December 11, 2017

What Is Retirement?

I can assure you of one thing: retirement is not what it was for your parents, maybe even an older sibling. The environment that created the Sun City model of endless golf in a tract home under the desert or Florida sun is vanishing and not likely to return. Are there still folks who live like that and even aspire to that type of life? Absolutely, and there is nothing wrong with it if that is how you describe a satisfying retirement. But, there is a shift that is well underway.

In large part that model for retirement depended on an employer who paid you a pension and took care of your medical bills in exchange for 30 or more years of loyalty. That model depended on a system of affordable housing that would increase in value, little by little, year after year. That model depended on a banking and investment system that believed in a fair profit but managed to keep the most greedy and immoral members of its community under check or quickly disposed of. That model depended on a government that worked, compromised as needed, and understood that we are all in this together. To create a nation of a few haves and a whole bunch of have-nots was in no one's longterm interest.

That model has been severely damaged, if not shattered. Certainly, there will be an increasingly  large percentage of our citizens who have no real expectation of a standard retirement lifestyle. The financial meltdown of almost 10 years ago destroyed too many nest eggs and shredded financial plans. Working as long as possible will be essential, or even desired, by many. 

For those who do plan on retiring there has been a shift in expectations. With retirement now likely to stretch over 20 or even 30 years or more, roughly 25% or more of one's life span can occur after full time employment has ended. With better health, folks are likely to stay active and vital well into their 80's. Looking forward to just sitting in the recliner, watching TV, and puttering in the garden doesn't hold much attraction for many.

So, for those whose future holds a promise of retirement, what has it become? What is retirement now? What are the basic elements that build a satisfying retirement and are, at least to some degree, under your control?

Retirement is not the end of something. It is just a change in direction.

Originally, the concept of retirement was a vision of a life of leisure and a worry-free existence. After years of toil, it meant full time relaxing with some travel and time with the grandkids for the last decade or so of life. 

Very few of us would be satisfied with that retirement lifestyle today. As noted, we probably have two or three decades of life ahead of us. Ending full time employment means we are simply entering the next stage of our life, a stage that offers as much fulfillment and excitement as we wish it to.

Our life is made up of different phases, or stages: youth and life with parents, going away to college or moving away from home and starting our own life, starting our own family while working to support that life, and now, retirement.

Retirement is more control of your most valuable asset: Time.

During the first few stages of life most of us spend time to generate income, on relationships, social commitments, and to build a particular lifestyle that makes us happy. Control of this resource is turned over to others.

When we enter the retirement stage, we are given the opportunity to grab much of that control back. As we get older, we become much more aware of the value of time, and its rapid passing. I wrote awhile back about the odd phenomenon of weeks, months, even whole years racing by much more quickly in my 60's than they did in my 40's. As I become more aware of its value, the more quickly I seem to spend it. But retirement does gives me the opportunity to be purposeful and diligent in how I spend my time. I am more likely to eliminate time wasters from my schedule.

Retirement is freedom to explore that unique creature: You

Parts of me that are uniquely me were kept under wraps in my working years stage. During that time I used certain gifts and talents I had been given to earn a living and help raise two incredible daughters. But, I felt there was more of me waiting to emerge, I just didn't know what.

When given the time and freedom of retirement I began to experiment. I tried new hobbies. I discovered the gym. I had a brief fling at bird-watching and hiking. I wrote a travel book about Arizona. But, I was still looking. I started playing the guitar. I became a lay counselor at our church with the Stephen Ministry program. All these activities were fun and fulfilling, but some part was still itching, waiting to be scratched.

Then, I moved onto prison ministry and writing this blog and two books. When I retired 16 years ago I never would have  guessed either activity was in my future. But, that is what makes retirement so satisfying and exciting: I don't know what lies ahead but I have the opportunity to find out.

What is retirement? It is a time of your life when you can take center stage. It is when you can explore all that makes you so special, a creature who will never be duplicated. Isn't that thought incredibly exciting?

Note: if you missed the recent post about Retirement Done Differently take a look for some ideas on how this stage of your life can take on a whole new look.

December 9, 2017

Technology and Seniors: What is Available To Help Us?

Just in time for holiday shopping I was contacted by an organization that represents author Lisa Cini. Her 2016  book, The Future is Here: Senior Living Re-imagined, explores the increasingly important role of technology in helping us take care of ourselves or those we love. 

I thought you might enjoy taking a look at some of the newer products that are available now and  could change the way we live. To learn more, type in the name of any of the products that intrigue you in Google search.

Satisfying Retirement has received no compensation for this post, nor is this an endorsement for any of the products listed. This is strictly for your information.

December 6, 2017

Are We Defined By Our Health?

It is absolutely true that if a group of seniors gather, medical conditions and problems will be discussed. We seem to eagerly trade stories of a misdiagnosis, a lingering illness that won't go away, a troubling test result, or the struggles of a friend or relative. 

Ask young people about their future as older folks and declining health is likely to be part of their description. Watch a TV show that includes an older character and he or she will probably show some evidence of physical or mental impairment. 

I suggest that too often people of our age are defined by our health rather than something positive about our lifestyle or accomplishments. And, that description comes from not just younger people, but us as well. It seems almost like a badge of honor to talk about our diabetes or high blood pressure. Special diets and a regime of pills validates us as officially a senior.

Recently, I was listening to a program on the Internet, produced by the BBC's station in Northern Ireland. It dealt with the problems that come from misconceptions about what older folks can do and need. Government and the private sector have ideas what being 65, 70, or 80 means. They attempt to approach what they perceive as our reality with programs and products. 

One of the comments that generated the idea for this post was this tendency to think of older people by their limitations and not their potential. The idea that retirement is not the end but the beginning of a completely different stage of life is a recent development but something that is not universally believed.  One of the people interviewed on that show is 42. She said she is looking forward to being 65 and free to start something completely new from what she is doing now.

What a great attitude, and one that represents the feeling that most retirees I come in contact with have: age means freedom, opportunity and rejecting artificial boundaries.

Of course, we have declines in health. That comes from being human. We are not as spry as we once were. Our memory has some holes in it. Hearing aids are used when needed. It may take a bit longer to stretch and feel limber each morning. 

So what? If that is what happens as the physical body ages, why do we allow others (and ourselves) to define us by what is very natural? Why do we think about the walls instead of the space beyond? Why do we define who we are by what our bodies are doing instead of  what we can do? 

Talk about anything but your last visit to a doctor!

May I suggest next time you are with a group of friends you don't talk about health problems, but life experiences. Talk about what is new or different in your life. Get really brave and start a discussion about some political issue. Ask what travel plans others have. 

Just don't compare medical charts. 

If you have a spare 27 minutes and want to listen to the BBC show I mentioned above, click this link: Live Long, Work Long?

December 4, 2017

6 Months later: Do I Miss Our RV?

The short answer is, Yes.

Last spring we sold our 12 year old RV for several reasons. There was at least $5,000 worth of repairs and replacements that needed to be taken care of. At 138,000 miles, lots of years of bouncing around America had added enough squeaks and groans, shimmies and shudders, to make each trip tiring for the driver (me!) and noisy for the passengers (Betty and Bailey).

Living in Arizona means that we have to drive quite a bit to escape the desert and scrub brush. If traveling east we need at least three days before things became slightly green. Heading toward California we could be in pretty areas within a day, but traffic, bad roads, and expenses came along for the ride.

Because of the heat, very few things could be left in the RV between trips. All lotions, liquids, candles, even canned and boxed food, had to be put in before a trip and taken out as soon as we arrived home. Betty and I were spending a few days on each side of a trip loading, unloading, cleaning and doing multiple loads of laundry. Taking a "getaway" meant a lot of work and preplanning.

At our home in Scottsdale, we were able to park the RV on a side yard. That meant we could plug in the electricity, get the refrigerator going, and quickly load what we needed for a particular trip.

The new home does not have such an easy option. The HOA will approve parking large vehicles as long as they are not visible from the street. We would have needed to spend close to $2,000 to make a place for the RV. All neighbors who could see the vehicle in our yard would need to give us approval to store it within their view. 

We were left with the option of paying over $1,000 a year to store the RV, outside, baking in the sun, 15 minutes away. All that stored up heat was beginning to fade the exterior and all the inside fabrics. Rubber seals and plastic tubing were beginning to split. With no way to keep it plugged in, batteries were dying and pre-cooling the refrigerator was impossible.

Even so, I miss my freedom machine. Maybe I miss the "concept" of an RV more than the actual vehicle and the financial commitment it entailed. The idea that Betty, Bailey, and I could find an opening on our calendar, throw a few things together, and break away from routine is still attractive to me. Being out of the Phoenix heat for part of the summer is a tremendous plus. Traveling with a dog in a car for long stretches of time is not practical, nor is leaving her in a kennel for more than 5 or 6 days at a time.

We visited 32 states in the just over the 4 years we owned R.T. (Road Trip). The memories and photos are wonderful tradeoffs for the various hassles and work. We saw places we would never have experienced any other way. We learned to live together in a small space for almost 2 months at a time. Bailey hated the riding part of each trip but absolutely loved all the new smells and places to explore.

With the cost of a new decently-sized RV somewhere between $70-$90,000 for another Class C, or $90-250,000 for a comparable Class A motorhome, that is not likely to happen. Renting is a poor option: all the work of prep and cleanup at several hundred dollars a day.

So, we made our decision and agreed it was best. But, now half a year later, I will admit I am having second thoughts.  I have been looking at various dealers in the Phoenix area that have a good selection of used RVs with low mileage. I have asked Betty about her thoughts. I have discussed the fun we could have in modifying and personalizing another rig.

Yes, I miss the RV lifestyle. Yes, we may consider another one at some point. Yes, I may be slightly crazy.