Archive | Aging Ungracefully

Authenticity: Life Lessons from my 18 Year-Old

tiger mom

tiger momIt’s a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our children than we teach them. I remember a close friend of mine coming to stay with us when her son was about six. They happened to show up on my husband’s birthday. When her son realized this, he produced a dollar from his pocket and gave it to my husband as a gift. It was one of the most touching things I’d ever witnessed. She turned to me and said, “He does a thousand things like this, every day.”

My own son is now 18. Yesterday, he finished his A-Level exams, which are equivalent to your final exams in High School. In a couple of months, he will be heading off to college.

My son has not been the easiest child to parent and we have definitely had our run-ins. He’s still not nice to his sister. And when I ask him to take out the weekly recycling, you’d think that I’d ask him to fill out my annual tax return.

But one thing he has always been is true to himself. From an early age, he would develop an obsession with a given topic and immerse himself in it. As a toddler, it was cars. He was so consumed by automobiles that when he was two, my husband and I abandoned getting him books at the local library. Instead, we took to obtaining those free, used-car supplements they used to give away in newspapers so that he could stay up to date on the latest models from Honda, Chevrolet and Cadillac.

When he was eight, he insisted on dressing up as Tamerlane for Halloween. (You know, the Turkic-Mongol ruler from the 14th century? Not a household term? Wasn’t for  me either. Can’t you just go as Batman like all the other kids?) He also began reading the Game of Throne books long before these were age-appropriate. (Though I blame my husband for that. No, honey, they aren’t quite the same as The Lord of the Rings series. Sorry.)

A few years back, as it came time to think about college, I began – in true Tiger Mom fashion – to harangue him for not doing more extra-curricular activities. British Universities could care less if you’re on the debate team or volunteer at the local homeless shelter. But American Universities eat that sh$% up. And since I knew that he was going to at least contemplate studying in the U.S., I began to entreat him to start thinking more strategically about how we would position himself to an American college audience.

He largely ignored me. Sure, he did a bunch of activities at school. But he never once did anything that didn’t genuinely interest him. Even after all these years, his main hobby remains – wait for it – reading.

“Reading isn’t a hobby!” I would shriek periodically. “You can’t list it on your application! You need to have more leadership roles!” And no, I’m not suggesting you follow my parenting lead. (Although at least I didn’t bribe someone to say that my son rowed crew or that he needed extra time on the SATs.)

I ranted and raved. And he kept on doing his thing. Eventually. I accepted that my trying to control his path in life was really about me trying to manage my own fears and anxieties about myself. So I gave up.

Needless to say, the whole college thing worked out just fine. But he also taught me a valuable lesson in my own life. Round about time that he was applying for college, I was trying to launch my own business. There were plenty of moments along that journey where I was tempted to throw in the towel and just go get a job – any job – that I *could* do. Rather than creating the job for myself that I actually wanted.

Watching my son gave me the courage to take some risks. Which in my case mostly meant creating a career that reflected my whole self, rather than just one part of it.

Which is another way of saying that my son taught me the value of authenticity. He showed me that the best path forward is always to be true to yourself. 

So thanks, pal. I needed that.

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Image: Siberian Tiger Mom with Cub by Mathias Appel via Flickr

 

Lifelong Learning: Cultivating Curiosity as we Age

Continuing Education

Continuing EducationNot long ago, I attended an all-day workshop on PowerPoint. It was designed for people who felt comfortable using the program, but who wanted to take it to the  next level. As I use slides all the time in my new consulting business, I thought it might be a useful skill to hone.

It was.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London twelve years ago, I’ve taken classes in everything from public speaking to improvisation to  how to write a business plan. In past lives, I’ve taken classes in freelance writing, beginning Hebrew as well as the  Continuing Ed class to end all Continuing Ed classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

People go back to school as adults for many different reasons. Often, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You collaborate. Above all, you have fun. (I’m currently eyeing a course entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway. Bring it on!)

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Continuing Education Adult Education Expo via Wikimedia Commons

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood, plucked from around the web. Subscribe here

How to Live Forever: Book Review

inter-generational learning

inter-generational learningAt first blush, I didn’t think a book entitled  How to Live Forever was for me.  I was expecting a hard sell on a new killer vitamin that would add years to my life…gene therapy that could prevent chronic disease…botox for the brain. That sort of thing.

As with many books, however, the book’s main message is revealed in its sub-title: “The enduring power of connecting the generations.” The author, Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, wants us to understand that we live in an age-segregated society, one where housing, labour markets, education and pensions policy combine to separate the old from the young. This “age apartheid” is not only out of step with current demographic trends, he argues, but down-right counter-productive:  It impedes the happiness of individuals, who benefit enormously from these cross-generational relationships, and it limits progress on a host of social ills.

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

Image: Art and Feminism NYC Generations via Wikimedia Commons

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Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood. Subscribe here

Women and Money: Crowdsourcing Financial Advice

stock market

stock marketI was on Facebook recently when a former colleague who has just started a new job jumped in with a query about investment portfolios.

“I need advice on stock-picking strategies,” she wrote on her wall. “I want to feel more in control of my finances.”

Within minutes, a whole bunch of us who’d worked with her had glommed onto this thread. Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Several of us – seeing the cusp of retirement in the not too distant future – had taken a sudden interest in managing our money more wisely.

At some point several comments in, someone in 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.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Stock Market Indices by Karsten Reuss via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Confront Pain as we Age

back pain

back painOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist recently. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your /primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Low back pain via Wikimedia Commons

Life Lessons from Philip Roth: “Believe in Your Own Crap”

Philip Roth

Philip RothI was scrolling through my list of podcasts the other day – listening to podcasts being my latest hobby – when I came across a New Yorker podcast devoted to the late author Philip Roth.

Roth was a very controversial author, and not everybody’s “cuppa” (as my mother is wont to say). While I haven’t liked everything of his that I’ve read, I count American Pastoral among the most awe-inspiring books I’ve ever encountered. (My husband, who has read each and every one of Roth’s books, says When She Was Good is his all-time favorite.)

So I came to this podcast mostly to see if I would learn something about the recently deceased  author that I didn’t already know.

I did. But it was not what I expected. I expected a celebration of Roth by some of his contemporaries and a reflection on his contribution to the canon. There was that, to be sure.

At one point in the podcast, Radio Hour host and New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick asked Roth a question we should perhaps all ask ourselves as we get older: “What did age give you?”

Initially, Roth answers that age gave him “Patience. Patience to stay with your frustration. The confidence that if you just stay with it, you’ll master it.”  But then he goes on: “Over the years, what you develop is… patience with your own crap. And a belief in your own crap. That if you just stay with it, it will get better.”

Roth is talking about writing, of course. And in many ways he is merely re-stating what writer Anne Lamott famously described as one of two secrets of being a writer:  shitty first drafts. As a writer and writing coach, I wholeheartedly agree. You need to learn how to live with the utter rubbish you put down on the page and believe that somehow, with time, as you work on it a bit more, you will transform it into something better.

But Roth’s insight about what he has learned through time and experience is also applicable to life itself.  As someone who only recently  – 30 years in – figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve often berated myself for not having sorted all of this out much earlier.

But applying Roth’s observation to my own professional journey, I now see that the entire process – every wrong turn, every partial fit  – was all part of learning how to be patient with the “crap.” By which I mean, learning to endure the series of “rough drafts” (read: jobs) that ultimately merged and metamorphosed into my current calling. Which I love.

As the man says, it’s all about trusting the evolutionary and organic process of self-knowledge and self-improvement, being willing to take risks, and then…waiting. (Could I possibly transform this into a pithy strap line to go above my desk, she wonders?)

And with that profound reflection, I wish you all a happy new year.

Image:  Roth photo by Bibliotechque Municipale de Beaune via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Highlights from The Longevity Forum

new old age

new old ageOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been a long time since I attended a conference where I found myself looking forward to every single panel. But that was precisely the feeling I had this past Monday, when I attended the launch of The Longevity Forum, the latest organisation to emerge on the UK’s burgeoning ageing scene.

The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But it is also focused on the social and behavioural changes needed to adapt to this age of longevity.

The inaugural event to launch the Forum was invitation-only, so this blog shares five interesting ideas I took away:

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

Image: Smart Phone Face Man Old Baby via Pixabay

An Exercise Jingle for Chronic Pain in Middle Age

pilates

pilatesThere’s a popular children’s song meant to inspire kids to exercise. It’s called Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. If you’ve ever had children, grandchildren, step-children or just spent time with little kids, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that they should create a grown up version of that song, one that captures that time of life when you become acutely aware that your body is slowing down. You know that phase: After a lifetime of perfect vision, you’re suddenly wearing glasses. Long after your own children have long graduated from orthodontia, your dentist has informed you that you, too, need braces…again! 

Aches in New Places

In my case, I’d already been battling something called piriformis syndrome for years. Piriformis syndrome – for those not in the know – is, quite literally, a “pain in the ass.” It comes about due to over-use of the piriformis muscle, which connects the base of your spine to your hip. In many people, the piriformis also surrounds the sciatic nerve that runs up and down your leg. such that – when strained – you might feel pain anywhere from your bum right down to your toes. Ouch.

I could handle that. I’d been doing stretches to help manage that pain for a while now. But then around the turn of the new year, a few new pains emerged to complement my ongoing sore hip.

First, I had surgery on my vocal cords and lost my voice completely. Since January,  I have been working with assorted speech and physio-therapists to retrain myself how to speak and breathe.

Next, my eyes started stinging. It also felt like there was something inside them all the time. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with blepharitis. My husband has had this condition for years. I wasn’t sympathetic and used to mock him for endlessly telling anyone who would listen about his “dry eyes.” Now that person doing the endless complaining is me. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

And then, finally, my jaw started to ache whenever I chewed anything (TMJ). The diagnosis for that particular condition was stress. I briefly consulted with a dental psychologist (yes, that’s a profession!), who basically told me that I needed to relax.

“Yup! Working on that,” I told her.

Grrrr.

Do we all turn into our mothers?

All of these conditions are likely to remain with me, to some degree or another, for the rest of my time on earth. And I know that I’m not alone. 70% of those who experience chronic pain are women. Women also perceive pain more intensely than men do.

In order to manage these assorted medical problems without ending up back in the hospital, I now spend a good 45 minutes a day stretching, putting a warm cloth on my eyes, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing my breathing.

Which, among other things, makes me feel like my mother. I have this theory that by the time we hit middle age, we all end up turning into our mothers. When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother was forever lying on the bedroom floor “wogging” her back. I used to think that was nuts.

Now I do it all the time.

At first, I was really frustrated that I was losing so much of my day to a “non-essential” activity.

Over time, I’ve tried to change my framing of my ablutions. I try to view this “lost” time that as time gained:  I’m listening to more podcasts. Stretching also makes me feel stronger.

A New Exercise Jingle

All of which is to say that if you soon hear a jingle aimed at we middle-aged folk that goes something like this: “Throat, jaw, hip and eyes. Hip and eyes! Throat, jaw, hip and eyes…,” you’ll know who penned it.

Come to think of it, I think I better trademark that now.

What are your middle-aged ailments? By all means, feel free to moan!

Image: Pilates by alexcdcarts via Pixabay

Career Change: Finding Your Moment In Middle Age

time

timeI had coffee with a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She and I used to work together. Like me, she left that company roughly a year ago. And, like me, she’s spent the better part of this year regrouping to figure out what’s next for her professionally.

We share a lot in common, and not only our previous place of employment. Both of us are working mothers. Both of us would like to launch our own businesses. And while both of us have experimented with different ideas over the course of the past year, our plans have evolved into something much more concrete since we last had lunch in March.

The difference is that while I feel like my new professional life is about to take off, she feels that her future is momentarily on hold. A host of domestic issues have simultaneously cropped up that are distracting her from her goals: some unexpected travel…her kids’ education…her new puppy who isn’t yet house trained. (OK, so I can’t relate to the last one).

Crucially, she is also waiting to find out whether or not she will have to go back to a full-time “normal” job in order to help her keep her family afloat.

I don’t say any of this critically. To the contrary,I say it with great empathy. I was her six years ago. Literally.

Back in 2012, I was again thinking about my next career move. (Yes, it’s a condition. My husband likes to say that I’m an “expert in career change.”) I wanted a job that would be both fulfilling and challenging. But I also had two kids aged 11 and 8 who couldn’t travel around the city on their own yet. The “11+ exams”  loomed on the horizon. (If you’re American and don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky.)

Plus, we were in the midst of trying to buy a house. Let’s just say that having “unemployed” on your mortgage application doesn’t exactly look fantastic.

So I took a job. I was lucky that it turned out to be a good job with wonderful colleagues. But I knew the whole time I was there that it wasn’t really authentically me. Although I was acquiring a lot of new skills, it wasn’t a place that I intended to stay. But I did stay – for five years – because the timing in other parts of my life was never right for me to leave.

I’m in a different place now. My kids are in secondary school. We own a house. Sure, the banister lifts out of the staircase if you put your hand on it. And our shower was recently replaced because sewage – yes, sewage – was clogging one of the pipes in the bathroom. But the house has four walls and a floor. Mostly, anyhow.

More importantly, I feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place. I finished the draft of a book I’d been working on for ages. Now I’m trying to sell it. I’ve got some potential clients for my soon-t0-be-disclosed business. I may well fail at both projects. But I have enough energy – and a sufficiently  uncluttered horizon – to be able to “take a punt” now in a way that I couldn’t have contemplated before.

I reassured my friend that she just needs to be patient. This may not be “her” moment, just like 2012 wasn’t mine. But if she’s patient, I’m confident that she’ll get there eventually.

How about you? Did you ever put off something you really wanted to do because the timing wasn’t right? Conversely, did the stars ever align and enable you to take a professional risk?

Image: time-2160154_1920 by Sevgi001453d via Pixabay

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