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Archive for November, 2008

Giving Thanks When Things Are Bad

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Gratitude in good times is easy. Anyone can rattle off those blessings like a waiter listing salad dressings.

It takes more work to see the pluses in adversity. But that’s where the real bounty lies.

Good times are replete with things.

Hard times–and even the not-quite-so-good times–are rich in lessons:

  • The realization that you CAN handle it.
  • The joy of knowing that love and family do not have dollar signs.
  • The opportunity–or maybe even the necessity–of going in a new life direction.
  • The chance to stop the crazy pace and listen quietly to your heart.

Living well doesn’t require a trip to the mall.  Gratitude is deepest when the rough edge of adversity gouges into the real you under all the surface “stuff.”  Then you get to see clearly what life is really all about:  The chance to love.  The chance to learn.  And the chance to try again.


What Retirement Changes — Access

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining SIlver

When we are yearning for the brass ring called “retirement” nothing about what’s going on at work seems like it will be hard to relinquish.  The stress level?  You can have it.  The people who aren’t pulling their weight?  What bliss to see them in the rear-view  mirror.

But there are a few things you are going to miss.  One of them is access.  Typically, you’ve spent decades doing this work all week, every week–except for vacation.  You’ve learned a lot about that work.  You’ve solved a lot of problems to get it done.  It’s a content area, where, much as you probably don’t want to believe me, you are going to continue to have interest.  You might even be thinking of “doing some consulting” in that arena.  Or working part-time or on a project basis in it somehow.

None of those possibilities is a bad thing.  But be prepared for one of those little surprises that come with  retirement–your access to information changes.   When you retire, you exit the loop, whether you want to or not.  You aren’t part of trying to get the problem solved so you won’t be privy to new information, be it a new product coming out from a key supplier or the exciting stuff on the horizon that’s laid out in the ten-year plan.

Congratulations on your retirement!  Please wait for the press release about what we are doing now.

You don’t think it will be that way for you, right?  You have good friends there.  They will keep you up to date about what the company is doing.  You are part of the key industry associations.  They will keep you abreast of whatever’s going  Maybe.  At least for a little while.

But as your status as “retired” becomes more accepted,  your access to key information becomes more unreliable.  You have become….”one of them”….one of all the people who are NOT a part of getting the current work done.

If you did a good job of building alliances and maintaining business relationships, you may still be able to tap into the information channel.  But two things will be different.  First, the information you get will not be cutting edge.  Your friends can’t afford to tell you until things are pretty far along–because you are now an outsider.

Second, the farther you get from your work days, the less you will be perceived as a resource or sounding board.   Even if what you know and can do is better than anything they currently have on board, the tendency is to use the people on site to solve the problem.  You hear less and less and your friends who still at work turn to the people in the cubicles near them for advice and help you used to give.

There’s nothing wrong with you or them, although there’s plenty wrong with the system.  The assumption that we lose our knowledge of the content area and ability to solve a complex problem within months of when we retire is robbing us of a huge amount of talent we desperately need to be competitive as nation.  There is so much we could be doing without committing to the shackles of a full time, all-the-time job.

Eventually, the lunacy of kissing off the last thirty years of people’s lives as “unproductive” is going to change.  But it’s going to take time.  So what can you do to maintain your access to the important information about what’s going on in the meantime?

  • Be gracious about sharing what you know. If those who are trying to learn what you did so well know they can ask you questions and get good answers, your image as a resource will remain strong.
  • When you do help, learn all you can about what’s changing. Your value as a mentor depends on knowing how to handle current situations.   Ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand the nuances of the new problem.
  • Whenever someone calls for information from you, get some from them, too.  Don’t be shy about asking about what’s happening and what’s new.
  • Solve the problem in the here and now. Telling someone  facing the problem for the first time “Hell, we solved that by doing ___ back in 1978.” is asking for the door.  The current solution may well be the same as what you came up with then, but referencing it just reminds people that you are not part of the current effort–and not entitled to all the information those in the loop get.
  • Be a mentor. If the company has a formal mentor program, check it out.   Often these programs provide access to information that would otherwise be at your own expense or not available to you as a retiree at all.

Keeping active in the parts of your work you enjoy is a key part of a satisfying retirement  Find a way to keep doing what you love.  Without going to work every day.

Retired Time — What Others Think

Friday, November 14th, 2008

When you retire, you certainly have more timee.  What other people expect of all your “extra” time, especially friends and family, can get dicey though.  And the disappointments that come from loved ones not spending time we thought they’d want to spend with us can also be pretty painful.  This is another piecer of what retirement changes:  time with others.

Finding time when you’re retired and your loved ones aren’t is just plain difficult.  The extremes of not dealing with this issue are feeling like a doormat because you’re spending all your time doing what these other people need done or feeling like an orphan because they’re all away doing something else.  They’re among the most unhappy experiences of this stage of life.  Both are avoidable.  They develop when we aren’t paying attention, either to who we really are, what we really need, or both.  So pay attention–to yourself.

We all want to help. especially when it makes difference to someone you love.  But you don’t want to be taken for granted or taken advantage of.  Yes, most of us thrive on being needed.  But that’s different than being expected to carry a load that really isn’t yours.  Taking care of grandkids full-time without pay is being taken advantage of (unless you have a place to live by doing it).  Carrying a heavy volunteer load at church because “You have more time,” is being taken for granted.

Maybe you do and maybe you don’t have “more time.”  Maybe you’re spending every waking moment learning how to build kites or Not So Big Houses or play baswe guitar.  Others don’t know what you are really doing with your time–they just assume since you aren’t working, you aren’t doing anything.  And that doing what they need is better than doing nothing.  Don’t agree with them by default.  Speak your truth.  If you want to spend your time that way, say “Yes.”  If not, there’s another word.


“No.  I don’t have time for that.”  Or maybe “No, I have other things that are higher priority for me to work on right now.”  In truth, there’s only one word you need to do this well… “No.”  A sweet smile.  A shrug.  And you’ve re-declared your freedom.

It’s harder with aging parents who need a significant amount of help.  Yep.  Those tasks have to be done.  And you might need to be the one to do them.  But don’t do it all if there are others who can share the load.  And don’t buy the guilt trip if anyone suggests that you should do it all because “you aren’t working.”

The bottom line on this challenge is WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO DO?  Be honest.  And then be ready to stand firm while others try to convince you otherwise.  Harriet Lerner does a great job of laying out how to do this in her book The Dance of Connection if you need some pointers.

The other end of the spectrum–when loved ones don’t have time for you–involves dealing more effectively with yourself.  What you are telling yourself about what should be happening?  We retire to “spend more time with the family.”  Too often, “family” is off doing other things and doesn’t have time to spend with us.  What do you do then?

For starters, don’t take it personally.  Young lives are complex and hectic.  Important relationships that aren’t part of the everyday scene can get ignored without any intention of doing so.   When you are available anytime, “tomorrow” seems like a a better day to plan something.

Take a careful look at the possibility this is the case if you are thinking of moving to “be near the kids.”  You move…they don’t have time…you don’t have your old circle of friends.  Pretty soon, the high point of your day is Seinfeld reruns.  If you still want to do it, please start with a trial run.  Find a furnished apartment and spend three or more months where they live.  Then be honest about what you experienced.   Does how it went match what you need?  As a bonus, you can start making friends in the new locale, which will make the transition easier if you do decide to move.

What other people think of your time once you retire can be pretty wrong-headed.  They think they know and they don’t.  Tell them the truth about what you have time for and are interested in.  About what you really want to do with them.  And if they don’t have the time you want to spend with them, no moping!  There are great people who do.  Go out and find them.

Choosing to Choose

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

I am writing this as Election Day looms—a time when we make some very significant choices. These are big, important decisions, and we need to respect them enough to do them well. But there’s an entire realm of choices we make by default day after day that it might be good to think about, too. What better time than this—when we are focused on “choosing”–to take a look at those.

We make a lot of choices by default because we assume there really isn’t a choice. We assume we have to keep this job because we need a job. We assume we must stay where we are geographically simply because it is where we are.

Making choices this way is the meek way to live .It means you never consider anything beyond what you already know, what you already do, what you are already comfortable with .It also means that you feel “stuck” with what you are doing—a “victim of circumstance” rather than captain of your own destiny.

The truth of the matter is there are always alternatives. Much of the time, they’re so unappealing we never consider them .To be sure, there are some choices where the alternatives are unthinkable and making the choice again and again would be silly. I choose to breathe. Not breathing doesn’t look like a real good idea to me. I also choose to rest, eat, and drive with care (mostly). I don’t need to decide to do these things every time I do them. But letting your entire life run on autopilot is cheating yourself.

Decades ago, I was involved in a company program that encouraged women to get into nontraditional careers within the organization. We offered an all-day seminar called “How to Decide.” I wish that class were mandatory in every high school in the country today. Since it isn’t, here are the basics of making good choices:

  • Recognize you have a choice.The first step in making a good choice is acknowledging you have a choice. Instead of assuming that what is going on is the only thing that could be going on, make a conscious effort to assess the situation. Ask yourself “Is this the way I want my life to go?” often.
  • Generate a wide range of potential alternatives.When you create the list, put down everything you think of, even if it seems silly or unthinkable. Sometimes those “frivolous answers” hold the kernel of a really great alternative.

Here’s anexample. Many of us are rethinking whether we can retire because of the rollercoaster ride the financial markets are on. But there are a whole lot of alternatives beyond “doing what I am doing now” and “traditional retirement.” Exploring that broader range of alternatives can offer far more appealing course of action.

  • Gather the information you need to make an informed decision. When we do make an effort to consciously choose, this is where we tend to blow it. It’s easy to buy in on information from some website or a friend without assessing the quality of that information. Is it accurate?  Is it current?  Is it relevant?  There are TWO pieces to this step–getting a realistic sense of what the alternatives will and won’t provide AND a defining clearly what you need. Do you need to buy that great but expensive jacket because clothes are terribly important to you? Or are you looking for ways to be properly clothed without wacking out your budget?
  • Decide.Too often, we do this “naked”—without a clear idea of what we are deciding and without anywhere close to enough information. And we do it without thinking about the consequences of choosing this particular alternative. A friend bought a dishwasher he hates—because he daughter told him it was the greatest. She’s good in the kitchen, and he believed her rather than thinking about what he really needed himself. Now he’s stuck with that dishwasher. That’s small potatoes compared to the career choices that are sometimes made the same way.

Taking the time to choose is usually a time saver, too. The easy way usually ends up costing you a lot more—in time, in money and definitely in personal satisfaction.  Choose to choose.  Even when your choice is just to keep doing what you’ve been doing, the consequences are dramatic.  Making good choices reinforces your sense of controlling your own life.     

Retiring Means You “Have Time.”

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

One of the biggest pluses of retirement–at least before we get there–is that we have 100% control over what we do with our time.  But once we have that control, what happens?

All too often, it translates into stuffing anything that comes along into our days and calendars to make sure we are “busy.”  The very thing that we yearned to get away from becomes the modus operandi all over again.  I cringe when people brag “I’m so busy now that I’m retired that I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”  Is that what you retired to do?  Be “busy?”

Going from “not enough time” to “all the time in the world” is a big change.  As we move through our career years, that eventuality becomes more and more alluring.  But once we get to actually make the transition, an interesting thing happens.  We start to recreate the “crazy busy” of work life with all kinds of commitments and involvement.

Understanding why we do this might be good.  I think it’s a case of seeking the familiar.  We know how to be busy.  We’re not so good at relaxing.  We might also be subconsciously resisting the assignment of “doing nothing” that the current cultural mindset assumes for this stage of life.  (I personally detest that role.)

The first weeks of retirement are easy.  You sleep as long as you want.  You linger over your coffee and actually notice how wonderful it smells and tastes.   You go out in your yard and really see what’s there.  You putter with a plant that needs help or a errant brick at the edge of the patio.  You start to look at travel brochures or check out websites.  But after a while, all this time becomes unnerving.  Then comes the  “I have to fill it with something!” reaction.  That’s when we start saying “yes” to everything that comes along.

“Do you want to join my book club?”  Sure!

“My health club is running a special promotion.  Do you want to join?”  Yeah, that might be fun.

“The volunteer fire department needs volunteers, are you interested?”  I’d love to.

Never mind that you are dyslexic, loathe being a gym rat, and faint at the sight of flames.

So is there a better way?  Yep.

The first thing is to know what you really like to do and where you truly want to put your time. So if you haven’t done that part already, some of that newfound time needs to be spent on learning more about yourself.  Really.

This kind of discovery appears selfish to many, but it’s the kindest thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your community.  When you know what you like and want to do, you end up doing that instead of “anything that comes along.”  People who are doing what they love are happier and healthier.  Plus the community gets the benefit of that focus if you decide to work in some way, either as a volunteer or for pay.

The second piece of a good time management strategy for retirement is to leave room for the unexpected. We need to learn to leave gaps on the calendar for starters.  That, in and of itself, can be scary to many of us.  A blank space is so….empty!  Taking an hour or two might be relatively easy.  But how about a day?  A week?

Try scribbling “save for as yet to be determined adventure” over an entire day.  Then, when that day arrives, do what sounds like fun at that moment.   If you’re really gutsy, try a whole week at it.  Then watch how you actually use that time.  Do you sleep longer?  Read more?  Watch TV that you’re not really interested in because you don’t know what else to do?  If it’s this last one, go back and read the previous paragraph again.  You need to know more about yourself so you can focus on what you truly find enjoyable.

The third step is to find out how you like to structure your time. Predictability is a good thing in the right dose.  All of us need some amount of structure.  How much is your call.  Do you need a morning routine to get your day going well?  Or is it better for you to start the day a different way every day.  (I was going to say “morning” but maybe you don’t get up in the morning.)  Some of us like standing commitments, like a bridge club or golf tee time.  Some of us run from that stuff and always will.  Either way works, as long as it’s your way.