December 13, 2019

It Made me Angry

As promised, this is the first post under the broader heading of Satisfying Retirement. As noted in To Everything There Is a Season, after nine plus years of writing about regular retirement topics, I felt the need to make a course correction. I began to feel that writing only about typical retirement concerns was no longer being honest with my feelings and deepest concerns. Plus, it was becoming kind of boring.

Retirement is a unique stage of life. We have the time and freedom to become more involved in the world around us. The status of our investments, relationships, where to travel, and how to maneuver through the maze of Medicare and Social Security are important. They come with the territory.

But, is that enough? There is a much bigger world beyond our personal retirement concerns and lifestyle. There are forces at work that are changing how all of us live. There are problems that we can only ignore at our own peril. There are powers at work that will impact us whether we want them to or not.

I want to address them, too.

Then there are parts of our lives that are worth exploring. Spirituality, mortality, being more mindful of each passing day come to mind. So do thoughts on a more spartan lifestyle, a health approach or diet that seems to work. How about keeping a long term marriage interesting and vibrant? What movies are we seeing or books are we reading that leave a lasting impression? All sorts of possibilities are possible topics.

I realize this comes with risks. I appreciate that some regular readers of this blog may be dismayed by this more diverse direction and decide to go elsewhere. If that is you, know you go with my blessing and support. There are several more traditional retirement blogs listed on the right sidebar I invite you to visit and make them your new home.

I am hoping that many of you will stay. You are encouraged to leave comments and express your feelings on subjects that may be important to you. It would be satisfying if new readers find this blog and discover a place to learn, think, challenge, and grow. I will do my best to welcome a diversity of opinion. I will not simply express my views on a particular subject and ask you agree with all that I write. That would be boring, for you and me, and not help contribute to the conversations we must have.

OK, so with all that said, what "Made Me Angry" enough to be the first post under the wider scope of  Satisfying Retirement?

Harriet Tubman (1822-1913)
It was a movie I saw recently with my wife and one of my daughters. Harriet is the powerful, gut-wrenching, anger-inducing, tear generating story of Harriet Tubman. Born in 1822 in Maryland, this rather diminutive woman was a powerful giant in forcing a society's attitude toward slavery and human rights to begin to change.

Her story is one of courage, love of family, and placing personal safety behind the need to help right a wrong. She was responsible for the escape to freedom of hundreds of slaves through the work of the Anti Slavery society in Philadelphia and as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. She worked tirelessly to help change the American mindset that slavery was either necessary or could be tolerated to maintain economic and social stability.

This isn't the place to go through Ms. Tubman's full story. The movie is worth your time, or the library and Internet can give you glimpses into her amazing life. What I want to address is my strong reaction to this story: Anger....anger at the treatment of human beings as animals and property based simply on skin color and history.

The idea that one class or race can own another goes back thousands of years. But, to fully appreciate that a country founded on freedom from religious and political oppression could allow, no, encourage human slavery, is almost too hard to process. It is a dark, evil part of our our collective past. There is no way to paint it as something other than what it was. 

Getting (and staying) angry at something historical is important, but there is a bigger takeaway. While slavery may not exist legally anymore, one must be willfully blind to not see racial discrimination is still a powerful, daily part of American society. Do even a minimal amount of Google research on shootings and police mistreatment of blacks, or racial profiling in real estate, education, and employment and my point will be made.

Look at the immigration debate and border situation, see through some of the political posturing, and you must see racism, coupled with fear of "the other," as part of the problem. Yes, illegal border crossings are a huge problem that must be corrected. It is an issue that doesn't lend itself to slogans or simple solutions. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, less than 200 miles from the porous border with Mexico, so I live close to the center of the problem.

But, to stigmatize those desperate for a better life as criminals and rapists is not that different from the fear used to control and maintain slavery over 170 years ago. Just like in slavery times, to tear families apart as a tool of control and power is just as cruel and useless. Migration issues are for another post, so I will stop here except to emphasize that the damage done by hate and racism is ongoing. Slavery comes in many different forms.

I hope that the disappointment, and anger I felt after seeing Harriet doesn't simply fade from my consciousness over time. When presented with the opportunity to confront racism or racial profiling in all its various forms, I pray I will have the fortitude to speak up. I dream of a time when this subject is a foul part of our history, not part of our present and future.

Thanks for reading.

Note: I was sad (and disappointed) to learn of a series of harassing verbal assaults, written racial slogans and graffiti against Asian and African-American students on the walls of various buildings at my alumnus, Syracuse University, in late November. It had gotten so bad that all social functions at all Greek Fraternities were banned for the last few weeks of the fall semester.

I am sure this kind of stuff happened when I was a student and fraternity member there in the late 60's and early 70's, though it seemed we spent our energy demonstrating against the Vietnam War and that dreaded Industrial-Military complex.

Syracuse has had a reputation of being a liberal, progressive, welcoming school. Obviously, the type of hatred and intolerance that Harriet portrays and we read about every day, has infected every corner of our world.

It makes me angry.

December 10, 2019

To Everything There Is A Season

Sunsets must follow sunrises

After roughly 3,500 days of writing about retirement I'm pretty sure I have discussed, explained, validated, and probed the topic as much as anyone.

After nearly 3.5 million views of this blog, the message of what makes a satisfying retirement has been read by a lot of people.

After 24,000 comments have been posted and a few thousand spam-like ones have been deleted , a community has been established that is respectful, engaged, and eager to share.

All these statistics add up to one conclusion: Satisfying Retirement has had a good run. When I retired in 2001 I found very little that spoke to me about all aspects of what I was about to face. That led to the decision to try to fill a void in non-financial-oriented retirement information. This blog was launched in June of 2010. I had no idea what would happen. 

To say I have been pleasantly surprised and pleased would be an understatement. Friendships, dear and important to me, have been formed. Interactions with readers from over a dozen different countries have enriched my life and broadened my understanding of the human condition. We have been through a lot together and I m a better person because of our shared time.

All this bring me to a necessary conclusion: change is constant. Evolution is ongoing. At some point a new direction must be pursued and new challenges accepted. At some point all wells begin to run dry; then it is time to drill a new one. To everything there is a season.

I am making some changes to Satisfying Retirement. I feel my take on just this one subject needs broadening. What I am doing is expanding the focus from just the nuts and bolts of retirement to include some of the issues I feel passionate about, things that this retired person has the time and maybe even the responsibility to address.

What exactly? Well things like climate change, racial tensions, gender equality, and income inequality would make that list. My recent spiritual journey that has meant important adjustments to a lifetime of beliefs seems likely. These topics will be interspersed with retirement-oriented topics that continue to be important and generate solid feedback. 

Politics? Occasionally, but infrequently. There is plenty of that from other places, and it tends to generate more heat than light. Even so, there will be times when something going on in that sphere compels me to speak out.

To write about subjects that aren't strictly retirement-oriented I must be prepared to endure some comments that maybe less "pleasant"  than what this blog has generated. I will need a thicker skin and a double dose of patience. Convictions and feeling can be strong when these topics are discussed.

At the same time I must be open to learning from reasonable arguments and positions that differ from mine. It would be wonderful if the type of active, involved community of readers I have been privileged to experience continues even with some different topics. I certainly will encourage respectful diversity. 

Also, we have all worked too hard together for me to want to abandon the Satisfying Retirement name to someone who won't treat it well. I just feel the need to take it in a wider direction under the same brand name.

You have been a big part of my (and Betty's) life since 2010. I sincerely hope you will join me as I continue on a new, somewhat wider path.

December 7, 2019

A Different Take On Fall Cleaning

No, this post has nothing to do with cleaning out closets, garages, and storage areas, though all those are good things to do as cold weather arrives to stay. This is a more subtle kind of fall cleaning, but still very important to your satisfying retirement. This is the time of year when we usually face a busier schedule, more calls for our help, and more demands on our energy. So, I am suggesting this is the perfect time to fall clean yourself. 

Just like a closet in your home can easily reach a cluttered, disorganized stage, so can our minds. Both require regular thinning out, re-prioritizing, and replacing worn out stuff with something newer and better suited to our needs.

I have written before about dumping personal habits that no longer serve their purpose. Just a few weeks ago I posted Declutter, Delete, Repeat.  Rather than revisit that topic, I'd like to explore a different kind of mind-cleaning: the buildup over time of commitments, must-dos, should-dos, and want-to-dos. Most of us hold onto a self-image that says we can do anything we set our mind to. When a friend calls we respond. When an interesting new volunteer opportunity arises we squeeze it in. When a friend recommends a new book to read, we get it and put it on the teetering stack by the bed.

Think of the messiest place in your home. Let's assume it is a hall closet: try to jam too much in and it becomes useless. You can't open the door without the risk of something falling on your head. When you need an item in the back of the closet you must take time to remove things that are blocking your way. The more we try to squeeze into that space the less it can perform its intended function. Finally, we are forced to take drastic action: take everything out and put back only the stuff that belongs there.

Our minds can become just like that closet. We try to pack in so much that we actually end up harming our productivity and happiness. Year after year we fill our schedule with meetings, events, and activities that no longer satisfy us or fit our lifestyle. Our mental closet has no space left to actually enjoy what we are doing. We go through the motions because we always have.

Fall is a good time to:

Stop doing what you do every fall and take the time to decide if everything continues to fit your life. Does that organization you belong to still meet your needs? What about the three time a week exercise class at 6:00 AM that leaves you dragging for the rest of the day? Is meeting friends at the coffee shop every Friday still a joy? Do I really have to dust every other day? Could I save a lot of money if I cooked at home more often?

Look at your options. The great thing about retirement is you have the freedom to look at how your life is going and make changes if you want to. Look at all the options you have for social interaction, hobbies, strengthening your body and health through new exercise routines, or going back to college to get that long-delayed degree. Think about your important there something I can do to make things nicer around the house? If I hire a cleaning service I can start those night classes I've always wanted. Can I squeeze that into my budget?

Listen to your heart. Too often I think we discount the importance of our emotions when we make decisions. During our working lives, usually thinking with your heart as well as your head can get you into trouble. Rare is the job where logical thought, an ordered system, and performance-based evaluations are balanced against how all of it makes you feel. But, now, you can listen to what your heart is telling you. Does this feel right? Am I more content if I do this instead of that? Is it less "productive" but makes me smile? Your heart can't always overrule your head, but at least give it a chance to be heard.

We all learned to Stop, Look & Listen near train tracks. That continues to be good advice. satisfying retirement requires that you keep a balance between your head and your heart. If something you are doing doesn't bring you joy or satisfaction and you can choose to do something else, then do so. The person best able to judge your performance is you.

December 3, 2019

How Would You Answer These Questions?

Hard to believe it has been this long, but almost four years ago a very popular blogger, Tess Marshall, decided to stop her The Bold Life blog and move onto other challenges. At one point a few years before she stopped posting, she published a list of 50 questions about personal growth. I printed that post and had it on my desk for probably a year or more.

Cleaning out old files last week and guess what I found? Some of the questions from Tess's list. I thought you might enjoy some of her questions and some of my confessional answers. I haven't updated my responses, except noting that my Dad has passed away since this was written, though the example I mention is worth repeating.

1) Have you been spontaneous in the last five days? 

Part of the joy of a satisfying retirement is the ability to not be locked into a schedule as rigid as the one you probably maintained during your working years. Sure, you have obligations and commitments, sometimes too many. You'll find many posts here about the importance of time management. Lots of comments from readers tell stories of finding themselves busier than ever and wondering how to fit in everything. I certainly struggle with that problem.

So, the answer to Tess's question is: not nearly enough. I use Google's calendar function to the extreme. Between it and an extensive to-do list there is little in my life that isn't planned ahead of time. My family jokes that I have my weekend chore list done 6 months in advance. No, I don't. It only goes into late April. So there.

But, spontaneity and I are distant cousins. Sure, every once in awhile I'll suggest dinner out instead of what is on the menu for that night. Or, maybe I'll throw caution to the wind and decide to have a picnic lunch on a warm afternoon. But, a truly spontaneous act, like deciding on an overnight trip, throwing a change of clothes in a suitcase and jumping in the car 30 minutes later doesn't happen. I'm just too regimented. I would like to change but I don't know how. Do you have any suggestions? 

2) Have you spent quality time with a loved one in the past 48 hours?

(Written seven years ago. My dad passed away in 2015 at age 91). At the time I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, the answer is yes. My dad's 88th birthday was yesterday. Betty, one of my daughters, and I joined him for dinner at a nicer restaurant. We presented him with a picture, taken 70 years ago, of my dad, his dad, and one of his brothers after a hunting trip. That triggered all sorts of stories of his life during the depression, all the jobs he held to help support the family, and the various sporting teams he was part of during high school. 

Importantly, his dad died of a heart attack not long after that picture was taken. We think it may be the last one of my dad and his father together in a photo. That made the birthday present and our chat at dinner that much more meaningful. With mom gone, dad depends on us to be the people he can love and hug. That time with him was important for us all.

3) Have you disconnected from all electronics for at least 24 hours in the last month?

No. As a post a few days ago related, my Twitter account was hacked into and used to send spam to thousands of unsuspecting folks. To force the evil person to go elsewhere I shut my account down for a few days. But, I was still tightly leashed to all my other electronic outlets. Between three computers, a smart phone, and now a Kindle Fire, I can't wander far. Add in my habit of watching Netflix most nights, and  electronics have a real hold. 

Could I go 24 hours without any of these tools and toys? Seriously, I don't know. Then I guess the question is, does it matter? What would be better if I took a 24 hour sabbatical? I'd be willing to give it a try if I saw a positive benefit. this electronic linkup bad? Should I disconnect for a day? Why? Tell me.

4) Have you read a book from cover to cover within the last 2 weeks?

Actually, two books finished within the last 14 days, and several more in various stages of completion. I find mysteries and thrillers relaxing so there is always at least one on the nightstand. I am reading two books about being a better chess player. I have a few books for our church small group and men's Bible study that are needed for weekly meetings. 

I try to read one book a week and have several others underway. I truly believe it helps my life, I know it helps this blog, and it keeps me plugged into the world in a way that the Internet and social media can't.

5) Have you spent some time in nature this  last week?

This is the time of year when living in the Phoenix area is a true blessing. So, the answer is, absolutely. Picnics, walks around neighborhood parks, hiking through parts of the mountain preserves, and enjoying places like the Desert Botanical Garden and Scottsdale's Railroad Park keep me and my wife in touch with nature. Sitting on the Ramada and reading, having lunch in the backyard, and keeping the bird feeders full allow us to enjoy fresh air and natural stimulation. All too soon the temperatures will make most of these activities unpleasant so we make an extra effort to be outside now.

6) Have you looked into someone's eyes and said, "I love you" in the last seven days?

Yes..actually several times every day. That is one of the real benefits of satisfying retirement and a happy marriage. 

November 29, 2019

Restating the Obvious, or Eat Your Vegetables Advice

Some blogs, web sites, newspapers and magazines love to hand out rather simplistic advice, delivered in bite-site portions: The top 7 ways to prepare for retirement, 10 ways to live a healthier life, 8 steps to declutter your home.

I call this "eat your vegetables" advice. It is common knowledge, it is obvious, and it is virtually useless. Not because top 10 lists are inherently bad or flawed. But, because most of these approaches assume that a "one-size-fits-all  actually works. I suggest it doesn't.

There is nothing more unique than your life. A list of possible solutions to your problems or opportunities can't hurt.  Over the 9 plus years of this blog I have offered my fair share. They might remind you of something you have neglected for too long. One of them could prompt you to action. But, there is no way anyone telling you the best 10 ways to do anything can really solve your problems. Life issues aren't that easy to fix. They certainly won't be resolved by scanning a list.

So, what do you do? Clearly I am not about to list 10 steps you should take to solve your problems. Rather, as we approach a new year, I am suggesting you do some heavy lifting and develop your own approach to what needs attending to. It may be finding a new passion or something that interests you, fixing or strengthening a relationship, deciding how you are going to simplify your life, or figuring out how you are going to solve the financial bind you find yourself in.

Some of us do better with learning more about a subject before we move forward. Taking a community college course or two may be all you need to feel comfortable enough to better manage your money. The library has books, audio, and video resources on virtually every subject. The Internet has almost too much information to choose from.

Maybe your personality thrives in a mentoring type arrangement. You find a friend or the friend of a friend who knows what you need to know. Develop a relationship where you get what you need (information), and the other person gets what he or she needs (feeling needed).

I know people who find answers through solitude. Turning off the cell phone and computer, staying at home or finding a place to go for a day or more allows the brain to mull over the issue at hand. The freedom from distractions and everyday responsibilities can be tremendously energizing. Try it. You may find yourself with new ideas. Or, you may simply find yourself relaxed and refreshed with no specific solutions to a problem at that time. Both outcomes are positives.

You may be the type that needs hard physical work to allow your creative side to be released. By doing a manual task that requires little active thinking, your mind is free to explore solutions. As a side benefit you finish something on your to-do list.

What works best for me is is usually learning more about a subject or quiet time to think about what I have discovered. I do tend to over-study a problem before moving forward...I'm working on that. Sometimes I will see an article in the paper or a phrase from a book that will grab my attention and give me an idea that I kick around for awhile. Then, I decide if it is worth pursing.

The point of all this is simple: a list that suggests it can help you have a happier, more fulfilling life by checking the items off like a grocery list is not going to work. Life's problems and needs can't be reduced to such an easy format. Put in the effort to discover the approach that works best for you and develop your own action list.

Oh, and eat your vegetables. They are good for you. That advice is true.