Archive | Aging Ungracefully

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

Tips For Adulthood: How To Cultivate A Sense Of “Belonging” As We Age

belonging ageing

belonging ageingOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

I had breakfast recently with two friends in their 70’s. Both have enjoyed very successful professional lives, but are now struggling with how to “give back” in later life. They know what they are good at and would like to share those skills with others, but they are struggling with how to find the right group that shares both their professional interests and feels like a good fit socially. Being on a the board of an organization is all well and good, but they are after something that is much more personal and community-based.

As I listened to them speak, it occurred to me that what they’re really talking about is how to cultivate a sense of “belonging,” something that is so naturally achieved through colleagues, religious affiliations, neighborhoods and our kids in earlier phases of adulthood. As we age however, and parents become ill or die, friends move on and our careers wind down, belonging becomes more central to our lives – and more elusive.

Here are five ways to cultivate a sense of belonging as we age:

a. Join a Club – This is obviously the easiest and most immediate way to foster a sense of belonging, by joining a like-minded group of people who share your core interests. While some people think that everything you do in retirement has to have “meaning” and “purpose! (Capital M! Capital P!), there’s a lot to be said for just getting out there and having some old-fashioned fun. Plus, picking up a hobby in mid-life is good for brain development. Not finding what you want? Start your own club. I once solicited ideas for different “grown up” club ideas on Linked In and was amazed with what came back: an “admin” club where you sit with friends to force yourself through the mound of paperwork on your desk, a “fix-it” collective to repair broken objects and – wait for it! – a “procrastinators club” where you actually put some money down to inspire yourself – and others – to tackle a long-delayed life project.

b. Go Online – If you’re not finding something that sparks a sense of belonging locally, go online. Not all boomers are comfortable on the internet, but seniors who use the internet report higher levels of life satisfaction than seniors who do not. I’ve personally been delighted to discover the treasure trove of websites devoted to establishing a sense of community and identity for those of us in the “second half of life,” which range from more journalistic sites like Next Avenue that provide news and information relevant to America’s booming aging population, to health and wellness sites aimed at more niche audiences, such as Sixty and Me (women) or OlderBeast (men).

c. Volunteer – If I sounded above like I dismiss the value of volunteer work as we age, I don’t. We know that volunteering as you age can be good for both your physical and your mental health. The two friends I had breakfast with were particularly keen to find places where they could utilize the skills they’d amassed over a lifetime of work and make those useful for other people. Fortunately, they are tapping into a zeitgeist as organizations like Encore.org and Re-Serve are all about fostering this sort of inter-generational learning.

d. Do A Gap Year – Until recently, the concept of a “gap year” was almost entirely confined to the U.K. It’s an (optional) year right after high school and before college when 18 year-olds go out and explore – literally, by travelling, or more figuratively, by working/volunteering/ or simply puzzling through what the next phase of adulthood might offer. I’m quite drawn to the idea of gap years for grown ups as a time to do volunteer work, learn a new skill, or immerse oneself in a foreign culture. For those struggling with how to find belonging, this outside-the-box strategy might just do the trick.

e. Go To A Conference – Finally, if all else fails, belonging might come about through simple, old-fashioned networking. There are a variety of conferences springing up aimed specifically at the aging set, whether those are about fostering creativity or understanding the business side of the “longevity economy.” Pick your passion and register now!

What works for you?

Image: The Romanian Mob by John Rawlinson via Flickr

Top Ten Signs You’re Turning 50

vitaminsI had a birthday recently. It wasn’t *that* birthday. But that one’s coming soon enough.

My 11-year-old daughter often asks me if I “feel old.” Hell no, I tell her. I feel young. And I do. (It helps that I still eat pop tarts and, worse, enjoy them…but I digress.)

So while I’m fully on board with  Joanne Bamberger’s recent post about how it’s really OK to look 50, there’s no denying that as we age, things start to change. Once, several years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Five Tangible Signs You’re Middle Aged.” I looked at it again recently and decided that while it was (still) remarkably relevant, it was time to expand on it and bring it up to date.

Herewith, my top ten signs you’re turning 50:

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Vitamin packaging via www.colindunn.com

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Look Forward To As You Age

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I don’t know about you, but I think most of us could use some good news right about now. As this whole government shut down thing threatens to drag on into yet another week – with debt ceilings looming  – I’m looking anywhere and everywhere to have a positive outlook on life. So I’ve been reassured by a spate of recent research suggesting that whatever our politicians can or cannot achieve when locked in a room together, the rest of us can at least know that aging doesn’t necessarily need to further our sense of despair. To the contrary, some things really do get better.

To wit, here are five things to look forward to as you age:

1. Productivity peaks later in life. Worried that as you get older, you won’t be as sharp as the new kid on the block in the cubicle next to you? Fear no more. Recent research out of Finland suggests that most workers maintain their mental and social work skills throughout their lives. Provided that you stay healthy, there’s no reason that you can’t keep up with the demands of work well into later life. And it gets better. In America, anyway, you’re likely to earn more as you age. And that’s because – as a recent Brookings study shows – today’s older workers are much better educated than older workers in the past. Indeed, older Americans who stay attached to the labor force after 62 are much more likely to have received schooling after high school than the workers who retire at younger ages. And we all know that there are returns to education. So don’t worry that you may not know what Pinterest is. You’ve got plenty on those youngins.

2. Happiness peaks later in life. Of course, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (Ditto Jane.) So it’s equally reassuring to learn – courtesy of the Financial Times‘ Tim Harford – that we’ll actually have more fun as we get older as well. Economists who study “subjective well being” have long been aware of a U-shaped pattern as people pass through different ages. What this essentially means is that we are, on average, happier in our teens and in early adulthood, and as pensioners, than we are in middle age. Recent research out of Germany posits one explanation for this U-shaped curve and it has everything to do with…um…great expectations (to coin a phrase). Turns out, younger people vastly inflate their expectations of what life will deliver five years on, such that by the time you’re (cough) my age, you’re basically depressed by all that you haven’t achieved. By the time you get old, however, you start to be pleasantly surprised by what you *have* accomplished, rather than by what you’ve failed to do. This finding is consistent with other recent studies in the U.S. which suggest that as we age, how we define happiness changes, from a notion that is entirely bound up in achieving more (so-called “promotion-mindedness” to one that’s more about valuing what we already have.) While I’ll still fess’ up to wanting to write that best-selling novel, it’s reassuring to know that one day, the draft sitting within my desk drawer will give me a certain solace.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side….

Tips For Adulthood: What Would You Erase From Your Life?

On Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

A while back on Facebook, my friend Sharon Hyman – of Neverbloomers fame  (check out her new film!) – 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. I’d love to hear from you, too:

1. Smoking. Yes, it’s true. I was a smoker for several years of my life. For a long time, it was just a social thing I did a few times a week with my friends when we were out drinking. This was college, after all, and our entire lives lay ahead of us. Who really thought about mortality? But then, during my first year of graduate school, I actually became a smoker. You know, one of those people who woke up in the morning and not terribly long after awakening, felt the need to have a cigarette. Boy, I wish I could erase that phase of my life. Because with what we now know about smoking – and its effects not only on our own health, but on those around us – I fully appreciate why my mother burst into tears when I announced to her that I was a smoker.

2. Not being an athlete. I’ve never been much of an athlete. As I’ve frequently bemoaned , during my childhood I was really only ever good at bowling and pool. In fact,  the only time I was ever actively solicited to join a sports team was when – during the orientation session during my Freshman year at college – some large, extremely fit blond creature ambled over and – no doubt hearing my rather loud voice and observing my less-than-commanding frame – asked if I’d ever thought about being a coxswain for the crew team. (Um, honey? I’ve never heard the term coxswain before you just uttered it but…um…no?) But in light of all the benefits sports have for kids – particularly girls – I now wish that I’d pushed myself to do more to participate in sports when I was young, even without being good at them.

3. My perm. Much like smoking, another erase-worthy event in my life is that permanent I had back in high school. We all have our hair issues, God knows. My own stem from my baldness and perennial wish that I could have more body in my hair than that one, isolated cowlick in that upper, front-left corner of my scalp. And so, during a brief period in high school, I sported a perm. I wish I could show you a picture – so that you might cringe along with me – but suffice to say that it wasn’t a pretty picture. My friends in college called it “The Jersey Flip” to convey that singular hideousness that is often attributed to my home state.

4. Not pursuing journalism earlier. Although I’m a big believer that figuring out what you want to do with your life professionally takes a lot of time and thought, I really wish that I’d become a journalist earlier on in life. I think that if I’d known myself better – or, better put – trusted myself more – I would have realized earlier on that journalism combined many of my passions in life, including writing, travel and, above all, analyzing people. I’m particularly drawn to the romantic image of the 20-something foreign correspondent in a war-torn country, dodging bombs and filing stories with a glass of bourbon at hand, a la Shutter Babe or The Year of Living Dangerously. Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so romantic in real life, but it’s one of those things I really wish I could go back and do over.

5. Him. Oh, c’mon. We all have one.

How about you? What would you go back and erase from your past?

 

Image: Cigarette by Sudipto_Sarkar via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Weddings Make You Feel Young

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do – as I did some weeks back – they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

1. Dancing – I’ve loved the weddings I’ve gone to in a friend’s basement as much as the ones I’ve gone to that took over an entire hotel. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. But I must say that if you haven’t gone out dancing in a while – (and let’s be honest, who does that after they hit 40?) – boy, is it fun to go to someone else’s dancing party. At the wedding I attended recently, there was a large age spread among the guests. So the DJ went out of his way to alternate a bunch of contemporary music – which brought out my teen-aged nieces and nephews – with some classic music that got the – ahem – older crowd out there.  I mean, seriously. Come On, Eileen followed by Twist and Shout? What’s not to love?

2. Drinking – I don’t know about you, but ever since I turned 40 I can’t drink more than two beers without getting a hangover. But sometimes it really is fun to throw caution to the wind, stock up on your migraine medicine, and get out there and belly up to the bar. (Especially when you’re partying with 18 year-olds…) I hate to say it but it *will* make you feel young again. (Until the hangover kicks in, anyway…)

3. Socializing – Yes, as I age I’m all in favor of hanging out in smaller groups. But once in a while it’s exhilarating to enter a room with 100 people and…mingle. At the wedding I went to recently, I spoke with friends from high school, relatives ranging from 3 to 83, and complete strangers. My favorite guest was one of my nephew’s friends, a 20 year-old guy who kept repeating the phrase “I’m just here to have fun” and became the Zelig of the entire event, appearing in every photo and dancing to every tune. I dubbed him “random party guy” and kept circling back to check in on him throughout the weekend.

4. Travel – One of the nicest aspects of weddings is that they often take you to places you’d never go otherwise. And that gives you a chance to soak up a different atmosphere, whether it’s the Deep South or a remote beach or a foreign country. Over the years, I’ve been to weddings in Birmingham,Paris, Cape Cod and Daytona Beach. And part of the appeal of each one was the chance to soak up the local culture. The wedding I went to recently took place on a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island. I didn’t even know they had vineyards on Long Island but it was absolutely beautiful. (And helped out with #2, natch…)

5. Cake – I will not pretend otherwise that my favorite dessert on earth is wedding cake. If at heart you have the dietary preferences of an 11 year-old boy, it gets no better than this.

 

Image: Wedding Cake by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Are Mid-life Crises For Real?

This just in: mid-life crises aren’t for real.

In a fascinating post on the Scientific American website, Jesse Bering explores the history and mythology of the proverbial mid-life crisis. He notes that despite our commonly held assumption that middle age brings with it a full on melt-down replete with new girlfriend, new hair style and the requisite red corvette, mid-life crises aren’t borne out empirically.

Indeed, epidemiological studies reveal that midlife is no more or less likely to be associated with career disillusionment, divorce, anxiety, alcoholism, depression or suicide than any other life stage; in fact, the incidence rates of many of these problems peak at other periods of the lifespan.

So why, then, do we cling to the concept of a midlife crisis? According to Israeli psychologist Carlo Strenger of Tel Aviv University, it’s because most common notions of what mid-life is supposed to be like are stuck in the past. They were constructed when life-expectancy was lower, people’s health – especially in later years – was much worse, and there was less emphasis on education and self-awareness.

“People are so used to thinking of mid-life as basically a period of loss that it often does become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. ‘But some people, you really see that they begin to blossom, they begin to be more fruitful. They do things on a larger scale.”

In other words, now that we are living longer, middle age has become a time of reflection, growth and optimism rather than one of stagnation and despair. According to a recent survey carried out in the U.K. by Experian Credit Expert, some 85% of 40-59 year olds are giving themselves a second chance at achieving their ambitions and desires – from changing career or learning new skills to seeing the world.

And these trends hold regardless of gender. While men have long been the standard bearers for mid-life crises, this, too, is apparently over-stated. According to Margie Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who headed up the largest such study in the United States, only 10 to 12 percent of men have anything approaching a crisis.

Interestingly (to me), because middle age is often a period defined by close relationships with people both older and younger than oneself (i.e. parents and children),  people tend to focus on making positive contributions to society through interactions with people of significantly different ages. Such interactions include formal and informal mentee/mentor relationships, stratified workplace relations and cross-generation family dynamics.

In that vein, I was struck this morning by an article about three highly successful, middle-aged executives who jumped ship from their respective companies in corporate America to work for a non-profit that leverages technology to solve development problems in the third world.  As I go about looking for a job at 45, I find that I, too, am drawn to organizations that will allow me to give back and help shape other people’s voices, rather than just honing my own.

Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any mid-life trends out there. Here in the U.K., at least, middle-aged men seem to be trading in their Corvettes for cycles. (Goodness knows it’s true in our household.) Women, for their part, are looking inward: finding meaning in things like yoga, mindfulness and home.

All of which is to be welcomed. Lord knows there are enough people losing it right now around the world on a daily basis. It’s reassuring to know that some of us are managing to keep our sh#@ together.

Onward.

 

Image: Standing at the Gates of Hell by country_boy_shane via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Why Older People Are Happier

Over on Slate last week, Libby Copeland had an interesting article about aging and happiness. In it, she summarized a growing body of research showing that subjective well-being improves considerably after middle-age.

This result is sometimes referred to as the U-Bend, to connote the higher levels of happiness in early and late adulthood, with a dip during middle-age.  While the age at which this happiness boost kicks in varies across countries (as early as 35 in Switzerland (Damn them!) and as late as 62 in the Ukraine), the result has held up astonishingly well both within the United States and cross-nationally, occurring on average around the age of 46.

There are a variety of hypotheses floating around out there to explain this persistent age/happiness finding. But most theories seem to come down less on the side of circumstance (e.g. retirement/empty nest/etc.) and more on the side of a change in mind-set which kicks in once we get beyond middle age.

As Copeland summarizes it: “As we age, it appears, we aspire to moderation rather than thrills, we notice the silver lining, we temper our highs and lows, and we seek fulfillment in the moment. With age comes pragmatism—instead of remaking the world, we remake our impressions of it.”

Which makes a lot of sense to me. When you’re young, as Copeland narrates, you shoot for the moon. You experiment a lot and you make a lot of mistakes. After all, you’ve got all the time in the world to figure it out.

But as you age, your time horizons shorten and you prioritize the things you’ve learned that you like. What kind of friends you want to have around you. What career makes sense for you. What you want to do for a hobby.

Which doesn’t mean that this adjustment is painless. To the extent that this happiness boost hinges on lowering one’s aspirations, for example – that’s a lot easier said than done. Indeed, I’d venture to say that “acceptance” is one of the hardest things to come to terms with as a grown-up (which may account for that big happiness dip during mid-life.)

But once you figure out a way to do that – to realize that you probably aren’t going to be the next Beethoven (itself a source of anxiety) – a certain relief sets in as you stop searching and just live.

I’m not there yet. But I do look forward to it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Image: Old Couple by kayugee via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

 

Aging: The Power Of Giving Back

When I was younger, I didn’t think all that much about “giving back” to my community. The professions I chose – academia, policy, journalism – I selected because they tickled my fancy. They were fun, exciting, challenging.

And if – in the course of pursuing them, I happened to make a difference in someone else’s life – so much the better. But that wasn’t my primary goal in life. It was all about me.

As I delve ever more deeply into middle age, however, I find that I derive the most meaning when I’m helping other people. Perhaps this is unusual. We are, after all, purportedly living in an age of narcissism.

But I don’t think I’m all that unique. Indeed, I think that one of the great unheralded truths of middle age is that all the clichés turn out to be true. Among them:  the power of giving back.

Which is perhaps why I am so taken with Colleen Wainwright – aka Communicatrix’s – 50th birthday party celebration. Colleen has decided that as she hits this landmark birthday, she really doesn’t need any more “stuff.” She already has plenty of toasters.

Rather, what would really make her happy is if she could raise money for a non-profit in her home town that’s in need of some help. The non-profit is called WriteGirl. It’s a Los Angeles-based organization which partners teen-aged girls with women writers for creative writing workshops and one-on-one mentoring.

Colleen’s been involved with Write Girl for several years now. As she explains in this blog post about that experience:

I have cried at every WriteGirl workshop I’ve been to. I’ve also rarely laughed so joyously as I have there, nor felt more hope for humanity. These are amazing girls, all of them. They vary in their levels of introversion and extroversion, boldness and shyness, just like the rest of us, but each of them has been 100% present and committed at every workshop I’ve been to…They engage, they ask questions, they play, and they write. Oh, boy do they write, and how.

So in honor of her 50th birthday – which is exactly 50 days from today – Colleen has set herself the challenge of raising $50,000 to support Write Girl. As she notes, mastering the ability to write opens doors, builds self-confidence and self-esteem, and increases a girl’s chances of earning a living for herself and changing the world for present and future generations.

Pretty simple, huh?

So please. Pop by and pay a visit and see for yourself what this whole thing is about. See if you aren’t inspired to give something – even something small – to support this fabulous cause.

Bonus? There are lots of cool give-away prizes.

Double Bonus? If Colleen hits her goal by her birthday, she will shave off all of her hair.

(Wow. If it were *my* birthday, I might need to buy a wig.)

And thanks.

 

Image: Day 167 – Head by TiggerT via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Do We Ever Really Leave High School?

Most grown ups harbor an inner teenager still struggling to make it in high school. Deep down – even as adults – we’re all a bit insecure, a bit awkward, and a bit worried about where, exactly, life will take us.

Among other things, it’s this inner-high-school universal which helps to explain the popularity of the hit television show Glee!.

It also explains my attitude towards taking the UK citizenship last week.

Let me preface this by saying that I am, by nature, one of those people who has recurrent dreams about test anxiety. I frequently dream that I’m back in high school – invariably in a Math class. I learn that there’s a test that very day, but I freak out because I haven’t been attending the class regularly or doing the homework.

The odd thing about this dream is that I’ve never been unprepared for a test in my life. But the anxiety is there, lurking just below the surface, just as it surely was in high school.

And so I studied my ass off for this thing. I read the five required chapters from the Life In The UK Handbook religiously. By the end of the first week, I could break down the British population by region, religion, ethnicity. The age at which can obtain a driver’s license for a medium-sized lorry (truck) vs. a large one? No problem. What makes the House of Commons different from the House of Lords? Easy peasy.

I went On line and took some 50 practice tests – none of which I came even close to failing – and then went back and re-read the fine print in the Life in the UK Handbook a few more times. Just, you know, for good measure.

Despite all of this preparation, when the test day rolled around, I was really anxious. I got to the test center early and waited for my husband (who, true to form, arrived on his bicycle with only a few minutes to spare and was still studying even as we registered with the immigration officials. Among other things, taking a test with your spouse also reinforces your central marital “ziplock” conflict.).

When we finally sat down to take the test, I breezed right through it. I was certain of 20 out of 24 of the questions, and took an educated guess on the other four. (You need to get 18 right to pass.) I completed the entire thing – including double and triple-checking my answers – in five minutes flat.

That’s right. Five minutes.

Needless to say, I passed. When I got the news from the immigration official, I was elated. Ridiculously, absurdly so. And *not*, I hasten to add, because I was that much closer to having permanent residency in the U.K.

Rather, my exuberance all stemmed from the challenge of having studied hard for a test and having aced it.

That said, because they don’t actually tell you how many – and which questions – you got wrong unless you fail, I couldn’t know for sure if I’d gotten 75% right or 100%. And damn it, I wanted to know!

So as soon as I got my result, I rushed back to my seat and poured over the Handbook to check all of my answers on the tricky questions. And every time I discovered that I’d answered one correctly, I pumped my fist in the air and let out a “Yesssssssssssssssssssss!”

My husband, who by now was in queue to get his own result, looked over at me at one point and asked, incredulously: “Is this how you were in high school?”

Sadly, yes. And I suspect that’s true for most of us. Whether it’s taking an important test or competing in a do-or-die football match or finally screwing up the courage to ask the girl you’ve had a crush on to Senior Prom, none of us ever fully escapes the clutches of high school.

Ever.

And thank goodness for that. What on earth would I blog about?

 

Image: img057 by Haonavy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.