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Archive for September, 2013

Do Something?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let’s Dance!

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

When was the last time you danced? Have you ever? Or are you intimidated by the intricate footwork and synchrony of the couple stuff on TV?

We all need to dance. Not just at weddings. Not just with old friends at a favorite watering hole with live music. Every day. It’s a good way to keep your body and soul on the same page.

I’ve always advocated walking. Walking helps you think and problem solve. It reduces stress. It’s a great cardio workout. Walking, at its most effectively practiced, is non-denominational meditation. As your shoes move across the land, you move closer to the forces of the Divine.

But dancing is another multi-purpose marvel for creating a satisfied life. The joy side of the coin. I’m not talking about the ballroom stuff where you have to follow prescribed steps and keep rhythm a specific way though. I’m not even talking about Western culture’s classic “man-leads-woman-of-his-choice-in-movement-on-a-dance-floor” stuff. I’m talking about any situation where you move your body to music.

There are many more fun ways to dance than the stuff we learned was dancing in junior high. You don’t have to wait for a guy to ask you–or to decide on which woman you’re going to dare ask.  You don’t have to limit yourself to places with an official dance floor. And ballroom dancing, with all its choreographed steps and showmanship, is a long way from the real fun. So let’s forget the Dancing with the Stars stuff for now. Please.

Dancing is celebrating. It energizes your soul. It takes you beyond your mind and your aches and pains. Good dancing generates joy. And joy makes everything else better.

So find the dancing that appeals to you. Line dancing, square dancing, contra dancing, folk dancing, salsa, swing, zydeco—and that’s just a quick list. There are groups doing this stuff all over and many of them offer lessons before the dance itself to help you get started. Most of them have websites or else list their events on bulletin boards.

If you don’t want to break into an existing group, take a class—ballet, jazz, tap. That way, everyone is starting together. If not that, you can get involved in a dance practice, where the movements of your body are a form of prayer. The options “out there” for dancing go way beyond the foxtrot.

You don’t even need to be at a defined venue to dance. Dance while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up. Or while your coffee is brewing. In the elevator. In line at the grocery store. Wayne Dyer tells the story of a toll booth attendant who danced his entire shift every day. When you got to his window, you paid your toll at a dance party.

Dancing isn’t about putting your feet in certain places in a defined sequence with a specific beat with other people doing the same thing. Dancing is simply moving to music. And the music can be in your head if that’s all you have to work with.

When you can dance in a social setting, milk it for all the fun you can. A dear dancing friend and I liven up an evening by getting other people up dancing. Sometimes it’s women; sometimes it’s men. Those we coax out on the floor seem to have a much better time than if they’d just kept watching. And we do, too. The younger kids have one upped us on doing this well. Not only do the women go out to dance “uncoupled”(either alone or in groups of more than two), in under 30 crowds, you’ll see the guys doing it, too.

Avoid reducing dancing to “exercise.” That’s a terrible waste of a good time. When aerobic dance first made the scene, I took a class taught by a college instructor who specialized in folk dancing. Lord that was fun! (A classmate suggested all that was missing was a basket of fruit on my head.) Unfortunately, “fitness types” decided aerobic dance needed to look more like exercise. Now, even Zumba comes across as just another workout to music. If you want to get the most out of dancing, find something where the music and moving to it—i.e. having fun–are more important than reaching you target heart rate.

Dancing is not a matter of “knowing the steps.” Dancing is about having the guts. Find some music and start to move. Be a kid again—dance like nobody’s watching (because they really aren’t). You don’t need a partner. You don’t need lessons. If you don’t have music, use what’s in your head. Be happy. Spread joy. Boogey down!


Bless the Caregivers

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, say a little prayer for caregivers.  You probably know some personally, but even if you don’t, every one of them needs all the help they can get.  Caregiving is an impossible role.

When children are first born, taking care of them is pretty daunting.  You don’t know what they need–or want.  You don’t know how to do whatever it is that they are wailing for.  You are sleep deprived and shackled to someone else’s needs all day every day.

This is what it’s like to be a caregiver.  Except babies grow up.  When you are caring for someone as they advance into feebleness, usually because of some physical condition, you don’t have a timeline that reassures you things are going to get better.  To the contrary, in typical caregiving situations, things are growing progressively worse.

Babies will cuddle and coo to make you feel all the strain is worthwhile.  That’s not what happens with end-of-life caregiving.  Often, instead of gratitude, a caregiver gets sworn at and cursed out because of the nature of the decline.

Even in the simpler cases, where someone you love has a grave illness and you’ve stepped in to help on a temporary basis, you have no idea how long it’s going to take for that person to get well enough to take care of themselves.  And while you are doing that noble work, your own life is quite literally hijacked.  Plans you made get turned on end.  Projects you had planned to work on gather cobwebs and dust.  You cook what the patient needs not what keeps you healthy.  Even going out for a walk is not feasible.

Instead your focus becomes someone else’s needs.  And that someone, who used to care for you in many cases, is so far into the difficulty that they don’t even know what they are asking of you.  Often, a loved one does this work without relief.  It seems so trivial, this loss of identity–at least if you’re not the one experiencing.  But being sucked into someone else’s illness and decline drains your own energy and joy in life with alarming speed.

Right now I can name five friends currently caught in this kind of caregiving.  Two have husbands with Lewy Body Dementia (a form of decline that puts Alzheimers to shame in terms of the amount of “on call” attention the person demands).  One has a husband with a mystery malady that’s caused him to lose 75 pounds–and this man was not overweight to begin with.  One is caring for her mother as she deals with terminal cancer–and the mother/daughter bond has not been that loving one we all wish we had.  And one is dealing with a stroke-incapacitated alcoholic husband with dementia who could just as easily start the house on fire as take a nap.

This kind of caregiving takes an incredible toll.  You don’t know what’s going to happen next but whatever it is will not be fun.  Every new turn in the patient’s health creates a new sense of being inadequate.  So often you have no idea what to do–but you know you have to do something.

You end up on a first name basis with nurses and pharmacists, social workers, and therapists of all sorts.  You’ve memorized what is and isn’t covered under current health care arrangements.  And still you are caught by surprise.  Again.  And again.  And just when you think you are done for the day and are starting to unwind from the tightness of what’s being expected of you, all hell breaks lose and you’re in the emergency room until three in the morning.

Caregiving is hero’s work.  They need more support than they get from the community.  A lot more.  So at a minimum,  if you a lucky enough to be out and about all by yourself, doing what you want and having a lovely day, say a prayer for the caregivers.  Even if you are having a crappy day and are trying to please the boss from hell, put in a good word for those doing the caregiving work.  There is none harder.

They give so much and no one even notices.