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Archive for October, 2013

Forward and Back

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

A good dance involves both forward and back. The Dance of Life is the same.  Some of us get hung up on moving forward.  Some of us get stuck in looking back.  But the best comes when you have a bit of both in how you live your days.

Forward is held in high regard–has been for a long time now.  “Youth and progress” started trumping “the way we’ve always done it” when the Industrial Age took over from farming a couple centuries ago.  Moving forward is important.  Babies learn.  Companies grow and become more effective.  Moving up is part of most career plans.  Progress is a good thing.

But forging ever onward at all costs feels too much like a forced march.  There has to be some looking back.  Time to reflect on the mountain you’ve been climbing or the beauty of the sun as it sets behind you.

There’s a difference between looking back and getting stuck in the past though.  It’s tempting with all the forms of awfulness that have manifest lately to yearn for the good old days.  Life was simpler in 1963.  At least for me–I was still in high school and hadn’t experienced the down side of growing up yet.  No lay offs.  No divorces.  No difficult stepchildren.  No boss from hell.  No idiotic Congressional logjams.  Some days it just seems like that life was a better life.  But it really wasn’t.

Still, once we retire the “good ol’ days” can sing a siren’s song.  You start thinking “What would happen if I went back?” to a place that held good times before.  You can go back and live in the  town where you were raised (well, unless it’s been turned into a giant manufacturing facility or is at the bottom of some reservoir).  But you can’t go back and live that life anew.  It will not be the same life, even if you can get all your high school pals to move back with you and you do the very same things that were so cool then.  You are different because of what’s gone on in your life since then.  They are different.  And the town is different, even if it doesn’t look like it. (My hometown sure doesn’t.)

A wiser move is to attempt to re-create what you liked about that time past.  The sense of camaraderie?  The bliss of living near a lake?  What was it about that experience that made it good?  Finding a way to get that in the life you are living now is moving sort of like forward and back at the same time.

Too often, we get stuck in either/or.  But we need both forward and back.  Float on the delight of what’s happening now.  On where you’re going next.  But with a sense of who you are that comes only from looking back at all you’ve come through.


Take the Stairs

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

I’ve been whining about missing my stairs ever since I moved from a two-story house to a rambler 18 months ago.  Those stairs really were a plus in my life–I got exercise without having to schedule it all day every day. But a week ago, in an editorial in Talent Management magazine, Mike Prokopeak upped the ante.  He suggested “taking the stairs” in the business setting as well.

He was making the same point I’ve been–the more we incorporate physical exertion in subtle ways to do the things we have to do anyway, the easier it is to maintain some semblance of fitness even when things get overbusy.

He pointed out that some business meetings are now conducted standing up (which accomplishes two things–it involves more physical effort, but it also makes the meetings shorter.)  Some managers conduct important one-on-one conversations by taking a walk with that person.  That also has some extra pluses.  Difficult subjects are easier to address while walking.   Creative ideas also seem to come more easily when you’re moving on foot.

But after I thought about his suggestions for a while, I realized this is not just about being less sedentary in business settings.  It’s not even about real stairs.  It’s about taking the more demanding route on anything and everything just for the extra benefits that those approaches often bring.

Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi advocate something similar to this interpretation of “take the stairs” in Super Brain.  If you want to keep your mind operating at optimum capacity for the long haul, you can’t just do the same old stuff the same old way and hope for the best.  Look for a new restaurant instead of going back to the same old favorite every time you eat out.  Learn a new sport instead of relying exclusively on the one you already enjoy.  Make a point of meeting new people and going new places.

To live well as we age, we need a steady diet of new stimuli.  According to Chopra and Franzi, that keeps our brains creating new synapses and the more synapses you have, the better you can weather a situation where some of them are injured or die.

To create those synapses, we need to “take the stairs” as many different ways as we can.

Every time we decide instead to run on autopilot, we lose the chance to build more brain strength.  We lose the chance to build an even stronger social network.  We lose the chance to find new ways to love deeply and be involved in new things that are meaningful.  Those are the real elements of a rich life.  Why forego them just to avoid exerting yourself a bit?

Once we retire, even if it’s to–or in–a single story home, we need to remain committed to “taking the stairs.”  Do something that takes more effort than “same old same old.”  It will make a huge difference as time marches on.


Wait? Or Act?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

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.

Yes, It IS Your Fault

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Okay. At some point, we voted for these bozos.  They are in office.  The fact that they are not doing the job they agreed to do  is something we’ll have to deal with– and hopefully we will–in upcoming elections.  What’s going on right now in our government is mind-numbingly egotistical.  To say that the behavior of these “statesmen” is dismaying is like saying Mount Everest is tall.  So let’s start to make this clearer to them:


You have embarrassed us all with your ineptitude and hard-headedness.  You have put millions of hard working citizens out of work to prove a point even you can’t agree on.  If you were adult enough to go to real core values in negotiating, this would have been resolved long before the deadline.  You choose instead to play Ego games and call them “values.”

TO THE REPUBLICANS:  Yes, you are to blame.  Shame on you for insisting there is only one way to achieve what you are trying to achieve–which is less government spending in the long haul.  What you cut doesn’t have to be wearing the Obamacare logo to achieve that end.

TO THE DEMOCRATS:  Yes, you are to blame.  Insisting that additional delay not happen on a program that has already been delayed in part–and for lesser reasons than not shutting down the government– is not valiant.  It is Ego-driven just like the quest to make it go away.  You are no different than your counterparts across the isle in your pettiness.

Getting the right things to happen while working with people we don’t agree with is simply part of living life in this complex world.  Why the hell does Congress think it should get a hall pass?


Mr. Obama, you have been President of the United States for five years.  You have had the role as leader of the leading country in the world for half a decade, yet you do not seem to grasp that a leader needs to leadYOU are the leader of this country.  Not Mr. Boehner.  Not Mr. Reid.  Not any of the news celebrities.  YOU.  That means part of your job is figuring out how to get people to follow.  Many of us long ago learned what you still don’t know.  You do not get people to follow by drawing lines in the sand.

All of you, please stop this embarrassing display of ineptitude.  Any sane adult knows that reaching a compromise involves giving up lesser things to achieve the most important thing.  The most important thing right now is to get us off the world stage in the clown suit.  We need to get our affairs in order as a government.  You have disgraced us in front of the entire world and put a lot of people in financial peril for the sake of being “right.” There is no “right” in this behavior, just the din of self-centered grandstanding.

Solutions reached through compromise stand the test of changing political winds.  Programs put in place via the political clout of just one party are doomed to be rescinded when that party falls out of favor.  The American system works because of compromise.  Please learn that civics lesson and get back to doing your job.