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Retirement: What Does and Does Not Work

When it comes to preparing for our futures, some approaches and attitudes just do NOT work in our best interests.  These include burying our heads in the sands of ignorance and passivity, wallowing in defeatism, self-pity and despair, or living in denial, pessimism and cynicism.  I could add living in the past, whining about the future, not facing our fears or realities, not communicating honestly, living in a fantasy and doing nothing to prepare for the future!

Some get seduced into helplessness with no choices made, no action taken and personal power abandoned.  Our worry cycle freezes us in terms of planning or taking action to deal with troubling situations.  Getting those worries or fears out on the table and sharing them with trusted others can alleviate some of this paralyzing worry.

But who to talk to is a concern for many.  Who really wants to talk about and share money worries, health issues, fears of dependency, loss of freedom, boredom, or loneliness?  Start the conversation and find out.

What DOES work includes being proactive, active, creative, confident, resourceful, aware, educated, positive, open, and engaged.  Get the facts, look at options, get good advice, be compassionate with yourself, bet on your future, take care of physical and mental health, and keep going and growing!

Figure out what kind of future you want to make you happy and secure and then work to make that happen.  Take positive action and figure out how to take care of your aging self.  We cannot allow ourselves to be tranquilized into disempowerment!  It is up to us to commit to a positive future any way we can!






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Another Big Birthday

It's Official!

I am now an OAS receiving senior.  My 65th birthday came in like a lamb.  I spent most of the day on the couch after a vicious bout of food poisoning but that is not the whole story at all!

I had decided I wanted to celebrate and mark this birthday.  I had been told when I was 38 that I had a chronic health condition and that I might not make it to retirement.  I then took funded leaves from work, an early retirement, and decided to do the things I wanted to do.  I wrote books, travelled, and had lots on my plate so as to live life to the fullest. But I made it to 65!

I saved for and planned an almost 3 month trip getting the heck out of snow covered town January 8th.  I went to Victoria, B.C. for twelve days, walked lots, did a workshop on Retirement Readiness for a bunch of lovely women, reconnected with friends, and hung out with my sister.  I left there early one morning and took a bus, a ferry, the bus again, and then a flight to LAX and then on to Sydney, Australia.  I marvelled at the Botanical Gardens, went to a show at the Sydney Opera House, walked miles, rode the Hop-on/Hop-Off bus, and saw the many coloured sides of King's Cross.

I then headed for Christchurch, picked up Sunny, my steadfast car, visited still earthquake challenged Lyttleton and some welcoming folks there.  Then on to Grumpy's campground for 2 days of aclimatizing.  I went on to visit Val in Dunedin, made a delivery back to Lyttleton, and then up to Nelson area where I met someone who taught in the same area I had who stays there for 3 months of the year.  Good idea, I thought!

I crossed on the ferry to Wellington when a rugby tournament was on. Costumes, drinking, good spirits, and fun all around.  I found a treasure in a used book store that now hangs in my home in Ontario.  Then 2 backpackers places, one lovely and one the possible setting for a horror film.  Went caving and then to friends again.

to be continued.....






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The 'S' Word and Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers by and large are fairly comfortable with the S word when it relates to sex.  The pill came into general use for our generation, the Summer of Love was a part of our youth, the vibrator was on sale in the sex shoppes, Free Love was a slogan, and The Joy of Sex was a best seller and we were buying it.  Now the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is making the rounds passed from friend to friend and not always in a brown paper bag.

I remember in the mid sixties when students at University of Toronto were arrested for distributing INFORMATION about birth control in a public place.  Now condoms are handed out like lollipops, lots of information about so many aspects of sexual relations is readily available, and a little blue pill is a very popular purchase to help men to be able to perform.  No, sex is not the hang-up for most Boomers.

The S word now is SENIOR.  We do not want to be called that loaded term, thought of as such, or labelled in any way that has the connotation of aging or smack of agism.  Most of us are in solid denial.  We are the Dorian Greys, the Forever Young, the drinkers from the Fountain of Youth, the fit and fine, thank you very much crowd.

At a class on Retirement Readiness that I lead, I suggested that the people there do some homework and visit the Volunteer Centre in town, and the Seniors' Centre to check out the activities there.  You should have seen the looks that I got from these 52-64 year olds.  You would think I had slapped them silly.  The pain and hurt and affront were obvious.

"But we are not those people!"  

"You won't catch me hanging out there!"

One fellow, and the one I had bet was the least likely to go, did report back at the next class that he had gone one evening.  He laughed and told us that he met two of his buddies from the golf course who play a game of basketball there one night a week.  They signed him up for their pick-up game and beer afterwards.  That broke the  ice for that group but I know if I bring it up at the next class I have, the icy reaction is sure to follow.

Seniors are our parents, right? 

 We won't be seniors for...well, a really long time, right? 

 You are as old as you feel, and we do not feel like seniors.

 It is only a number after all.  

Sure, maybe, but remember the saying, "Do not trust anyone over 30?" That was a long time ago and time marches on.  Many of us do get seniors' discounts or rates without too much complaint.  Lots of us are grandparents and mostly happy to be so.  So what is the big deal about the S word?

If you want to know if you are a senior, ask an eight to an eighteen year old.  Totally different perspective!  Be prepared for the response!

Get used to it.  Start desensitizing now. After all, it is only a matter of time.






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Loss and Retirement

After I retired I took a hospice course.  One of the exercises we did was to cross off 5 items from a list of 50 items each of the 10 classes.  The list contained such items as privacy, eyesight, a sibling, mobility, a childhood friend, your sense of taste, your driver's licence, your home, the use of your right arm.  You get the idea.   We soon saw the tough decisions and the series of losses involved with the dying process.

Retirement can also start with a series of losses.  For example, routines change as the structure of time changes.  No more daytimers that revolve around work duties and demands.  No more alarm clocks if you so choose.  No more living for the weekend or weekends for shopping, laundry, social life,  or cooking for the week ahead.  The whole structure of your day, week, month, and year are different.  Even when this is something to be celebrated, it is a profound loss.

Your colleagues or work mates are not the people you spend your time with anymore.  Even if this is a relief to you, it is still a loss.  These are the folks you have told your stories to or about and now they are not there.  Even if you socialize with these folks after you retire, you are not a part of the work stories anymore.  You have moved away from that reality.  

You have also lost the quick answer to the, "So what do you do?" question.  Your identity goes through an experience of loss as you find that new answer.  The readjustment period is often about finding that new identity that you are comfortable with so that you can answer the identity question for others and for yourself.

Other losses can include a home and community if you decide to relocate, a relationship if you decide to divorce, and the 55-64 age group is one with a growing trend to divorce, as well as the loss of friends and family members who relocate or pass away.  These losses can be overwhelming especially if a number of them come in close succession.  

I have met those who wanted to get everything done quickly and start their new lives with clean breaks.  One couple retired at the same time, sold their house, moved to British Columbia from Ontario and started over.  The stress of all of this may have been a factor in a heart attack that happened as soon as they were almost settled.  That health challenge certainly caused them to question their decisions.  Others seem to do very well with that do- it- all- at- once approach however.

Just be aware that some degree of change and loss can be coped with but the fickle finger of fate could load up another unforeseen loss or series of losses that can tip the stress load to overload.  Be aware of the profound and subtle losses that come with retirement and take them into account in your plans.

 Keep some supports at the ready, pace yourself in a manner comfortable to you and your family, do as much planning ahead of time as you can, and give yourself time to adjust and make decisions  that serve you best.  Take that honeymoon time to celebrate and mark this transition. 






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Retirement Shock

Leeann retired at age 52 fully expecting to go back to part time work but wanted to do some travelling first.  Her husband had work contracts for another 6 months before he could go with her on the 6 week holiday she had dreamed of for a year.  

"I had no idea how miserable I would be for the first few months.  I did not see anybody, felt really tired most of the time and found myself weeping 3 out of 5 weekdays.   I was 3 or 4 months before I even felt like myself.  I only told 2 friends and they thought I was crazy because they were stressed from work and envying me my freedom.  Once I started booking things for the trip I kind of came out of the fog."

Joan retired from a busy HR department that was, in her words, "Hell on wheels with the economy going for a dive and the pink slips that were flying around".  She retired early as she was the most able to retire in her department and knew it would save someone else's job.  She had not really planned on retiring so soon.

"The first three months I had one cold after another, an infection that hung on, and I was just so down.  I even missed work if you can believe that and all my friends there.  I was at home feeling sorry for myself and I had to really try to figure out what was going on and then it hit me that this was what had happened after my mother died.  I think I was in grieving mode.  Once I got that, I forced myself out the door everyday and it went better after that."  

These are typical of stories I hear from both men and women although women seem more willing to talk about their reactions to retirement that are never seen on the Freedom 55 brochures.  Some people are burned out at retirement and need to recover physically and psychologically from the marathon of work they have been running.  Others do go through a grieving process at the end of their careers just as they might with another major loss.  

Many wonder why they are not excited and blissful in their new lives but they do not yet have new lives.  Their transition process is just beginning and there are no support groups or mentors for the newly retired...yet.  They do not have a new social support network of friends, new routines, activities, interests, or means of recapturing a feeling of being needed.  Men and women need to reinvent themselves at a time when many are feeling exhausted.  This is even more the case if the retirement timing was not of their choosing.

Beware retirement shock!  Get your new life started before you retire and give yourself some recovery time if you need it.  If you get the blues, get help!






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Preparing: Inside and Out

Preparing for retirement is an inside job as well as an outside one.  Yes, decisions about finances, business transition, timing, and housing are all   major decisions but the psychological and emotional aspects of retirement deserve your time and attention. 

With retirement comes a total change in your routine, habits, goals, sense of identity, and, in many cases, relationships need to adjust, be renewed, or created.  The emotional reactions to retirement range from joy and relief to fear and depression or all of these.  Many do not anticipate the more negative reactions and may not recognize them for awhile.  Some feel lost or confused until they get their new lifestyle established.  Family members  and friends may be startled or puzzled or even angered by this kind of  reaction.

The "Who am I now?" question comes up and a positive answer gets you on track for reinventing yourself.  A negative reaction can put you into a grief and loss mode as you mourn your passing identity and career.  Getting stuck in the past is no way to regenerate and head into a positive future.  Some period of grief can hit anyone, especially if it involves another loss like a friend or a home as you relocate or your health as you experience an illness.  This is a process that may require a counsellor, support group, or mentor as you negotiate this emotional minefield.

Take a look back over your life transitions and see you you have dealt with change in the past.  How well do you embrace the unknown? Do you feel prepared for these changes?  Do you have a mental vision of what your retirement could look like?  Have you thought about how you will be  revocating and regenerating?  

Do you have a map for life after the career off ramp?  Pay attention to your inner voice sense of direction as retirement is an inside job too!






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Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Lots of folks do not move right away.  They take some time to figure out what they want to do before they make any moves.   

 Some fix up  and adapt their own homes as they need to in the communities they want to stay in and retire in place.  They make the decisions to stay in their own homes as long as possible.  Reverse mortgages can help but only in a real pinch.

Others choose to winterize cottages or move to waterside areas and spend the winter in warmer climates. Life becomes two seasons: at home and away.  Downsizing can have financial advantages if the move results in lower taxes, upkeep, utility costs, and a chance to bank untaxed profit from the sale of the principal residence.  Downsizing has its costs as well as any move does: finding a new home, purchasing the home, paying for the move, setting up new services, redecorating or buying new furnishings or appliances.  Dealing with all your stuff (see earlier blog) is also a challenge.

Look before you buy.  Rent for a bit.  Get to know the community and what it has to offer and what it doesn't.  Check the health care quality and availability, recreation and education  opportunities, public safety and services available, taxes and cost of living, cultural and volunteer options, and climate and landscape.

Feel it out for fit before you decide.  How comfortable to you feel?  Check the values and political climate. Get to know the people and the place to know if you feel like you fit there.   One person said that after Toronto, the place they went to felt bland and one dimensional and cheaper did not make up for the multicultural, energetic, culture filled life they had left.

Try it on for awhile first. Do your research if you are going outside the country as well.  Do not leave it until it is too late and you do not have the energy to actually make the move.  Look at your motivations.   Are you moving to be closer to kids and grandkids, have better weather, live in cheaper digs,  eliminate the stairs and the outside work?

See you somewhere over the rainbow.






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THE TIMES THEY ARE ACHANGIN' AGAIN.

Timing is everything and not just in comedy.  Ten million Baby Boomers are heading to retirement in Canada and 78 million in the States over the next decade and a half.  Those numbers are daunting in many ways.

 That is a great deal of human capital and resources lost if the "put out to pasture" mind set prevails.  Encore careers are just now starting to be talked about in earnest.  Marc Freedman's book, THE BIG SHIFT, talks about aging workers reengaged in the workforce so that they feel connected, contributing, and they get a pay cheque.  He says that folks aged 60-80 are the third stage and the biggest demographic development of the 21st century.  We need their expertise, efforts, and engagement over their long retirement periods.  We need to figure out avenues for them to be active in the economy and not just as consumers.

These may look like continuing education, internships, mentoring programs, national service programs, retooling options, volunteer training opportunities, flextime and job sharing plans, and consulting banks for expertise on demand.  We do have Seniors for Seniors and, in the States, Elders in Action and Encore Fellowships.  These are just the beginning of what we will need.

About 10,000 people per day turn 60 in the United States.  This creates pressure for change there, but our change agents, including politicians, are slow to respond.  The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) and their Zoomer magazine raise issues like pension reform but I do not think we will see much in that regard especially with the Canada Pension Plan from this government.  

As we reinvent ourselves in retirement, we build on what we've already done, the skills we have, the values and interests we have, and the realities of our needs financially and psychologically.  We want our retirements to be a fulfilling and pleasurable time.  The social opportunities for reengagement need to be created, built and sustained.  Boomers have brought in social change in the past and we still need to keep doing that for this next stage of life.  

What are you doing for an encore?






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I Just Want to be Happy

Research on job satisfaction shows that more than half of today's workers do not feel engaged or inspired.  Many people leave jobs, not for income reasons, but because they do not feel good there.

Some retire for the same reasons.  They are unfulfilled, under- appreciated, stressed, and disconnected.  

"I was feeling more and more deadened, cynical, angry, and bored by turns.  I hated Mondays and counted down to Friday and that was just not how I wanted to live,"  explained an early retiree.  "Now I am in the process of coming to life again and I think I may want to work again but only at something I think is valuable and meaningful, something where I can make a difference.  I just want to be happy."

Robert Holden of The Happiness Project has businesses looking at the relationship between happiness and success.  He argues that happiness makes you more successful as an individual or as a business.   He says happiness is not a blissful state but a contentment, a feeling of comfort because you are being true to yourself.

"Happiness is a teacher; it teaches you about yourself and it's an enabler, because when people are happy in their work, they perform better."

Money alone cannot guarantee our happiness. Psychiatrists tell us that once our basic needs for food and shelter are met, a certain level of self esteem and belonging are met, we then aim for self-actualization or becoming wholly ourselves.  A happy state of mind means having a sense of purpose in our work that aligns with our values, beliefs and personalities.  If we are in a job that is manic busywork,  we may feel like we are wasting time and hurting our health; we may feel that our lives are fake or shallow somehow. 

Some who retire do so because they no longer feel engaged with the job, feel that their health is at stake,  and want a better relationship with themselves.  Recovering and realigning can then be the new challenge in retirement.

Getting back in touch with what you enjoy, what you love to do, and what success means to you can make a very rich and rewarding retirement. All of us just want to be happy in our own ways. 

 






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One Thing After Another

I used to have a cartoon strip over my desk with a cross-legged guru on a mountain top being addressed by an exhausted climber who asks about the meaning of life. The serene guru smiles and then, in the next frame, the exasperated seeker exclaims, “You mean I climbed all the way up here to find that life is one thing after another?!!”
The roof leaks, the washing machine goes ‘Boom’, the car needs work or replacing, relationships are challenging, markets rollercoaster, friends move away, family members need care, and holiday plans do not pan out. Real life carries on. Rolling with the punches and looking for the opportunities continues.
The honeymoon period of retirement can feel great, exhilarating, and freeing. If this is how it feels, take time to celebrate, play, explore, and have some well-deserved fun!
A rest period may be in order first and then let the new life begin.
For some, however, this can be a challenging change. The old routine is gone, the habits and continuity and certainty have shifted. The status and identity of work is no longer there. This can lead to a dip in confidence and positive self-image.
Either of these reactions may be temporary as you make adjustments and fine tune your new reality.
Life does get back to a new normal at some point. Hang in and enjoy and adjust to your one thing after another.






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