Retirement

Creating the next chapter of your life.

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Do you seek new direction in your life?

Are you in the process of recreating yourself?

Well I’ve learned that it’s easier to know which direction you should go if you’re already in motion.

Painting Pasaulio sutvėrimas IV (Creation of t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world may have been created in a week, or zillions of weeks; either way, a lot of energy went into that creation and the world-in-process was not a stagnant one.

Trial and error.  I constantly look for ways to improve myself and increase my effect upon the community around me.  If I’m not contributing to a cause – regardless of how big or small – I figure, “Why bother?”  But if I wait around for some sort of change to occur, I’m going about it in the wrong way and believe me, I’ve experienced enough trial and error to write a book on the subject.  The trial and error approach works, however, if a person becomes well-informed and doesn’t take financial or personal risks that they can’t afford.  After all, sometimes we need to discover what doesn’t work for us in order to find out what does work for us.

Living or playing to your strengths.  My Baby Boomer direction was greatly influenced by Marcus Buckingham, one of the world’s authorities on employee productivity.  (By the way, his DVD series Trombone Player Wanted, is worth looking into.)  He suggests that to make your greatest contribution, it’s best to play to your strengths most of the time.  I have taken to heart Mr. Buckingham’s strong caution against veering off ones strengths path.  After all, when I’m creating a new me, why would I choose to do the lame-o, same-o with all its inherent dissatisfaction?  That’s like doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  That sure hasn’t worked for me.  In addition to playing to my strengths, I also play to my passions.  As a Baby Boomer creating my life’s next chapter, it makes sense to deliberately avoid activities that drag me down and weaken me and run to those activities for which I am most impassioned and inspired.

Find your niche and go for it.  I know what I like to do and what I’m good at so I try to consciously remain open to opportunities that directly relate to those strengths.   I thoroughly enjoy working with an older population of adults but I know what part of that experience I’m able to do, and what I’m not able to do.  For example, I know my limits on “clinical atmosphere” so any involvement with older adults excludes my participation in a nursing home or hospital environment.  But throw me in the midst of adults living in assisted living or dementia residential settings and I will make new friends of everyone with whom I come in contact.  Add to that my enjoyment and effectiveness as a public speaker, I look for every opportunity in which to use those abilities.  As a Certified Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman, I have the privilege of meeting with and advocating for residents in LTC settings.  Additionally, I provide resident rights presentations at those facilities and at non-facility venues such as senior centers and city forums.  It’s the best of both worlds for me – interaction with my target audience and feeding my passion for public speaking.

hallway with doors to monks' cells at the form...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recognizing an open door when you see one.  On a recent Oprah’s Next Chapter episode, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Lady Gaga and at one point asked the singer how she came up with new song or album ideas.  This is the gist of what Lady Gaga said: she imagines herself in a hallway, there are doors all along the hallway but she knows there’s another door coming up further down the hallway that is more appropriate but it’s not readily visible.  Through trial and error she eventually finds the correct door/song inspiration.  How does she know that’s the door through which she is to walk?  When the door finally opens, the light floods in, she is able to block out all distracting noises, and her wishes and thoughts rise to the surface as a basis for her next song/album creation.  I’ve opened some wrong doors in my life as a result of incorrectly thinking that just because a door opens, that means I’m supposed to walk through it.  Again, trial and error comes into play and discernment takes a front row seat.

Not every door that opens is going to be the correct one.  When I’m in exploratory mode, I have to be very careful not to walk through the first door of opportunity that comes my way – regardless of how enticing.  When I make this mistake,  I quickly discover that I’ve committed myself to the wrong project and have had to withdraw myself shortly thereafter.  I didn’t look before I leaped – not a safe, or advisable practice to be sure.   It’s worth me taking the time to weigh my options; write a list of Pros and Cons; ask trusted individuals for their input; and then make an informed decision.  If it’s right for me, it’ll wait for me.  If this new opportunity allows me to play to my strengths and my passions, everyone benefits and there are few, if any, casualties along the way.

What does the next chapter of your life look like?  How are you going about writing that chapter?  I’d love to hear from you because I’m pretty sure I have quite a few more chapters of my own to write.

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Start your retirement – start your job as a family caregiver.

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You’ve worked your entire life; you’ve lined up your retirement leisure activities; you’re ready to start the first day of the rest of your life, but instead you start a new job: caregiver to your sibling, spouse, parent, or other family member.

Or perhaps you retired early to take on your caregiver job because there was no way you could do it all: continue your full-time job while moonlighting as your loved one’s caregiver.  It doesn’t work or it only works until the caregiver runs out of steam.  One way or another, your retirement years sure don’t resemble what you envisioned.

The CNN article, As baby boomers retire, a focus on caregivers, paints a frightening picture but one that is painfully accurate.  The highlighted caregiver, Felicia Hudson, said she takes comfort in the following sentiment:

Circumstances do not cause anger, nervousness, worry or depression; it is how we handle situations that allow these adverse moods.

I agree with the above sentiment to a very small degree because let’s face it, the nitty-gritty of a caregiver’s life is filled with anger-inducing depressive circumstances about which I don’t think caregivers should beat themselves up trying to handle with a happy face and a positive attitude.  It just doesn’t work that well in the long-term.  It’s a well-known fact, and one that is always talked about by the Alzheimer’s Association, that caregivers don’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how, or don’t have the support, to stop trying to do all of their life’s jobs by themselves.

“I’m obligated because my parents took great care of me, and now it’s time for me to take care of them.” 

or

“For better or worse means taking care of my spouse, even though she’s getting the better of me, and I’m getting worse and worse.”

The problem with the above sentiments is that oftentimes the adult child or spouse start to resent the person for whom they are providing care.  It’s like going to a job you hate but being held to an unbreakable employment contract; your employer is a loved one with a life-altering or terminal illness; and you’re not getting paid.  “Taking care of a loved one in need is reward enough.”  No, it’s not.

I’m not bitter, I’m simply realistic.  Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs any of us will hold and we can’t do it all by ourselves.  My blog article, Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport, encourages each person in a family caregiving situation to create a team of co-caregivers to more effectively get the job done.  And please take a look at the other articles found in that same category of Caregiving.   I hope you will find encouragement in those articles – some based on my own experience, and some from other caregivers’ shared experiences – especially when a positive attitude and a happy face just isn’t working for you.

Long Term Care Insurance scares me.

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insurance, n. A thing providing protection against a possible eventuality.  Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition; 2004.

Result of a serious automobile accident
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Auto insurance, home or renters insurance, and health insurance – we understand these policies and know that more likely than not the need for the aforementioned insurance policies will rear its ugly head in the near or distant future so we pay the premium for said policies, hoping we won’t need it, but sleeping better at night because we have it.

Why is purchasing long-term care insurance such a difficult step to take for me and my husband?

  1. Unquestionably, it’s expensive;
  2. Fearfully, companies who offer this product are going out of business left and right and may leave us holding an empty bag;
  3. Definitely, it’s a real difficult type of policy to understand; but
  4. Undeniably, the financial need for it can outweigh the cost of purchasing it.
New Orleans, 1942. Doctor at Marine Hospital p...
Image via Wikipedia

My husband and I have still not made an effort to look into it further.  Here are my two reasons based on family experience – both of which tend to contradict each other:

My father’s long-term care insurance policy.  My father had a long-term care insurance policy for which he paid premiums for at least 20 years – no small amount of money to be sure.  He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 84 and died five years later.  His care needs at the retirement facility in which he had lived for 13 years didn’t meet the insurance reimbursement threshold until his final month of life.  As with most policies, the insurance holder’s care needs must meet a defined level of care before the insurance company kicks in their assisted living care reimbursement payments.  When that happens, the insurance holder no longer pays any more premiums.  Twenty years of paying premiums for one month of reimbursement benefit.

My sister-in-law’s long-term care policy.  My brother and sister-in-law purchased their long-term care insurance policies when they were in their late fifties.  Less than a year later my sister-in-law was diagnosed with early-onset dementia and approximately two years later drew benefits from her policy.  A couple of years of paying premiums for what will be years of reimbursement benefit.  If that isn’t the good news/bad news of long-term care insurance I don’t know what is!

I have no excuse. I know the devastating costs of long-term care because in my past professional life I worked for a senior housing provider and they represented the Champagne & Chandelier variety of assisted living.  But even the generic assisted living providers charge high rental rates and as ones’ care needs increase, so do the care fees.  This isn’t avoidance behavior on my part and I’m not squeamish about the subject of health and ones’ eventual death.  I’m just finding it hard to take this leap into signing up for insurance, even though it holds the assurance of fending off the potential of total personal financial collapse without it.

How are you Baby Boomers dealing with this subject?  If you finally bit the bullet and purchased a policy – how did you finally take that leap of faith?

I AM NOT LOOKING TO BE BOMBARDED BY SELLERS OF INSURANCE AS A RESULT OF THIS BLOG ARTICLE SO PLEASE DON’T GO THERE.  But I welcome other constructive feedback for those of us on the brink of making this difficult decision.

10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents

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10 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents.

This VERY comprehensive article is designed for a person’s elderly parents but guess what…us Baby Boomers need to be aware of these resources as well so I want to pass this article along to you!  It helped me – I hope it’s a great resource for you as well.

Voices of the bored retirees.

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  • “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.”
Are you living past the sunset in your life?

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:

  • depressed
  • lack of purpose
  • short-sightedness
  • emptiness
  • 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!

Retirement planning – it’s not what you think.

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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.

How do you envision using your free time?

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.”

Is this the sunset of your life or just the beginning?

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?

Solo Caregiving.

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My recent blog, “Caregiving: The Ultimate Team Sport” assumes the person providing care for a loved one has a wealth of family members upon which to draw for support.  When that is not the case it can be difficult to find willing team members to provide that support. This article provides advice to the solo caregiver and to his/her friends, business associates, neighbors, and community contacts.

Garage Sale fundraiser for the local Alzheimer's Association.
Garage Sale fundraiser for the local Alzheimer’s Association.

CAREGIVER: BE BOLD – ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED.

Those people with whom you have contact probably know that you’re the only one carrying the ball when it comes to caregiving but they can’t possibly understand the degree of difficulty you’re experiencing.  Assuming that to be the case, your friends, business associates, and neighbors may not feel the need to reach out to you with assistance.  Now is the time to be very transparent with them and tell them what you need.

Having dinner with my dad and his late-in-life Bride.

DINING ALONE IS A DRAG – NOW’S THE TIME TO ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT.

There is no shame in inviting yourself to dinner.  If these are true friends/acquaintances of yours, they will welcome you into their home.  Once you’ve invited yourself a couple times, true friends and valuable neighbors will start to invite you into their dining room on an ongoing basis.  Besides, they’ve probably been wondering what they could possibly do to help you out in your situation and you’ve just presented a very easy way in which they can do so.  Heck – they’re going to cook dinner for themselves anyway; one or two extra people aren’t going to throw a huge wrench into their meal plans.

My wonderful Dad, circa 1960’s, being a jokester.

ATTENTION WELL-MEANING FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS!

I think the rule of thumb in these situations is to assume that your friend the solo caregiver needs a hand with something, so ask him what he needs.  Let’s look at the difference between the following offers of assistance.

  1. “Hey Sam, call me if you ever need some help.”
  2. “Hey Sam, could you use a little extra help around the garden?  I’m all caught up with my yard work and would like to help you in any way I can.”
  3. Hey Sam, we always cook for a crowd and always have some leftovers.  I’d like to give you some leftovers in disposable containers that you can freeze and use any time you don’t feel like cooking for yourself.”

In the 1st example, you’re leaving it up to Sam to feel comfortable enough to inconvenience you (in his mind) with a request for help.  You’re basically forcing him to ask for help.  In the 2nd and 3rd examples, you’ve given Sam an offer of tangible, definable assistance that shows that you really mean it when you say you’re willing to help out.  If neither of those offers fit within Sam’s current needs, you’re still making it easier for him to ask for help with something else: “Wow Larry, thanks so much for your offers but what I could really use is help figuring out the health insurance issues that have kept me awake at night.  How about having a beer with me, and between the two of us, maybe we can make some sense of this mess in which I find myself.”

Friends, work associates and neighbors – your solo caregiver friend needs help and you could be just the right person with the skill that he needs.  Some day you may find yourself in a similar situation and will know first hand how difficult it is to be a solo caregiver.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it must take at least that to help someone with the burden of being a solo caregiver.