May 16, 2017

Is That All There Is?

The end of a day: Is that it?

If the title reminds you of a song by Peggy Lee, you are definitely a boomer retiree. In a rather bleak view of life, the lyrics suggest that if this is as good as it is going to get then let's dance and party before the final disappointment of death. During a time of upheavals in the late 1960s, this was a top 15 hit for Ms. Lee. 

Why such a bleak title and introduction to this post? Take comfort, dear reader, the song's mood is not reflective of mine. I am not in the throes of despair. I do receive emails on a rather regular basis, however, that express at least some of this feeling about retirement.  There are three primary concerns: What did I do? I loved my job, I will run out of money, or my spouse is driving me crazy.

I certainly understand these concerns. I flirted with similar ones after leaving the workforce 16 years ago. I didn't think I was ready financially, emotionally, or socially...pretty much a clean sweep of feeling unprepared. Eventually, everything sorted itself out. For the almost seven years of writing this blog, I hope I have conveyed the message that retirement has the potential of making this stage of life productive and satisfying. 

Even so, I would guess we have asked ourselves, "is this all there is," every now and then. It is part of the human condition to wonder what we are accomplishing and what comes next. What sets us apart of other species is this need to question, to speculate, to hope.

At its core, retirement is the only time in our lives when a lot of the answers to those eternal questions are under our control. No, we can't change the facts of mortality. We have only limited control over health issues that may have been baked into our genes from day one. But, that leaves tremendous wiggle room, doesn't it?

I am constantly inspired by stories of folks with severe limitations achieving remarkable things. I think of those who compete in marathons in their wheelchairs, or on artificial legs. I think of people who are unable to move any part of their body below the neck, who have mastered painting, using a computer, or writing a book by grasping a brush or stick in their mouths to accomplish these tasks. 


Photo by A.G. Bell
A perfect example is the the story of Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, she mastered communication, learned to speak, and became an author, activist, and lecturer. Anne Sullivan, her teacher and constant companion, showed an awe-inspiring level of patience and determination to young Helen. When I am tempted to complain because I have some morning stiffness in my fingers or a sore back, Helen Keller pops to mind; I am embarrassed by my petty complaints.

While we still on this side of the dirt, the reality is there is never a time when it is appropriate to ask, "is that all there is?" Because the answer is an emphatic, "No!" If you settle for what doesn't make you happy or fulfilled, then it is on you. 

Maybe you can't change your physical condition or location. It is not all that uncommon for retired folks to live on a tight  sometimes barely adequate budget. I certainly get enough emails from unhappy spouses (of both sexes) who feel trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. I am not minimizing the real pain and frustration that can accompany those situations. 

But, I do suggest that you have the ability to rise above each of those scenarios. Strictly physical problems do not have to affect your ability to think, create, write, or enjoy the sound of the birds in your backyard. A pet could care less that you can't walk or run. He will love you anyway.

A tight budget forces you to be creative. Can't afford a computer or Internet connection? Your local library has both. Going out to eat is so infrequent you forget how to order off a menu? Become a great cook at home. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine, and make an ordinary dinner something special.

If you have tried everything to make things work well with your spouse, and divorce isn't an option for many reasons, reassert your individuality. Do what makes you happy. Carve out times of the day when you please yourself. 




24 comments:

  1. Good morning Bob. Great post. Living with a spouse in the advanced stages of dementia has put a whole different spin on our retirement.Afflicted at a relatively young age, it was very unexpected.

    But guess what? Inn spite of that, we are still finding joy in our retirement. in the midst of the many challenges there are still some incredibly tender moments and still a lot of love.

    I went through a period of disbelief and grief upon my husband's diagnosis. But with some insight and encouragement from a blogosphere friend who is going through the same thing, I have managed to turn my attitude around.

    My husband is not aware of his medical status (anosognosia) and it actually is a blessing. If he were aware of his deficits, I fear that he would be very despondent.

    We all have our moments of "Is That All There Is?". But with the right perspective, the right attitude, and the heart to live life to the fullest, we can still find a lot of joy in our life.

    I know I don't comment as often as I used to, but I still enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for a great and inspiring blog post Bob.

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    1. And thank you, Carole, for sharing your story. It is an excellent first comment on this post and makes the key point perfectly: attitude and perspective are crucial to overcoming negative feelings or self-pity. The bigger picture is the one we should stay focused on.

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  2. My answer to "Is that all there is?" is: "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." So be thankful for your health, appreciate the income you may have; find the good in your spouse, and make the most of the time you have left.

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  3. Keep on dancing and don't put off or forget to dance, like no one is watching...

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    1. I like that, especially for someone like me who doesn't dance much. Dance becomes a metaphor for so much more.

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  4. I have always been an "enthusiast" in life.Not sure if it is genetic or learned.. I did a lot of spiritual study and reading and practice over the years and I believe that helps too.But I have always felt that I have the ability to CHANGE whenever I am not thrilled with what is going on.Sometimes that is stressful,for sure.. but, ultimately, our own happiness is our own personal work on this Earth, in my opinion. As we become more satisfied with ourselves, we have energy to help others,too.. so it's a win win. Life is SO FULL of things to do,see,read,watch,talk about,ponder,pray over,meditate upon, I feel I will never get bored. When I am too old and in a rocking chair I plan to watch all the TV series I have missed while being so busy in life! And there is a library full of books I s
    till have to get to!! Life has chapters
    ,retirement is another interesting one, if you make it so!!

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    1. The basic premise that you must love yourself before you can properly love others is very much at the core of this post.

      Your comment about watching all the TV series when we can't do anything else made me think. Watching favorites on Netflix or Amazon now may not be my best use of my time. I can follow the "Madeline" rule of saving them for later in life.

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  5. "Is this all there is?"

    Well, if this is all you want, then I guess this is all there is. After all, your life is a direct reflection of the choices you make in it. We're with Madeline (above)...we will never get bored.

    www.travelwithkevinandruth.com

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    1. A life may be the "direct reflection of the choices you made," but despite the American Dream motif (anyone can become President) that permeates our society, some persons are born into a more limited range of choices than others. As life progresses, other situations may be encountered or arise that limit one's choice. I'm not negating what you said, because even in a limited range of choices, one is still responsible for the choices one does make (or sometimes fails to make). Also, as Bob pointed out, another motif running through our society is adulation of people who have surpassed what seem to be insurmountable odds to achieve something remarkable. I think the theme of Bob's post is "regardless of circumstances one can always try to liberate and free oneself to experience some contentment and joy." But in your comment I sense some judgment against or about those who may be struggling (or complaining) about the ability to do so. And some of their situation may be because of limited choices all along their path of life, or at significant junctures, where others might have been more free and had more resources to exercise self determination. For me, I like what Dianna Nyad apparently said, in her new book, which I have yet to read. "It isn't the goals we set for ourself that are important, it is who we become in the process of achieving them." (My apologies Ms. Nyad for a possible mis-quote). I think retaining compassion for others, even in the midst of one's own self congratulation for doing "well" is a component of that. Incidentally, an interesting (but not excessively profound) new book on the theme of second chances in life is "The Broken Road" by Richard Paul Evans.

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    2. Have you read Kevin and Ruth's blog? He's included the link, and if ever there was an example of living big and grabbing life by the horns in on a pretty modest budget, their life, as represented on their blog, is it. This is one couple that walks their talk, and even while their choices might not represent those we would make, it does show that many, if not most of us, could achieve much more than we might ever think, should we be willing to make the appropriate sacrifices.

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    3. I will click the link. Thanks, Tamara.

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  6. Bob. your posts always inspire me. I disagree with you on one thing though - retirement is the only time in our lives when the answer to those eternal questions are under our control. Even when formal employment dictates the how, what, where and when of a good portion of our time, we still have control of our attitude. I have a friend afflicted with MS and she's my inspiration for getting moving each day. Her mobility may be affected but not her attitude. Another friend has spent the last year arranging a care team for her adult son who has muscular dystrophy; he can move his head. Both of them are inspirational in their engagement with life. I would recommend the book/movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Moods ebb and flow. Haven't we all had moments of "Is that all there is?" And then along comes that rainbow again (reference to a song by Kris Kristofferson) - the sense of community that comes with leaning on the fence in the evening with a neighbor and having a visit; the bluebird who reminds me of my dad, deceased for 14 yrs; the perennial shoots poking their heads out of the dirt; the 5 fox kits spotted out by the barn; the desire to go through the seeds to see what needs planting. Yes, that's all there is and so much more because it's more than enough.

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    1. You have a good point, Mona. Retirement is my focus so sometimes I overlook the way something I say can be applied at other stages of life. Thanks for the examples of how what you say is so true.

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  7. Gratitude for what I have works in taking away the poor me attitude so I can get on enjoying what is left in my life at this time.

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    1. Isn't the power of attitude rather amazing?

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  8. You hit all the right notes on this post. It is important to make the best of what is in front of you or change it. My husband and I had plans for this phase of our lives, but now we have been given the gift of raising a grandchild. There are regrets but the joy she brings is making me smile and laugh everyday. Thank you for your post. Well done!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I have a 2 part post on the essential skills needed to be a good grandparent. I will be interested in your comments.

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  9. The insanity we're all experiencing in the world today takes a toll. Gratitude for all we have is the best way to stay sane. I am returning to my gratitude journaling and focusing on all the good in life.
    b

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    1. I was happy to read your blog today. We are both trying to stay on the same path.

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  10. It seems like all around us in the world there are people who dwell on nothing but the negative. Whether it is their employment situation, their financial condition, their choice of partner, or politics not going their way, we are surrounded by a chorus of negativity. We all need to rise above it for the sake of ourselves and those we love. There is always someone(s) who has things worse in life; your example of Helen Keller is a perfect example. Like many in the past, we need to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, look for all the positive in the world around us (of which there is much), and set the right example for others. Positivity can be infectious if you practice it enough.

    Your post was more timely for the situation in the world today, Bob, than you might have thought when originally penning it. Great job, sir!

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    1. Thanks, Chuck. I wrote it about 2 weeks ago, before the last week or two of craziness from Washington became front page news. More than ever, focusing on what is right seems the wisest choice.

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  11. "Still on this side of the dirt"--that was funny! A recent visit from someone near and dear to me made me realize how differently we can approach this time in our lives. My friend seems so fearful and bitter about getting older. For me, this is the happiest I've ever been. Her circumstances and mine are not that different. But our beliefs and attitudes are.

    Studies show that only 10% of our sense of happiness and well being is based on our circumstances. Only 10%! The rest of it is all about our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. So true, sometimes circumstances can be extremely challenging, and maybe even so dire that we are in crisis survival mode. But a foundation or baseline of a positive attitude can enhance our good times and give us some support and resilience during the difficult times.

    Great post. As always!

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    1. Only 10%? That is good to know. Retirement is one time in life when so much of our day-to-day is under our control. That statistic suggests it is even more than I would have guessed.

      I had a post several years ago about the tendency of some older people to slip into grumpy territory. Unfortunately, I haven't seen much change over the years since I wrote that.

      Thanks, Galen.

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