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It Takes A (Retirement) Village: Solving the Elderly Housing Crisis in the UK

retirement village

retirement village

“It takes a Village,” Hillary Rodham Clinton once famously wrote. She was referring to how societies can best support children to become able, resilient adults. But I think the same principle might readily be applied to how we care for a rapidly ageing population.

I began to turn this over in my mind whilst checking into a recent flight back to America to help my 86 year-old mother move into an “independent living” unit located within a larger retirement village. After years of living in a large house on her own, she’d decided to live in a smaller, more manageable space and with more people around her.

In such villages, you buy or rent your own apartment, but have access to dozens of basic support and care services as you need them (for a fee). (The retirement home also takes an “exit fee” when you die or move on to assisted living.)

When I explained all of this to the British Airways employee checking me into my flight, a look of amazement crossed her face.

“I’d love to do something like that for my mother,” she confided. “But in my country (Romania), the family is expected to provide everything, even if you’re working. My sister and I were shamed in my village for not moving back to take care of our mother. I don’t know what to do.”

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: The Hawthornes Eastbourne Retirement Home via Wikimedia Commons

A Butterfly Theory of Personal Development

chrysalis

chrysalisI got an email not long ago from a reader of this blog. She shared a poem that she’d seen posted elsewhere on the internet which used the metaphor of the butterfly’s chrysalis to understand those periods when we need to go inside ourselves in order to grow.

The word chrysalis has two meanings in British English: “the hard-shelled pupa of a moth or butterfly” – the one it adopts just before morphing into the adult phase of its life cycle – and “anything in the process of developing.”

I knew precisely why she’d sent it to me. I’ve been in a crysalis-like state since late July when I was laid off from my previous job.

What do I mean by this?

Checking Out with Others To Check In With Yourself

First, that I’ve been avoiding people, for the most part. That’s the pupa part of what I’m doing – I’ve formed a hardened shell around my exterior in order to protect myself from outside forces until I’m ready to emerge, fully formed. (And yes, you may thank me for this brisk walk through your sixth grade biology class.)

And that’s because I’ve been trying to decide what my next professional move is, and that requires a great deal of reflection.

While it is both helpful and essential to talk to other people when you’re trying to make a major career shift, one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to talk to them too early on, before your own vision has taken shape.

Otherwise, you’ll find that they get you thinking about how and where, rather than why. And the why is terribly important.

In short, you may find that in order to properly check in with yourself  – whether that means taking an inventory of your interests, figuring out how your assorted, transferrable skills can serve your ambitions, and/or what your “elevator pitch” is going to be – you need to check out with others.

Constructing a New Narrative

But I am also in a stage of growth, which is the second definition of chrysalis. I’ve been keeping a journal and writing a book. I’ve been experimenting with my own creativity.  I’ve (very quietly) taken up a post as a visiting research fellow at a local university. I’m even taking an improvisation class!

I’ve also been spending a lot more time at home doing things I like, such as cooking, watching the 1981 television mini-series of Brideshead Revisited (for the 3rd time) and reading assorted books by John Le Carré, all while nursing the occasional low-alcohol pale ale.

All of these disparate activities are about helping me to construct a new narrative for myself, one that feels more authentic and true to who I am for whatever comes next.

Busy: Back Soon

Someday soon, I am hoping that – like the butterfly – I will shed my protective layer and fly. But that process is never overnight.

It reminds me of the time in one of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories when Christopher Robin hangs a note on his door that reads “Gone Out. Backson. Bizy.”

Yes, I have been busy, but I will be back soon.

Image: Nymphalidae -Danaus Plexippus Chrysalis via Wikipedia Commons

 

Why Personality Tests Are Useful

Lord Voldemort

Lord VoldemortI took a personality test recently. It was one of those memes circulating on Facebook in which you are told which Harry Potter character you most resemble based on your Myers Briggs personality type.

Mine was Lord Voldemort. According to this quiz, Voldy (a classic ENTJ) is all about “ambition, leadership, and borderline-ruthless rationality.” I was momentarily disheartened. I mean, seriously, who wants to model themselves on Lord Voldemort? (My 24 year-old niece, a huge Harry Potter fan in her day, quickly rushed to assure me that Voldemort’s not all bad).

At first –as I am wont to do when confronted with a personality profile I don’t like – I decided that the test was wrong. Until not one, but both, of my children (who seem to be agreeing more and more about me of late) nodded their heads emphatically and said “Oh, You’re totally Lord Voldemort.”

This most recent brush with my inner Voldemort gets at a deeper truth. One of the reasons I like doing personality quizzes is that they don’t just reveal things you are good at, but also force you to confront things that you might not like about yourself.

The latest typology out there that drove this point home for me is Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies. Her typology is quite different to Myers Briggs –  it’s all about how you respond to expectations, both external ones set by others and internal ones you place on yourself.  This yields four types (someone really needs to study why personality tests always cluster into fours…)

There are the upholders – those who respond readily to both outer and inner expectations, questioners who question all expectations and will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified, obligers, who respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to met inner ones and rebels, who resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. (Take the Four Tendencies quiz here.)

Once you look more carefully at the characteristics associated with each type, it’s not difficult to attach them to people you know.

I was having lunch the other day with a friend, for example, and when I asked how her husband was doing she responded: “Oh, you know, he wakes up every day and no one tells him what he has to do. He has complete freedom. So he’s really happy.” (He’s a rebel, I thought to myself.)

My daughter falls into the obliger camp. She’s superb at following instructions if given an assignment by one of her teachers or told by one of her coaches to start running twice a week to keep in shape. But she can sometimes struggle to hit targets she sets for herself, like reading a certain amount each day or practicing her instruments regularly.

My son is totally different. He is great at doing anything he decides is a priority. I can’t remember the last time I had to remind him to do his homework or to practice his violin. But if the school decides that the boys need to wear a certain tie or tap in with their student ID card when they arrive each day? Then, not so much – unless that external rule conforms to his internal view of what is appropriate. He’s a questioner.

I am definitely an upholder – someone who, as Gretchen puts it – wakes up and asks “What’s on the Schedule and the to-do list for today?” On the upside, upholders tend to be punctual, reliable and self-directed. They are excellent at meeting deadlines. (Rubin is one herself.) But they also struggle in situations where expectations aren’t clear or the rules aren’t established. Because they feel compelled to meet expectations, they tend to feel uneasy when they know they’re breaking the rules, even unnecessary rules, unless they work out a powerful justification for doing so.

In my own case I take this tendency one step further. I tend to walk around with what I call a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men whom I imagine to be collectively monitor my every move. And so when I confront a setting – as I did quite recently – where what’s expected of me isn’t entirely clear, I super-impose my panel of elders onto the situation at hand, imputing a set of rules that I decide need to be followed, but which may not even exist. Worse, I chastise myself relentlessly if I can’t follow them. (Yes, I’m insane. But it’s all a response to fuzzy rules.)

I often think that growing up isn’t so much about adopting a wholesale change in who you are as it is about learning how to champion your strengths and recognize and combat your weaknesses. Stated somewhat differently, personality tests help me to improve myself, over time.

Oh God! Is that an upholder trait?! Help!!

Image: Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter) by Hersson Piratoba via Flickr

 

Five Reasons Funerals Can Be Uplifting

casket

Amanda Wakes Up: Challenging Your Own Political Biases

shaking hands

shaking handsFrom time to time, I make recommendations about books on this blog which I think speak to some aspect of being a grown up .

Today’s pick is Alisyn Camerota’s Amanda Wakes Up, a fictional account of a journalist who gets a big career break when she’s promoted to be an anchor on television news, only to discover that her dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s a fun and funny whirlwind account of what it’s really like to work in TV news – leg bronzer and all – written by a consummate insider. (Camerota is a co-host of CNN’s New Day and previously worked at Fox News for many years. She is also – for the record – a friend of mine and while that is definitely why I bought the book, it is definitely not why I’m reviewing it.)

So why talk about this book on a blog about adulthood? Because in addition to treating the themes of news-as-entertainment, sexism in the workplace and office romance, the book also hits on a powerful challenge that we all face as we grow older: how to question our own political biases.

In the story, the title character Amanda is at times obliged by her bosses at the mythical FAIR news – whose motto: “True and Equal” may ring true (and equal?) – to go easy on some of her guests, instead of adopting a harder-hitting tone. She feels that this is beneath her dignity as a journalist and also threatens to make her look like a mouthpiece for a maverick political outsider who is taking voters by storm with his bold, if not always accurate, relationship to the truth during an election season. (Imagine!)

At other times, however, her job also forces her to talk to people on the other side of the political divide and to take their concerns seriously. She comes to appreciate that while she may appear to have nothing in common with gun rights supporters  in New Hampshire, for example, she really likes them as people and in talking to them, is able to appreciate them as more than just a cliché. Meanwhile, others around her – including her boyfriend – carry on living in their bubbles, as most of us do, because they aren’t forced to ever step outside of them.

The book reminded me of a period in my own life when I was working as a journalist for an online political magazine and both of my editors were openly pro-life, as were several of my colleagues. I think it was the first time that I’d been around that many pro-lifers in my adult life. I wrote the occasional piece about abortion and abortion rights for this outlet, and I always felt that I got a lot more push back on those stories than on other things that I wrote.

Initially, this frustrated me. How can they question that? I would think to myself, assuming that my take on the facts was not only correct, but manifest. But it wasn’t, to them anyway. And in giving those pieces a lot more scrutiny, my editors forced me to acknowledge how my own political biases were coloring my writing about those issues. Ultimately, I came to be really grateful that they’d put me through my paces because it enabled me to see things that I assumed were obvious (and were, to me) but which weren’t necessarily so for many others. And that, in turn, made me a better journalist.

While a plea to engage seriously with “the other” politically may sound like fairly well-trodden ground, it’s amazing how rarely it happens these days. Atul Gawande wrote a powerful piece in The New Yorker recently in which he recounts his conversations with regular Joes and Janes from his Ohio hometown about healthcare. He realizes how – despite appearing to be miles apart politically – all of these people are really fairly close to one another when it comes to their fundamental views about healthcare. And so, presumably, are the rest of us, if we could ever just sit down and have that conversation.

None of which is to say that you need to move to the political center in order to be a grown up. But particularly in today’s hyper-polarized political arena, it wouldn’t hurt to dip in and out of there now and again, if for no other reason than to check your own assumptions.

Image: Shaking Hands by Geralt via Pixabay

Nourish Your Inner Project Manager Through Cooking

cooking

cooking

I spent a week at my 86 year-old mother’s house recently. I was there to help her to clear out her home in preparation for an imminent move to an independent living facility.

The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.

I could go on.

But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.

Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.

Manager vs. Maker

I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)

A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.

A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).

The Problem with Being a Creative

Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.

It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.

But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.

While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.

Cooking as Project Management

One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.

Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.

Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.

Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.

I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.

Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.

But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.

I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…

Image: Food. Pot. Kitchen. Cooking via Pexels.com

Why I Hate Being In Between Jobs

desk

deskI had a singularly unpleasant experience this week. Both of my children, separately,  told me that I needed to get a job. And not (primarily) for financial reasons.

Ouch.

The worst part of it was that neither of them was trying to be mean. They were merely observing that as a person who is currently in between jobs and writing a book that isn’t (yet) under contract – I needed to find somewhere to direct my considerable energy.

They had a point. I’m one of those weird, hybrid people who relishes large blocks of time to do anything creative, like  writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently, a member of my family…).

Not surprisingly, my son has told me lately that I need to stop “fussing” over his taking his asthma medicine and getting to school on time. My daughter has put it more bluntly on more than one occasion: “Stop nudging me!” she’ll shout and then slam the door to her room. (I tried ironing. I really did. It helped, sort of.)

But it wasn’t just they’d both correctly identified my inner swim coach rearing its ugly head.  It’s that they were tapping into my greatest fear: that I am not legitimate.

I think all struggling writers – and maybe even some of the commercially successful ones – fear that without the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards, a regular paycheck, a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession.

In my case, however, in addition to devoting large chunks of time to a creative project, I am also devoting large chunks of time to identifying exactly how I want to spend the next phase of my professional future.  But how do you tell a 13 year-old that you’re working on “constructing your evolving narrative”? (Even though that is what precisely what I’m doing, and it’s coming along quite nicely, thank you very much.)

At lunch last week with a friend, himself a successful consultant transitioning into an as-yet-to-be-defined but hopefully more fulfilling new career path, I confessed to these feelings of illegitimacy that were plaguing me.

“Delia!” he exclaimed. “I am an intelligent person and I’m telling you that you are legitimate!”

But it fell on deaf ears.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve mastered all this stuff and am completely inner-directed, such that I don’t need some sort of tangible, external signal to validate the way I’m spending my time right now.

But that would be a lie.

I know that because I’m shortly to start a (non-paying) visiting position at a local university, developing a project connected to my interest in aging and adulthood.

That alone ought to be enough for me. And I am genuinely excited about it.

But when they wrote to tell me that as part of the position, I would also have a computer and an office, I was inexplicably elated.

Wow! A computer and an office!,” I thought to myself, a mere two and a half months since the last time I had both of those things. “I am a person again!

Phew.

Image: Desk by Pexels via Pixabay.com

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things To Do Before You Die

bible

bibleOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all have those lists, whether formalized or not. One of my friends wants to run a marathon on all seven continents. (I think he’s up to four or five by now.) Another has sworn that she’ll open her own coffee import/export business.

Obviously, every person’s bucket list will be different. So the advice here is really to create your own list and then figure out how you can begin moving towards realizing some of your goals.

I’ll go first.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Bible by Nick Youngson via the Blue Diamond Gallery

Walk In The Direction Of You: Life Lessons From My Briefcase

wheelie suitcase

wheelie suitcaseFor the last several years, I’ve used a small wheelie suitcase as my briefcase.

I had initially purchased a super-fancy leather backpack as my designated “work bag,” but my company laptop was incredibly heavy and I found that I was constantly lugging it back and forth to my home. I kept complaining that my back hurt, but somehow wasn’t putting two and two together. So one day, my husband, watching me developing adult scoliosis, gently asked: “Do you think the extra ten pounds you’re putting on your back every day might possibly be hurting you?” He suggested that I look into wheelie suitcase briefcases.

At first, I resisted. I’d seen the way people glared at those heartless souls who casually let their wheelie bag sweep over other people’s feet on the subway without giving it a second thought. I didn’t want to be one of *them*.

But eventually I gave in. My husband has a real fondness for gadgets, so he went and researched the very best ones and bought me one on line.

For the next two years, although I was teased incessantly by my friends and colleagues, I grew to love my wheelie bag. Whenever anyone innocently asked me, “Where are you off to?” – thinking I was travelling somewhere exotic for vacation – I knew that the wheelie bag was really my own, private unspoken metaphor for the fact that I already had one foot out the door of that job. The wheelie bag reminded me of my ambition to eventually leave and follow my dreams.

And then one day, my wheelie bag exploded. First one wheel came off and although I knew something was wrong (there was that loud scraping sound every time I pulled it), I could still manage to get around the city by pulling it on one wheel. Less than 24 hours later, however, the second wheel came off on my way into work. Now, I had no choice: I had to literally pick the wheelie bag up off of the ground and carry it around like a child.

At first I was terrified. The wheels, after all, are what provided the bag – and hence me – with structure and purpose. I counted on them to take me where I needed to go. Plus, if you’ve never picked up a wheelie bag before (and why would you?), try it. They’re pretty damn heavy, especially if you have a laptop inside.

Which in turn made me realize that I’d been clinging to structure and purpose all my life, but more out of habit – or possibly fear – than out of desire. All of my jobs had provided me with a coherent super-structure to plug into. Whether or not I particularly enjoyed what I was doing was immaterial. I had a script to follow and I just put my head down and did the work.

Families also provide a structure. When you’re young, you look to your family to shape your identity and give you a place in the world. When you grow up and have a family of your own, part of being a parent is managing the structure of the family for your own kids: giving them rules, setting boundaries, pointing them in the right direction. There are, of course, loads of unscripted moments, but while I enjoyed those, I felt safer playing cop.

To be on your own, literally carrying your life in your hands without anyone to guide you, is a terrifying prospect. But it’s also liberating: you can walk in any direction you wish, you are forced to slow down, and you end up making much more mindful choices because you are made aware (literally) of the weight of your life.

As a friend of mine puts it, you begin to “walk in the direction of you.”

I probably would have started doing that anyway, but I think the exploding wheelie bag gave me more confidence to do so.

As I pass my days right now, contemplating what’s next for me professionally, experimenting with new and unforeseen twists and turns in that thinking, and facing an uncertain future, I try to remember those days when the wheelie bag broke and yet I managed somehow to get where I needed to go, albeit circuitously.

Thank you, wheelie bag, for empowering me to navigate uncertainty and feel to OK without someone else to guide me.

Image: Luggage, Trolley by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Do You Wish You Could Change Your Past?

etch a sketch

etch a sketchOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

A while back on Facebook, a friend of mine posted the following status update:

“If you could go back and etch-a-sketch away some part of your life, what would it be?”

Wow. What  a great question. I’ve always believed that regret is a central component of adulthood. But many of our regrets are really longings,  so we wouldn’t want to erase them, because they define who we are.

In contrast, I love the concept of the etch-a-sketch – that iconic childhood toy – to capture those aspects of our past that we’d truly like to eliminate so that even the vestiges of their imprint don’t remain.

So I got to thinking about what would be on my etch-a-sketch list. Here’s what I came up with. 

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

 

 

 

Image: Shake it, Start Over by Rex Sorgatz via Flickr