February 24, 2011

Cultivate Resilience For a Satisfying Retirement

What is resilience? It is the ability to rebound or spring back from a problem or disappointment. It is an important emotional and physical characteristic. Without resilience a person can become discouraged by failures and simply give up. Even minor setbacks can become debilitating.

Having a satisfying retirement is really a case study in resilience. When your days of working full time come to an end, much of what you have known ends too. Your sense of self, your financial underpinnings, possibly your access to good health care, your social structure, your relationships with others, all will undergo changes.

Some people have serious  problems adapting to the differences. Others may stumble around a bit but eventually find their stride and move into this new phase of life with the enthusiasm and energy of a teenager. I am convinced attitude is one of the keys to retirement success. Resilience is one of the hallmarks of attitude. I'd like to share a few examples of resilience from my family. They occurred several years after retirement but are examples of bouncing back that can help us see what is possible.

My Dad spend a part of his career in engineering and sales unemployed and looking for a job. He was good at what he did but always seemed to be with a small company that either went out of business or was bought by someone else and downsized. I remember stacks of resumes on the dining room table, rolls of postage stamps, and a hopeful look when the mail came or the phone rang. I'm sure he was discouraged from time to time but it never showed. He was always cheerful. Our home life didn't change during these periods even though money must have been quite tight. Mom continued to teach and we simply ate more casseroles. Eventually, something would come his way and off he'd go to work with the same briefcase and the same happy attitude. His resilience wasn't recognized by me then, but I can see in now.

My Mom had several years of health challenges starting about 6 years ago. She gradually became less mobile. Her eyesight began to disappear 5 years ago, fading away completely about 18 months before her death. After breaking a leg and ankle she became confined to bed. Eventually heart failure ended her life in December. With all that she never lost her fascination with life, her interest in her sons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids. She refused to accept the limitations her health imposed on her until the last month when she requested hospice care. She refused to become negative and did everything she could to bounce back from every problem.

After her death Dad has shown another type of resilience that few in his family expected to see. After 63 years of marriage and virtually no time apart after each retired, Mom and Dad were inseparable. Often it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. For her memorial service, it was tough finding pictures with just Mom in the shot. Dad was always right next to her.

Much to our surprise, he has not withered and become depressed with the loss of his other half. Perhaps it is his personality to think positively and reject bad thoughts. Perhaps he had to put his entire life on hold for the last few years of Mom's life to care for her all day, everyday, and welcomes having some "me" time again.

Whatever the reason, he has adjusted beautifully. He is back singing in two different choirs. He has lunch with friends they both knew for years. He has a stack of a dozen books that he is working through. He is an avid Phoenix Suns fan and never misses a game on TV. Ask him about last night's effort and he becomes animated and excited in describing the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the contest. He comes to family picnics. He has a regular schedule of washing his clothes and dishes. He keeps the house neat and organized. Does he miss his wife? Absolutely. Does he get lonely? I'm sure. Does he allow those feelings to dominate his life? No way. He is showing tremendous resilience.

Just like my Mom, he has has shown that he is not afraid to step over that line of fear we all draw sometime in our life. This may not have been how he figured his last years would be spent. But, he is showing a resilience that is an example for anyone. By the way, his 87th birthday is Friday. Happy birthday, Dad.

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  1. Inspirational. Happy b-day to your dad!

  2. Thanks Rick. The family is taking him on a picnic Saturday. 87...hard to believe.

  3. The approach to life taken by your parents is something for all of us to emulate. Many of us have not taken the time to recognize the importance of good parental role models.

  4. Resilience is often overlooked, even when right in front of us. I didn't recocognize it in my Dad during his periods of unemployment. But now it is quite obvious.

  5. Happy Birthday to your dad.
    My mother took about a year- but is up and involved.
    It is wonderful to see that type of personality- isn't it?

  6. I hope I can respond as well as he has if I'm ever in that situation. Thanks, Janette.

  7. Jeanette,

    Just checked out your blog, Post Work Savvy. Looks fascinating. Thanks for stopping bye earlier today with your comment and leaving the link.

  8. So good to hear your dad is doing well after his recent loss - not an easy task but truly shows his resilience as you describe. I can totally relate to your story of his career - sounds like mine in a nutshell! Talking with my son recently he mentioned how proud he was of me keeping a positive attitude and smile on my face while in between jobs or while stuck at a "bad job" that would normally suck the life out of someone. Amazing how much a little praise from the boy can brighten my day!

  9. Hi Dave,

    Yes, that bit of praise means the world. It is really special for your son to confirm you in that way.

    I wish I had been more aware of what was going in my family to be more supportive. But, both Mom & Dad kept any fear and upset away from their 3 sons. I don't think any of us had any idea what type of financial straits they must have been in.

  10. Bob,
    Cheers for your Dad. Does his job and keeps on smiling. And fantastic for him that he keeps on after losing your mother. You have a great inspiration.

  11. I have two good role models to follow.


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