February 19, 2018

How Come I Don't Feel Retired?

I am surprised how often I receive some form of the question, "How come I don't feel retired?" And, it doesn't seem to matter whether the person has been gone from full time work for a few months, a few years, or almost two decades.

A good example is my wife, Betty. She and I retired together in 2001, which means we have been on this journey for 17 years. That is a substantial amount of time. Even so, she will remark, on a regular basis, she is still looking forward to retirement. What she means is more control over her time, doing only what she wants to do when she wants to do it.

So, that raises two questions: why hasn't she been doing that all along, and what will it take for her to feel fully retired? I will explain what I think her answers are (a risky move!). Importantly, I want to broaden the focus a bit.  I am guessing her feeling is not unique to her. If the "How come I don't feel retired" question is being asked something else is at work here.

One issue could be the image of retirement creates certain expectations. I have written before about the mistaken idea that retirement is one long walk in the park. Unfortunately, retirement is a stage of life, not a step into another realm. The responsibilities that come with being an adult don't stop when the paycheck does. Bill paying, repairs, replacements, emergencies, health surprises, financial pitfalls - can easily sap the joy from retirement if you let it. If you have a feeling that retirement should mean all of the baggage that is part of living ends, then you are likely to pose this question.

Another possibility is one of personality. In Betty's case, she is a giver. If someone needs something she is first in line to help. She is also a self-admitted over-giver. If that person wants to know what time it is, she will build them a watch. If the church needs help on a big project, she will volunteer to do almost all of it. She is extremely creative, dedicated, with a major dose of perfectionism, so it is just easier to do it all.

Of course, that can lead to burnout and self-imposed pressure. Even though she absolutely loves helping others, her physical and mental health can suffer. She leaves herself little time to work on things just for her, things without deadlines. So, she has yet to find the balance she is seeking even after 17 years.

Yet another reason might have to do with a spouse or partner who hasn't accepted the sharing part of retirement. If your partner is no longer working but expects you to continue doing the lion's share of household chores, there are going to be problems. Excuses like she (or he) has always done the cooking and cleaning and laundry fail the fair test. "I don't know how to cook or run the oven" are just as lame. It is hard to feel retired if almost nothing has changed in what your "responsibilities" are in maintaining a household.  

So, what to do? Here are a few ideas that may help:

1) Accept that retirement isn't just a float in a boat. Align your expectations with the reality of living. Honestly compare your lifestyle before and after work: what is better and what is worse? When you look at the big picture you may be surprised how much your life has changed for the better. For those things still bothering you, can you do anything about them?

2) If you find yourself overcommitted to others and under committed to yourself, realize that is something you can change. You have the power to protect yourself and your needs. That doesn't mean withdraw from helping others achieve their goals, it means realizing you must help yourself achieve what is important to you, too.

3) Decide that you need to start a new season of your retired life, one that is a better match to what you want now. Your needs evolve over time, be sure how you treat them does, too.

4) Work on developing what you consider a fair sharing of work and chores at home. That doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 split. If you truly enjoy the cooking then hold on to that part of your domestic life. It is part of the "I feel fully retired now that I can cook to my heart's desire." But, giving your partner a pass on chores and work load, you are hurting your own experience.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you don't feel fully retired? Do you know why? What would it take to make retirement "official?"

Did you go through a transformation at some point that marked your move to real retirement mode? Do you remember what it was?

As someone who does feel completely retired, I am quite interested in the feedback from those who don't. I know Betty and anxious for your feedback, too.

February 17, 2018

Put Out To Pasture? Not Really

This post first ran almost 5 years ago. The message continues to be relevant for a new crop of blog readers

On the west side of Tucson is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Home to the 355th Wing,  this air base continues as an active training and support facility. It is also a storage facility for literally thousands of planes that have been pulled from service. Every type of military aircraft sits in neat rows, stretching for miles. To get a sense for how big this is, you have to drive by it. But, since that is impractical for most, watch this short video. Be sure to stick around for the last 30 seconds and try to count the planes:

Why are they here? Parts are used to keep other planes flying. Some are sold to other countries that want the type of aircraft offered or need the parts for their own planes. And, of course, while 20, 30, even 50 years old, these aircraft could be made air worthy and fly again for the Air Force. What struck me as I drove down Kolb Road in Tucson and saw all these "retired" planes were the parallels to our own retirement.

For some of us, feeling "mothballed" after an active life becomes a problem. Just as these aircraft served their country for many years, we worked hard at whatever we did to be able to invest and save enough to be able to stop working. But, what happens next is really key. Without work do we feel sort of like an out of service airplane, put away with no real function? Do we sit in the Arizona (or Florida) sunshine waiting for.......?

Or, are we allowing our "parts" to keep functioning. As noted, these stored aircraft often have a second life. Their parts are used to keep other planes flying or they may be sold. They can be used for training purposes. The fact that they aren't being flown every day the way they used to be doesn't make them worthless. It just makes how they are used different.

satisfying retirement is very similar. This phase of life has the same highs and lows, pros and cons, disappointments and joys as any other time of life. It offers the same opportunities to learn, grow, contribute, and make a difference. Attitude has a tremendous effect on the level of success at this time of life. If you view your productive life as over, in effect, put out to pasture, then that is probably how it will be.

I suggest we take a lesson from the planes sitting on those acres of tarmac in Tucson. If they were worthless it is likely they would have been turned into scrap a long time ago. But, as the video mentions, this part of the Air Force actually makes money for the government. These aging, pulled from service, past their prime machines have enough value for the Air Force to spend many millions of dollars to protect and guard them.

No matter our age or our current station in life we have value. Our job is to scrape off any dust, reinflate our tires, and figure out what we have to offer.

Heavens knows the world needs our wisdom and help.

February 16, 2018

The Killing of Our Children and Teachers

Read the list below slowly and out loud. 17 names. 17 people dead at the 18th school shooting of 2018. 17 lives ended and 17 families devastated.

That is one attack on children and teachers every 63 hours.

As a father, grandfather, and human being I really don't know how we tolerate this situation. 

If another public figure says, "Our thoughts and prayers are with you" I will get physically sick.

The excuses, missed signals....none of that changes the fact that our culture has allowed our children and their teachers to be human targets at what should be the safest place they can be.

There is nothing more to say except shame on all of us.

Alyssa Alhadeff, 14

Scott Beigel, 35

Martin Duque, 14

Nicholas Dworet, 17

Aaron Feis, 37

Jaime Guttenberg, 14

Chris Hixon, 49

Luke Hoyer, 15

Cara Loughran, 14

Gina Montalto, 14

Joaquin Oliver, 17

Alaina Petty, 14

Meadow Pollack, 18

Helena Ramsey, 17

Alex Schachter, 14

Carmen Schentrup, 16

Peter Wang, 15

February 14, 2018

Mom and Dad are Moving In...With You: How To Prepare

He saw them at the far end of the corridor. Of course, their flight would use the most distant gate. Two slightly slumped figures, rolling carry on bags and dad with his cane, moved slowly toward him. Unable to pass security, he and his youngest daughter could only wait until they passed the barrier protecting the secure from the unwashed masses. Why didn't they ask for an electric cart, he asked himself. 

His parents had left their farmhouse home of forty years and were destined for the spare bedroom in his house, their new home, after living independently proved to be too much for dad. How would his children, heavens, even the two cocker spaniels, adapt to having Gran and Grandad as permanent parts of their lives? There were going to be major changes and adjustments ahead.

This scenario is one faced by a growing number of us. With retirement communities financially out of reach for many, grown children become the answer for parents who need an increasing level of care. Certainly, such a situation comes with all sorts of adjustments, some good, good not so much. At a minimum, private space and control of one's schedule are affected. Depending on their condition, a serious commitment to caregiving is made.

Several years ago I used input from the book, When Your Parent Moves In, by David Horgan, as an excellent resource to write about this difficult process. His suggestions make just as much sense now, maybe even more so as our parents are requiring more of our time and concern.

As Mr. Horgan notes, having mom or dad (or both) move in with your family can be a mixed blessing. Unexpected problems can cause family arguments, financial stress, even increased divorce. The arrangement can also be enriching, a strong statement of love for parents from their grown children, and a lesson in responsibility for younger family members.

He suggests these considerations be a part of your preparation for blending a few different generations:

  • Be open: Have a clear and open discussion with your family, siblings, spouse, kids, and ultimately your parent(s), to decide if making the move is the right decision for all parties involved.  Discuss:
    1. The pros and cons
    2. The different ways this move will effect the family
    3. The ways each family member’s routines may be disrupted. 
    4. Expectations that may differ from “the way things have always been”
    5. Any possible monetary issues that could arrive
    6. Compromises that each family member will have to make
  • Medical Management: An elderly parent is apt to have a litany of doctor appointments, medication, and needs.
    1. With the help of medical and geriatric care professionals, assess your parent’s medical needs and gain a clear understanding of how those needs will affect you and your family.
    2. Gather all possible medical resources, containing both specific people and organizations, to minimize frustrations as well as possible mistakes.
    3. Use your support network to create and implement a plan as well as back-up plans. 
  • Moving Day: Moving is stressful under any circumstance. Moving in an aging parent entails a permanent lifestyle change and one that may be met with resistance, which can make it even more difficult. Plan for every detail upfront to minimize the potential strife.
    1. Ready yourself for possible volatile emotions and flaring tempers from all parties.
    2. Use your utmost compassion and support when you decide what stays and what goes.
    3. The move may not have been a parent’s first choice. Avoid sweeping decisions, such as throwing away Grandma’s 50 year-old collection of National Geographics, without discussing it with her first. 
    4. Decide ahead of time on furniture placement.
    5. Make a disbursement plan for who gets items that cannot fit into your house. (Storage, give away, other siblings.)
  • House Rules: Your parent is used to running the household with his/her own rules. Everyone must openly acknowledge that each family member must compromise to make the new living arrangement successful. It is important to create a plan that is respectful to all parties, so your parent doesn’t feel slighted and uncomfortable as the “newcomer” to your home. You also want to make sure that you and your spouse do not feel like outsiders. Decide on:

    1. Chores
    2. Who waters the plants and feeds the cat etc.
    3. Who helps and who doesn’t help in the kitchen
    4. How you like laundry done
    5. Bathroom etiquette
    6. What you make for dinner and what time
    7. When are lights out, and television off

As Mr. Horgan points out, there will be changes in everyone's life that could last years. As the parent declines, nursing care will become more of an issue and a major expense that someone will have to shoulder. This is not an issue with easy answers. But, it is certainly a good idea to work out as many details as possible ahead of time. There will be enough stress as it is.

I'd be quite interested in your comments, especially if you have had to face this problem, either as the adult child or the parent who moves in. Your experiences and feedback will be quite valuable to us all. If you'd feel more comfortable  sharing anonymously, that is perfectly fine.

February 11, 2018

Age Is Used As An Excuse For -

......Anything and Everything 

We don't get that part time job we'd be good at because we are too old. Our doctor tells us we can't engage in our favorite activity anymore, the knee joints won't allow it. The television industry believes older folks aren't attractive  enough to advertisers to produce shows that match our tastes. Movies are too loud, too violent, too sex-filled, or too moronic to motivate us to trek to the theater. Some of our medical providers don't listen to us; they already know what our problems are. These examples of ageism are real and hard to combat by ourselves.

However, there is another type of limitation based on age that is mostly self-generated. We tell ourselves we are too old to learn a new hobby, travel to a fascinating place on the other side of the globe, or go back to school and get the degree we've always wanted. It is too late to find new friends. Moving is too much work at our age.


I suggest that a lot of this negativity is in our head. We have convinced ourselves that it is too late to take a risk, too much trouble to fulfill a dream, too silly to attempt to achieve a long-term goal. Yet, history tells us exactly the opposite:

J.R.R. Tolkien published first volume of Lord of the Rings at 62.

Noah Webster finished his dictionary at 66.

Ed Whitlock became the oldest person to run a standard marathon at 69.

Katsusuke Yanagisawa climbed Mt. Everett at 71.

John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space at 77.

Nola Ochs became oldest person to receive a college degree at 95.

You get the point. For these folks, and millions more, age was nothing more than a number. It didn't limit them, it didn't control them, it certainly didn't suggest they were past the point of doing something big or meaningful.

Most of us don't have a Lord of the Rings waiting to be written, but we may have a burning desire to document our family history. Even fewer are willing to undergo the rigors of a marathon or climbing a 29,000 foot mountain. But, the 5K fun run or hiking through the mountain preserve in our town is very doable with a little practice and effort.

Engaging with people younger or older than we are can help widen our horizons and force us to think differently. Embracing some new technology, refusing to talk about "the good old days"  and dwelling on the past certainly helps. A self-imposed sense of helplessness in certain situations becomes reality; if you think you can't do or learn something, then you can't.

Speak up when confronted with a comment or generalization that puts you in a certain age-defined box. "She's 80 and still taking online classes," or  "Can you believe he's 68!" Politely, but firmly, reject such age-based comments when they directed at either you or someone you know. 

I found an excellent resource for recognizing and rejecting age-based comments or generalizations. Be sure to read this article all the way through. There are examples I would have never thought of as hurtful or condescending. 

Ageism is a rather new phenomenon that has been allowed to infect our thinking and our society. If we aren't the ones to point out its limitations and hurtfulness, then who is?