Archive | Aging Ungracefully

My Midlife Search for Authenticity and Integrity

integrity

integrityI had coffee with a friend of mine in London recently. We talked about our joint desire to make our second half of life both meaningful and productive.

He’s in his early 60’s, and he told me that he had decided to organize the rest of his life around the principle of “integrity.” By integrity, he did not mean moral probity. He was referring instead to the less frequently used definition of integrity – unity, wholeness, coherence and cohesion.

I knew exactly what he meant. I, too, had recently come to the same conclusion.

Indulging One Side of One’s Self

For the last several years, my own personal “watchword” has been authenticity. Particularly in the professional realm, I felt that I had drifted too far in the direction of being a “manager” in recent years, and had lost touch with my “maker” self.

And so, when I found myself lucky enough to get laid off from my job last summer – with a generous severance package,I went 180 degrees in the opposite direction: I wrote a book, I took acting classes, I started swimming every day. I immersed myself in a creative life.

It was a corrective of sorts, and I reveled in the rush that came from focusing on the side of me that had been starved for so long. Ideas flowed. Writing Flowed. I felt like I was re-introducing myself – to myself  – and that was exhilarating.

Bringing the Manager Back In

Over time, however, that corrective began to need a corrective. As refreshing as it was to call myself a writer again – and to feel the truth of that identity wash over me every morning as I sat down at my desk – in the back of my mind, I knew that my manager self could not be entirely eliminated from the picture.

At first, I brought her in to accomplish small things, like cooking. Then I realized that I needed a safe way to incorporate my manager self into my journey of career change – not to dominate my maker self – but to co-exist with her on equal footing. And that meant fashioning a professional identity that would not miraculously render me the Director of a Musical Theatre revue (though a non-trivial part of me does pine for that identity.) Nor would it mean making a living simply by leveraging my most marketable skills. Rather, I would need to find a way to enable the writer, blogger and aspiring actress to co-exist with the social scientist, editor and project manager.

That sounds simple and obvious. But it isn’t. For me, anyway. For deeply psychological reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, I’ve always been more comfortable bifurcating myself into two halves. Being a fully integrated manager/maker -right brain/left brain sorta gal has been an incredibly hard thing to realize. My body, soul and mind want me to choose one side or the other, and I am using every fiber of my being right now not to do that.

I am resolved to achieve this however. I know, at the end of the day, that I will only ever feel myself when I enable all of the different voices inside me to surface and co-mingle, messy as that might be. I wasn’t born an engineer. Nor was I born an artist. I’m a bit of both.

In Search of Balance

Accepting that has been one of midlife’s biggest challenges.

But I’m getting there. As a big fan of mindfulness, I was delighted to discover a new series on my Headspace App called “Balance.” It is all about trying to identify those things in your life – not just your job, but what you eat, how you spend your time – that make you feel imbalanced. And once you notice them, you are then empowered to decide whether or not you wish to remedy them.

I no longer do any work on the weekends, for example. (Granted, I have the luxury of being unemployed right now, so it’s quite easy to fob things off until Monday.) But the change I see in myself over the past eight months is that I no longer *want* to work on the weekends anymore. Because that feels imbalanced. Whereas it used to just feel normal.

I don’t think this is the kind of thing that one can appreciate, let alone rectify, until we hit mid-life. When you’re young, you simply act on your impulses. You don’t examine them and try to do better.

How about you? Do you struggle to achieve balance in life and how does that manifest itself? What would an “integral” life look like?

Image: Integrity by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Weddings Make You Feel Young

wedding

weddingOn occasional Wednesdays, 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,  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:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Romantic Weddings at Janna Sur Mer d’Amour, Lebanon via Wikimedia Commons

The Designated Adult Club

retirement calendar

retirement calendarI was on Facebook the other day when a former colleague who has just started a new job jumped in with a query about pension plans.

“I need an accountant,” she wrote on her wall. “I need advice on what to with the multiple pension plans I’ve accrued since I started working. I’m not sure if I should combine them –  or keep them separate.”

Within minutes, a whole bunch of us who’d worked together with her had glommed onto this thread. Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Several of us had more than one pension plan and we all needed the same advice.

At some point several comments in, someone on the thread suggested that if my colleague was able to obtain the answer to this question, she could share it with the rest of us over drinks. (We’d pick up the tab.)

And then someone else had this brilliant idea: Why don’t we make a deal where one of us is put in charge of making these sorts of vital, grown-up decisions for the entire group on a six-month, rotating basis.

And just like that, the “Designated Adult” (DA) Club was born. (I gave it this name, in honor of the “designated driver” who volunteers to drive when everyone else wants to get sloshed.) Before long, everyone wanted to claim the IP on this thing.

All joking aside, I don’t think the DA Club is a half bad idea. Let’s be honest. Just as there are many tasks you’d love to outsource as a parent when your kids are little (swimming lessons being a particular favorite of my own), there are things you simply don’t have – or want to have – the bandwidth to figure out when you grow up.

In addition to pension plans, I’d like to add to our list of queries things like: figuring out which “color” you are without paying someone $1,000 to tell you…how to keep outdoor plants alive indoors during the winter months…what to do when your Siemens dryer tells you that the water is “full” and you have no idea how to fix it…what to bring to someone’s house in the UK when they invite you for “tea” at 5 pm….(Answer to that last one: Not Vodka. Trust me. I learned the hard way.)

Plus, I like the idea of having a rotating DA Club President, sort of like the Presidency of the EU. I have a friend who used to meet up on Friday afternoons with some of her friends to do what they called “Admin Club,” where everybody sits around plowing through the pile of gross items on their individual to do lists – e.g., filing their taxes, writing thank you cards for their cousin’s bridal shower, knitting a shawl for their Great Aunt Betty Sue, organizing their photos, etc.

I thought that was a brilliant idea. But I like this one even better. You wear the grown up hat for a six month period that works for your work/life/family needs, and then you turn it over to someone else. (“Sorry, friend. My term expired yesterday. I’m afraid you’ll have to figure out for the rest of us how how to obtain European citizenship if you don’t have a European grandparent…”)

One of my former colleagues, who liked the idea of this DA club very much, nonetheless stipulated that if we did ever incorporate as a proper LLC, I would not be able to blog about the different requests. She feared that it might reveal our collective dysfunction.

Sorry, hon. I don’t think I saw that clause in my contract…

Please join in the fun. What sorts of things would you like the DA Club to sort out for you?

Image: Retirement Calendar by American Advisors Group via Flickr

Why Losing My Voice Made Me Feel Like a 5 Year-Old

children's scisssors

children's scisssorsInside Voice.” “Listening Ears.”

These are terms I’d not thought about in a decade since my daughter – now 14 – was in reception (kindergarten) at primary school.

But in the aftermath of a recent surgery on my vocal cords, they are now flooding back. I was unable to speak at all for a full three days last week and must rest my voice for the next two weeks. So I am now, at the tender age of …well, never mind, a pre-school teacher’s dream student.

As a consummate extrovert – someone who can frequently be found talking to herself when no one else will listen – not speaking is hard for me. But it’s all the harder when I am forced to feel like I still ought to be drinking out of a sippy cup.

A case in point. The first night back from surgery, I was watching my favorite French cop show, Spiral, with my husband. Despite being an otherwise rather intelligent man, my husband has difficulty absorbing plot twists rapidly. So every few minutes he would hit “pause” and then I would have to furiously scribble down my explanation for whatever was going on in the show on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately – and this hasn’t shifted very much since I was five – my handwriting is quite poor. So my husband could not decipher my graffiti and (silent) conflict would then ensue.

It got worse from there. With my two teenagers, I was unable to interrupt/scold/micro-manage/cajole/pick your poison with my usual alacrity. This resulted in me resorting to a variety of hand gestures that were definitely NSFW. I know, I know. Bad parenting. But it’s so much more efficient to deploy the odd chin flick when they fail to do the dishes, than to actually try and express my annoyance longhand.

This week, I am thankfully allowed to talk (more) but I am now doing speech therapy. Turns out, the main thing I need to work on is my breathing. When I breathe, far too much of the activity comes from my shoulders and neck, rather than from my diaphragm. It’s actually possible that the stress built up from a lifetime of incorrect breathing caused my voice problem in the first place. To rectify that, I now spend about half of my day blowing bubbles into a glass of water while humming notes and doing scales. Here’s what it sounds like.

I know that a month ago – the last time I was told not to speak – I found the experience to be an important source of life lessons concerning things like empathy and the value of alone time. On some level, I’m sure that losing my voice has also been good for reflecting on how I want to redefine myself professionally right now. (Inside the Crysalis, no one can hear you scream…)

More on that another time.

But this week, all I can say is that I do feel like I belong back in kindergarten. All I’m missing is the art smock and a set of those colorful scissors.

I know I talk a lot about being young at heart on this blog, but this is really pushing it…

Image: Colorful Scissors by Natural Pastels via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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

Five Reasons Funerals Can Be Uplifting

casket

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

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