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Posts Tagged ‘Retirement strategies’

What Do I Want to Do Next?

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

“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 and there are still issues and insights that need to be explored and explained though.  So I’m going to do both.

How this is going to work is anyone’s guess.  I just know it’s time to try.  Stay tuned.


What Do You Bother With?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Figuring out a Purpose (capital P) is daunting at any stage of life. It’s a key piece of getting retirement right, but that capital P generates a massive amount of angst.  Purpose is supposed to be a “big deal.”  We want to “make a difference” and “give back” and maybe even “leave something for posterity.” All that’s fine if you can pull it off. But often, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t.

Then what?

Well, maybe it’s time to let go of the ego trip of the big deal “Purpose” and go with what you can find that you think is worth bothering with right now.  Sometimes, that’s definitely not a big deal.

I just got in from a walk.  It’s after dinner, and usually by then, the walk has either happened or it isn’t going to happen.  Tonight I walked.  Why?  Partly because the sun came out.  But more so because I worked in the garden today.  My back needs a walk every day to stay happy.  And the days it needs it most are the ones where I give it a workout in other ways–especially playing in the dirt.  So I walked.  Not because I’m trying to set a good example for others.  Not because I am committed to good health for all.  I walked because if I don’t, my back hurts.  It’s not Purpose, but there is purpose in doing it.

It’s nice when you have a sweet, juicy Purpose in front of you.  It’s exciting to know you’re involved in something bigger than yourself.  Making a contribution is the magic potion of self-worth.  But those big deal opportunities don’t come everyday.  We still need a sense of purpose–a sense of worth–every day.

Think of these “bothers” as mini-purposes–something to give you a sense of direction while you are waiting for the big expedition to start–whatever it is.  Life coaches suggest that you do something toward achieving your heart’s desire every day.  That’s something worth bothering about.  But so is keeping the relationships you cherish in good repair.  So is taking care of yourself–body, mind, and spirit.  So is cleaning the garage if it’s making you (or your partner) crazy when you need to find stuff in there.  These purposes aren’t the epic endeavors we’re taught to look for, but they are better than nothing.  They are a place to start.

If you can’t see your Purpose right now, settle for doing whatever you can see that seems worth doing.  That action may help define your grander direction outright.  It may just be setting the stage for something else that does.  Choosing things to “bother with” everyday can help you zoom in on Purpose.  The things you make the effort to do over the days and weeks and months create a map of what’s important to you and where your interests lie.

So if you’re stuck on this Purpose thing, give yourself a time out and just find something to bother with for now.  If you keep committing to something day after day, your Purpose may well become evident in the pattern you create.


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.


It Isn’t Always Either/Or

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

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?”



When You Don’t Know What to Do, Experiment

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

All too often, not knowing the exact right thing to do keeps us from doing anything at all. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in retirement–especially when you get to where what you are doing is impossibly boring and your whole life has gotten dull.  You know you need more.   You want more.  But you have no clue about what that more looks like or what direction it lies in.

So you sit and stew, getting more and more frustrated and having less and less fun.  This problem seems to be particularly true for guys.  When my newly retired then husband was in the throes of this kind of frustration, I told him “Do what you want to do!”  That didn’t help.  His answer was “If I knew what that was, I would do it.”  I’ve heard the same kind of lament from lots of other men since then.  It’s not a character flaw.  It’s an existential dilemma that’s a problem for many–men and women alike.  The questions is: What do you do about it?

What you do about it……is SOMETHINGJust sitting there waiting for  your life to be revealed by a sky writer or a serendipitous billboard is a tragic waste.  Try things.  They don’t even have to be things you expect to like.  They just need to be different than what you’ve been doing.

This advice may seem to contradict what I’ve been advocating for years–know yourself and do what you love.  But it doesn’t.  Not really.  This problem comes when you can’t figure out what you love.  It happens most often to people who focused almost exclusively on work during their earning years.  Whether you were a CEO or worked in the high school cafeteria, if your job was your life, you have a lot less to springboard from when the job eventually ends.  Trying stuff is one way to develop that foundation.  The more you try, the better you get at narrowing your choices down to what appeals to you–to new ways of both being involved and having fun.

One trick to “trying stuff” is to go in with an exit strategy.  Agree to volunteer for a certain event or a specific period of time rather than making a flat out commitment if you aren’t sure you’re going to  like it.  Go as a guest for a while rather than joining at the first meeting.  Take a weekend class rather than a full semester on a topic you’re not sure you’re going to like.  Most important, talk to people who are involved in what you want to check out.  People like to talk about what they love.  You can learn a lot about what’s involved without spending a dime for gear,  supplies, clothing, and training if you talk to enough people first.

But how do you even get to the point of deciding to try something?  There are lots of ways to do that.  The best one is, of course, to take action on whatever  catches your interest. Maybe you saw something on a website or in the newspaper or heard about it on the radio.  It may literally be a case of reading about it on a cereal box or having your friend beg you to help because he/she is shorthanded for something that needs to get done.  Once you notice it, Nike is right.  Just do it.

You can take the experiments beyond what you presort, too.  If you want to go that route, use an arbitrary resource to dictate what you’re going to try.  Make yourself do at least one thing listed in the local newspaper or radio station’s “things to do” every weekend.  Or work your way through any list you find–local art classes, local outdoor groups, hiking groups in the area.  Or choose the fifth MeetUp listed for your area on MeetUp.com (within reason).  Even if you don’t like it, doing it once will teach you a lot more about what you want than sticking to your same old boring routine.

Another way to get past the “what do I do next?” question is to start collecting articles that interest you.  Once you’ve gotten a bunch of these choices amassed, look at them as a group.  There will be patterns, either in topics you found interesting or in processes that intrigued you–or both–that can give you a push in the right direction.

Nobody ever got anywhere by sitting in the same place and waiting for the world to put them somewhere else. (Well…there may be some of that in violent acts of nature, but that’s not what I mean).  If you want a good life, you have to figure out what it is.  Sometimes, the best way to do that, is to try everything that crosses your path and see what happens.




Good Versus Easy

Friday, June 21st, 2013

The tee shirts are right. “Life is good.” They are also right in not proclaiming  “Life is easy.”  Or even worse “Easy is good.”  A good life is not easy–at least not all the time.

More to the point, easy is not always good.

It’s important to keep these distinctions in mind once you start looking at retirement.  A good life is not a matter of finding the easy way to get through each of those leisurely days.

If you compare the two words in the thesaurus, they aren’t even close.  Synonyms for “good” are things like respectable, honorable, decent, honest, kind, stable, obedient, etc.(That list goes on and on.)  Words listed as synonyms for “easy” are leisurely, simple, and lenient.  “Easy” lets you off the hook.  “Good” puts you on it.

But we’re encouraged to take to heart the notion that “easy is good” once we are ready to retire. Please don’t.  Easy is not good.  Easy, especially for a retired person, is death.

Use it or lose it is a very real phenomenon.  It’s easier not to climb stairs–but when you don’t, there goes muscle mass you could have kept and aerobic exercise you really need to keep your vitality.  It’s easier to watch TV than go out and meet new people.  But TV doesn’t stimulate you cerebral cortex and talking to others, or even better, learning something new with them, does.  Being engaged in a community of some sort helps ward off everything from Alzheimer’s to depression.

But we still feel gyped when we don’t have it easy after we retire.  We want “easy” when we hook up the TV, DVD, or whatever electronic device currently has us buffaloed.  What we really need is the challenge we’re trying to shirk.  We expect “easy” when we shop and “easy” when we transact personal business.  We get irate when things aren’t easy.

We want to believe we are entitled to “easy.”  That is like insisting we are entitled to smoking a pack a day.  Easy is not good for us.

And good is not easy.  That’s why it’s so satisfying when you pull it off.

Give yourself the gift that keeps on giving.  Don’t let your life be easy.  It means you’re sitting on the sidelines letting your brain cells die and the rest of your body atrophy.

Life is good.  But–if you want to be good to yourself–it should not be easy.


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.

Why the Golden Years Idea Doesn’t Work

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The prevailing assumption is that as we age, we like living where people are all like us and activities are ready-made. Active retirement communities are built on those two assumed needs. The whole thing is a tragic loss of vitality for those who buy in.  Diversity is essential to good mental health.  And when you fill your days with “something to do” that has no impact beyond your own entertainment, life gets confusingly empty after a while.

Playing all day every day is not all that satisfying for competent adults.  And that is why this leisure-centered mentality we have about retirement is all wrong.

Writer Calvin Trillin easily noticed the “frantic busyness” of Sun City, Arizona residents when he visited in the early 1960’s.  He observed that there was little to delineate the value of their assorted activities when the Golden Years model was still new. Yes, there were a lot of things to do, but few were meaningful.  Over fifty years later, we’re still trying to wring blood out of the same turnip.

Even volunteer programs that could add essential meaning are too often focused on “keeping the old folks busy” rather than maximizing the use of their experience and skills for that cause.  “Doing something” for the sake of being active is a far cry from doing something that makes a real contribution.  But as a culture, we’re still stuck on the idea that “old people can’t do much and need to be entertained.”

Recent research clearly establishes the importance of meaning and purpose for both mental and physical health. Human beings do not thrive doing nothing.  In particular, we don’t thrive doing “whatever I want” all day every day when we are old enough to retire.  We are capable of much, much more and need to be finding that.

Ken Dychtwald, one of the foremost experts on aging and retirement, established the following pattern in how “the Golden Years” mindset plays out:

  • 15 to 6 years before retirement – Imagination: you start to see retirement as part of your future and visualize it. You see the pluses—the adventure and empowerment that’s possible because you don’t have to show up for work every day.
  • 5 years before retirement – Anticipation: you begin to realize it is actually going to happen on a specific date and start the countdown to that. Your emotions become a combination of euphoria over your impending freedom and worries about whether you really do have enough money to stop working.
  • Retirement day to plus 1 year – Liberation: the freedom you’ve just been blessed with makes you euphoric. “Doing nothing” or at least doing whatever you want is fun.
  • 2 to 15 years after retirement – Reorientation: Feelings of emptiness and boredom surface as you tire of the lack of meaning in your life. Self-worth begins to suffer, sometimes resulting in emotional meltdown. You search for ways to give your life value.
  • 15+ years after retirement – Reconciliation: You find enough of what you need to settle into an acceptable groove as a retirement lifestyle. Your life is less exhilaring than the Golden Years model intimated, but it’s good enough.

This is Dychtwald’s summary of how it works based on research with thousands of people. Your personal route through that desert may not be that drawn-out. When my aunt, who raised seven kids and held a challenging job as a civil service employee the whole time, retired, she spent the first month in her pajamas because she was too depressed to do anything else. She was to disenchantment without any sense of liberation at all.  Lee Iacocca said he lasted about three weeks before he gave up and went back to work.

The Golden Years approach was better than what preceded it. Before this model, those who retired had neither ways to contribute or ways to play that were intended specifically for them.  But it’s simply not enough given how much has changed since The Golden Years idea made the scene 70 years ago. We are healthier and living longer. The economy has moved from manufacturing to information in terms of the heavy lifting. And there are way more of us.

It’s no longer a case of moving workers who can easily be replaced out of the picture and giving them the chance to putter for a few years. As a culture, we need to be using every ounce of talent we have the best way we can for benefit of both society and every individual—no matter how old they are.  There are too many problems that need solving to squander this talent pool.  And there are too many retirees who need more than fun to stay healthy.

Having a sense of purpose is critical. More and more research is coming out to support that. But to get a bead on your sense of purpose, you have to know yourself on a very intimate level. Your sense of purpose has to mesh with what you think is important if you want it to sustain you. Most of us haven’t had the chance to take a serious, straight-on look at what we value since we joined the work force.  You really want to do that.  Now.


Do Something Scary

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

“Do something every day that scares you.” That advice from Eleanor Roosevelt is particularly useful as we get older.  When we’re young, we don’t even think about what might go wrong with what we decide to do.  We just rush headlong into what looks like fun or seems like the right direction.  If you end up with a broken arm, you heal.  If you lose money, you get on with making more.

But in maturity, we become more tentative.  Maybe the break won’t heal properly and there’s no way to make more money if we lose what we have and are past the age of being paid to work.  Or so we think.  In truth, being too timid can cost a lot more than a wise risk.  We can second guess ourselves right out of a satisfying life.

It’s easy–and almost expected–to become afraid of pretty much everything as we age.  You might waffle about going on vacation to a new place and shy away from a meeting where you won’t know anyone.  You may keep wearing the same hairstyle or sports shirt because you know it works.  You rely on the same friends and do the same things for fun again and again so that you don’t have to step into that scary unknown beyond the familiar.  You read the same kinds of books and watch the same kind of TV shows.

With every act of same-and-familiar you build a smaller and smaller world for yourself.  Eventually, you will bore yourself to death.  Literally.

The truth is, we need to do scary stuff–no matter how old we eventually become.  We need to step beyond what’s easy and do something that’s got a challenge.  Quite often the challenge–especially after we’ve mastered a significant number of life skills–is in getting past the fear that the new thing engenders.

It’s good for us to do that. It’s the only way to build up the emotional muscle needed to get through the tough spots that come into every life.  It’s the door to the new experiences that make life interesting and keep your soul growing and your brain working.  It’s also the best way out there for affirming your self worth.  When you do what scares you, you’re a conqueror.  You’ve faced something that could have stopped you and overcome it.

Notice I’m not saying watch something scary.  Going to horror movies isn’t the same as facing a personal fear and getting on with what you’d planned to do anyway.  This is a do mandate, an action that you must take on your own behalf.  Getting the experience through someone else’s scary situation–be it in a movie, on TV, or in a book, is a really cheap counterfeit to the real thing.  It’s not going to give you anything to work with when life gets tough.

Some of us fear speaking in public.  Some of us fear going to a different city or part of town.  Some of us fear heights or water.  (I personally fear heights and water.  I get a dose of do-something-that-scares-you every time I have to cross a skinny bridge over a roaring mountain creek on a hike.)  We all fear something.  Find what you’re afraid of and use it.

A few days ago, there was a TV show about an unusual group of lions who had learned to swim.  Those lions are, supposedly (I doubt anyone came by and had them get on a scale), 15% bigger than their more timid land-sworn African counterparts because of the pectoral muscles they’ve developed swimming and hunting in the water.  They can access food that most lions can only watch from the shore.  They have evolved because they started going in the water–an act that initially had to be scary for them.

The more you do to help yourself keep going in spite of fear, the stronger you’re going to be for whatever comes into your life.

Another of good old Eleanor’s great quotes applies:  “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  Usually the thing that makes us think we can’t do something is fear.  Get past that natural inclination to shy away from what makes you afraid and use it as a springboard instead.


Leisure — The Salt of Life

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Some folks may be feeling sorry for themselves because the Great Recession trashed their Golden Years retirement plans.  That makes as much sense as being upset because the caterpillar turned into a butterfly.

We spend our working years looking forward to not working—to long lazy stretches of lying on the warm sand at a sunny beach or relaxing in a favorite recliner.  Reality is different though—100% leisure isn’t satisfying in the long haul.   Yep.  It’s a bad idea even if you can fund it.

Leisure is like salt–when you sprinkle a little on what you have cooking it brings out the flavor.  But if you try to exist on a steady diet of just salt, your meals are going to be not only very unpleasant.  They will be dangerous.

Too much salt can kill you.  That’s true of leisure as well. Leisure steals a lot of important emotional nutrients from your diet if you resort to it too often.  You don’t feel competent because you haven’t done anything to prove your mettle.  You lose confidence in yourself because you aren’t doing anything significant.  You start to ask yourself scary questions like “Why am I even here?” You lose your enthusiasm for life.  There’s no zing in “doing nothing.”

Leisure means you expend little, if any, effort.  It is not the same as play.  Play is far more active and personal—and much more essential.  According to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, play helps our brains develop, makes our empathy bloom, helps us navigate complex social situations, and is essential to creativity and innovation. Play is for everyone, too—not just kids.

Most of us do need more play when we retire.  Careers are built on the mantra of productivity and play is, by definition (at least by Dr. Brown), not productive.  So we don’t value play.  Stuart notes that the opposite of play isn’t work.  It’s depression.  So yes, we do need to play when we retire.  But play is active.  When you play, you are doing something and having fun at it.

Play is fun and we like to do it—at least once we can get past that productivity thing.  But we don’t need an exclusive diet of that either.  Play is like sugar—it sweetens up your life and makes things a lot nicer.  You need more of it than leisure—just like you use more sugar than salt in your cooking (unless you’re making dill pickles or sauerkraut).

But the real deal is flour.  (In a gluten-free environment, it’s just not wheat flour.)  You use flour—lots of it–in bread and pasta.  You use it for gravy and coating the chicken you are going to bake or—gasp!—fry. And, of course, there’s flour in cookies, cakes, and pastries.  In my kitchen analogy, the piece we need the most of, the “flour”, is work.

We need work, just like we need starch in our diets.  But just like whole grain flour is good for you and bleached white flour is not, meaningful unpaid work is better for you than anything you do for money that you don’t have your heart in.  The work you need when you retire should be more wholesome and more enriching—but it should be there.

Having to let go of the old Golden Years idea of retirement is probably the nicest “downside” of an economic mess if you’re looking at the last third of life.  If you can’t do the leisure-centered version of retirement, rejoice.  You didn’t need all that leisure.  You need a chance to play and a chance to do meaningful work along with that leisure.  With some effort and reflection, you might be able get both of those things in work you continue to do for pay.  If that’s not possible, you can still fit them into your day with a bit of ingenuity and effort because none of the three is a 24/7 requirement.  (Only basics like breathing truly fall in that category.)

Human beings are not made to sit around the swimming pool sipping mojitos day after day.  That kind of experience is only fun as an interlude–a break between more emotionally, mentally, and physically engaging activities. A little is pleasant.  A lot is a maddening prison.

Learn to play.  Find good work.  Sprinkle in some leisure every once in a while.  You’ll be miles ahead of the folks who packed the car and moved to Easy Street the day they stopped working.


A Fair Experience

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Have you ever been to the fair? This is the time of year for that where I live.  The crops are close to harvest, and it’s time to celebrate the wonders of local agriculture–and a lot more.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, a fair is where local farmers and ranchers gather to compete for “best” at what they do. These events have become a lot more than just a collection of ducks and rabbits in cages and cows being paraded around an arena though.  Most fairs have a lot going on.  It’s a great way to enjoy what you already love, but also to try new things, be it a bacon donut or watching artisans spin yarn.

This year, I went to our “half state fair” with a good friend.  (We live in a state bisected by mountains so the folks on the east side do a different thing.)  I have gone other years–with a spouse, a beau, a stepdaughter, a brother.  Each time was a very different experience.  I’m not a fair junkie.  I don’t “have” to go to the fair.  But when I do get there, I am always amazed at what I learn and what we do.

Learn new things. This time that was a draft horse driving demonstration.  (Think Budweiser beer commercials with different colored wagons…)  Did you know that Shetland ponies are considered draft animals?  I didn’t.  Other years I’ve learned about raising longhorn cattle, crafting custom saddles, and the rigors of 4-H sheep competitions.

You never know what you are going to learn if you just start wandering around.  That’s one of the really cool things about doing the fair.

Polish your buying skills.  Fairs have “commercial buildings” where vendors hawk their wares and fairgoers walk up and down the aisles.  This part is like any staged event–Home and Garden Show, Remodelers Weekend, etc.  Except the array of goods is broader.

There are two kinds of vendors at a fair.  Local businesses have a booth because it’s a great way to make local customers aware they exist.  They want your business on the things you are going to need to get done–cabinet refinishing, furnace and air conditioning needs, etc.  You talk to these guys if you need what they do.  Or sometimes because you already know them.

The other kind of vendor is the one who only exhibits at the fair.  You stop at these booths if what they are offering is unique.  Some of them can be pretty aggressive about “you’ll regret it if you don’t buy this right now.”  Flex your retail muscles with those guys.

This year there’s a guy selling infrared space heaters at “$200 less than you can get them anywhere else.”  If you have a smartphone you can check that claim on the spot.  (Amazon is selling them for $200 less than he was asking.)

Another piece of the retail challenge is deciding if you really need whatever they are selling.  I saw some truly beautiful pottery in the artisans’ sale area.  I have a weakness for beautiful pottery.  But much of what I already own is currently in storage.  No pottery this year.

Then there are the things that it just might be fun to own.  We were intrigued with a system of small vinyl sheets that could be contructed different ways to make a lampshade.  I might have bought those just for the fun of playing with them.

This is the part of the fair where you have the most fun by saying “no” in the right places.  We all need to practice that.

Get Your Daily Dose of Fear. Then there are the places where you need to say “yes.”  I subscribe to Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “do at least one thing every day that scares you.”  Not a big scare, just something that takes me out of my comfort zone.  At the fair, that may be standing in the dairy barn next to the pen with the massive bull, or it may be riding the Extreme Scream (Just kidding….).  You can get a little dose of fear a lot of ways at the fair.  (Eating a deep fried pickle probably even falls in that category.)

The great thing about the fair is that it’s such a wide array of possible experiences.  You can spend the whole day looking at the animals.  Or riding the amusement rides.  Or studying the quilts on exhibit in an attempt to figure out “how did they do that?”  All of it stretches you.  Stretching is good.