- “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!
I love to write; I love to talk; but I also really, really, love to listen.
I placed this Blog entry in the Personal Struggles category of my Blog because I’m struggling to assure that what I’m providing on this Blog meets your needs and interests.
Sure, my ego would be stoked by having more Followers and more page hits – and I welcome all that have an interest – but that’s not my biggest concern. What’s missing for me is reader input in the form of Comments. A lack of comments is not the readers’ fault, rather, I think I’m missing the boat regarding the nature of my Blog entries because they don’t encourage Comments.
Are my articles too long? Are they not sufficiently pertinent to your ongoing interests? Is the subject matter too limited in scope? If so, in what direction would you like me to go? I’ll go just about anywhere with my Baby Boomer Content because I’m not an expert on a zillion topics but I am interested in at least that many.
If you have the time, I’d love to hear from you. And I can pretty much promise that I won’t be offended by any constructive criticism you provide. Society is like a bird. It has two wings, and a bird can not fly when one of its wings is broken. My wing isn’t broken, it just needs to be pointed in the right direction. I hope you’re willing to help me do so. I love what I do and cherish this venue where I can hone my skills and increase my knowledge because along with listening comes the benefit of learning something new. I can hardly wait to hear from you.
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?
Bear with me – don’t judge me quite yet.
If you are primarily responsible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or perhaps you assist an elderly relative who relies on you for help, do you find yourself telling little white lies? Do you stretch the truth a bit in order to keep the peace? Without doing any harm to your loved one or anyone else, do those little white lies help you accomplish tasks on behalf of your loved one, thus improving their life? Congratulations – you understand that honesty isn’t always the best route to take and you’re in good company.
How do you jump over the hurdles of negotiating with a loved one for whom you provide care? Here are a few examples that come to mind.
Scenario one: the need to get creative in order to leave the house for personal business. For example, if telling your wife that you’re going to a caregiver support group meeting makes her mad, sad, or distrustful of your intentions, (“I’m sure you’re going to say bad things about me!”), why not tell your spouse that you’re going out with the guys, and you promise you will be back in two hours. Then make sure you’re back on time! If you’re not comfortable with that lie, by all means, every month you can continue to explain how helpful this caregiver support group is to you and how much it helps you be a better husband; and month after month your wife will not understand your rationale and will feel ashamed. Knowing that you’re going to a support group only confirms how miserable she’s made your life. Read the rest of this entry »
If ever there is an example of how life can turn on a dime, it’s Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ tragic experience. January 8, 2012 marks one year since Ms. Giffords was shot in the head while meeting with her constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
The bullet traveled 1000 feet per second into her brain and not only did she survive, even her neurosurgeons termed her recovery a miracle. Is Ms. Giffords back to 100%? No. Will she be? There is a strong hope that she will. As her husband said to Diane Sawyer when asked if he’s holding out too much hope: “You can’t have too much hope! That’s not practical!” In her ABC special on 20/20 chronicling Congressman Giffords’ and her husband, Astronaut Mark Kelly’s journey, Diane Sawyer characterized their endeavors in this manner:
The courage & love you bring when the life you live, is not the life you planned.
Some of you reading this Blog are in the midst of a life trauma that you certainly didn’t plan, and from which you wish you were released. What challenge do you face? Did you see it coming?
One story of life’s changes. I volunteer as a Facilitator for an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group. Every member of our group has a loved one with some sort of dementia diagnosis. Some are in the early stages, some are in the middle stages, and three in particular recently experienced the end stage.
RRRING! A telephone rings in the middle of the night and life changes for caregivers gearing up for the Holidays with their family.
In the wink of an eye, life as they knew it took a sharp turn. It’s the Holiday season and suddenly one set of caregivers hires in-home hospice care for their parent and another caregiver rides in an ambulance with her spouse to a local hospice center because of a terminal change in health. Within days both sets of caregivers arrange memorial services for which they hadn’t planned at this stage of their loved one’s life.
BANG! Six lives are lost, and Gabrielle Giffords’ and Mark Kelly’s lives change forever.
Congresswoman Giffords loved spending time with her constituents. The night before she was shot, she took a long bike ride with a friend and was eager for the next day to begin. A week later she and her husband were to undergo in vitro fertilization so they could start planning the birth of their first child together. And those attending this gathering, both staff and general citizenry, hoped for a successful and enjoyable experience. The bottom line is that you can’t plan for what you can’t see coming.
Oftentimes when we hear of tragedies such as those mentioned above, we naively say to ourselves, “Those are the types of things that happen to other people; not us.” Well, the truth of the matter is, those types of things happen to people, and that’s us.
Congresswoman Giffords’ neurosurgeons stated that they don’t know where in the brain one finds charm, optimism, humor or charisma. Certainly no where in the brain can one find sufficient prescience that allows us to see what’s coming around the corner.
No matter how hard we try; no matter how careful we are; life turns on a dime. And sometimes, the life we live becomes the life we did not plan.
I received inspiration for this article from the caregiver heroes with whom I am acquainted, and from Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly in their book: Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.
I really appreciate this article by Lark Elizabeth Kirkwood because teamwork is a theme/process that is applicable to so many areas of our lives. Employed in a small or large company? Applicable. Volunteer for non-profits? Applicable. Family members trying to play on their strengths in a caregiving situation? Applicable.
Thank you Lark for showing us that teamwork isn’t just for sports teams any more.
In the book, Gabby, by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly, Congresswoman Giffords’ husband, Mark, provides statements about optimism that have greatly encouraged me. Here are just a few:
- “I saw how optimism is a form of therapy and hope is a form of love.”
- “Doctors at TIRR, the rehab hospital, told us that our optimism and encouragement could make a great difference in Gabby’s recovery…”
- “To be of help to a brain-injury patient, we were told, families need to find a way to balance pragmatism and optimism.”
In a Time Magazine article published December 13, 2011, Congresswoman Giffords addresses the struggles she and her husband have endured as they continue to adjust to the “new normal” brought about as a result of a bullet that pierced her brain on January 8, 2011 when she was reaching out to her Congressional district in Arizona. So many of us have new normals as we walk, or fall, head first into Baby Boomerism. This normal may involve a loved one who has a fatal or debilitating illness. This new normal may be characterized as our own bodily/physical struggles inherent with our age. Each of us have some sort of chronic something-or-other that inhibits our ability to function at 100%.
What is the chronic something-or-other that inhibits your ability to function at 100%?
The above question is a rhetorical one. Neither myself nor the public need to know the specifics – but you know the specifics and you’re the one making long-term adjustments as a result.
What processes do you follow to unearth the optimism that exists somewhere in your psyche? How do you overcome your personal challenges so that you end most days victorious, rather than defeated?
For me, it’s acceptance. For me, acceptance doesn’t mean giving in or giving up; rather, acceptance means being o.k. with how things currently are and finding ways to succeed within that new normal. This mentality or attitude is more optimistic than you may think. Again, for me, I decided to allow optimism to nurture the hope that oftentimes is buried deep within me. Things could very well change for the better – which doesn’t have to be defined as being 100% problem-free. Nope. If I garner optimism at the start of each day, I’m making a conscious and aware decision to acknowledge and celebrate even the smallest of victories that might occur in the next 24-hours. If I wait for a humongous, star-spangled mega-victory, I may wait forever. Instead, I attempt to be aware of even the smallest improvements/goodnesses in my day so that my life is filled with many victories to celebrate. The previous sentence says that “I attempt” to garner optimism throughout my day. I don’t always succeed – but I try.
What small victory can you celebrate today?
What works for you? The rest of us would love to celebrate that victory with you.