first time I was witness to this, the eventual diagnosis was pneumonia.   The second time, they ordered a series of high risk and expensive ($5000 a shot) injections to help his kidneys work with his blood.  Even when there was no improvement, they kept going.  The side effects of this treatment are serious–an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, for starters.

Eventually, the situation got so bad that he ended up in the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital.  And that’s when they took the time to find the real problem, which was a no-longer-indolent lymphoma that they’d noticed several years before.

We need to do better at diagnosing problems.  Right now, the Democrats have diagnosed the budget shortfall as not bringing enough money in.  The Republicans see it as a matter of spending too much.  It is both, but nothing is being done to solve the problem because neither side is willing to expand their diagnosis.

So what do we do about this as plain ordinary people?  Try not to fall into those same traps with your own problem solving, certainly.  But we can also serve as the “double check” with others making decisions on our behalf.

Ask questions to force those service providers to go beyond what they are assuming:

  • If a doctor says “Well, that’s just because of your XYZ disease ask”If I had not already been diagnosed with XYZ disease, what would you do to figure out my current health problem?”
  • If your mechanic tells you your car is just getting old, ask “If this car weren’t ten years old, what would you recommend?”
  • If your financial advisor says “The market is too unpredictable.  We can’t invest now.” ask “How do other advisors keep people invested in this kind of climate?”

It’s easy to see others’ shortcomings–and frustrating to have to deal with them when they are affecting our own quality of life.  But this is not a solo difficulty.  As a culture, we are used to instant fixes, be it while playing a video game or ordering a new bike off the internet in the middle of the night.

We all need to take more time to be sure we understand the problem we are trying to fix.  When you do, it increases the odds of it staying fixed once you address it considerably.

Work after 60: Look at Your Options

Work after 60: Look at Your Options

Society’s script for our 60’s says we walk off into the sunset to spend the “Golden Years” doing whatever we want.  But the checkbook—or the investment account –may be saying “not so fast.”  What do you do instead?  Trudging along doing what you’re already doing is not your only option.

According to Tom Lauricella in Wall Street Journal Sunday, almost a third of American men and women ages of 65 and 69 were still in the workforce in 2011.  Of those 70 to 74, almost 20% were still working.  This isn’t just a sour economy.  Many of these people simply prefer to include paid work as part of their lives.  More and more studies are confirming that people who remain in the work force are physically healthier, less likely to experience early cognitive decline, and have a stronger sense of well-being.  Work is good stuff for most of us.  But it’s got to be work we love.

If you need or want to keep earning money as you age, take a look at your options, your priorities, and your preferences.  Use that information to create a life that includes paid work, but that’s still an authentic balance of what you really care about.

Find work that’s your life calling.  Work at this stage of life is best done for the meaning it holds rather than the paycheck it provides.  Even if you do need the money, find something you believe in if you want to be happy (also healthy).  Doing work you‘re passionate about makes the time you spend at work part of your overall “Good Life” rather than just the means of funding it.

Find work that’s flexible.  When you are good at what you do or are willing to do something no one else wants to, you can often move toward more of a say in when you work and when you don’t.  The first step in getting to this nirvana is getting really good at what you do—which is a lot easier if you love what you do.  The second is knowing what kind of flexibility is important to you.  Is it the freedom to be able to take time during work hours watch your grandson compete in high school debate?  Or is it the flexibility to live where it’s warm in the winter and where it’s cool in the summer?

Sometimes, you don’t even need to change companies to find this.  (Home Depot and CVS were already hiring cold climate employees to work at warm climate stores where they wintered five years ago.)

Another version of flexibility comes from using technology. If you’re available to answer client questions via smart phone or can generate a bid with a laptop and wifi, where you are physically when you do it isn’t an issue.  Instead of shunning new technology, learn to use it to claim greater freedom in how you work.

Combine several small efforts to make the amount of money you need.  We tend to think in the singular about earning a living.  One job.  One paycheck.  In the traditional work force, this is true (at least for now).  But when you want to give your life better balance, combining two or three choice part-time jobs may make more sense.

I have a friend who’s a very convincing Santa.  Every year he returns to the warm climate of his career years to be a mall Santa for an employer delighted with his return.  For the rest of the year, he parlays his teaching experience into paid gigs as a tour guide for people eager to see the wonders of the western US.

Your combination will be unique to you, of course.  Let’s say you love quilting and also love dogs.  You could do custom quilting or teach quilting classes and also run a dog walking business.  Quilting works your mind and your fine motor skills.  Being responsible for those dogs keeps you fit—and feeling that unconditional love animals offer.  And you put money in the bank from both pleasures.

Anything is possible once you step into this foreign terrain called “life after 60.”  But don’t wait until you’re on that stretch of road to figure out where you want to go then.  You have to know what you love and have a pretty good idea of what kind of lifestyle is likely to work best for you if you want to thrive after 60—whether you retire or keep working.

Now’s the time to get started on that custom-designed life.