May 30, 2019

Do You Lack The Necessary Skills To Retire?

First published over 5 years ago, I think the points I am making are worth repeating. 

How's that for an enticing headline? Nothing like a little guilt or uneasiness to grab someone's attention. Well, I am going to relieve your fear or anxiety right away: retirement skills are no different from the skills that got you this far in life. There is nothing so special about this phase of your life that you must relearn how to react and cope. There is nothing so special that you have to worry about "failing" retirement.

Retirement is simply a less-than-adequate word for a time in your life when you are freer to use your unique combination of life experiences, skills, talents, and personality to craft an existence that satisfies you. 

This isn't meant to imply retirement is without difficulties. There are many of us who struggle with the transition from work. It is quite common to think you have made a serious mistake and disaster awaits. Adjusting your relationships to this new lifestyle takes work and compromise. You may have to learn to downsize your expectations to be in line with your financial realities.

But, the important point I want to make is that retirement doesn't require you to go back to school, to get an advanced degree or to study night and day so you can pass the test. You already passed the important "tests" that life may have thrown at you. You have overcome adversity, some heartache, some disappointments, and some failures.

Still not convinced? OK, here are the "special skills" required to have a satisfying retirement:

1) You have figured out how to keep yourself alive and functioning in a complicated and dangerous world. You may not be a financial wizard, but you have a place to live, you know how to pay your bills, you can put gas in your car, you file a tax return, and you don't respond to an e-mail from Nigeria telling you how to claim a $1 million prize.

2)  You have relationships with other human beings. You may or may not be married, may be in a long term relationship, may be solo by choice or circumstances. Regardless, you interact with others on a regular basis.

3) Given some free time, you don't panic about what to do with it. You pick something. How you choose to fill that chuck of time may not satisfy you for a long time. So, then you choose to do something else. The point is, you don't just sit in a corner and worry what to do or whether it is your life's passion. You just do something.

4) You know that eating a Big Mac with fries for every dinner is not healthy. You know that not getting up off the couch for days at a time will lead to trouble. You understand that your body is a complex mechanism that requires care and proper feeding to carry you to the finish line.

5) You realize you are going to die at some point. You aren't happy about it, but you can't do a thing about it, so you make peace with it and live what life you have left. If you lean toward spiritual beliefs you have some type of faith in what comes next. If a spiritual thought has never entered you mind you still think occasionally what happens when you die - and then you think about something else. You don't obsess about it.

And, there you go. That's it. If you have managed to grasp these five "skills" so far, then you are good to go. Retirement is just a part of life. It is a different part of life, just like adolescence is different from being young and newly married. Being 30 is different from being 60. Being male is different from being female (oh my, yes).

Retirement is just part of your journey. I would argue it is the best part, but that is just me.

May 26, 2019

What Does "Elder" Mean?

Recently, I read a new book that gave me an idea for this post. Elderhood,  Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life, by Louise Aronson addresses many of the concepts, limitations, and opportunities this time of life offers. She got me thinking about how we deal with the concept of what an elder is, what place an elder holds in society, and do we think of ourselves this way?

In many parts of the world, elder is a revered title. It is granted to someone of a certain age who has lived long enough to gain some wisdom and perspective. That person is consulted about important decisions and looked to for wise counsel. India is a good example of a place where age is a positive. While China used to be a country where age was judged in a positive light, as that society becomes more Westernized the place that elders hold has changed.

In America older people were considered important to a community's stability into the early part of the 20th century. While older people, men most often, retained their grasp on power as they aged, things were shifting. During the roaring twenties and particularly after World War II, the focus shifted toward the young. Today, a look at most advertising makes it clear: younger sells. Companies direct almost all their resources to capturing the minds and hearts of those 18-44. 

So, where does that leave those of us who may struggle to remember our 30's? What are we and where do we fit? What name do we call ourselves or those at our stage of life? There have been some attempts, mostly by younger people, to figure out what to call us: senior citizens, the elderly, geriatrics, oldsters, silver eagles (!), geezers, wrinklies (very British), old people...well, you get the idea. These terms are not very positive, some are downright offensive.

I admit that I struggle to come up with a term that describes where I am in life at the moment. I hate "Baby Boomer" since it often has negative connotations. Senior citizen may have fit my parent's or grandparent's generations, but not mine. The elderly isn't it either.

But, a shortened version of elderly has some possibilities: elder has a better feel to it. As I noted above, in the past elder has had a positive meaning. I don't believe the word has developed any negative connotations. Rather, it has just fallen into disuse. 

More importantly, what should elder imply? I suggest it says several things that I would be happy to have associated with me:

1) I have survived to an age that was unheard of even 100 years ago. I remain in control of all my faculties and personality.

2) I have lived long enough to learn from my mistakes, profit from my experiences, and realize I still know very little.

3) I am part of an economic powerhouse, even if Madison Ave is slow to recognize me. Those 60+ control the bulk of this country's financial resources. As a group we control over 1 trillion in spending each year. 

4) I have the free time to invest my skills and my interests in my community. I am part of the largest age group that supports charities of all sorts.

5) I remain a powerful force in the political process. Folks 65 + equal 15% of the American population. Within 30 years that percentage will almost double. My opinions and organizational skills make me important. 

6) I can have a huge impact on those two generations younger than I, as a tutor, mentor, or simply someone who listens and cares. As my grandchildren go, so goes our future.

OK, so elder it is. I can live with "senior," too, as long as you don't tack on the word, citizen. Just show me the respect I have earned and accept me as a fellow human being who still has a lot to offer. Actually, I don't really need any type of label, but we are a society that thrives on them, so I have to find one I can embrace.

By the way, I turned 70 a few weeks ago, so this is me, smack dab in my elder life!

May 22, 2019

My Bucket List May Surprise You

The last several weeks of posts have been a little on the serious side. Except for the one about the train trip through the Verde River Canyon, things have been a little "deep." Several readers have noted that the articles after my sabbatical are different from before: more personal, more philosophical, more varied in subject matter. I'm glad you've noticed and most seem pleased.

Today, just for a change of pace, I thought I'd write about something with a bit less heft, a little more tongue in cheek: my personal non-bucket list, things I don't feel compelled to accomplish while still on this side of the grass. Would I refuse any of these if offered?  Probably not, but I don't plan on scheduling them. They just aren't compelling enough at this stage of life.

In thinking abut my anti-bucket list I discovered a lot of web sites that give me lists to choose from, in case I can't come up with my own ideas. In fact, my favorite is this one: 329 Bucket List ideas to try before you die. If you have no idea of what should be on your list, either to do or to avoid, this is for you since it covers virtually everything. In reviewing it I found a surprising number of things I have already done that didn't occur to me would be bucket-list worthy.

Actually, it took awhile but I came up with my own list, my own ideas, based on my personality and my own desires and interests. As I thought about this post I realized I have accomplished several of the items these lists promote. Imagine how satisfying it is to not worry about including or excluding these: 

Normal Bucket List: Some of The Things Already Checked off:

1. Own an RV and travel around the country.

2. Own a weekend cabin in the woods while the kids were young.

3. Take a river cruise in Europe.

4. Visit Tuscany.

5. Become part owner of a radio station (in Hawaii, no less)

6. Become certified in Scuba Diving

7. Downhill and cross-country ski

8. Visit a nude beach ( in Hawaii and Oregon. Luckily nearly everyone was dressed, including me!)

My Don't Care Bucket List:

So, what about the things that are typical bucket list events, places, or activities that no longer hold any sway over me? What could I skip and go to the great blogging website in the sky and not feel cheated?

1) Skydiving/bungee jumping. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane or off an entirely serviceable bridge? At my age I already cheat death every day. Why mess with a good thing.

2) Riding the biggest fastest roller coasters. Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland is already my stomach's limit. I can get sick all on my own, if I want.

3) Seeing Machu Picchu. Gorgeous? Spectacular? Yes. Very far away, very expensive, very high up, usually very crowded? Yes.

4) Going on an African Safari. Leave the animals alone or contribute all that money to protecting them from poachers and environmental destruction. 

5) Running in the Boston or NYC Marathon. When I was on the track team in high school I'd run 400 meters and throw up. I doubt things would be any different 55 years later.

It occurs to me what a "first world" problem a bucket list is. Billions of my fellow human beings worry about clean food and water, physical violence, poor (or non-existent) access to health care.....real things that make a dream list of trips and activities seem self-indulgent. Does that mean I should give into guilt and have no dreams of things I'd like to accomplish? No, I see no benefit in apologizing for the lucky circumstances of my birth and upbringing.

I'd still like to take a cruise to the South Pacific, visit New Zealand, and finally get good enough on the guitar so I don't sound like a sick cat.

At the same time, I see no reason to turn a blind eye to what others must endure. Frequently, I have written about the need for kindness and giving back. These aren't really bucket list-worthy concerns, but more an attempt to focus on what any of us can accomplish to make things better.

Some ideas for a non-typical bucket list to consider:

1) Support a child through an organization like Children International. Betty and I sponsor a boy in the Philippines and a girl in Zambia. Getting letters from them and watching them grow into young men and women is rewarding. We can't save lots of kids, but maybe help two.

2) Become a registered organ donor. What could be easier and at no cost or hardship to you. Trust me, you will never notice a piece is missing.

3) Mentor a younger person. I am involved with Junior Achievement, but there are all sorts of ways to help a younger generation. Isn't our responsibility to pass on what we know?

4) Protect the environment any way you can. Recycling is obvious, even if it appears to be less viable financially to some cities and towns. Avoid excess packaging, cut back on food you throw away, consider one car.

5) Learn a new skill. It doesn't really matter what it is: playing chess, taking better photos, learning to play the piano, speaking Spanish, taking online courses in something you know little about.....anything to keep your brain active. Stagnation is the enemy of a satisfying retirement.

OK, your turn:

  • What is on your bucket list?
  • What have you already accomplished you feel good about?
  • What do you no longer care enough about to keep on your list?
  • What can you add, today, that you'd like to work toward?

May 18, 2019

Unintended Consequences

A while back, a regular reader oSatisfying Retirement left a comment that raised an issue of retiring that I had never thought of before. Here is what he said:

"A new insight today....a little bit of anger from my friends who are feeling abandoned by my plans to leave the community. I knew it would be scary for me, but I think I underestimated the impact upon my friends, band mates and neighbors. I just didn't think of myself as being all that important in their lives. It is a bittersweet revelation. I doubt I'll lose any friendships, but I know some of them are feeling pain that I never intended to inflict. I wonder how commonly this occurs."

I have written quite often about moving after retirement. It is a major decision that should not be taken lightly. I usually advise folks to wait at least a year after retirement before moving to a new home. Leaving work is a major cause of stress to nearly everyone, as is moving. To pile them on top of each other is risky.

With that said, I have rarely written about the effect on those you leave behind. Often a move is made to be closer to family, leave bad weather, or find a place with a lower cost of living. But, what about friends? This fellow has raised an interesting point about unintended consequences and what, if anything, we need to do about them.

I imagine you are familiar with the concept of unintended consequences: something you do or say has a ripple effect you didn't consider. Some of the best examples occur when some level of government passes a law without fully considering all the ramifications. Unexpected complications or effects not planned for occur. Whoops!

A famous example occurred in India years ago. The government wanted to reduce the number of cobra snakes, so it offered a bounty for all those reptiles turned in. That ordnance  caused a huge spike in new cobra snake sales as people tried to collect the bounty money. The program was abandoned, leaving more snakes than before.

Unintended consequences are a part of life. On the job you are probably quite familiar with something that might qualify: an e-mail that is read by the wrong person, a snide comment that is overheard by the boss, a tendency to be the first to leave the office every night. There is also the flip side: a report that is finished early and helps solve a problem, or a compliment to a co-worker that energizes her to find a solution to something that is hurting company profits.

During retirement there are all sorts of example of unintended consequences. This reader mentioned one that deserves some thought on your part if it fits your situation. Here are a few others:

...The quality of your retirement is negatively affected because you didn't save/invest enough for the lifestyle you are leading.

...You never pushed back from the table or refused that large piece of chocolate cake, so you find yourself taking a boatload of pills and seeing the doctor much too often.

...You treated your spouse like an indentured servant and can't understand why things are so unpleasant at home.

...You enabled your adult child to avoid responsibility for his or her own life for too long, and now they are permanently dependent on you.

...You keep waiting to do something "until tomorrow" and tomorrow never comes.

Then, on the positive side of the unintended consequence coin:

...You lived simply and without lots of "needs." Now you find you can afford to spend that summer in Paris you have always dreamed of.

...You treated others the way you'd want to be treated, and now your life is filled with friends.

...You found activities and interests that keep you energized and excited. As a result you are rarely bored and always looking forward to what each day brings. 

According to Wikipedia, unintended consequences are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action. Because these outcomes can be helpful or hurtful, thinking through all aspects of a decision is the wisest course of action. Then, it is more likely that the consequences will be intended instead.

Do you have examples of unintended consequences in your life? Were they humorous, or ones that had meaningful impacts on your life?

May 14, 2019

Do you suffer from FOMO ?

FOMO is shorthand for Fear Of Missing Out. This is the one of the prime motivators of social media and our hyper-connected lifestyle. We spend, on average, 24 hours a week connected online in some form or another: Internet, smartphone, tablet, TV. We live in fear of missing something that others may know about. We are terrified of what passes for news slipping beneath our radar.

FOMO leads to an estimated 5 years of our adult lives spent staring at a screen. All that time spent this way leads to a few rather important questions:

1. Are we connected but not connecting?

2. Are too many relationships wide but remarkably shallow?

3. Are we spending too much of our lives on minutia, superficiality, and rumors? 

4. Are we addicted?  A study from last year says the average American checks his or her phone 80 times a day. 

From my point of view, those questions are rhetorical. I would answer, Yes, to each one. If you agree, then the key question is, "what can we do about it without cutting ourselves off from the world?"

Let's consider a few options:

1) Apps that help you limit your use of apps. Sounds rather counter-intuitive, doesn't it. Like fighting a fire with gasoline. Both Apple and Android phones can use parental control software to limit scree time, and you don't have to be a parent (or a kid!) to use it. Use this link for an article on some of the best programs to help you manage your screen time.

2) Turn off social media notifications. The constant pinging of new information is hard to ignore. By reducing the number of times an hour your device alerts you to something, yo are less likely to stop what you are doing, or divide your attention between the task at hand and something that triggers your FOMO response.

3) Build media and Internet time into your daily schedule. Do you use a scheduling app or something like Google calendar to help you remember to go to the gym, pick up prescriptions, pay the phone bill, or other daily and weekly tasks? Then, schedule your Internet or social media time for a set time, like 30 minutes at 9:00AM and 30 minutes just after dinner. That equals 14 hours which sounds like a lot, but is a full 10 hours less than the average. 

4) Force yourself to meet real people in real time. Have you ever been in a coffee shop where every single person is staring at a screen or laptop? What's the point of leaving home - you can stare at an electronic device at home. 

Instead, find places where people can interact with each other. Bookstores, libraries, grocery stores, outdoor restaurants, happy hour on a bar stool, clubs where people share your interests, volunteer organizations...any place where the default position isn't hunched over a smartphone or tablet! 

5) Pick your poison. OK, that is a little dramatic, but, if left unchecked,  social media can overwhelm us. Out of all the choices on your phone, laptop, or tablet, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tumblr, or whatever, pick two that are your favorites. Then, delete the rest. Believe me, you will live...actually a little bit more than before.

Finally, here is a sobering thought: there are now more cell phones in the world than people. Ponder that for a moment.

May 9, 2019

Adjusting To Retirement: Is Not Always Easy

Retirement is a funny stage of life. It comes with certain expectations that are based on what others have done. Usually, no one hesitates to offer opinions and advice. Whole library shelves are filled with books claiming to have the magic answers. Can you believe it, there are even blogs that hold the key to a satisfying retirement (?!!!).

Except when your Uncle Phil or Aunt Betty tell you what to do with your life sometime during your Senior High years (just one word: plastics), I can think of no other stage of life so prone to strangers telling you what you should do. And, no other time when so many of those well-intentioned tidbits are often wrong.

My first few years of retirement were not a walk in the park. When my business faded into nothingness I was faced with two realities: I couldn't pay the mortgage on our current house, and I was at least 7 or 8 years away from being mentally prepared to stop working. I had no hobbies, no interests beyond work.

Doing nothing wasn't an option. We had to move to a smaller home. No pool, no hot tub. No fancy gym membership. No new car. Mentally, I had to rebuild my self-identity. I was no longer a known and sought-after figure in my industry. Within 6 months or so, the calls from former clients and acquaintances stopped. How I spent the previous 35 years had apparently left the building. Now, it was just me, my strained marriage, a few college-age girls, and two dogs.

If you have been reading Satisfying Retirement for awhile, you know it has worked out, it has been tremendous. After two years of finding my balance I haven't looked back. The freedom, the ability to find new aspects of my personality, a solid marriage, two fabulous grown daughters, a perfect son-in-law and is grand.

That is not reality for many, however. Shifting from finding value in a paycheck, losing the community of co-workers, and having nightmares of being just one major illness or financial slip from sleeping on a bench in the park is how retirement begins. For some it stays that way. Through no fault of their own, this time of life is one of marginalization, scarcity, with an undercurrent of fear.

If this is your reality I wish I could wave a magic retirement wand and make all that negative stuff disappear. I can't. Neither can all the best-intentioned friends, books, web sites, or blogs. Life is often about staying upright in a stiff wind.

I can't say it often enough, though: things have a tendency to work out. The retirement life you lead may not be the one you envisioned. It may not include all the creature comforts you anticipated. It may have forced you to go through serious health, relationship, financial, or emotional challenges. But, you are still better off than the overwhelming majority of retirement age folks around the world.  

If my 6 week sabbatical taught me one thing, it is life is pretty special. If my attitude is in sync with my resources and desires, if I have let the consumer train steam away without me, and if I can choose what I do most days, for most of the time, I have cause to celebrate.

Retirement is not always easy, but it beats the alternative.

May 4, 2019

A Cul-de-Sac Life

I don't remember where I read the phrase, a cul-de-sac life, but I love it. Growing up in America, my family always aspired to live on a cul-de-sac. Not as fancy as the one pictured above, but still, a dead-end street.

Why? To help protect children from cars. The belief was that no one would drive into a cul-de-sac unless they lived there, and those folks would be watchful and careful of any kids playing or biking in the street.

Interestingly, as I think about it, none of the 14 different houses (Yep...that many) I lived in while growing up was on a cul-de-sac. Even so, none of us was ever injured, though sadly we did lose a dog to a car right in front of our home. Stickball and street hockey, dodgeball, or playing catch happened whenever we could find the time. A car came down the street, we moved out of the way until it was safe, and then resumed our activities.

The image of a cul-de-sac is one I hadn't really thought about until I read that sentence. It could be a powerful metaphor for how we sometimes approach life. Staying uninjured is a good thing. But, trying to protect ourselves from all trouble or things that can go bump in the night is a fool's errand. 

Control is a myth. It is a falsehood we tell ourselves to feel better. 

Yes, we have a major influence on how parts of our lives unfold. Good stewardship of our financial resources and paying attention to what we put into and how we care for our body can make big differences in the quality of our life. But, we have zero control over the genetic makeup that determines our lifespan, our likelihood of contracting a serious or fatal disease, or the financial decisions made by others that directly impact our personal bottom line.

We have a modicum of control over relationships. But, people can change in ways that put enough stress on things to shred seemingly solid ties. Children develop in ways we may not like, but at some point what each does is no longer under our influence.

All this isn't meant to paint a picture of doom and gloom, of a fate larger than us rolling the cosmic dice and determining our path. Instead it is a suggestion to accept what happens in the world to us is not so much controlled by anyone or anything, but by the rules of nature that were created when the universe was formed. What happens at a particular moment is the only thing that can happen based on all the factors at play.

The hurricane destroys a home because all the natural forces that affect weather and climate create a storm that could not do anything else than form and move the way it does. The cancer forms in a body because the genetics and environmental factors that exist must have that end result. There is no other way something different could occur. A child takes a path in life that seems to be counter to all we taught and hoped for. He or she is made up of so many moving parts that the end result is what it must be.

Actually, this way of thinking should bring comfort. There isn't a cosmic force that is angry at you so bad things happen. Everything that occurs, at every moment of time, can only occur in exactly that way based on the way the universe exists. You experience something, good or bad, because there is no other outcome possible with the combination of all the factors at that instant.

So, if trying to live in a safe cul-de-sac doesn't work, what are we supposed to do? Realize that good and bad, up and down, success and failure are "baked into" the design of the universe. Each will happen at a particular time and place because there is no other way the factors could have turned out. 

What we can "control" is out attitude toward each of these momentary happenings: enjoy and smile when good happens, be upset when bad happens but don't take it personally. Get through it the best way you can, adjust, and keep moving forward. Don't take credit for all your good fortune, don't beat yourself up when the world seems to be against you. Because it is not. It just is the only way it can be.