February 20, 2020

Peeling Back The Layers

Sometimes life is simply peeling back layers of accumulated experiences, habits, and expectations. You look a little deeper to find what has always been part of you, but has remain covered.

Like an archaeologist sweeping away the dust and debris, you find parts of yourself that are completely unexpected.

Since I decided to broaden the topics I'd address with this blog, I have felt a little like the movie character, Shrek, who told Donkey that Ogres are like onions: they have layers, meaning they are more complex than they might appear. 

Writing about subjects that aren't necessary tied directly to retirement has been liberating. Sure, I have had to deal with some unpleasant comments at times. But, I have also garnered some important insight from those whose opinions don't always match mine. Especially enlightening were some thoughts about what is true and why that is so.

In your life you have layers, parts of yourself that remain unexposed to the glare of public awareness, maybe even to yourself. One of our primary instincts is to protect our ego, that is, our sense of self-esteem or self-importance.The phrase "fragile ego" is appropriate for many of us. If we allow our exterior image to be shown as not representing who we really are, we risk embarrassment or worse. It is hard work to constantly match our preferred persona.

For this post, though, I'd like to have us consider some layers underneath the "public" one that represents us most of the time. I want us to peel back some deeper layers and see what we might find.

Without risking contradiction I can say that all of us have layers beneath our surface that consist of fears, some irrational, some justified. These could be experiences that caused us anxiety or distress from childhood, a bad experience with a job or coworker, maybe a romantic relationship that failed.

Maybe we can have a deep-seated fear of those not like us, or a particularly unpleasant political situation. Disease, a sudden, serious illness, cancer or some life-threatening issue become part of that fear layer. Whatever the reason, these fears leave us skittish, not as self-assured as our ego would prefer. We don't want to project any weakness so we keep that layer buried well beneath the surface. This layer still exists even if we don't acknowledge it. This is not a healthy approach. Only when we face  it and attempt to deal with it can we lessen its hold on us.

Another layer can be a reserve of strength we don't realize exists. Maybe an empowering childhood with supportive and encouraging parents gave us an inner resilience we have never called upon, but is there waiting when needed. Or, it is possible that your extra layer of strength came from just the opposite scenario: a childhood filled with less-then-ideal conditions. You survived, maybe even prospered. There is a force within you to face and defeat whatever the world places in your path.

A layer I never thought I possessed was one that contained creativity. I know there is the understanding that every problem we solve in life shows a type of creativity. I get that. But, I mean an artistic streak that extends beyond our problem-solving abilities. Making music, painting, taking and editing photographs were hidden in a layer that just needed my permission to be exposed. A display at the Metropolitan or concert at Lincoln Center aren't happening. But, my creative layer only requires that I feed it with regular stimulation. There is no validation from others required.

May I challenge you to dig deep down to your creative self? Every one of us has it. That layer may look different in you than in me, maybe different from anyone else you know. But, humans come with a need to create. That is the basis of the word creativity and you have it.

So, Shrek was right: Ogres (and humans) have layers. We have the outer one that is our face to the world, the one that everyone sees. Then, we have a hidden complexity that makes life worth living and exploring, maybe even showing to others.

I urge you to peel away!

February 16, 2020

Now We Are Six (or Sixty or More)

If your childhood was anything like mine, these words should sound familiar:
When I was young, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was Three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever. So I think I'll stay Six now for ever and ever.
A.A. Milne's classic, Now We Are Six, is a book that even today can transport me back  to a time when Winnie The Pooh, Christopher Robin, Tigger, and all the assorted characters of Mr. Milne's mind ruled my world. It is one of the few series of works that I can re-read today and still smile at the clever poetry and important lessons that make up each story. 

Seeing the inscription from my grandmother from Christmas, 1951, is also quite special. My goodness, she had beautiful handwriting.

I am more than pleased that my daughters, and now my grandkids, are big Winnie The Pooh fans. There is something so eternal in stories that touch generation after generation.

Not too long ago I happened to pick up this 69 year old treasure of mine. What popped into my mind was an odd, blog-oriented connection. Really? Tales of Binker or Alexander Beetle are retirement-oriented?

No, I am not stretching the connection that far. But, I am reminded of the power of good childhood memories. I read these words and back I go to a time of innocence and simplicity. 

A collection of Winnie The Pooh Books in my home
I am reminded of the power of memories instead of things. I have no toys or keepsakes from all those years ago, but my vintage (that is a polite way of saying very old) books are within immediate reach in the living room.

Five minutes with James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree is all it takes to calm my nerves and make everything right in my world. 

I hope you have something from your past that evokes such powerfully positive feelings. This is the stage of life when we are free to just immerse ourselves in experiences that warm us.

Winnie The Pooh birdhouse made by my daughter
After all, wherever I am there's always Pooh, there's always Pooh and me.  What else do I need? 

February 12, 2020

Tick Tock: We Only Have So Much Time

Our mortality: not a subject we like to think about. Even though we know with 100% certainty we will die, the acceptance of that fact is not part of our makeup. Even though we know age is not a promise of more life, the younger we are the more remote the concept.

At some point we begin to face our own death. That sensitivity may be caused by a serious illness, disability, an accident in our life, or the life of a family member, or close friend. Attending too many memorial services for acquaintances can bring the whole issue to a head. There doesn't seem to be a particular age that triggers the mortality subject, nor can I find any research that implies retirement is a milestone. Actually, it may be just the opposite: a satisfying retirement keeps one focused on life and living to the fullest.

Our reaction to our own mortality can range from panic, anger, fear, and depression, to a calm acceptance based on our faith or realization that running away from the inevitable is a waste of energy. Some folks view life as simply a cycle and at their death they return to the universe the way they started, as a collection of molecules and physical properties (dust to dust) while maybe a spiritual component remains.

Some have a strong religious belief that provides a comforting assurance of what lies ahead. Some religious systems preach reincarnation. Still others firmly believe this life is it. When it ends, it ends.

Whatever your view or belief system, even if that includes an unshakable belief in heaven and eternity, death can still be scary. The trip from this life to whatever is next can be filled with lots of unpleasantness, especially if the end is pain-filled.

In an excellent article in Psychology Today some time ago author Nathan Heflick identified several ways humans tend to cope with our mortality. Here are just a few of the more important findings:

1) defend their cultural worldviews more strongly. For instance, to agree less with a person behaving negatively toward their country, to be more punitive towards moral transgressors or those perceived as "different."

2)  self-enhance and protect self-esteem, such as by agreeing more with positive feedback and taking more credit for success.

3) identify more with members of their own group.

4)  show an increased interest in close relationships.

5) show a preference for clear, well-structured information and physical environments.

The full article is available by clicking here, but these five points really strike me as quite insightful. Some of them seem to explain some of root causes of the political turmoil and anger our society is enduring at the moment.

There are several web sites I found that give suggestions on what we should do to prepare ourselves and others for the inevitable. I have them listed below. But, the purpose of this post is to simply ask you to consider, if even for a moment, what your mortality means to you now that you have less than half your life ahead of you.

Does this awareness cause you to act any differently? Do you embrace what comes next or do you fight, with all your being, the thought that you will someday cease to exist, and the world will go on just fine without you? Does the realization that 99.999999% of the world won't know or care when you are no longer here upset you? It does me! What, no Bob?

How do we face that? What do we do to make this journey meaningful? What do we do, as the Bible's Paul tells us, to "finish strong"?

Facing your own mortality

Coping with impending death

Create meaning by facing our own mortality

Facing the fear of death

The only comfort I can share is the reality that every single one of us will go through this process. If there is one experience that every human shares it is this one. Anything we feel, or fear, or rebel against, we have good company: all of humankind!

February 9, 2020

Was The Impeachment Effort Worth It?

Well, that is over. Something that has happened only two other times in our nation's history is now complete. As was the case in the previous episodes, the Senate did not take the ultimate step of using the House's impeachment resolutions as a reason to expel either Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton from the presidency. Richard Nixon quit before things got to that point, but the odds were pretty good he would have been both impeached and removed from office due to the Watergate scandal.

So, Donald J. Trump is now added to the list. He will have the label of impeachment attached to his name forever. But, the Senate refused to remove him from office. Even with revelations in the last few days of the Senate trial and shifting narratives from the lawyers charged with protecting Mr. Trump, partisan politics said no to any more witnesses and yes to acquittal.

After 3+ years of watching his behavior, I think it is an easy call to predict he will use the acquittal as a reason to continue acting the way he has. While someone else might take what has happened as a warning to moderate one's behavior, I am sure that is not the take-away for Mr. Trump.

He is likely to be emboldened to step up his attacks on his perceived enemies, use name-calling, political retribution, and Twitter to announce his intentions. He is likely to bend the law in ways that allow him rather free reign to continue to be the most unique occupant of the Oval Office in the last several generations.. An election later this year may result in a change, but even then he will still be in charge for almost another 12 months, until late January of 2021.

Spoiler alert: When I step back and look at what he has actually accomplished at the 80% mark of his first term, I see some things that I view as positives. The recently signed NAFTA replacement trade deal is better. While the tariff war with China has hurt too many Americans economically, something had to be done to get China's attention and have it begin to adjust its behavior. Negotiating with the EU over treatment of American interests has been long overdue. I am sure some of the regulations that has impeded some business development needed adjustments. The economy is strong at the moment and unemployment rates are low.

Of course, in my view, while those are positive accomplishments, they don't make up for the rest of what he done, or allowed to happen in his name. I find much of what he has executed to be shameful and beneath the dignity of the office. However, apparently none of that equals an impeachable offense. Those are the types of behavior that are properly judged at the ballot box, say a majority of Senators.

So, to the key questions: was the time, money, polarization, and further deepening the forces that divide us worth the effort? Did impeachment solve anything? Was it worth it to attach that label to someone? Even when virtually everyone agreed that the Senate was highly unlikely to convict Mr. Trump, was moving forward a good thing anyway?

Did our system work in this case? Even with the outcome a foregone conclusion, was it worth everything we just went through? And, if so, why?

In our hyper political environment is impeachment even a viable option in the future? Does it continue to have value even if it is unlikely to work, or it is more contentious and harmful?

I am interested in your thoughts. Please bypass the obvious attacks on the devil Democrats or callus Republicans. No fake news references, please. No slurs against Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell. This is really a bigger question than this one man, one time in history, or one outcome.

Regardless of your feelings for or against this president, the most important question remains: is the ultimate corrective device in our Constitution still a functioning option if ever needed in the future? It has been triggered three times in our history and ended the same way each time. Is the difficulty in achieving the final sanction a good thing, or a scary thing?

February 5, 2020

What Makes A Simple Life? It's Not What You May Think

When I say "living a simple life." what springs to mind? Probably one or more of these phrases:

              * Fewer possessions - Minimalism   

              * Smaller living space

              * Less involvement and commitments

              * Financial control

              * More self-sufficiency

              * Avoiding the race race (whatever that means to you)

              * Fewer distractions

Yes, these are all ways of defining simple living, or living a simple life. Thousands of web sites, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos expound on the value of following these guidelines.

Personally, I resonate with much of this approach to life. I am not a minimalist. But, I do my best to surround myself with what makes me happy and avoid what doesn't.

To that point I want to suggest that to be meaningful, effective, and have long-lasting, positive effects, simple living does not really begin with any of the steps listed above. If you adopt any of them without doing something else first, you will be disappointed, frustrated, and ultimately bound to give up.

Simple living must start with an internal shift. How you look at your life and your interaction with the world around you must come first. Deciding what is a need and what is a want must precede a decision to give something up. The parts of your daily life that satisfy you need to be increased, while those parts that fall short of your expectations must decrease.

You simply cannot serve two masters.

Start with an internal inventory. What are the things you do that make you happy or give you joy? What do you look forward to? What do you consider a blessing and not a chore? What does mean when translated to your daily approach to life? 

What energy level is best for you? Some of us need to be constantly moving. Working hard in the wood shop, hiking to and from the lake, studying for that long-delayed goal of a college or advanced degree. Others find a calm, unhurried, meditative approach best. Your personal energy will determine what is included in your simple life.

Do you love to redecorate, try new looks and furnishings in your home as your mood shifts? Or, are you happy with that old sofa and comfortable reading chair and don't like much change inside your home. Either choice can result in a simple life because you are matching what your mind tells you is important with what you choose to surround yourself with.

Are you happiest with very few rooms to clean and maintain, or do you love the freedom a separate room for an office, another one for your crafts, and a nice guest room to welcome family and friends gives you? Obviously, those choices will impact your choice for where and how to live.

Is meal preparation a chore or a time to express your creativity and try new recipes? Do you love leftovers and the ability to feed yourself with as little fuss and bother as possible? Or, a kitchen with all sorts of specialized gadgets, utensils, and ingredients at hand sets your heart aflutter. 

I could keep citing examples, but the point is this: a simple life has less to do with what you own and more to do with what brings you joy. A 300 square foot tiny home could be heaven to you. So could a home with a dozen rooms and a three car garage. Either can be part of a simple lifestyle.

If you are living in a way that matches your individual style, then you are living a simple life. The stress that comes from an out-of-balance existence is not there. 

Do you want to lead a simpler life, one that pleases you and doesn't cause anxiety? Do an internal audit before you follow what others tell you what you is a simple life. Like retirement, this choice is unique to you.

February 1, 2020

Food Waste: It It That Big A Problem?

I am as guilty as anyone. Each Friday morning, my wife and I clean out the refrigerator just before our weekly trip to the grocery store. Inevitably, there is what is left of a wilted lettuce head, somewhat squishy cucumber, seriously wrinkled piece of fruit, or broccoli that has turned somewhat yellow along the edges lurking in there.

The cost of buying and then tossing unused fruit and vegetables irritates my thrifty side. If we buy it, why don't we use it? I really don't know. No matter how carefully we plan a menu and look for opportunities to use up what we bought, a handful of something always makes it into the garbage. If we cut back on produce or fruit this week, there is still stuff from a week or two earlier that needs to go. The waste isn't huge but consistent. I chalk it up to poor planning.

Then, I saw a report published in the New York Times that brought the issue of food waste into stronger focus. Consider this quote from the December 11th Climate FWD newsletter:

"In the United States alone, food waste generates the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That accounts for both the energy used in agriculture to grow unused food, as well as the methane that’s released when the food rots in landfills."
I had no idea of the scope of the problem. I have heard the jokes about cows and their contribution of global warming. I am aware that producing meat uses massive amounts of water, chemicals, and land. Transporting it in refrigerated trucks all across the country adds even more to the environmental toll.

But, to learn that one year's food waste produces the same greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars is mind-blowing. Food waste and packaging make up 45% of the material that ends up in a landfill. Those numbers are huge.

According to this study Americans waste 40% of the food we produce. Consider buying 5 bags of groceries at the store, and then dropping two of them in the parking lot as we drive home. Who would consciously do that? We do.

Roughly 40 million of us are food insecure, meaning those people don't have access to enough food to remain healthy. One third of the food we waste would free every single one of those people from this risk.

Sometimes just being aware of a problem can start the process of fixing it. Now I know that my food purchase and disposal habits are a big deal. You can be sure I will not look at the stuff in the produce drawer the same way again.

Can I guarantee no more edible food finds the garbage can? No, but I can make an attempt to improve. Now that I understand my habit is directly connected to our planet's health, I have a motivation that is stronger than wasting money. 

Just in: a report in Food & Wine magazine says that thanks to the work of several non-profits and their volunteers, an estimated 30,000 pounds of food left over from the Super Bowl will be distributed to five shelters in southern Florida this week. The massive undertaking is—surprisingly—the first major food recovery effort to follow a Super Bowl.

What an encouraging addendum to this story.

January 28, 2020

Our Top Financial Worries

I receive lots of comments on posts and in e-mails about financial planning and decision-making. Preparing to live without a regular paycheck is a critical part of the preparation for retirement that every one of us encounters. It is a stage of life that most of us enter with more than a little fear.

Over time readers have helped me develop a list of the top financial concerns that folks are most worried about when they search for someone to advise them. What exactly are they looking for? What do they want a financial advisor to address? 

These are the six basic concerns that are addressed most often:

1) Understand our tolerance for risk and respect it: This is probably the most frustrating problem readers continually bring to my attention. An investment or financial advisor who presents options that are simply not appropriate to the retiree creates tension and uneasiness. Even if an opportunity for a nice return may be missed, as retirees we have fewer opportunities to replace money that is lost.

Accept what makes us comfortable and work within those parameters. Understand that a client will sometimes pass on what you believe to be a great deal. He isn’t rejecting your judgment, rather he is staying within his comfort zone.

2) Avoid Complicated Explanations: For most of us, the world of finance has become something akin to a foreign language. We grew up with some simple concepts: certificates of deposit and savings bonds. We understand the basics of stocks and bonds, mutual funds, maybe even ETF’s.

When explaining a more complicated investment opportunity it is important to speak in a way that we don’t feel stupid or agree to something because we don’t want to ask too many questions. If an investment option is too complex to explain in simple terms, there may be problems.

3) How do we not outlive our money: Our biggest fear as retirees is that we will last longer than our money. No matter how prepared we think we are, another major recession or serious health calamity is all that stands between us and a big problem. We are looking for a plan that will do everything possible to protect our assets, while not violating our tolerance for risk.

4) Help us budget and simplify our lives: Understanding how to budget and save has allowed us to retire. But, now, what do we have to do? Do we live on 80% of our work income or is that more than we need to spend? What is the 4% rule and does it still apply? 

What about expenses? What should we budget for after retirement? What categories are likely to increase and which ones fall? We’d like to simplify our lives by downsizing our housing, but is it best to rent or buy from this point forward? Leaving an estate for the children may be important. If so, what is the best way to set aside part of our money? Retirees want some input.

5) Bring us options and allow us to make the final decisions: Retirees often suffer from a feeling of loss of control and influence after leaving the workplace. It becomes quite important that we have the final say in how our money is invested. Having a few legitimate options and letting us make the final choice is a good idea.

6) Mr. Advisor: Create a feeling that you care as much about our well being as we do: Everyone understands how business works: without a profit there is no business. But, some of the readers who contact me complain that the company they have put their trust in treats them like a number. Contact usually occurs only when a fee is being added or the government requires a privacy notice.

These retirees are aware that they are not the firm’s only client, and most likely not the one that produces the most profit. But, in their mind their financial future has been put in the hands of a company or person. There is a definite need for a feeling that the individual matters, that his or her financial well-being is important. 

If you are handling your own investments these concerns are likely to be yours, too. You want options, an understanding of the risks you are comfortable taking, keeping a close watch on expenses, planning so you are likely to not run out of money, and trusting the person or web site that actually executes your purchases.

Anything I have missed?

January 24, 2020

Self-Driving Cars: Would You Ever Get In One?

They are everywhere....cars with big bumps on top and festooned  with various sensors and antennas. The Phoenix area, and Chandler in particular, are major test sites for several companies who are testing self-driving cars. To have one pull up next to you always prompts a check to see if a human is in the front seat, ready to take over if the car goes rogue. 

So far, the answer is yes, someone is prepared to grab the wheel and stomp on the pedals if need be. A pedestrian was killed in nearby Tempe a few years ago by one of these vehicles when the human inside didn't react quickly enough. While the risks are real, I gather improvements in the ability of the car to avoid problems gets better as more data is collected. 

In the future, though, autonomous vehicles will wait for a call to pick up someone at a certain address and drive them to an appointment, or shopping, or the airport, all without a human present. For those who have turned in their driver's license, or are not comfortable navigating through heavy traffic or at night, a self-driving car could be an important addition to their lifestyle. Doctor visits or trips to the grocery store become possible.

Already companies like Amazon are experimenting with package deliveries by drone; robo-cars stropping in front of your home with your package are not that far behind. I imagine UPS and Fedex will see this as their future, too. The tens of thousands of drivers for these companies will find their jobs eliminated, joining the list of employment options replaced by robots and machines. 

You might ask, what about ride services like Uber or Lyft? It is already very easy to have someone perform those same functions, at a very reasonable price. That is true but some of us are not all that comfortable getting into a car driven by a stranger. There have been enough news stories about assaults or other issues to make the cautious among us hesitate. 

Many new cars have collision avoidance systems, self-braking sensors, and lane change alarms. If you can afford the upgrades I assume they can be helpful when the driver is distracted (a big no-no, but it happens!) or some other driver is not as attentive as he or she should be. 

Even so, at some point I am pretty sure the future will include a car with no steering wheel or pedals. We will input our ultimate destination and off we go. Experts predict this reality is a decade away, but it is coming. There are too many billions of dollars already invested to not make this scenario happen. In theory, drunk driving accidents or all the other ways we hurt and kill each other with 3,000 pound vehicles will be largely eliminated. I imagine auto insurance rates would plummet if computers eliminated most fender-benders or preventable accidents.

It is likely I will have to stop driving sometime in the next 12-15 years. My dad made it to 88, but he drove a few years more than was prudent. I hope I know when it is time to turn those duties over to others.

If the timetable of autonomous vehicles is within the next decade, then it is quite possible I will be a customer. At that point, it would likely be safer for me and everyone else on the road, if a computer made the important decisions. 

So, that raises an interesting question: do you think you would ever be comfortable getting into a vehicle without an "emergency" human inside? 

Can you see yourself summoning a car, waiting for it to pull up in front of your home, getting inside, saying whatever the magic words are to get it to start moving, and hope it arrives where you want to go? 

Do you think you (and everyone else) will be willing to turn over this very basic adult chore to a machine? Will we have a choice?

January 21, 2020

You Got All That From a Tree?

During my day of silence a few weeks ago, part of the time was spent on the back patio, observing and listening to nature. We live smack in the middle of suburbia, part of the 5 million people who call the Phoenix metro home. Even so, our neighborhood is far enough away from of busy streets so things are pretty quiet, making the time outside restorative

One of my focus points during this time was a large tree in our backyard. Don't ask me what type; I am not a tree person. I think it is some type of ash, but....?
That's it in the picture above, so if you want to help identify it, please go right ahead.

I have probably noticed that tree hundreds of times, but beyond its need for trimming,  have never really thought about it. This time, I began to see its parts as an interesting metaphor for retirement. If you will, indulge my flights of fancy for a just a few minutes.

*The tree is reaching upward, growing taller. I would like to think of my life in the same way. My days of growing physically taller are over, though my waist does seem to be expanding a bit. Running the Boston Marathon or hiking up a 10,000 foot mountain are not happening. Scuba diving days are past.

But, I would like to think that I am not mentally static. I am reaching for new experiences, new opportunities to keep my mind fresh and my attitude open. Like the leaves, I can see myself as reaching for the sun, the brightness that is available to us all.

* The tree responds to the slightest breeze. In this example, I wish I was more like the tree. I do respond to slight breezes, but often in non-productive ways. The smallest change to my schedule, an inconsiderate driver, or the latest stupid news out of Washington tends to ruffle my leaves, causing me to waste valuable time and energy on something that has no real significance to my day-to-day life. The tree sways in the wind without breaking, or even bending very much. That should be my goal.

* The tree has a hard exterior protecting a very vulnerable interior. The smallest bug can cause serious damage to the tree's health. I think many of us are this way. We present a strong exterior. We are not damaged by the slings and arrows of life. We need very little help or support.

Yet, inside that gruff shell we can be hurting. Small things can leave permanent damage. We can be lonely, disappointed or afraid. We can live in fear that others might see past the tough bark and glimpse our vulnerability. 

I suggest we would be less squishy inside if we didn't always put up a false front. Letting others into our lives would give us the emotional support and freedom to really be us, in all our warts and weaknesses. 

* One tree may have flaky bark, another a smooth look, but none is perfect, all have some flaws. I hope my newly found sense of spirituality and belief in the connection between all of us would allow me to see past the "bark" that shows flaws but covers the same thing: a human being.

* Trees are never straight. They grow up but not without some deviation. Isn't that just like our retirement journey? We don't proceed in a straight line through life. There are detours, there are side trails we follow. Our overall path is forward, but not without dips and bends.

* Many trees lose their leaves every winter, but come back stronger and healthy with the return of warm weather. We all need periods of rest, of pauses in our journey. We need to remind ourselves that life is a journey that requires different seasons of energy, of recuperation, of spurts of growth. Like a tree that appears to be dormant, or even dead during the winter months, we need breaks to regroup before moving forward.

 After a major health problem, the death of someone close to us, divorce, or serious relationship issues we may appear to be withdrawn from life. After a financial setback the energy required to keep afloat may have drained us.

But, like the tree in spring, we have the internal strength to regroup and reenter life. We must give ourselves permission to "lose our leaves" for awhile, knowing that there will come a time when the life force within will reassert itself.

Heavens, all that from 20 minutes staring at a tree? Yep. And that is precisely why I plan on having a quiet day once a month. Without external stimulation  our minds can be free to really see what is right in front of us. Only then can we understand the lessons the world is anxious to share.

January 17, 2020

Retirement's False Starts and Stops

A reader who offers suggestions for blog posts (which I love and encourage from anyone), dropped me a note some time ago to ask about the path to a satisfying retirement. She and her husband have been moving toward that goal for a few years now but something always derails their plans. One partner gets cold feet and decides that working longer would be good for their long term financial health. Or, the decision to retire brings the realization that no firm plan to fill all that free time exists so retirement is put off.

Another "false start" involves one partner going back to school in order to try a new career. But, soon comes the realization that studying and sitting in class for hours at a time doesn't mesh well with the desire to volunteer, go to church more often, travel, or spend time cooking. Retirement and starting a new, full time career can't work together.

So, she wonders how many almost-retirees make a few false starts on their plans as they get ready to leave their old lives. The short answer is, "Many." Like any stage of life we rarely proceed smoothly from step A to step B. Unexpected problems arise or life goals are adjusted. Just being alive means you are in a state of constant change.

With something as life-altering as retirement, having second or third thoughts is only natural. Trying to figure out how to use all that free time can be daunting. Trying to balance the desire to learn something new with the eagerness to spend time doing what you already know you love is not easy.

The last eighteen years of retirement have taught me to allow myself to change plans, direction, even lifestyle. In fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure there really is such a thing as a false start. Retirement starts when you are mentally, emotionally, and financially able to take that final step. Everything before that is just a test or a feeling out of various aspects of a life change.

So, for the person who wants to retire but can't quite cut his or her ties to work, then it is more likely you aren't quite ready. For the person who stops work and then realizes there are still motivations to have a job, whether full or part time, then there is no "failure" in satisfying that need.

For the person who is simply afraid of the unknown and needs encouragement to jump......do it. Jump in with both feet, knowing that retirement is simply a part of your life's journey that you  adjust, modify, or even revoke, as things change. Retirement is not an end, but really a new beginning.

False starts? Not really...just a different path.

January 13, 2020

Time Magazine's Person Of The Year

Jesus's mother was probably 13 when she gave birth. Joan of Arc started her battles against English oppressors at the age of 13. She was 19 when she was burned at the stake. A little less dramatic, Bobby Fischer was crowned as a chess Grandmaster at 15. Louis Braille developed a language for the blind when only 15 years old. At 18, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a literacy classic.

History has plenty of examples of young people, many not out of their teen years, having major impacts on history. I think sometimes age is an advantage; younger people aren't old enough to know they can't accomplish a task. So, they push forward and work miracles.

Last month Time Magazine named Greta Thunberg as their Person of The Year. She has earned her this honor for her ability to galvanize others in the battle to save our planet from the most horrific consequences of climate change. 

Her relentless calling out of her elders for being too timid, too worried about their pocketbooks, or unable to admit reality has inspired people of all ages, in all corners of the globe, to raise their voices in protest.

Last September I wrote a post that suggests young people may be our best hope for the future. Ms. Thunberg was the focus of that post after her blistering speech to the people most able to take serious action, but unwilling to do so.

Since that speech she has traveled to several meetings and conferences on both sides of the Atlantic. True to her value in doing as little harm as possible to the earth, she has not flown on these trips, even though doing so would save countless days. Instead, choosing the method that creates the least carbon damage, she has taken sailing ships, at least one with solar panels to power the equipment on board.

At home in Sweden, she has convinced her parents to stop air travel and give up meat. She has led strikes in front of the Swedish Parliament and at countless schools, all to force others to pay attention to what lies straight ahead of us.

Of course, some of the targets of her ire have struck back, figuring a 16 year old girl will probably wilt under their verbal assaults. Instead, she and the people she inspires seem to be getting stronger, more vocal, and more organized. One "leader" said she needed to work on her anger management problem. Considering the source, that's a rich one.

I am not going to conclude with a list of things you could so in this ultimate battle to protect our home. By now, you know the steps you can and should take to do what you can, no matter how small.

The Greta story reminds me of a John Lennon song from my student days, "Power To The People. " One person begins a dialogue, which becomes a discussion, which evolves into a large conversation, which develops into a movement, that has the potential to force change.

Whatever your feeling about her or even the issue she is so passionate about,  Ms. Thunberg has proven, once again, the power of a dedicated individual to force others to pay attention and decide what to do. 

And, I find that remarkably empowering and hopeful.

January 9, 2020

The Day of Silence: Did It Work?

Well, that was interesting. My day of silence has come and gone. On January 2nd, my wife and I agreed to try something neither of us had ever done before: a day without conversation, cell phones, texts, computers, television, or music. We would leave the house only to take our dog to the park (with no car radio playing!)

The first thing we learned was how easy it is to communicate without talking. Gestures, shrugs, hand motions, and pointing works nearly as well as speech. Occasionally, we had to write each other notes, but that wasn't against the spirit of the day, so no problem. 

Quiet is powerful. It has a force that we rarely experience anymore. When all the extraneous electronic chatter and noises that make up a normal day are eliminated, I swear I could hear my mind whirring. I know I could hear my breathing, steady and controlled, every few seconds, filling my ears with its rhythm. I don't know if this qualifies as meditating, but there was a definite separation from my normal way of living.

During one of my times on the back patio, sounds that are there all the time became part of my day. As I focused on what was breaking the stillness I heard birds trilling and calling each other, airplanes high up in the sky and smaller ones from a nearby municipal airport. Laughter from a few kids home on winter break, my neighbor coughing on his back porch, someone using an electric saw, the barking of small dogs inside a house somewhere nearby.

The ticking of a small clock on the patio, and tires screeching as a car took a corner too quickly. The leaves on the trees in the backyard were swaying gently in a mild breeze, making a subtle rustling noise until a delivery truck rumbled down the street in front of my house covering up the sound for a moment or two. Silence is never completely silent.

Betty and I pulled the portable fire pit from a side yard, threw in some newspaper, shredder waste paper, and a few scraps of wood. Lighting the pile, we quietly sat by the warmth, thinking our own thoughts. When the blaze died out, we nodded to each other, signalling our intention to go back into the house.

We managed to stick to our silent, unplugged plan very well. Betty did receive some texts that had to be answered. We agreed to watch one favorite TV show while eating dinner. Otherwise, the time passed with nothing but our thoughts, some books, and time in the backyard. While I shouldn't speak for her, I think Betty found the experiment worthwhile and, with a few modifications, one we'd like to repeat.

I found this both restful and energizing. Going a full day without checking the phone or blog, having no music to break the stillness or no television to distract made me much more aware of my surroundings and what happens while simply paying attention.  

At the same time, I filled a few pieces of paper with ideas for this blog, things I want to add and subtract from my daily schedule, and reinforcement of where my shifting spiritual search is leading. I finished two books. My thoughts started flowing, recharging my mental battery with positive energy. Time didn't seem to flow either more slowly or more quickly; I just wasn't really paying attention to a clock.

Will I (and Betty) have another day of silence? Did it make itself valuable enough to repeat? Yes, with a few modifications:

* Quiet instead of silence. We both felt there were times when we wanted to share thoughts and ideas. It would be a mistake to miss the chance to discuss something important just because talking is banned.

* Some structure to the day. In addition to normal breaks for meals, we felt the experience would be heightened by allowing us to do similar things at the same time. Especially with the ability to talk with each other, if we read, worked on our creative activities, and spent time outside while with each other, the chance to share something would be enhanced. We wouldn't find ourselves always in separate rooms, doing different things.

* Allow for "work" projects if we find that restorative. Betty likes to do things that require physical effort. Expending energy calms her and helps her manage some of the pain that are a part of her daily life. I could oil paint and still be quiet. Working, even on something that might be called a chore, should not detract from the experience.

* Plan on repeating once a month, but have the quiet day end at dinner time. Ten or eleven hours seems to be enough to decompress and establish a break in the normal routine of our days. We both enjoy watching favorite TV shows together in the evening and I will usually have a period of guitar practice. To prevent those things from happening makes the day seem almost punitive, rather than enjoyable.

So, was this time of silence and unplugging worth it? Absolutely. I think of it as a welcome detox from my normal routine and disconnection from the world, if even for just a day. 

January 5, 2020

The Power of Thirds

Good novels, movies, even memorable music are divided into three parts: a strong beginning, middle, and conclusion. There is a "rule of thirds" in art, film-making, and photography that dictates powerful, cohesive composition. It's been said we all have three lives: our public life, our private life, and our secret life. The time after full time work is what some writers have called the third stage of life. Bad luck comes in threes. Christians believe the Resurrection happened on the third day.

There must be some significance to the power of thirds in life. 

Retirement follows this pattern: it is is a three act play. It has been quite awhile since I have written about the three stages of retirement, but after stumbling upon the importance of thirds in something I read not too long ago, it seemed appropriate to revisit this topic.

The First Stage of Retirement is a period of time that can last from a few months to a few years. Some call it the honeymoon phase, others just call it overdue! 
Time becomes a friend. Suddenly you have control of the clock. You determine how your day is to be structured. Of course, commitments to a spouse or other relationships don't stop. You still pay bills and take out the garbage. But, the blessing of a day and evening that lacks the rigidity of your former workday fills you with a real sense of freedom. 

Self discovery is a journey that begins anew. You learn things about yourself and spouse that you never knew while working 8 hours a day. We've all read about the adjustments that a spouse has to make when the husband or wife is suddenly "underfoot" 24/7. It is true, even if you worked from home for all or part of your career. Unless you are single, that other human being is not used to your charming presence all the time. If you approach the process as a positive, the personality traits, thoughts, and interests of the other person gives you a glorious chance to expand and grow yourself. 

Your "possibles" list has fewer restraints. Books you have wanted to read, trips you want to plan and take, projects around the house, changing a spare bedroom into hobby space, taking on something new that has always intrigued you, involvement in volunteer work, the chance to more fully develop your spiritual side if that is your thing,.....the list of "possibles" can be endless. Of course, limits are imposed by financial, family, or health issues. But, those boundaries are quite a bit farther apart when you are enjoying a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

The Second Stage of Retirement can feel like a slap in the face. As you make the transition into this new phase of retirement, there is a growing sense of unease, even panic. "What did I do? Am I crazy? I'll be broke in a year! What if I get really sick?" The reality of being without the safety net that a job provided suddenly strikes you. You are the Master and Commander of your fate and that is scary. What looked so good a few months ago now looks like a ship wreck about to happen.

Loneliness often rises to the forefront. Even if you are married and your non-working spouse is home most of the time with you, feelings of isolation from what is going on "out there" build. You have no idea how you are going to fill all the time each day. If you are single, widowed, or your spouse continues to work, that void can be even stronger.

The benefits you took for granted while working are either gone, or curtailed. Medical coverage usually suffers. Paid vacations? No more. Pension contributions? No way. Gaining weight and losing physical and mental sharpness? Very possible.

What you must keep in mind is that, this too shall pass. If you suffer a bout of moderate to severe depression that lasts for more than a month, I urge you to seek professional help. Doctors can help you get control of these serious side effects of not working. But, if you have thoughts about any of the question above and are not clinically depressed, breathe easier. Stage Three will definitely follow.

The Third Stage of Retirement is when many of us find our stride. Retirement becomes the most satisfying. We have weathered the storms (real or imagined) in Stage Two, and found out we can survive and even prosper in our new reality. This is when you can achieve a healthy balance between euphoria, panic, and reality. It is when you realize that you have the ability to make it all work for you. A happy, satisfying lifestyle is very possible.

This isn't a period of Pollyanna thinking. It is a time when you can more calmly look at your current position, your options, and your dreamed-about future and decide what you can accomplish. It is a time of possible personal growth and development like you haven't experienced since you were in your 20's. Emotional and intellectual  opportunities abound. Time really is your ally, again.

Personally, in Stage Three I thought my wife and I would take a long cruise at least once a year, spend the hot Arizona summers someplace else, like Hawaii, travel a lot, and live it up. After all, hadn't we earned it?

Some of those things happened, but not in the way I dreamed, We retired before our financial resources were sufficient to turn those dreams into fact. But, that was a deliberate choice on our part. To continue working would not be worth the cost to our relationship or our health just so we could make those "dreams" happen. 

Also, we discovered the absolute joy of spending much more time with family and friends and deepening our spiritual journey. We had always built our married life on experiences over things and that wasn't about to change. We have never been consumption-driven and that wasn't going to change, even with an empty nest.

Did I go through the anguish of Stage Two? Absolutely, and still do every once in awhile. But, I have developed the insight of what was really important to me and my family so I can do more than weather the storm, I can embrace the changes that lie ahead.

The Power of Thirds is very real.

Note: Wondering how my day of silence went? Look for the follow up post on January 9th.

January 2, 2020

Well, This Should Be Interesting

The grandkids were here for New Year's Eve and left yesterday morning. The straightening is over, last year's files and receipts have been packed away. 2020 is beginning in a way I have never attempted before. Today should be a unique experience for me, a different way of starting a new year.

January 2, 2020, will be a day of silence. Yep: no talking, no cell phones, no TV, no music, no conversations with my wife of 43 years (who is participating as well). It is OK to ask the dog to go outside, but otherwise, mum's the word.

Reading is permitted, if it is something that feeds my mind, like a book on meditation or prayer or spiritual examination. But, murder mysteries, political intrigue? No, not today. Texting? Out. Time spent on the computer? Nope (my response to any comments you leave will happen starting Friday...and I wrote this post a few weeks ago).

The obvious question: Why? What do I hope to accomplish? I'm not really sure. Several articles about mindfulness retreats and the power of silent contemplation have caught my eye over the last month. It was a hectic last few months of 2019. I want to start fresh in any way I can, using any path available to me.

I am not interested in paying to go to a yoga center in southern Arizona. What I am interested in how I would respond to enforced silence...a day that only is filled by my thoughts, my ideas, exposure to nature during some walks and quiet periods. Something like that chair across a quiet stream would be perfect.

It will be interesting to see where my mind goes, what thoughts fill the gaps normally taken up with electronic or written stimulation. Will I get really, really bored and antsy? Will I be unable to sit still for long periods, just letting my thoughts wander where they will?

Or, will I discover that enforced silence is calming, restorative, and energizing? Will fresh ideas flow for my life, this blog, my future? With the focus on what is in my mind and in the natural world, where will my thoughts go? Author Sarah Monk, says, "Psychological benefits of silence can include enhanced creativity, focus, self control, self awareness, perspective and spirituality."

Will I awake January 3rd bursting to resume talking, communicating and reattaching to the verbal world? Or, will I find a day of detachment has been wonderfully different.

I promise to let you know. But, for now........