Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

"Youth has no age."   -- Pablo Picasso

As with most stages of life, getting older is a matter of perspective. An often-quoted birthday card sentiment states that getting older is a case of mind over matter; if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. Examples of those who pursue this line of thinking are countless. They include an assortment of forward-thinking folks from famous celebrities to your neighbors just down the block. They have learned to enjoy each day and stay involved in activities that provide joy. Members of this lucky group seem to have turned a blind eye to the calendar.

Throughout civilization, the word "aging" has often conjured images of infirmity and hostility, the proverbial old man screaming at the kids to stay off his pristine lawn, Ebenezer Scrooge, etc. You know what I mean. This is the imagery that promotes anxiety among those of us who are seniors and have sworn to avoid becoming geezers (one word that should be banned entirely!).

But "aging" can also provide a fresh opportunity to explore the world. Don't sweat everything. By now, we know that much of what we "worry" about doesn't matter at all. Learn to relax.

Stop trying to please everyone. Why worry what people think about you, people that you don't like anyway?  No amount of cosmetic procedures or hair implants can impress others as much a serenity, internal confidence and a great attitude.

Try to keep an open mind. Welcome input about new technology and ideas. You don't have to embrace the latest fads but just knowing the terms in passing or what is involved will help you feel connected to others. Don't be afraid to try new things.

Don't fear change. Threatening and unpleasant things have been with us for a very long time including most of the 20th century which brought us world wars and armed conflicts, rampant disease and worldwide depression. Did we whine when those situations left? No. It was change for the better. Much of change is for the better, even if it takes us a while to catch on.

Learn to tune out the static that pours in from all sides and look for the occasional gem of wisdom. But don't shut out everything. I once worked with a younger woman who was trying to conquer a simple office task. When I offered to show her an easy shortcut, she smiled and said nicely, "No thanks. That's OK. I've already learned all that I ever want to learn." She was 25 years old.

I have since wondered whether her wish was granted, poor girl.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


We all own too much stuff. Every household likely contains clothes we don't wear, items we seldom even see (let alone use), meaningless papers (miscellaneous receipts and obsolete warranties) and lots of "stuff" we have obtained, all of which seemed like a good idea at the time when they were obtained.

In part, this compulsion to obtain "stuff" comes naturally. Our childhood years were ripe with conspicuous consumption. Homes overflowed as our families enjoyed the post-war boom combined with new product technology. We had air conditioners, televisions, hi-fi stereos, sleek cars and mail order catalogs, all representing vast lifestyle improvements in a surprisingly short period of time.

It was this fascination with obtaining "stuff" that helped our towns evolve from communities with friendly downtown stores to huge shopping centers and big box stores. Less time wasted driving and parking meant more time to shop for "stuff."

Over time, our personal inventory of nearly everything expanded to the point of absurdity. We currently have shoes and clothes that don't fit or are slightly out of style. What do we do to remedy this situation? Buy closet organizers and bundles of new hangers. We have more pots, pans and dishes and utensils than we will ever need, not to mention electric gizmos we used once but "might need again."

The back of every linen closet hides old towels, mismatched sheets or lint rollers in need of a refill. What is it about our inbred sense of practicality that makes us keep such "stuff"?

Let's face it. Now is the time to simplify.

Look around and clean out those closets. Separate out clothes of no possible good. Make them into dust cloths or discard entirely. Donate the better items to local charities. Plenty of people will appreciate your gesture to a worthy cause. Or have a yard/garage sale. This choice may require a little effort to collect and organize the items. Allow plenty of time if you want to advertise the sale in your local paper. But a yard sale can be fun, allows you to clear out non-essentials and may even bring in some money.

If you are intimidated about getting rid of something you might want later, start small. Carefully review what you are going to eliminate from your surplus, excluding items of sentimental value. Perhaps you want to dispose of extra copies of a DVD or some large platters you only use on certain holidays. You think you can't dispose of your daughter's high school "letter sweater" so ask your married daughter if she would like to have it hanging in her own closet. You'll soon get into the swing of things.

Even if you aren't planning to move or downsizing isn't in your immediate future, you'll feel glad to be rid of extra items. It's a little like cleaning out your purse. You'll be rid of the excess and get yourself newly organized.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Late bloomers

At some point the life of nearly everyone reaches a peak. That high point may not involve financial success. Rather it may relate to contentment with certain events -- marriage, family, or professional achievement. But eventually such a summit is reached, whether or not the person recognizes it.

During high school, I observed fellow students who appeared already to have it all -- beauty, popularity, social expertise or athletic prowess. They seemed sophisticated beyond their years.

What I failed to understand at the time was that many of these high school students had already reached their individual peaks -- at the age of 17! Having become as athletic, popular or attractive as was possible, there was nowhere to go but downhill.

If you knew anyone in high school who also fits this description, chances are you have observed a similar pattern of decline. The speed with which these superstars fell from their attained peaks likely varied. But I have found few exceptions to this pattern. The sooner these exotic flowers bloomed, the sooner they withered.

For those of us who eventually found our own way, we came to realize that not all flowers bloom at the same time. The more fortunate among us were the most magnificent species of flower - the late bloomer.

Maturity is a great time in which to bloom. Much of the humdrum of life has been confronted and conquered. We have dealt with our share of trials and tribulations and have gained a great deal of self confidence. We possess mature judgment, are slow to lose our tempers and have developed an appreciation for doing the right thing at the right time. We can laugh at our own foibles and don't take ourselves too seriously. We have learned not to sweat the small stuff.

The best part of being a "late" bloomer is that we have spent more time in the sunlight and absorbing nutrients from the soil. So our blooms can endure longer.

It's time to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Many of the early bloomers have faded until they are nothing but a distant memory. It may have taken us late bloomers a bit longer to reach our glory. But we are here now. So we must learn to relax and enjoy each day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


A proactive person is someone who is observant about what is going on around him/her. Most of us would benefit from being a bit more proactive about everyday matters, including our health.

I like doctors. They serve the public even if their collective reputation has become somewhat tarnished in recent years. The kindly, local doctor who knew the patient and their family has largely gone the way of the buggy whip. Today's doctors are either specialists, focusing on one part of the anatomy or are in general practice. The latter means the doctor sees one patient after another in more or less rapid succession, often spending only a brief amount of time with each.

So let's say you feel the need to see your doctor. Consider doing a little homework before your appointment. Be prepared with questions you might have and write down your concerns. Note how certain medication or foods made you feel. Does your back hurt? What exercising or lifting did you do that may have contributed to it? The more information you provide to the doctor, the better your result.

Today's doctors seem trained to treat the immediate complaint, a bit like a parent who sees their child's scraped knee and reaches for the band-aids. The goal is to fix the pressing problem. At the conclusion of the appointment, the patient usually feels better, relieved that the problem was neither complicated nor exotic. The doctor moves on to see the next patient.

Doctors may appreciate having a dialogue with the patient about the reason for the visit. Concern by the patient demonstrates that he/she has reflected on the purpose of the appointment and may help shed light on perhaps a larger ailment/injury. Several years ago, I met with my doctor and explained my problem, offering a suggested reason. My doctor became extremely upset and shouted, "If you think you are so much smarter than me, then I think you need to see another doctor." With that outburst, he told me to leave his office. I was stunned and shaken, but found another doctor and while my problem was easily resolved, the incident was not forgotten. It was some time before I dared to hold an open discussion with a doctor again. Hopefully, such incidents do not frequently occur.

Liike the vehicles we drive, the body is a complicated machine which may require fine tuning. When you have questions about diagnosis or treatment, check the internet and visit one of many helpful websites. There are many available to answer questions about aches, pains or procedures. Get familiar with the internet and what is has to offer. If you are not comfortable with searching the web, ask someone to help you. Most libraries have assistants who can help you.

Before your next scheduled meeting with your doctor, do a little investigation into the matter, see what you can find and jot down your questions. Both you and the doctor may benefit.

Some sites to get you started:

Sunday, August 7, 2011


By the time we reach age 60 or so, other people have likely been controlling our decisions for years.

Our parents helped us choose what to wear, how to behave, when to get up and go to bed, even shaped our food choices. As we grew, siblings, grandparents and extended family were added to the control group. Then other forces joined in: teachers, clergymen, friends, bosses and spouses, perhaps our own children.

The list of influences continued to grow as we strived to meet their demands. As a result, control of our own lives slipped further away. Whether or not we were aware of it, we spent decades being impacted by these outside constraints.

Once we reach retirement, this pattern undergoes a dramatic shift.

You resume control over your own life. Of course, some restrictions will remain in place. But the majority of control will be yours, perhaps for the first time ever. This realization can be intimidating. How are we supposed to figure out what we are going to do?

Call this new phase independence, freedom or self-reliance. Charting your own course is no small feat. Being responsible for your own future can be wonderful -- and frightening.

Some people find that they are simply not up to making decisions regarding their own lives. As a result, some choose to postpone retirement indefinitely. Perhaps they have relinquished the ability to make their own decisions for so long, they are unsure of their ability to make choices.

But many people will rejoice at the mere prospect.

During conversations about retirement, some people make comments such as, "Oh, that's not for a couple of years. I haven't even thought about that yet."

People underestimate the impact that retirement will have on their lives. I don't mean the financial impact, although that is certainly a consideration. I mean the impact of not having to answer to the clock, to drudge at a job they may hate.

You will be free to do what you want to do.

Be aware that the sheer novelty of freedom will wear off. Children may wait breathlessly for summer vacation, shrieking with joy at the final day of class. However, two weeks later they are whining about not having anything to do.

Even if the prospect of retirement seems far away, begin thinking about it occasionally. What would you like to do with your time? What interests you? Do you have a hobby that is of great interest? What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?

You need to think what course you would like to follow so that you can design a plan.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Change is Good

Things change.

Seasons and the weather change. Fashions change. Food trends and ocean tides ebb and flow. Even the planet's climate seems to be changing.

Change can be a good thing, offering new ways to think and function. It keeps us observant about what is happening around us. Change is also inevitable.

Like a great number of post-war women, I began working during high school. I couldn't wait to get a job, make a little money, grow up and stake my independence.

Even if our mothers worked, ours was among the first wave of women who eagerly burst into the workplace. In the 1950s and even 1960s, few of my friends had working mothers. Most moms -- including mine -- stayed home until the kids reached adolescence. When that flock of mothers entered the work force, it was a gradual transition over several years.

By the 1970s, a large percentage of women were working. When the first wave of retiring women began in the 1960s, women left the working world as they had entered -- gradually and over time.

Now it's our turn. Vast numbers of females are now facing retirement. The U.S. government talks of an overload to the Social Security system. I'm going to let the government worry about that facet of the issue.

I'm here to address the ladies.

Recently I walked into a party where four mature, college-educated women were in an animated conversation about the prospects of life after their careers. The air vibrated with phrases like "what now" and "what will I do."

Unfortunately, I've heard similar pleas from my peers. That could explain why many women continue to work well beyond time to retire. It isn't necessarily because of devotion to their employer or any financial concern.

It's simply because they have no idea how to fill each day.

Today's seniors are a departure from previous generations. There is an element of truth in the declaration that age 70 is the new 50. Many people remain vital and active well into their 80s and beyond.

There is a lot going on out there and in this blog we will explore the many options available to today's seniors.

Come and join the conversation.