February 27, 2020

What Does Success Mean To You?

Or, as Author Michael Gurian asks in his book, The Wonder of Aging, "Have you found what you are looking for?" 

Success in one form or another is important to all of us. The key is figuring out what success means to you. Is it measured by material safety and a lack of worry over the basics of life? Is it a powerful relationship that fills your days with happiness? Is it leaving a legacy with family  or your community?

Maybe it is a very internal determination. You feel successful because you are content with your life. You are willing to accept the reality of aging but not content to allow it to diminish your approach to life.

Here are some possibilities for you to consider. These are important measures that I strive to follow. What about you?

To be comfortable with myself. This means accepting who I am. It is finding a way to be content and at ease. While striving to progress in some part of my life, it means accepting what is good and bad in me. It means being firm in my values and beliefs, though always open to adjusting after receiving new information. Being comfortable doesn't mean being static. It does mean I generally like who I have become.

To have at least one person love me enough to take me for who and what I am. In my case it is my wife. After 43 years I still find ways to irritate or upset her on a regular basis. But, I know she is fully committed to our life together. For better or worse wasn’t just a sentence in the wedding ceremony. She hasn’t stopped trying to help me grow and work on my weaknesses. But, her love is not conditional on my making specific changes. That is a life-affirming fact.

To have family nearby. I have written several posts about the importance of families and those relationships.Having  both grown daughters, my in-laws and their extended family, and my grandkids all within 15 minutes is a tremendous blessing. Success comes when all of those people look for opportunities to get together. We enjoy each other, we care about each other, and we are there for each other. We don't judge (at least not in public!).

To be financially secure enough to handle the bumps without crashing. I retired before I was financially ready, but I had no choice. My business was disappearing before my eyes. My family was suffering from my travel schedule. In the end, the decision was to make do with what we had and make it work. Because we had always lived below our means we had saved enough to give it a shot. We are homebodies and very content with what we have. We don’t need a lot of extras. That has enabled us to survive with very little change in our way of life through various recessions, housing price collapses, and lost investments.

To understand that experiences are more lasting than things. When it came to some large expense, our kids were often part of the decision. They would understand that choosing one thing would affect something else. When given that choice, as a family we almost always valued experiences over things. That mindset continues even in our empty nest phase. Good memories cannot be repossessed or foreclosed. They are always available and always increase in value.

To leave something positive behind. Even if we don’t say so out loud, every one of us hopes we are not forgotten when we die, that there is something we leave behind that lasts. It could be discovering the cure for cancer or a new design for a more efficient solar cell. It could be that you gave life to a child, who gave live to a child, who gave life to a child. It could be a scholarship fund for deserving students. Or, it could be that you lived your life with honor, integrity, and dignity and were an inspiration to others. That might be the most impoirtant legacy there is.

I have lived long enough to understand one very important reality: my definition of success is constantly changing. It is very possible that one part of my life may move in a direction I find encouraging and positive while another part seems stuck in place, or may even be moving backwards.

I have come to the point in my journey where I can celebrate the part that is succeeding while not ignoring something that is not,  but not letting that area bring me down. I can celebrate success where and when it occurs.

What is success to you?  Have you really thought about it? Has your definition changed?

February 24, 2020

Eight Years Later and Still Waiting

In December of 2012 I wrote a post about the Sandy Hook massacre of children and adults. I would like to rerun some of that post here and then fast forward to today.

I have waited until today to add my voice to the discussion of the tragedy at Sandy Hook School. I needed time to process the horror. I needed to try to understand the mindset of people who believe more guns would have made last Friday's events less likely. I needed to understand why our country accepts tens of thousands of deaths each year from guns. I needed to understand why Congress is more afraid of the NRA than the reality of all the dead children and adults killed year after year.
I finally decided I can't understand.
I found this story from TV commentator, Joe Scarborough, who was strongly in favor of unlimited gun rights........ until last Friday.
As reported in the Huffington Post Joe Scarborough said on Monday "From this day forward, nothing can ever be the same again," he said. "... Let this be our true landmark ... politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo."
He said that he was a "conservative Republican" who had been solidly aligned with the NRA during his time in Congress, and had previously held libertarian views on the Second Amendment. But he added that Friday "changed everything": 
"I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want, that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. We all must begin anew and demand that Washington's old way of doing business is no longer acceptable.
Entertainment moguls don't have an absolute right to glorify murder while spreading mayhem in young minds across America. And our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-style, high-caliber, semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high-capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.
It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It's time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our schoolyards than putting together their next fundraiser. It's time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas when we're losing the war at home ... For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life and I choose change."
Will the 27 dead be the last straw that finally forces change?
I pray it will be so. Otherwise, the dead lost their lives for absolutely nothing. And, that is the ultimate waste.

Guns are so much a part of our culture
Well, eight years later and over 2,600 people have died in mass shootings in United States since Sandy Hook. Nearly 10,000 of us have been wounded. I must conclude Sandy Hook changed nothing. In fact, it was followed by horrific mass violence in Orlando, Las Vegas, and Florida. Also, I must remember the Gabby Gifford shooting in Tucson in 2011 that left her seriously wounded and 6 others killed at a campaign rally.

A total of 7,000 children have died from gun violence, many at the hands of parents or family friends, other as a result of gang shootings or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, some by suicide, and others by accidental discharge. The vast majority of these deaths did not involve assault weapons. But, doesn't 7,000 dead children still raise our concern level?

Forget common sense...that train left the station a long time ago. What is it going to take for us to stop murdering ourselves with weapons designed for war? How many killings with assault weapons in the hands of people who have no business owning a firearm are necessary? How many have to die before we close the loopholes in our laws or sell handguns at private shows to anyone with the cash and without proper background checks?

Properly controlled handguns, rifles, even shotguns can be part of a fun and safe sport. I repeat: Properly controlled handguns, rifles, even shotguns can be part of a fun and safe sport. Target shooting takes practice and dedication. Those who hunt wild game are regulated and registered. The 2nd Amendment has been interpreted to protect this right and it is going nowhere.

But, anyone can threaten and kill my kids, your grandkids, or the children down the street at the elementary school by getting a hold of firearms that they have no business owning.

This has absolutely nothing to do with our rights. It has to do with our lives and the lives of our loved ones and neighbors. It has to do with the cowards in Congress and the craziness of lobbyists buying influence at the cost of human lives.

As a father of two grown girls and now grandfather of three grandchildren, I can't accept the reality that going to a school, a church, a mall, or any public space in this country is a decision that could cost anyone his or her life at the hands of someone with a deadly weapon. Sure, that risk has always been there. But, the odds and amount of damage have increased because of the increase in fire power. Did you have "active shooter" drills when you went to school?

For those who say banning assault rifles is just the first step to banning all guns, I suggest you go to Newtown and talk to a parent of a dead 6 or 7 year old child and tell them exactly why a weapon designed for war has any place in civilized society. While you are at it visit any of the other places where assault weapons have left people dead or wounded. Do we really need the ability to blast a deer with 25 high-powered rounds?

To be clear yet again: I am not talking about restricting gun sales or use for those who pass background checks and buy from licenced dealers. I have no problem with this behavior. It is not one I find enticing, but it is legal and important to lots of people.

If you are about to respond that guns don't kill people, people kill people, please don't. That is a ludicrous argument. Being more careful about who can buy a gun and banning assault weapons will not end death by shooting. The crazies will still get their hands on a weapon to murder other people. But, obviously, cutting back on the number of guns available to unqualified buyers will reduce the death and injury toll.

We have laws about driving drunk or speeding. To drive at all you must get a license after passing a test about the law and demonstrating driving skills. Some people break those laws all the time, but by having restrictions and penalties in place the number of deaths caused by the improper use of a motor vehicle are substantially lower than if just anyone could get in a vehicle and drive any way they choose. 

We seem to be OK with strict rules about operating a car, but not guns? Oh, and notice that some restrictions on driving drunk didn't start the slippery slope of banning drivers.

Some argue that the laws in place are good enough, they just aren't enforced. I would ask, why not? What are those in charge of making sure gun laws are followed not doing? A scream of protest from the NRA, a claim that any law is just the first step? Enforcement officials who don't believe in any restrictions? If present laws are really the answer but they are not enforced, then that argument doesn't hold water.

In closing, I repeat: properly licensed and background-checked people who use guns responsibility should want laws that keep bad people from putting your legitimate ownership at risk. I do not want to take away your guns. I want to make it more difficult for sick and bad people to kill children and adults. I want assault weapons in the hands of our military, not Joe or Jane citizen.

Now comes the fun part: the comments. I have put on my big boy pants and am ready. No personal insults or name-calling, please. Try to stick to the facts. 

NOTE: Because I have made my position quite clear, i am not going to comment on the comments left by readers. I will let each person who chooses to add to this topic make their case. 

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.