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Archive for July, 2011

When to Worry…and Why

Monday, July 25th, 2011

With our cultural mindset about “getting older,” it’s easy to become more fearful as we age.  But it’s not something you want to buy in on.  Fear serves an important purpose in our lives when used properly.  Too often these days, what we’re worrying about isn’t the right stuff.

With so many media alternatives, many of the messages that make us worry come from something external—TV shows that warn about an infinitesimal cancer risk as if succumbing to it is inevitable, insurance companies that want to sell you long-term care insurance, etc.

Start weeding your fear garden by getting rid of the things you’re worrying about that came from people who tell you about the “danger” so they can sell you something.

Next, look at how much your assumptions about aging are feeding your fears.  The notion that you will unavoidably become a victim at some point simply because you’re getting older is baloney.  No one has to be a victim.   But the cultural expectations around getting older make that look like the only option.  It’s not.  You can stay strong and active as long as you choose but you’re going to need to put some effort into it.

Once you get rid of all the garbage other people encourage you to be afraid of and all the stuff that you can make go away just by looking at the life you have room to live more realistically, you have a more manageable set of fears to deal with.  Embrace them.  Fear is part of life and the gateway to new adventures and achievements.

It’s good to be afraid sometimes.  Fear in its effective form engenders one of two reactions—fight or flight.  Either you take action to repel the source of danger or you take action to get away from it.  Just stewing in the fear instead, worrying but not taking any action, isn’t healthy or useful.  Don’t do that.  If it’s not something you can do something about, being fearful of it will just stress you into being sick.

So that’s your last bit of “weeding”–do something about your remaining fears.  My mom used to use the phrase “What’s the percentage in that?”  What she meant was “how likely is that to happen?”  Figure out how likely what you’re worrying about is to happen.  Once you know that, it’s easy to let go of the ones that aren’t very likely.

If you can’t find a way to confirm how big what you’re worrying about really is, get some help. Ask your doctor, lawyer, accountant, minister—whoever would have the relevant insight–to help you decide.   If it is a big deal, the next step is to define effective action to either avoid it now or deal with it when it happens.  An example of the first is spending less to be sure you have enough to live on later.  And example of the second is identifying a lower-cost living arrangement—like taking in a roommate or living with a family member—that you can resort to if it does happen.

Too often our fears come from failing to look at all the options that are really out there.  You may be right to think you won’t be able to keep up your two acres of gardens and five-bedroom house when you’re in your nineties.  But do you need to worry?  Will you even want to keep living there then?  Or living there alone?

Fear has another important benefit besides avoiding danger.  When you do something you’re afraid of, you increase your self esteem and expand your world.  Eleanor Roosevelt was onto something when she advised “Do at least one thing every day that scares you.”

It helps to start small.  When you conquer your little fears, dealing with the bigger worries becomes doable.  Once you start doing this, your new adventures will reawaken your excitement in being alive.

It’s not a case of never being afraid.  Be authentically afraid. Courage comes from doing the things we are afraid of.  (Not being afraid of things that really should engender fear is a mental health issue, not courage.) Manage what you let yourself be afraid of.  Use your fear to help you go places you haven’t gone yet and do things you still want to do.  Ignore the fake fears that come from people who want to sell you stuff.  Take action (fight or flight) rather than just sitting in you fear.  Your life will re-blossom.

After a while, you might even have trouble finding that one thing to do that you’re afraid of every day.


Retirement Reset

Monday, July 18th, 2011

We’re still us! Study results reported last week by SunAmerica suggest that Americans in or approaching retirement are “resetting” how they see and want to experience that stage of life.

In other words, the boomers are going to chart their own course yet again.  This is good news for everyone, not just those born between 1946 and 1964.

As the largest generation to enter it looks at retirement, we’re starting to see it as a real stage of life instead of just “play time.”  According to the study, two thirds of us want to include work in some way.  This is not new.  The Met Life Foundation found similar results in 2005.  But this reality needs all the attention we can find for it because finding that way to work is going to take some personal effort.

According to the study, we are more interested in family relationships now than acquiring wealth. This is also good news.  The “wealth” thing is where greed gets into the mix, and that poisons the economic well for all of us.

We now want financial security rather than just having a lot of money. That fits a whole lot better with living a long and happy life.   “Having a lot of money” creates issues about keeping a lot of money.  Having the financial security to do the things you want–or need–to do puts the focus on living your life well instead.

The study also notes that we can see we might be called upon to help someone we love financially–and we are no longer just talking about our parents.   This is a return to caring and a departure from “getting mine.”  More good news for society.

Last, according to the study, we are now more intent on getting the retirement planning right by enlisting professional help (but do bear in mind who sponsored the study).  Preparing for this stage of your life  on your own doesn’t seem like such a slam dunk anymore.

SunAmerica and Age Wave have done a great job of highlighting how Americans are seeing the potential and the risks of this stage of life differently.  But how you set it up for yourself is still up to you.

There are a lot more pieces to this puzzle than “wealth” or even “financial security.”  Take the time to understand and include all of them. What do you want to do next? What gets you jazzed enough to give you a sense of purpose?  How do you want to live and who do you want with you?  You get to decide on all of this–but only if you make those decisions.

A good retirement requires a lot more than just a magic number in your investment portfolio or pension account. To keep yourself healthy and happy, you need to know a lot about yourself, your spouse if you have one, and what’s going to make you want to get up every morning once you’ve finished the career years.


Do the Next Thing

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Whether it’s building a business or finding a job, the best advice is “Do the next thing.”  Too often, we do one thing and stop.  Then we wait for the reaction on that thing–the e-mail or phone call expressing interest, the dreaded form rejection letter, the suggestion that a prospective client wants to hear more.

Doing it that way means you spend a lot of your time waiting for what someone else may or may not do.  And waiting is a passive process.  So you lose momentum.  And you feel less effective because…well..nothing’s happening while you are doing all that waiting.

In other cases, you capitalize on one opportunity and call it good.  The chance to speak to a group or have coffee with someone who’s willing to mentor you.  Instead of using that as a springboard for doing more things, we consider ourselves done once we’ve written the thank you note.

Why do we do this?  I think it’s because it’s easier to handle life in little tidbits–to do one thing and then…well….rest.   The problem with this approach is that you start from the point of inertia every time and have to work up the moxie to do that one thing again and again.  You have to talk yourself into it and then get yourself going over and over.

If you look for the next thing with everything you do, you don’t have that acceleration challenge because you’re already moving.  You don’t have to talk yourself into it because you’re still finishing the last thing so you’re already in “do it” mode.

But even better, those “next things” can hold some pretty fun magic.  A year ago,  a career counselor on the other side of the country contacted me about reviewing my book on her blog.  Of course, I was delighted to send a review copy, and she did a wonderful write-up of what I had to say.   End of story, right?

Not really.  After I thanked her for the review, I decided I needed to check out her website more thoroughly.  Among the many things she offers there were links to TV shows she’d done interviewing people who had switched careers after 50 and were thriving.  One  interview in particular intrigued me, and I asked her to e-introduce me to that person.  She graciously agreed.

Then the “next thing” was to contact him.  When I did, I discovered he was looking for experts to write for his web-based business.  In particular, he was looking for somene to cover the business perspective of employing older workers.  That’s an angle I’d been trying to find a way to work for a year.  Perfect.  And that was it, right?  Nope.

The next thing?  Well, there were two.  Through that contact I met another expert who’s focused on people who start their own businesses after 50.  That gave me another angle from which to promote better use of our “retirement” years, another way to expand my knowledge base, and one more platform for increasing my visibility.

The second thing?  I got a request to be a keynote speaker for a conference on the topic because of the articles I’ve been writing from the business perspective.

Here’s the point:  None of these opportunities would have developed had I not gone beyond “thank you” with the woman who offered to review my book.  Stopping at the first thing means you’ll miss a lot of opportunities.

Doing the next thing gives you a sense of both control and movement.  When you are starting a business or trying to find a job–particularly in this economy–those are both vital and rare.

Do the next thing no matter what you are trying to do.  Go beyond the first thing–that has to be done–and see what else might be worth the effort.  It will increase your chances of success dramatically.  And it will be more fun than waiting for the phone to ring or the tone that announces a new e-mail to chime on your computer.


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.