April 28, 2022

Are We All Hooked On This?

I'm a junkie. I need at least one fix a day to stay happy. If I don't get what I need from you I might turn to someone else. I've had this need forever and I can't lose it. Frankly, I don't want to lose it.

I've just described me, probably you, and virtually everyone you have ever met. We are all junkies for affirmation. We can't get enough of being told good things about ourselves. We need the strokes. We need to be told someone else cares. What we do must be noticed or we'll sulk and pout. I'll freely admit that nice comments left on my blog make my day. The affirmation feels good. 

Affirmation means to state that something is true. In this context, it means to praise someone for his personality or talent. It means to tell her she is doing a good job or is important in your life. Affirmation fulfills our basic need to feel relevant, useful and needed. So, if this is a deep-seated need we all have then why is it rare in most of our lives, most of the time? Good question.

About a year ago I was prompted by something I read somewhere that made a real impact. Frankly, I can't remember what it said specifically. All I remember is something struck a chord. The gist of the piece was that during a normal day we all deal with dozens of people who come quickly in and out of our lives.

The article was not referring to coworkers or family members, church friends, or regular contacts. 

It was talking about the "invisible people" we interact with every day. In this case, "invisible" isn't a value judgment. Rather, it is how we typically see (or don't see) these folks.

I've given this topic some extra thought since Covid upended our world.  If nothing else we have seen how those who do things for us in the shadows, who allow us to live the life we do, who stock the shelves, drive the trucks, tend to the sick, care for the informed, hand us food through the drive-through window, are a very important part of our days.

The driver who drops off a FedEx package delivers our groceries or dinner, is usually is nameless and faceless to us. The waitress at dinner tells us her name but we forget it before she's even taken our order. The person who hands you a prescription at Walgreens doesn't really register (pardon the pun).

See where I'm heading? Every single day we have the opportunity to affirm something about these people and their existence yet we don't, even though each one of them is just as much an affirmation junkie as you or I.

Since the lockdown and all the restrictions of the past two years, I have tried to remember to make a simple affirming comment whenever I interacted with one of these "invisible" folks. 

The results are just what you might expect.  Suddenly an unhappy, tired clerk at the grocery store smiles. A clerk laughs while handing me a package. A delivery person thanks me for my business. The invisible person in front of me becomes quite real. She has been affirmed. And, she started affirming me back. We interacted like two human beings who were willing to give a tiny piece of themselves to someone else.

Personally, I am very sorry I didn't learn this lesson while I was working. I know I treated the "invisible people" like interruptions or not worthy of my giving them what they craved. I hope it wasn't because I was purposely hurtful, I was just selfish and oblivious. I'm still that way more often than I'd wish, especially with faceless people on the phone.

This refocus on just a little part of my day has allowed me to find new satisfaction and growth (maybe growing up). It is a process that won't stop until I take my final breath, hopefully, many years from now. There is a lot of affirmation I must catch up on. 

April 24, 2022

Traveling And Covid: Have You Changed Your Plans?


A question I haven't dared ask for the last few years: What are your travel and vacation plans for the rest of this year? Are the pent-up Covid restrictions leaving you travel-desperate? Is this the year you are going to make up for lost time, canceled excursions, or that trip of a lifetime that sank beneath the waves of disease?

Or, has the experience of the last few years permanently altered how you approach the idea of getting on planes, cruise ships, trains, or even an extended RV or road trip? Has the prospect of various variants varied your mindset? 

If judging by the reports of packed airplanes and long lines at airport security I would think your answer is, Yes, we are hitting the road again."  Even with higher than normal plane fares and talk of fuel surcharges due to a tripling of jet fuel costs, there does not appear to be much damping of the demand. Eevn car rental costs that are as much as the plane fare aren't keeping millions of us at home.

After losing a month-long cruise to New Zealand and and first-ever visit to Quebec in 2020, Betty and I were itching to go somewhere. We did make it to Kaua'i last September and Disney World a few months ago. She wants to go back to England and Ireland in the next few years, so long distance travel is still part of our planning. 

One major, change for us involves crusing. The thought of being on a floating petri dish for weeks at a time, with the very real possibility of having some sort of infection drastically affecting the experience, has soured us on that type of travel. I'm afraid the trip to Tahiti, Fiji, and New Zealand will only be a "what if" memory.

For the rest of this year, the only firm plan is a 4-day family trip to the White Mountains of Arizona. That 5 hour drive and stay in a cabin in the woods will be a nice, if all too brief, break from the July heat at home. 

As you know from an earlier post we did finally buy a new car. Speaking of high prices! That vehicle cost twice as much as our first home as a newly married couple. That decision makes us hesitant to take another big vacation trip this year. The investment account will need a little time to recover, especially as the markets are particularly nervous at the moment.

What about you? Has Covid been just a temporary bump in your vacation travel road? Does the pentup need to see, explore, and experience need to be satisfied? Are you figuring that time does not stretch out ahead of you forever, so you want to do all you can while still healthy and have a strong desire to add to your memories?

Or, have two years of restrictions and very real health scares combined to make you rethink the need for excursions? Have you found yourself content with home and your local area? Are you willing to give the various vaccinations and boosters a bit longer to take full effect?

Time to tell us!

April 20, 2022

Then There Were Two

Two years ago we donated our second car to charity and made the decision to not replace it. As I have written before, this caused some initial concerns about a lack of freedom. If I take the car to a library meeting, Betty can't go somewhere or do something she wants. The reverse also applies: her volunteer work at the church kept me confined. Doctor appointments had to be carefully coordinated so we had transportation when needed.

The feelings of loss and restrictions lasted the first year or so with just one vehicle. Luckily, the handful of times when the car needed repairs an unavoidable scheduling conflict, we borrowed a car from our daughter's family. But, I think both Betty and I were surprised when it dawned on us, maybe one year into this phase, that one car was entirely sufficient.

The car we have now is eleven years old, has 104,000 miles on it, and manages about 22 mpg. It has avoided most serious repairs. At just over 100.000 miles it probably has several more years left on a well-built and well-maintained engine. But, with gas well over $4 and likely to stay high for the foreseeable future, we have given fresh thought to the environmental impact of the vehicle and the long terms costs. 

While a fully electric vehicle would be our dream pick, there just aren't enough charging stations available. A hybrid that runs on electricity while going less than 15 mph but then switches over to a gas engine didn't make much sense in terms of pollution. 

That left us with the option of a plug-in hybrid. Our daughter and son-in-law bought one a little over two years ago and have been very pleased. I have driven that car and have been impressed with its features and stability. Reviews are outstanding, making it highly recommended in its class.

The effects of Covid on the supply chain for parts and computer chips for automobiles have kept us from even looking for someone new since last fall. Like everyone else, we have read about limited availability and long waiting lists. We were convinced finding what we wanted would not happen until late this year or next. Nevertheless, we stopped by a local dealer that handles the make and model that we were interested in buying.

To our delight, the salesman told us this dealership is now getting a steady shipment of the model we wanted in a color we would accept (a hard "No" to orange). Three weeks later the car arrived. After the necessary paperwork, detailing and doing all that comes with prepping a new vehicle, we picked it up about a week ago.

Our first discovery: the old SUV would not fit into the garage next to the new car without raising our anxiety level about opening doors and creating dings; it was too tight a fit. So, the 11-year-old Honda will bake in the sun in the driveway until we are a bit less scared about scratching the new one.

Our second finding is how much has changed in the automotive world since 2011. The number of bells and whistles, lane change warning signals, backup cameras, Bluetooth connection for phones and whatnot...heavens, the "quick guide" is over 100 pages long! Even keys are passe. We have to learn a new technique for starting and stopping the car.

Both Betty and I feel like we have just bought a new high-end computer and have to learn to program it from scratch, With an electric hybrid, the analogy to a computer is probably accurate, but that doesn't make it less intimidating for those who are used to a much simpler automobile experience. Do I really care about tracking the energy flow to the wheels?

Of course, autos are so much safer today because of all the new technology, so we are thankful for the extra levels of protection. Even so, our next several nights will find us buried in the manuals, learning what is important and what can be ignored.

Pray we remember to unplug the car each morning and wish us safe driving!

April 16, 2022

I Am Thinking About Weeds


No, not the ones in my yard, though I have plenty of them at this time of year. I am thinking of the weeds in my life I need to pull out and discard. Just like the type in a yard, these "weeds" tend to grow and multiply if not removed as soon as they appear.

Experts say there are approximately 1,000 different plants that are classified as weeds. The good news is I don't think I have that many personal ones to worry about. The bad news is that when I notice a problem, it has already put down pretty substantial roots.

A few examples? I could start with anxiety. I mean the common garden variety of worry or apprehension about something that did happen, is happening or may occur. That could include remembering mistakes in judgment or approach during my working days that caused my business to suffer. If I could just go back and react differently! Or, what if Covid comes back? Will we all survive another major lockdown or disruption?

It might be silly or hurtful arguments with Betty that served no purpose. After my heart problems half a dozen years ago, an earache that won't go away, and an overall dip in energy caused by some of the new medication, I find the weeds of anxiety over my health can grow unchecked. Does the anxiety make any of this better? Of course not, probably just the opposite.

Even though I maintain a self-image of being rather tolerant and without obvious prejudices, I often catch myself making statements about people or situations that are hurtful or simply wrong. As much as I find various forms of labeling others to be counterproductive, I commit the same sin much too often. The weeds of being judgmental or biased grow out of sight until they are exposed by the bright light of an action or thought.

Too much of my life is given over to the weeds of settling, that is settling for less than I should.  As I get older, I find it much too easy to become lazy. If doing something seems too hard or time-consuming I am becoming an expert at rationalizing why I should wait, or skip the activity completely. "I will deal with it tomorrow or next week" is not a good habit to develop, but it is especially disappointing as birthdays seem to fly by more quickly each year. Next month I will be 73. Me?

What about follow-through? That would be a close relative of settling. I have started, stopped, and restarted various activities or projects too many times to count. Usually, I rebel at being a beginner, a subject I have written about several times before. In other instances whatever burst of dedication prompted me to do something, seems to seep out, wither away.

A slacking off on my physical conditioning and regular exercise are weeds that I pull constantly, only to find a fresh batch has grown unnoticed after a few days or weeks of skimping on my gym attendance. There is a direct correlation between physical health and quality of life. I know that yet those pesky weeds are still there.

The encouraging news is that the lawn of my life is mostly healthy, green, grass. The weeds are a blot on the overall look, though not so much that I am not enjoying the heck out of retirement. Even so, pulling those weeds is part of living. 

Has anyone seen my gardening gloves?

April 12, 2022

Aging's Effect...On Your Budget?


As I age (yes, even me) it is hard not to notice certain body parts aren't quite the same. Squatting down to pick up something from a bottom shelf is now accompanied by a few groans as my knees protest. Standing back up takes a focus on the goal of becoming vertical again without help. My energy level starts to run out before the day does, even with an afternoon nap. The barber politely doesn't mention the expanding empty patch on the crown of my head as he uses a brush and hair dryer to fluff things up a bit. The morning stiffness in my fingers goes away quickly enough, but it didn't even exist a few years ago.

Clearly, I am aging. Of course, all of us do so from the moment of our birth. But, until the later part of the 5th decade of my life, I was able to ignore most of its effects. I used to have a nice career as a management consultant. Then I retired, so aging is what I do now.  What I want to do, is age well.

A blog reader sent me an e-mail with a question that made me think. He was wondering what folks used to do in their 60s that no longer interest them in their 70s and 80s. He wasn't talking about physical changes or health care issues that prevented certain activities from continuing. Rather, his was really a budgeting question:  what can be cut from the budget as they move through retirement? That struck me as an interesting question that fit with my idea of writing about the goal of most of us: aging well.

That raises the question, aging well how? Does that mean maintaining our physical health as long as possible by paying serious attention to our diet and exercise regimen? Does that mean keeping our complaints to ourselves, which would make most conversations with other older folks much shorter? Does it mean keeping our minds and competitive juices flowing by going back to school, starting a new business, or learning a new language?
In an excellent article on Yoga International's website several years ago the author, Deborah Willoughby, made a point important enough for me to keep in my files: "In our modern script, the third act—retirement—defines us in terms of what we’ve left behind instead of what lies ahead. Up through our late 50s and into our 60s, our energy has been mainly focused on tangible achievements: earning a degree, building a career, raising children, acquiring property, and perhaps making a name for ourselves. Now, as these familiar identities and activities fall away, we find ourselves without a clear, purposeful direction."

To me, that is not aging well. That is what this blog, and hopefully my life, are determined to avoid. There is something called the law of use and disuse, which is the basis of the common understanding that if there is something you don't use, you lose it. That applies to your body, your mind, your spiritual development, your creativity...pretty much everything that makes you who and what you are. In reality, what is a satisfying retirement but a collection of a series of satisfying days, one after another?

Ms. Willoughby went on to say, "Capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life. For example, studies show that as we move into life’s third stage [retirement], we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently."  The idea that the last few decades of our life is just a long, slow slide of decline is simply not supported anymore by scientific research.

Just as damaging is the cliché that 60 is the new 40 or 70 the new 50. No, 70 is the new 70. The brain continues to gather experiences and find new ways to process and use that information. Pretending we are looking backward only cements in our mindset the idea that 70 is bad. It isn't bad, it is just different from 50...on purpose.

So, I will answer the reader's question this way: what you did in your 60's may no longer satisfy and stimulate you in your 70s and 80s.  However, to assume one can save money as one ages because his or her universe shrinks and less money is needed is to accept the notion of steady, constant decline.

What turns you on at 75 is probably not exactly what lit your fire at 60. Will be it cheaper? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe by 80, you aren't physically able to travel the world. But, maybe you have discovered a passion for pottery, woodworking, or photography. Maybe your latent writer has sprung forth.

True, the $9,000 you spent to tour Europe for 3 weeks when you were 67 may not be needed anymore. But, woodworking, a pottery kiln, or a few fancy cameras can easily cost quite a bit. Trust me, painting isn't cheap.

Yes, some things will cost much less...the amount spent on clothing, vacations, a new car every few years, even the amount of food you buy will probably drop as you age. Of course, the dollar totals on prescriptions, medical care, and modifying your home could eat up those savings.

The point is, that aging shouldn't be seen as a way to save money. Aging is not a budgeting strategy. It is a time when your money is reallocated to keep you engaged and feeling productive.

April 8, 2022

What Happens To Ambition When You Retire?

A question I am asked rather frequently has to do with ambition. Not long ago an email dealing with retirement and purpose landed in the inbox. The reader had yet to start her retirement. She was still a few years away but had a solid financial game plan and a hobby that engaged her. Her marriage had recdently ended, but she remained friends with her ex-spouse. Her relationship with their adult children was good. Yet, something was bothering her enough to ask for my thoughts.

The concern was simply this: does having ambition end when work ends? Does the striving for some type of achievement or distinction and the willingness to work toward it stop with the last paycheck? I could tell from her question that her definition of ambition is a traditional one, rooted in the concept of power, wealth, or recognition. She was really asking if striving toward more was soon to be over.

I assured the reader that wanting more, working toward more, and hoping for more didn't stop with retirement. In fact, the desire for more actually intensifies. What changes is the definition of ambition and the meaning of more.

During my radio consulting career my ambition was pretty fearsome. I wanted to be a major figure in my industry. I was willing to travel 100,000 miles a year, be away from home for almost half of each year, take on more business than I could comfortably handle, and strive for more.

While my ambition was adequately fed for several years, eventually things started to fall apart. It took the closing of my business and a few painful years of readjustment to understand the type of ambition I was seeking was ultimately unsatisfying. It was based on the totally false assumption that there is never enough, in the bank, in the garage, in the size of the house, or in the influence over others.

Retirement allows for a completely different meaning of ambition. Being ambitious is about the quality of one's life, the fullness of relationships, and the satisfying feeling one gets when volunteering to help others. It is about the desire to live each moment as fully as possible. It is about the opportunity to discover a side of one's personality or talents that was always there, just waiting for the chance to burst forth. It is about more joy, more freedom, more acceptance, not less.

I assured the lady of all of this.... and received no response. Maybe my answer was so profound I erased all her mental doubts. Maybe she decided I had no ambition myself and was trying to sell the concept of becoming a sloth. Or, maybe, she is still thinking about the notion of being ambitious with a whole different range of experiences and payoff. Whatever her thoughts were, I am glad she asked the question. It gave me the chance to clarify my own ideas and motivations.

The ambition I experienced during my working years helped build the foundation that has allowed for over twenty years of a very satisfying retirement. However, it came with costs that cannot be forgotten. Through a reordering of priorities, the damage has been mostly undone. Because I now understand ambition in an entirely different light, I can welcome it whenever it blesses my day with fresh energy and optimism without harming relationships or my own mental balance.

Purpose, dreams, aims...different words for ambition. Yet, they all contain the spark that makes retirement so special.

April 4, 2022

Is Podcasting The New Blogging?

This is a question that I have an obvious interest in asking. Estimates put the number of blogs at 570 million. How many of those are active, I have no idea. But, that is still a lot of words and a tremendous range of topics.  I could find no gross income figures for blogging but my guess it would be in the tens of millions.

A high percentage of blogs are personal, advertising-free (like this one), or purely promotional for a particular business, so not designed to make money. But, those who blog for a living can generate a seven-figure income. Even bloggers who don't depend on sponsors can generate extra income with books and seminars.

On the other side, two million podcasts have produced over 48 million episodes, a 65% increase in just the last four years. Advertising on podcasts has passed the $1 billion mark. That seems like a rather substantial sum for a relatively new form of communication. Just looking at a platform like Spotify makes it obvious podcasts are enticing to many. Without getting into the Joe Rogan issue, Spotify (and other media sources) have put these verbal episodes front and center.

The advantages of podcasts over written blogs are obvious. Listening to one while exercising, doing housework, walking the dog, even commuting to work is easy. Reading a blog while engaged in these activities...not so much. 

Podcasts usually include music or sounds as an identifier or a transition element. Depending on the topic, interviews or a co-hosting situation with two people expressing opinions can be more engrossing than just the written word.

Making money is easier with a podcast. A commercial message with sound, or a jingle, is inherently more memorable than a static display ad. Using sound to sell is a mainstay of marketing.

In addition to a place on the Internet to be found, a podcast requires a digital recorder, editing software, microphone, and a place to record the episode that doesn't sound like a subway tunnel or a nursery with a baby wailing in the background. A barking dog at the wrong time means extra time splicing that distraction out, or re-recording part of that segment.

A blog requires a home on the Internet. Satisfying Retirement uses the free Google service. Others pay a nominal fee for different options. A computer and a topic to write about are all that are really required to launch a blog. Of course, lots of effort must be made to make a potential reader know the blog exists. But, the entry costs are very low.

My questions to you are straightforward: do you find yourself listening to podcasts more often than you used to? Are you reading fewer blogs because of the time required or do you have a tough time finding ones that make you want to read them on a regular schedule? 

The death of blogs has been talked about for at least the last decade or so. They take too much time to read, they are not very enjoyable or well written, or there isn't enough time in the day to check out all the blogs that may be absorbing. As podcasting and video blogging (known as vlogging) have grown, their written cousins can seem so yesterday.

A confession: regardless of your response, I have no intention of ending this blog anytime soon. I produced a short-lived podcast four years ago that was just the audio version of these written words. It did not attract enough attention to be worth the time so I stopped, though that was just before podcasts became more mainstream.

My interest is whether podcast appeal is real or a creation of wishful thinking. If I do learn that they have a strong draw for you (and your friends or family), I may start a regular series on podcasts if I think it would be worth your time, and mine. Such a project would involve putting a sizable dent in my schedule, but if the ship is sailing in that direction, maybe I should jump on board. No promise, but your responses will get my attention.

A podcast would not replace the blog. Simply put, I find writing too satisfying to give up. So, I am really anxious to get your feedback. In your life, are blogs being replaced by podcasts? Or, are you making the time for both?