- “I’m trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.”
- “I’m a frustrated fish out of water since retiring two years ago.”
- “I’m desperate to find something to fill my time!”
- Woman in her 80’s: “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? I feel helpless and hopeless without worthwhile connections.”
I attended a class four and a half years ago comprised of people in their 50’s through their 80’s. This class was designed to make our Senior years count. I just now stumbled on notes that I took in that class wherein each class member was asked to make a comment about their current state in life. The above four comments are just some of those statements.
Desperation and sadness all around me. I recall now that the mood of this class was one of desperation and sadness as those who yearned for retirement their whole working life found themselves frantically trying to fill their days. Their feelings were summed up in these words:
- lack of purpose
- loss of self
Gerontologist, S. Barkin puts it this way regarding our responsibility to be actively walking through our senior years, and I paraphrase,
What do we want to do for the time remaining in our life? We all should be mining our experiences and the wisdom therein to help with our present and future paths.
As I mentioned in my article, Retirement planning: it’s not what you think, all of us have a history of life skills that should not be put up on a shelf and never used again. Instead we should be retooling those skills into something that is meaningful and enjoyable to us and beneficial to others. The students in my class had many thoughts – mostly unfocused and therefore not very productive – but those thoughts had yet to turn into action.
The first step is to decide what is significant to you and act on it.
Aging well starts with the mind but it’s in the doing that makes it count. We all have a choice when we find ourselves at a loss of purpose: we can stay stuck, or we can actively make a difference in the local community around us. Baby Boomers are the first generation of peoples to have such a long life span. We’re living longer so we have more time to pass our knowledge down to others and use our skills in a valuable way. As the sports company Nike says in one of their ad campaigns: JUST DO IT!
How do you define using your time in a meaningful way? If you’re getting ready for retirement – or are already retired – how are you going to spend those 40+ hours you previously filled at your job? “That’s easy!”, you say. “I’m gonna do whatever I want to do, whenever I want to do it: sleep in, read, play golf, travel; I’ll have no problem filling in the time!”
Now fast forward a year or two: you’re bored; your spouse is sick of you just hanging around the house; you’re feeling like there’s something more you could be doing; and even with doing whatever you’ve wanted to do, something’s missing. You wish there was more to this long sought after retirement phase of your life.
You’re not alone. The founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura L. Carstensen, correctly states in a recent AARP article, that “people are happiest when they feel embedded in something larger than themselves.” As we all know, we are living longer. In order to make good use of these added years, we need to ask ourselves what we can offer others in these bonus years of our lives. Should we continue in what might be our restricted scope of the past: getting by, doing what we can for ourselves and our family, but rarely reaching out beyond that confined scope? If you feel as I do, that’s not nearly satisfying enough.
What should our lives look like now that most people spend as many years as “old people” as they do rearing children?
How should societies function when more people are over 60 than under 15?
Ms. Carstensen is certain that today’s generations of older people will set the course for decades to come and that “change will happen, one person at a time.” I personally think that too often we think that any “doing” that we do must be grandiose in scale; or remarkable and newsworthy in order to be worthwhile. If I felt that way, I don’t think I’d even make an effort to give of my skills, my time and my passion to my community. Why bother? It won’t do any good, right? WRONG!
“If every person over 50 makes a single contribution, the world could be improved immeasurably.”
Think about it: us Baby Boomers have a history of life skills that can benefit so many! How sad it would be if the engineer, the lawyer, the CPA, the household family manager, the medical professional, and other highly skilled people put those skills on the shelf, never to be used again? What a waste! I’m not saying you continue to be that engineer, lawyer, and the like in your retirement. What I am saying, however, is that your past experience, regardless of its nature, can be used for the good of others but perhaps reshaped into a different form.
The bulk of my employment experience has been in the legal field and the senior housing industry, but at this stage of my life I’m not specifically involved in being a paralegal, or a senior housing manager. What I am doing, however, is combining those skills and directing them towards areas for which I am very compassionate, e.g. advocacy for older adults, and counsel for those taking care of a loved one with dementia. You too can contribute to your local community by applying your skills in ways that benefit others and are meaningful to you. I would be of no use to anyone if I didn’t believe my personal Baby Boomer motto: Committed to strengthening my community one person at a time – not one society at a time; not one State at a time, and certainly not the world. But I can motivate myself to strengthen my community one person at a time.
At what do you excel and what do you like to do? As an older adult, perhaps retired, you now have the luxury of doing what you LIKE and WANT to do, not just what brings home steady income and puts food on the table. Whoo hoo! What a luxury!!!
LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS SOME MORE:
What are you doing now to plan for a satisfactory remainder of your life?
How are others currently benefiting from your knowledge-base and how did you find the new venue in which to share your knowledge?
If you’re retired: How satisfied are you in this stage of your life? If you’re satisfied: why? If you’re not satisfied: why not?
An epidemic has taken hold of this Nation. Adults 70 years or older are being infantalized. Adult children have decided that their parents can’t do anything without their guidance. Service employees, e.g. restaurants, retail store clerks and the like, feel compelled to talk down to their Senior customers. Caregivers in long-term care (LTC) facilities further degrade the residents with baby talk. These residents downsized their living space; don’t downsize who they are by treating them as anything other than who they are: intelligent adults.
Only you can put an end to this epidemic. If it is not eradicated by the time you reach the Senior Citizen age, you too will be subjected to its horrors.
Mom moves into your house because of a financial or medical reason, and suddenly Mom has no say in what goes on in her life. Everywhere she turns, her son and daughter-in-law are bossing her around in the guise of trying to do what is best for her. Mom wants to stay up late reading or watching TV and she’s told she should go to bed. Mom wants to do this activity, or that activity with friends outside of the home and she’s told not to leave the house because the son and daughter-in-law want to make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble.
Your Mom raised you and somehow you turned out o.k. She must have been a good parent, teacher, guidance counselor, child supporter, you name it. Just because she is living under your roof doesn’t mean she’s lost her right to have a say in matters that go on in the household. Ask her opinion from time to time. Let her somehow contribute to the functioning of the household, e.g. day-to-day participation in household functions, helping you with decisions you’re making about your own lives. Doing so will restore her pride and make her feel less superfluous. It’s quite o.k. to be concerned about her well-being – you should be – but you can do so without suffocating her.
Why is it that wait-staff, retail sales clerks and the like feel an immediate need to speak super loudly to a Senior citizen customer? In my work with the elderly, I made this very mistake by talking loudly to a LTC resident I had just met. She finally interrupted me, put her hand on my knee and said, “Irene, I’m old; not deaf. Please stop yelling at me.” So simply lower your voice and don’t call her a pet name such as “Sweetie,” “Hon,” etc. I’ll never forget my mother’s phone call to me many years ago when she was barely over 70 years old. She went to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license. After filling out the paperwork and getting her photo taken, it was time for her to leave with her newly issued license. The DMV clerk then said quite loudly, “Now Sweetie – before you leave, make sure that you have everything with you that you came with.” My mother called me that evening, both angered and in tears, bristling at the way in which she was treated. In my mother’s eyes, the DMV clerk downsized her intelligence and abilities and that thoughtless act forever changed my mother as a result. Please treat your Senior consumers with respect and with dignity. They know they are older than you are – you don’t have to remind them of that fact with your ill-placed attitudes and gestures.
When I was 58 years old, a couple years ago, I picked up some items at my local grocery store and used the self-checkout counter to purchase my groceries. As I was leaving the store, the retail clerk said, “Thanks Dear!” A male customer who was older than me also went through the self-checkout at the same time but that retail clerk didn’t say a cutesy name to him! Oh Boy – she didn’t know what she had just started. I didn’t make a scene. I left the store, wrote a letter to the manager and included this blog entry/article with a suggestion that he update his store training to include my suggestions about how to treat Senior Citizens. He wrote me back to thank me and stated that he planned to provide updated sensitivity training to his staff. BRAVO!
Professional LTC caregivers.
Oh boy – I see this a lot. Caregivers who, God bless them, have a job that not many of us would willingly perform – especially at the low hourly wage at which they are paid. I admire you and I respect you. You’re a better person than I because I don’t have what it takes to do what you do. But please address your patients/residents by their given names. I would even go so far as to suggest that you call them by their surname until they give you permission to use their first name. “Good morning Mrs. Smith. It’s so good to see you today!” That’s a far more respectful greeting than the following: “Good morning Sweetie Pie. Let’s get you ready for breakfast, shall we Hon?” YUCK! God help the person who addresses me that way when I reach my Senior years. I’m a friendly person at heart, but I too would bristle at any condescending treatment directed towards me. (And considering how I reacted to the cutesy name directed at me in the supermarket a few years ago (above) I may not be quite as civil in my later years.)
BOTTOM LINE FOR EVERYONE CONCERNED. These Senior Citizens with whom you have contact survived the Great Depression and at least one World War. Surely they have the ability, and the right, to be treated with respect and given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making their own personal decisions. Don’t take away their ability prematurely. Eventually they may not have the ability to function independently, but it doesn’t do them any good for you to hasten the time in which that may happen.