April 30, 2020

A Recession is Very Likely: How Will It Affect Us?

Doesn't it seem as though we just finished with a recession, the so-called Great Recession, or the Very Bad One since Great implies a positive? Well, actually that was over ten years ago. Even so, there are segments of our citizens that never recovered fully.

The economy changed in some fundamental ways while the economic rescue plans tended to aid the well-off, not those struggling. Many middle-class individuals and families have spent the past decade largely stagnant in growth and well-being, even as an 10 year economic expansion was underway.

So, it may not be "official" yet, but the next recession is about to huff and puff and try to blow our house down. The stock market acts like someone on Spring Break, bouncing from feeling good to sicker than a dog. A whiff of good news, or bad, sends it off chasing its own tail.

While our economic system has regular boom and bust cycles, I think the odds are very good that we are beginning something none of us has ever lived through before: at some point trying to restart a virtually shutdown economy, all while protecting billions of people from a deadly disease, and restoring some sense of personal safety while re-engaging with others and leaving the cocoon we have inhibited for months....quite a tall order with many moving parts.

My best guess is a very slow, gradual, reopening of parts of both the economy and civic life. Personally, I hope the library is one of the first to welcome people back. It is such an important resource to all ages, providing services that have been vitally missed. Maybe parks that have been closed or playgrounds wrapped in protective tape will once again allow families to play outside.

Manufacturing and construction will probably be among the first industries to start up again. Chain restaurants and hair care establishments will also start the march toward normality, though maybe in ways that are different from before. Letting in only a certain number of people at a time, having shorter hours, continuing to stress social distancing and maybe masks...all are possible. Don't be surprised to see waiters still in gloves and masks, handing out disposable menus. 

Smaller restuarants, book stores, dry cleaners, coffee shops may be next. But, the question is how many will have survived the enforced shutdown? Just like the first six or seven years after the 2009 recession, I would expect to see lots of empty storefronts. Places I have frequented for years will be no more. Unemployment among these types of business will remain horribly high for the foreseeable future.

I hope gyms aren't too far down the restart list. Expect the request to wipe down equipment after use to become mandatory. Spacing between machines, treadmills, and even weight benches will change. Checking someone's temperature along with their keycard is likely.

Maybe one of the ways we will know things are really on the mend is when sporting events return. Will there be enough time to hold a major league baseball season? Will a 45,000 seat stadium only allow half that number in, leaving at least one empty seat between each fan? Will enough of us feel comfortable to attend to make even that half-size crowd reality?

Will the NFL start even close to on time? How about college football? Professional hockey and basketball are done for this season; is a fall start for the new season going to happen? How does social distancing work in such a packed-together setting? No sports until 2021? Depending upon a projected rebound of the virus in the fall, that is more likely.

Finally, more robust travel will start to return, both for business and leisure though with obvious changes in boarding and paperwork requirements. I do have serious questions about what will happen to the cruise industry and their massive floating cities. After all the stories of the deaths and people being locked in their rooms for weeks as ships hunted desperately for a port that would accept them means quite a leap of faith in getting onboard. 

What about schools and colleges? How will having 30 kids, crowded into a classroom, or 300 in a lecture hall, change? Will cafeterias no longer allow kids within a foot of the food serving line? Teachers, PE instructors...no one will be left in quite the same situation as last March. And, what will be done about the 2-3 months of lessons lost? Parents are doing the best they can but learning around the dining room table is not the same. 

I am the first to admit, I was relatively lucky in weathering the effects of the last recession. By having no mortgage I had no fear of foreclosure. By having no credit card debt I had no fear of bankruptcy (unless a major medical problem cropped up). By being almost eight years into my satisfying retirement at that point there was no job worry.

Our house did lose half of it's value between 2008-2012. Thank goodness we didn't have to move during that period. Even though my financial investments tend to be conservative, that doesn't mean I didn't suffer loses. My various retirement and savings accounts had a 40% paper loss in less than a year. That induced some serious stress, no matter how well your life is going! So, yes, the Great Recession was a pain in the butt for Betty and me, but nothing like it was to millions of people who were devastated. I feel embarrassed to even place myself in the same general category.

My feeling is what we are going through now, with virtually a shutdown world, the unemployment figures, the massive debts our government is generating, the destruction of way too many small businesses, the uncertainty, and the time lag before a vaccine is available to make us feel even remotely safe, will combine to make what we went through ten years ago seem like a minor bump in the road.

What gives me long term optimism is the spirit of people helping people that this crisis has unleashed. The realization we are all in this together and will get out of it together could make the Covid-19 disaster recovery period very different from the Great Recession. 

I believe when this is behind us, two, four, or five years from now, our economy, political landscape, and society will have undergone some profound changes. My hope is we emerge with a fairer, more equality-based system. That we will have learned that we are strong individually but also as a group; our neighbors are our support and friends, not our enemy.

Preparation for future disasters will take a much higher priority. Wishful thinking or sound bites will be replaced with open-eyed acceptance of the facts. Our health care workers and providers, first responders, and teachers will be elevated in terms of both status and remuneration.

And, the people who helped keep us fed and protected, at personal risk to themselves and families, will be recognized for their importance, both in how we respond to them and how they are paid and protected.

A recession is a given and it is going to be nasty. There is going to be a large human toll. Even so, I have every hope that we will come out of it a healthier, stronger more humane society.

April 26, 2020

Messing Up Your Retirement

Back to the subject of retirement for this post. I wrote this about two months ago before everything began to change. I am leaving it as is, though obviously we might not be able to follow these five "rules" today. The importance of each still exists for now and well into our retirement future.

I subscribe to a dozen different Google Alerts to help me get ideas for blog posts. It works like a newspaper clipping service used to operate. Once a day Google sends me links from the Internet and relevant blogs that contain information based on key words I supply. For example, any time the words "retirement blog" or "Senior Health" appear in a blog or a news story, Google sends me a link.

Unfortunately, the number of links that contain negative information have dominated these alerts. The majority of financial stories are not encouraging for our age group. The inability of too many seniors to retire, or the negative effects on health from stress and worry fill these emails. The future of Social Security and Medicare are back in the headlines. If I believed all these alerts are the full story I'd pull the plug on Satisfying Retirement, since apparently no one is having one anymore.

Like you I know that negative news more often replaces any good news: "If it bleeds, it leads" is still true. Politics is a prime example. While our government continues to function well overall, what fills our days is worrisome news about the future of the economy, coronavirus, the latest tweet storm from the Tweeter-in-Chief or a dustup with someone somewhere. Don't get me wrong: things in our government right now are in dangerous disarray, but not everything is going down the drain.

So, if you want to ruin a perfectly good retirement only allow these type of stories into your life. Believe that everyone is close to living on the street, we are all eating dog food, haven't been to a doctor in ten years, and divorce is right around the corner.

Actually, there are five more common ways to mess up what can be the best years of your life: insist things be the way you want them to be. Can you relate to any of these?

Insist that your retirement look like your parents' retirement. The world is a different place than it was just one generation ago. Retiring with a solid pension, a good health plan, a dependable Social Security check and Medicare coverage made mom and dad's retirement years generally rather safe and steady. Golf, travel, some volunteer work, sleeping late, and lots of reading filled their days.

Well, wake up and smell the new reality. Those carefree days are gone and not likely to return. Importantly, most of us wouldn't be content with such a laid-back lifestyle for the next 20 or 30 years anyway, though the security and stability would be nice. Hold out for what dear old mom and dad enjoyed and you will be disappointed.

Insist that that it follow exactly your plan. Control is something we crave, expect to maintain...and are kidding ourselves. Plans are important, but not necessarily reality. John Lennon had it right: "Life is what happens while you are making other plans." By insisting that the retirement you plotted out for yourself oh so carefully follows that script without deviation is folly. A satisfying retirement requires flexibility.

Insist that "they" are responsible to provide you a nice lifestyle. There is no more "they." Neither business nor government can guarantee you anything. Life doesn't work that way. If you don't take responsibility for your own investments and savings, for living beneath your means, and bypassing immediate gratification for a more secure future, I'm afraid 'they" will not be there to rescue you. Life isn't particularly fair, but blaming someone else will really get you nowhere.

Insist that you will not get sick and need help. There is no need for health insurance, long-term care plans, or preparing for the time when a nursing center becomes necessary. You have great genes and a family that will take of you. Both those facts may be true, but if you don't plan for poor health you are buying yourself a boatload of trouble. The human body is designed to wear out. Our lifestyle and dietetic choices hasten that process. You can do a lot to delay the decline and improve the quality of your later life. But, the prudent person also makes plans for when all else fails.

Insist that no one else saves much and they are fine. We read all sorts of stories of 50 year olds with $25,000 in their retirement account, or folks living off just Social Security and doing fine. Both stories can be true, but what is missing is the quality of the retirement these approaches produce.

If you are in your 50's (even 40's) and have saved virtually nothing for retirement you have two choices: have a rich, older relative who has you in first position in his/her will, or plan on working until you die. Those are the only ways having such an insignificant savings account will work.

Yes, you may be able to exist on just Social Security with Medicare help, but your daily lifestyle will be quite restricted. With the average payment just over $1,200 a month (before Medicare deductions) you will have little or no discretionary income. After the necessities are paid for the money will be gone.

These problems don't have to happen. Each of the five is largely controllable by you. Can the economy or government screw ups, bad luck in the health department, or an unavoidable accident ruin even the best laid plans? Absolutely. But, why contribute to the odds of problems? Don't mess up your chance at a truly satisfying lifestyle by denying personal responsibility for what happens. If you look for a scapegoat it is very likely that it will look a lot like you.

Dedicate yourself to proving all of the bad news Google alerts are wrong.

April 22, 2020

You've Got To Pitch Your Tent Somewhere

No, this isn't  a post about the best place to camp, or a great state park nearby. Author Richard Rohr said, "You must build your tent somewhere in this world, and there is no pedestal of purity on which to stand apart and above." He was writing about religion, but it struck me as an apt statement about life at the moment.

All of us must land somewhere in life, and we aren't likely to be able to avoid problems and trials. Circumstances often dictate what life looks like. Family responsibilities can easily shift our chosen path to something we never envisioned, and wherever we end up it will not be perfect. A world-wide disease can test even the strongest among us while having devastating consequences for the most vulnerable.

Our financial situation is often a source of at least a little worry, even if everything looks rosy. Of course, the massive drop in the stock market over the last few weeks has tested even the most self-assured among us. Watching years of gains disappear in a few days can easily send us to the antacid bottle. Heavens, just a few days ago oil was selling for less than zero. In theory a supplier would pay you to take away barrels of the stuff.

I remind myself that all that lose is only on paper at the moment. If I sell now I lock in the disaster. Much like the 2008-9 mess, if I just wait and do nothing, the investments will likely come back. Growth won't have happened, but neither will permanent loss on the scale I am seeing now. Granted, there could be years of uncertainty as the economic toll of the virus works its way through our system. Some businesses may not come back, others will flourish.

Health? Don't get me started. Between the two of us, Betty and I were averaging one doctor appointment a week until a few weeks ago. Sounds like my parent's calendar, something I never thought we would replicate. Social distancing, lots of hand washing, and common sense might see us and our loved ones through Covid-19. Then, again, they may not.

Even with all the uncertainty at the moment, I can't imagine anything worse than pitching my tent in such a way that I am away from and separate from the world all the time. In fact, I am going to be quite interested to see how I react when all the restrictions and closings come to an end.

Just as interesting will be what happens to our way of life. Will this have been just a large pothole in the road, one of those events that has happened throughout human history? Or, will we see a real change in patterns of consumption, preparation and social interaction? Will we have gained a new appreciation of the idea that we all need each other and pulling as one accomplishes more than pulling separately?

Or, will it be just the opposite? Self-reliance, being better prepared for disruptions in the future, or a lack of trust that those in charge have the ability to react quickly when needed, will keep us behind walls of separation and self-preservation.

It is much too early to predict with any level of confidence with path we will choose. But, speaking for myself, I hope this is a wakeup call that our tents offer better protection and satisfaction when pitched together and not each one separate and distanced from others. That sounds like a miserable way to live.

April 18, 2020

A Focus on Gratitude

Are you becoming tired of the drumbeat of negative, scary news? If the virus isn't enough to fret about, we are looking at a huge blow to our economy and way of life, playing out in real time. We are constantly reminded of the flaws in our medical preparedness and supply chains. Finding toilet paper is a cause for celebration. Don't even look at your retirement accounts for the time being. If you know someone who has lost a job because of the virtual shutdown of the world economy, their pain is very close to your heart.

It would be stupid to deny the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves. Even so, there is so much we could be grateful for if we simply took the time to think about it. So, for this post, I'd like to change our focus to the small stuff that makes even a life buffeted by bad news still something to celebrate, enjoy, and be grateful for.

* Automatic coffee maker (and enough coffee to brew). For much of the world, starting off with a fresh cup is the way we know the day has begun. There is something very reassuring about coming into the kitchen and smelling that glorious oder each morning.

* A smartphone that brings me the world without having to venture outside my door. Not just the news, but crossword puzzles, art, film, and music information. Checking on blog comments, looking at my daily schedule, thin though it may be. Listening to a podcast. 

* Spotify and all the music in the world to explore.

* A solid Internet connection. Not everyone has this at their fingertips. I am reminded of all the people who I see at the library using the public computers for web surfing, research, school work or just having fun. Now, they are even more isolated than normal.

* A backyard that is visited by all sorts of birds, their cheerful chirps signaling all is right in their world. And, a porch with comfortable chairs to sit, watch and listen, while I sip a cup of coffee from that automatic coffee maker.

* Bushes and flowers that add splashes of color to my day.

* A safe neighborhood for daily walks and exercise sessions. 

* A pantry, freezer, and refrigerator stocked with enough food to keep us going for weeks.

* Hot water for a morning shower.

* A family that remains healthy, safe, and close by.  A daughter who is so good at teaching her three children while schools are closed that they will not miss a beat when things reopen. Another daughter who is handling the loss of virtually all her income with calm assurance that she will be just fine until things turn around.

* Books, both real and virtual, to keep me entertained, enthralled, involved, and at times, on the edge of my seat. Hobbies that can be enjoyed at home.

* A dog who begins my morning with pure joy and love. There is never enough ear scratching. 

* An afternoon nap (without feeling guilty).

* A nine year old car that continues to do what it should when we need it and doesn't demand a lot of tender care.

* Honey whiskey and white wine (not together)

* A spiritual belief system that gives me confidence in the present and future.

* (Not a small thing) A loving, supportive, and beautiful life partner for 43 years and counting. I am pretty confident I am secure enough in my own skin to survive and thrive as a single person. But, I am hoping to never have to test that belief. Betty makes each day special. Now that we are with each other 24/7, I continue to marvel at her creativity and inner strength. She makes lockdowns fun. 

At this time in our life, recognizing gratitude comes in all sizes makes tough times a bit easier to tolerate.

April 14, 2020

Retired and C-19: What Do You All Day?

So You Are Retired: What Do You Do All Day? remains the most viewed post on this blog. Written almost ten years ago,  there are new readers always interested in how a retiree spends his or her time.

Time takes on a different meaning 

With Covid-19 (or C-19 from now on), the answers have probably changed, at least for now. Leaving the house for volunteer activities has probably been curtailed. Even something as commonplace as grocery shopping is different. Picking up fresh reading material at the library..not right now. Off to the garden center for springtime flowers or bushes...closed up tight as if it were still winter time. A nice meal out at a favorite local spot...nope.

But, as comments on some other posts have made clear, many of us are using the new normal of C-19 restrictions to our advantage. Sure, more binge-watching of TV is occurring. I am not immune. Reading everything that has been stacking up on the bedside table. Naps and changes in sleep patterns are most assuredly different.

However, the extra enforced home time has also opened up new (figurative) doors. The writer, Julio Vincent Gambuto, used a phrase to describe where we are right now that I think fits perfectly: The Great Pause. We have left what was our "normal" schedule for the time being. As Mr. Gambuto notes, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape our today and our tomorrow.

I will give you a look at what I am doing to fill my days and then ask you to give us a glimpse into your schedule. it is quite possible some of what you do could spark interest in someone else. 

After years of typing with just two fingers I am taking an online touch typing course. While I am pretty fast with just two index fingers, the spelling mistakes are so frequent and take so much time to correct I am lucky to manage 10 words a minute. I never had any typing course in school, so it seems now is a good time and it is a skill I will put to use. After just a week I am pleased with the progress.

My grandson and now one of my granddaughters are consistently beating me at chess. I have played the game for years but never very well. I have figured my role is to make someone else feel better with my losing. 

Well, enough of that. While we are social distancing I am working to become at least competitive with my rooks and pawns. Again, thank to the Internet I have found Chess.com. Along with a Chess for Dummies book, I am waging war with a computer. Honestly, even at the lowest skill level I am losing quite often. But, I hold out hope that someday I will play my grandchildren to at least a stalemate.

I have stepped up guitar paying to almost every day and oil painting to three times a week. Betty wants me to try my hand at both sketching and acrylic painting...why not. 

Reading remains a mainstay of a day for me. Just before the library closed I grabbed six books. There are at least twenty or so on the Kindle I haven't read, either.

Neighborhood walks with Bailey, Betty, or solo jaunts happen much more than they used to. With the brutal Phoenix summer heat still waiting in the wings, most days are perfect for getting some much needed exercise and fresh air. I even found an old exercise band. It isn't the same as weights at the gym but helpful nevertheless.

We found a fun way to discover new shows to stream. Simply type in a letter in the search box. Every show that begins with "S" on Netflix, for example, pops up. By scrolling through, if the image looks interesting we will highlight that box, pull up a description and see if a trailer is available. If so, "add to my list." Betty and i have discovered several movies, documentaries, or series we would never have found otherwise.

OK, there it is: learning to touch type, chess lessons, more guitar and painting time, reading a lot, streaming new material, sleeping later in the morning, placing a food delivery order online.....welcome to my C-19 world!

April 10, 2020

The Visible Invisibles

For most of us, our collective experience is changing what we see and how we react. We are more aware of the fragile nature of what empty shelves look like. We read things in the news that are upsetting. Our ability to order something and have in on our doorstep in 24 hours has been disrupted.  We probably see people walking in our neighborhood we have never noticed before, not because they don't live here but because we have simply never paid much attention. 

Importantly, coronavirus is making some of the invisibles in our day-to-day life visible. These are the people that still have a job, but at what risk to themselves and family? Are they being asked to work unusual hours in difficult conditions? Are they working because their employer has given them no choice or they simply cannot make it without a paycheck? Do they have proper protective gear? Are they permitted to stay home if feeling unwell, or to help a family member? 

These are the usually invisible people who are now both visible and important to the continuing function of our society. 

* The men and women who restock the grocery shelves. 

* The truck drivers who bring what the workers put on the shelves.

* The clerk at the gas station or drug store.

* The doctors, nurses and hospital workers who risk everything every day.

* The workers who empty the trash can right on schedule every week.

* The postal worker who brings the mail regardless of the risks.

* The factory workers who box up whatever we have ordered on line.

* The delivery drivers who bring those orders to our door.

In normal times, we simply don't pay much attention to these people. They are there all the time doing what they do even if we don't notice. We aren't being dismissive; we are simply assuming certain things will happen like they  always have.

Well, if nothing else, our eyes are open. The people who keep our well ordered life even partially well ordered are very much on our mind. They are very visible, not just in a physical sense, but in our consciousness. 

And, in doing so, they are taking risks that many of us don't, or wouldn't. In many cases they are taking those chances because they have to. Just because they must do what they do to survive doesn't make the risks any less real. Many feel the need to serve. They are the living embodiment of the Good Samaritan. 

Will these folks fade back into our mental background when this is all over? Will we forget the sacrifices? I sincerely hope not. If nothing else the virus has proven how we are all interconnected and depend upon one another.

If I could ask a favor of you. Pick one or two (or more) of the newly visible invisibles from the list above and do something to let them know you notice and appreciate them.

They have earned it and will be very grateful.

April 6, 2020

Thinking of An Escape Plan?

As my stay-at-home period continues I must report I am starting to feel a little antsy. Betty and I have visited our daughters' homes over the past few weeks for Sunday games and meal time. One major change: each couple or single person brings their own food and drink. Obviously it would be quite difficult to expect the host to feed 8-13 people. So, we all contribute. Last weekend: mac and cheese with a green salad for us.

I have squeezed in a run to Lowes for a lawnmower.  If my lawn service stops coming the grass will keep growing, so the mower might become quite important. Never fear, it was ordered and paid for online, brought outside by a worker and loaded into the car without my touching anything. At home, after unloading the box, hand sanitizer was liberally applied. Otherwise, with everything closed, a neighborhood walk with the dog and a book on the back porch is my world.

Each day I wake up to reports about the spread of this invisible menace. The number of cases, the mounting death toll, the use of refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies...it is all surreal. People using scarves as masks, health workers so overwhelmed that they must rely on food and supplies from fellow citizens to stay on the job...how will this end?

It is hard to stay mentally upbeat when everything we have known as normal is upended. It is humbling to see the power of Mother Nature, uninterested in the politics and desires of man, do what she will do. It is distressing to realize that the minor inconveniences my family faces are nothing compared to so many parts of the world, including our own country. It seems very selfish to celebrate the food deliveries from Walmart and Amazon, when millions, soon to be tens of millions, have no money for food, rent, or medicines.

I have read a few comments from some knuckleheads on various social media sites that bothered me, and prompted this post. The premise of those thoughts was that we should be thinking of where we can escape to, now, or after the pandemic is starting to wane. I gather these folks are thinking about outrunning, or hiding from two things they fear: the spread of the flu and the collapse of the social and economic system we have come to expect.

Frankly, it reminded me of the rush to build bomb shelters during the height of the arms race and the Cuban missile crisis. People were tearing up their yard to dig a giant hole, line it with concrete walls, ceiling and floor, install a bombproof (and neighbor-proof) door, and stockpile several months worth of food and water for the day when Russia launched the missiles.

Now, it seems that these modern-day people are convinced that this pandemic will linger for not just months, but years. Food supply chains will rupture. Hospitals and those who work there will have all gotten sick, or so burned out they can longer help. Medicine, masks, and ventilators will be unavailable at any cost. Most of the businesses that are shuttered now will stay that way. Millions will roam the streets, willing to do anything to find food. Government will have imposed draconian restrictions and used the pandemic as an excuse to expand their powers.

The only option these folks see is to head for the hills, either here or some other country. Take as many supplies as they can get their hands on, and find someplace that is isolated from the disaster they see coming. Live off the grid and away from a society that has collapsed. 

Whoa. Let me modify my first sentence. Compared to the mindset of these people, I am not getting antsy at all. In fact, I am downright content and feeling blessed. I have plenty of food, I have my family all nearby, I have books and the Internet to keep me content. My guitar works, my paint brushes still paint. My turntable, old CDs, or Spotify keep the music flowing.

We are going to have a tough go of it for a while. There will be a terrible human toll on way too many of us. Our economy will struggle to restart itself, the financial health of millions will be compromised. If for some reason the November election is postponed things will get seriously unpleasant.

But, with all that said, I firmly believe the answer is not to run from what faces us. I have a solid faith that God is with me. He (or She or It) gives me hope and a strength to go through whatever I must face. He won't make it go away if I pray enough; the virus is part of the natural world that will follow its very well-defined rules. God isn't going to interfere with what has been created. But, he will walk through it with me.

Nor do I believe that the virus will destroy our way of life. Will there be changes? I think there will. There could be more awareness of the importance of social interaction, and I don't mean on a smartphone, but real human-to-human relationships. Our belief that the stores will always be open, the shelves always fully stocked, and instant gratification is a law of nature could undergo much needed adjustments. Our appreciation for medical workers, teachers, and delivery people will grow. 

But, thinking of an escape plan, whatever that means....no way. We are in something very big and very scary, and we are in it together.

April 2, 2020

None of Us Are Quite What We Appear.... Are We?

If I mention the name, Walt Disney, what are your first thoughts? Disneyland? Disney World? Mickey Mouse? Bambi? Dumbo? "Uncle Walt" on the TV every Sunday night? Maybe it is watching Frozen for the twentieth time with a grandchild. How about being scared by the various wicked witches or the  marching broomsticks in Fantasia?

Whatever your Disney trigger, more than  fifty years after his death Walt Disney remains a powerful part of our collective memories. What he created has an amazingly powerful pull on us. Over 70 million stream through his major theme parks in the U.S. with double that entering the various Disney parks around the world.

I am finishing a fascinating biography of Mr. Disney. At over 600 pages, Neal Gabler's, Walt Disney, The Triumph of The American Imagination, covers every aspect of Walt's life, from his humble beginnings in Marceline, Missouri, through his struggles with his parents and finding his way in the world. As he found his artistic voice, the book takes the reader deep inside the development of what would transform him, and the rest of us: Mickey Mouse and animated films. 

Eventually, his ultimate creation, a place where dreams come true, begins to consume his time, energy, and hopes, even at the cost of attention to his company's film and television efforts. He becomes an American icon and has to play the role of "Walt Disney" even as his health begins to slip and the business pressures change him.

He becomes a difficult husband, harsh employer firing employees on a whim, treating others poorly, all while forcing himself to conform to the image the public expected. The public Walt Disney forced the man, Walt Disney, to change from a happy farm fellow following his dreams into the face of a huge corporation, with responsibilities and duties that began to overwhelm him.

My reason for focusing on this book and his story is detailed in the blog title: "None of us are quite what we appear...Are We?" Walt Disney was not alone in finding the forces of life and commitments changing his personality and joy of life. All of us have at least two personas: the one we show to the world and the one that only we see and live with.

We would assume that the happiest people have managed to keep those two parts rather closely aligned. What you see is what you get would be a good summary. There is no ongoing struggle to keep the two parts in sync. This is someone who has figured out a good balance.

Of course, that doesn't always mean such a well-balanced person is nice to be around. The "inside"  can a bit of a loner, someone firm in his or her convictions, and not really a big believer in compromise. The world is mostly black and white, with good and evil rather easily defined. For that person, it is possible the public perception is the same. This is not a person you expect to be the life of the party. A smiley face is not his choice for an emoji. Compromising to fit in isn't how she functions. 

Someone who has very different personal and public images might be easier to be around, but could be quite unhappy trying to protect the two realities. The face we see is happy, engaged with others, willing to help when asked. Inside, the pressures to retain a pleasant public image is causing all sorts of stresses and problems.

That person could feel used by others since he or she is always the first to be asked to volunteer.  Damage to personal relationships occurs on a regular basis. The work required to keep a private and public image separate is overwhelming at times. Celebrities and politicians spring to mind as groups that are more likely to exhibit this clash, but this conflict can occur in anyone.

What is the lesson, then, from Walt Disney's story that we can use as a check on our own balancing act? How important is it that our private self and a public self are well integrated? Which one should we change to make life more of a smooth sail than a choppy voyage?

The amount of effort required to maintain the image of the person happy to serve, never turning down a request, and willing to take on other's burdens, all while feeling put upon, taken advantage of, and unhappy with a schedule overwhelmed with the needs of others, creates a very unhealthy tension. The mental and physical strain takes a toll. 

I have written several times before about the need to say, "No," in retirement. Assumptions about all our free time (really?) and having so little to occupy us that we are glad to be asked, is one of the more important hurdles we must overcome.

Making it clear that you will not always be available, always say "yes," and agree to always subjugating your needs to others becomes a survival skill. For many of us, saying we can't do something is tough. Turning down a chance to serve in some way risks harming our public image: how others think of us.

To answer my question about changing one of our images to make things go well, I would suggest that changing the core, personal you is a mistake. If your true, inner self believes certain things to be true, wants limits on your availability to others, and does not "follow the crowd" in how you think about certain subjects, then to bury those parts of yourself so the happy, always helpful you is what others see will not end well.

What if the inner you desperately wants to serve, loves being asked, and wants to adopt five strays from the pound but people perceive you to be very private, standoffish, and somewhat rigid? Should you allow your public image to keep you from experiencing all the things that make you happy? 

No, of course not. In this circumstance, changing the perception that people have of you to one that reflects who you really are becomes a necessity. The frustration of being unable to use what makes you the very unique person you is not healthy.

Personally, I have a somewhat conflicted inerr/outer profile. Around others I can be involved, happy to meet someone new and eager to engage in conversation. Maybe not the life of the party, but certainly not a wallflower.

The inside "Bob" is more reserved and private. Happy to be alone or with family members is my default feeling. Not counting the present situation, a day when the car doesn't leave the garage is a good day for me. Maybe that is why I enjoyed radio so much: locked away in a studio, talking to thousands of people that I didn't really see or interact with, all while projecting the image of a typical rock DJ. When the microphone went off I was just Bob again, happy to head home.

Over the years I have worked on making these two sides of me more compatible. Blogging has helped tremendously in giving me the chance to interact with others, at times even meeting readers and enjoying the time together. I have gotten better at restricting the time I am volunteering to only those activities that really satisfy me. 

But, I am still happiest with a good book, a sunny, warm afternoon on the back porch, or time with my wife and family. 

How about you? How well do your private and public selves mesh? Is there a constant conflict that causes some stress? Or, have you learned to keep the two sides of you in balance? How about right now?

Has our virus-infected world caused you to rethink how you feel about the two parts of you? Do you see a change taking place? Do you think what we are experiencing may change you?

Pandemic or not, this seems to me to be an important question to answer to really have a satisfying retirement journey.