You’re A Failure If You Aren’t Doing What You Absolutely Love. Or Are You?
Author Brianna West recently wrote in Medium Daily Digest “We’re doing people an incredible disservice by telling them they should seek, and pursue, what they love. People usually can’t differentiate between what they really love and what they love “the idea of”.
In doing so, she reminded me of the diversity of purposes for work among my clients and the courage it takes to pursue the right fit whether it’s what they love or not.
Doing, of course, can be a huge, sort of collective verb. It can mean anything from professional activity to avocational experiences to caring for others to stealing time for yourself and doing absolutely nothing with it if that’s your intention. Having to love what you do as a condition of validation can be such a burden!
For purposes of this blog, I’m going to confine myself to Professional Activity as the designated form of doing. And I’m going to tell three short stories.
Bella is 59 and involuntarily retired 6 years ago when her job was eliminated. Her husband, Bob, died last year and when he did she lost the medical insurance benefits that went with his employment. She qualified for Cobra, but it was nearly beyond her means. Her solution: take a lower paying, ¾ time job that would be accompanied by health care benefits until she qualifies at 65 for Medicare. She had already had a high pressure retail career. She didn’t want that again. In the years since her involuntary retirement Bella had grown used to having discretionary time and was loathe to return to having none. She had interests but was leery of passions because every earlier time in her life she had pursued them they ended up owning her instead of the other way around. Instead, she wanted to sell what she wanted to offer: experience, maturity, reliability, good critical thinking skills, and the ability to get along with all kinds of people.
As Bella and I created her vocational search action plan together, we were both clear that she wanted “Right Fit Employment” that would meet her needs but NOT look or feel like her next, all consuming career. This meant her story would be different, her networking would be different, and her resume(s) would have to be tailored to the opportunities she discovered. In the end she discovered 3 job opportunities that met all of her needs and she knew she could have a fine time at any of them. She chose the best one, free of the burden of failing or having made a bad choice if she didn’t absolutely LOVE her work. She – and her new employer – had made a fine, best-fit-work job.
Kevin, 47, was the “survivor” of several different high tech jobs. His wife, Lisa, was too. Between them they had amassed a fair amount of savings. They were both hard working professionals with absolutely no expectation of permanent employment. And they thought they needed to take a year off regularly, maybe not the same year for both of them. In our work together to create a dual vocational plan, we discovered that they both wanted “shorter term” jobs of 2 years max followed by a year off followed by another couple of years of work. They weren’t worried about not being able to re-enter the workplace and they also weren’t worried about whether or not they totally loved their work. Their network was full of younger people not confined by the old employment rules. Instead they were, frankly, motivated by money and the opportunity to participate in something that could be built and sold. Their passion was focused on the end, transition state of the game, not the 2 years it would take to get there. In fact, they were incredulous about the notion that they should LOVE their work. Being good at it plus the financial end state were what motivated them. And they really liked the idea that they would have different years off so that whoever wasn’t working could be home with the kids, maintaining their home, and being supportive of the working one.
In the end we developed a model of “right fit” employment that rotated, allowing each of them to work and then take time off from work. And they weren’t driven by the total love of their work. This was true for their friends and colleagues, too, one of the possible freedoms of high tech and entrepreneurial lives.
Rhia, 60, is a family law attorney. She thought making Partner in a big firm would be the epitome of success and she could coast from there. She would love her life. That was 18 years ago. What she knows now is that loving her work isn’t the primary metric. Instead the primary metrics are 1. Building/being in control of her own calendar and work load, 2. Having her clients write her performance review through referrals rather than the Managing Partner doing it, and 3. Finding some greater work/life balance than she was experiencing.
When we did the vocational work together, we were not particularly surprised to discover that she had lost her need to love or dislike her work, as if those were the only two categories. Instead she wanted “best fit” work that matched her primary metrics. She was tired of other attorneys asking her if she was burned out. She no longer needed to love or hate it. Instead she wanted it to be a match for her now.
In the end Rhia chose to leave the partnership and join a national online law firm. Kind of like a private practice with colleagues and referral systems. It has turned out to be a great solution for her.
If you LOVE your work that’s great. We are all happy for you. If you like it but don’t want to measure that part of your life by the LOVE Standard, you won’t be alone. You have lots of options.
What role does LOVE serve in your professional life and how is it a benefit or a burden? If it isn’t love, what are the best metrics for you now in your work life?
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH LIFE PLANNING? 8 QUESTIONS TO FIND OUT
Two Personal Consulting clients of mine – let’s call them Rene and Phil – are both in their late fifties. They are working with me to do their joint 18-month immediate life plan and their 18 to 48-month mid-range life plan. In their 30 years of marriage they have never had so many exciting aspirations or such concern for the uncertainties of our current era.
Rene is by nature a planner. Across the years she has planned and tightly scheduled and organized everything from having babies to getting the house painted to finishing her law degree to grocery shopping. Their now-grown kids jokingly say in her presence “Punctuality is next to godliness.” She hates surprises and has never wanted one for her birthday or any other occasion.
A very successful salesman, Phil is by nature a highly spontaneous individual. Across the years he has suddenly come home with a Corvette, a puppy, a signed contract for the installation of a swimming pool in their back yard, two kittens, and the opportunity for a promotion at his company that would require a cross country move. Their now-grown kids lovingly say in his presence “We never, ever know what Dad will do next!” Phil is a bit of a claustrophobe and resists all attempts to schedule and organize him to the point he has no options left. He thinks a great day is one that includes one or more happy surprises.
Through the years Rene and Phil have found ways to appreciate and balance each other’s strong preferences rather than turning them into subjects to fight about. It hasn’t always been easy, but they have stuck to it and with humor and affection, they usually know how to arrive at a joint decision. This recently broke down when it came to life planning, so they came to me for some professional assistance.
When they arrived at my office the first time, they were suffering from a very common life planning malady: they were trying to build one, immense, rather rigid 40-year life plan. They both thought that, if life didn’t evolve according to their plan, they would have failed. Talk about pressure!
I rapidly helped them move into a much more sound and phased planning approach for today’s discontinuous world:
1. A fairly controllable, specific 18-month planning horizon focused on targeting, simplifying and eliminating the fifty kinds of clutter they had accumulated over time
2. A mid-range 18 to 48-month planning horizon focused on exploring options/preferences and making the best decisions they could based on the then-available information
3. A 48 month planning horizon which was really a list of imagined intentions and preferences – and ways to make them happen – since they couldn’t sit in my office and reasonably make final decisions for 10 or 18 or 30 years out into the future.
They had some sacrifices to make in working with each other and with me. They had to give up the notion that there is a singular “right” way to do perfect life planning. Rene struggled with this. They had to let go of the idea that if the plan were “good enough” the outcomes would be guaranteed. This made Phil especially anxious because Mr. Spontaneous was suddenly so nervous about their (and the nation’s) future that he desperately wanted guaranties. The biggest sacrifice of all for them was letting go of the notion that there could be such a plan, ensuring the predicted outcome. The completion of this plan would signal that they could pretty much coast through their future years without regularly monitoring their environment for new information. And this would trigger an updating of the plan and the need for them to adapt yet again. The second biggest sacrifice was jettisoning their cherished illusion that a permanent arrival point, a “there” to get to, is a possibility in today’s world.
The planning conversation had begun with the rigid and fight-prone language of long term life plan, right, wrong and absolutes. Together we turned it into the more manageable and sane bites of short range, mid-term, and long range plans and intentions. We also moved the success metric from “perfect and almost guaranteed” plan to the exploration of “How much is enough?”.
In the end, we developed together some “how much is enough” type of questions that, if answered “Yes!”, would be the tipping point for them to move from planning to action. These included:
- Do we feel comfortable enough to suspend research for now on each of our three planning horizon plans?
- Are we prepared to do enough smart scanning of our environment regularly that we can see when and how to update the plan and adapt ourselves?
- Are we clear enough on what initial action would look like for each life plan segment?
- Have we surrounded ourselves with enough of the right professional consultants – life planning, financial, health care, legal, and career/vocational?
- Have we communicated clearly enough with our loved ones and friends that they know how to help us?
- Are we having enough regular, clear conversations together about our plans to know when we are on the same page, when we’re not, and how to work our way through any difficulties?
- Are we willing enough in these times of discontinuous change, to work with both change we have chosen and change that is imposed on us?
- Do we continue to have enough faith in ourselves and in each other to live a great life one planning phase at a time?
Rene, Phil, and I completed the 3 planning horizon life plans and built clear action plans for each, especially the Up To 18 Month segment. They will be back to see me when they run into a major problem and for periodic reality checks. They don’t need to see me all the time. They will need to see me enough, and they are the only ones who can determine what and when that is.
I’m looking forward to getting an update from them eventually.
How are you proceeding with your own life planning? How do you know what enough looks like for any life planning component?
TWO OF THE IMPORTANT AFTER 50 LESSONS MR. TRUMP CAN TEACH US
I don’t know Mr. Trump. I see an experienced showman on television, read his speeches, and listen to the pronouncements of his staff. Arguing crowd size isn’t what it’s about for me. I’m not a therapist. Analyses aren’t going to happen here. I’m not an Ethicist, so you won’t find words like “lie” and my reactions to it in this blog. I’m not a politician. You’ll need to go elsewhere for political analyses.
I am, however, a Developmental Psychologist and can speak my opinion with some authority here about life After 50. What’s the connection?
More often than not, when we say “Developmental Psychology” we’re studying and talking about children. How does a good 3-year-old get to be a great 6-year-old? What do we need to understand and do to support this happening?
What far too few of us understand about After 50 is that human development is lifelong. We need to learn new skills and ways of thinking across our entire life spans. If we don’t, our personal, decreased relevancy is guaranteed. Not only are we not fully “cooked” by the time we’re in our forties, some of our greatest opportunities and best work can happen in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. How does a good 50-year-old get to be a great 75-year-old? That’s the important question to me, the one to which I’ve dedicated years of research, writing, and observation.
Enter Mr. Trump. We all need to learn from each other through observation and conversation. Who is the most visible After 50 person in the world? You guessed it. With all due respect, he leaves Queen Elizabeth (90), George Clooney (56), Sarah Palin (52), Clint Eastwood (81), Sonia Sotomayor (62), and Bruce Springsteen (67) in the After 50 dust when it comes to constantly holding our attention. I think we’re only beginning to learn from him and, as we all know, After 50 isn’t a time to stop learning.
Lesson #1: In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial that we each move from 51% or more externally validated to 51% or more self-validated. Later in our lives opportunities for external validation will decrease and so will our quality of life if we fail to learn this lesson.
I recently did some retirement work with a couple in their late 50s. The husband, a top national salesman, was terrified of retirement. His entire identity and self-esteem were built around his job performance each month. During the months he exceeded his sales target numbers, his self-esteem was through the roof. During the months he failed to meet his sales goals, his self-esteem was somewhere below the basement. If he were retired, who would he be? He and I took opposite views on what to do. He wanted in retirement to find the next thing at which he could be a champion. I thought he was going to have to find a way to give up his addiction to ongoing “proof” because as he aged that external proof would become less and less likely in the long run. He wanted to know what would be satisfying and a guarantee to go with it before he made the leap. His wife, after many years on the proof rollercoaster with him, sided with me. Did he have the courage to give up being so dependent upon repeated external validation that ranked high on the “never enough” scale? Was he willing to do the work to get really comfortable and happy in his own skin? On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing comfort in his own skin without dependence on validation hits? On the same scale where do you rank your own?
Lesson #2 In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial to allow disagreements without creating enemies and opponents. Living a life of constantly seeing only opposites (self and opponents) and being at war is unlikely to create an After 50 life of any reasonable quality for you and your loved ones.
A couple came to me to do some life planning work. Money wasn’t an issue. The husband had lots of interests and looked forward to exploring them. The wife, however, was so dependent on the adulation of her children and grandchildren that they had begun to avoid family holidays with her. Why? She demanded their attendance at each and every holiday, birthday, celebration, and anniversary. She was pugilistic. Anyone who wasn’t totally with her was considered to be against her. She could be verbally abusive and a bully. She was tenacious, a veritable bulldog. And this pattern – if you aren’t fully with me you must be against me – extended to friends, colleagues at work, staff, and, especially, her husband. Given time, she could recite long lists of opponents including her son in law, his family, and neighbors. Was she willing to go into a retirement that was less dependent upon war and opponents? What was reasonable to demand of retirement, and what was she willing to do to make it work? On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing preference for having opponents and conducting interpersonal wars? On the same scale where do you rank your own?
In my own case, I’ve assumed some of my best work and greatest opportunities will happen After 50. I’ve written a book about retirement and life planning in times of increasingly unplannable, discontinuous change. “How Do I Get There From Here?” will be released by AMACOM (publishing division of the American Management Association) in July. For me it’s a bold expression of what experience and expertise tell me will work for most of us in the coming years. Some days it also feels like a huge risk to put myself and my ideas so far out there in public. My own, personal developmental job is to rely more on my independent sense of myself than I am on the book’s success. Usually I’m OK with it. Some days are a bit of a push. How could I possibly write about After 50 ideas if I’m not willing to take them head on myself?
I don’t know Mr. Trump but I’d like to thank him for the lessons he makes available to me. We are all – or should be – mirrors for each other. We After 50 will do well to pay attention. I hope he is intensely successful as President for all our sakes. We certainly stand – if we’re available for it – to learn a lot about how to build or injure our collective future.
The Slippery Road To Isolation Well Before We Are Old
One of my longtime California friends recently sent me an email commenting on how many long-term friendships are affected by the recent presidential election. His observation is that a significant number of people – from both of the major voting spectrum positions – are unable to comprehend how their friends could possibly have voted the way they did. Even worse, they are currently unable to forgive. On the surface they can still socialize but it’s awkward because conversation topics are now limited and everyone knows things just aren’t the same between them. Trust has been broken and, once broken, repair is not in sight. “How could you?” is the question hanging, unspoken in the air between them.
Provoked by his email, I checked with other friends around the nation. Sure enough, it’s not just a California phenomenon. I had previously thought of divisive as an adjective. Somehow, while I wasn’t looking it turned into a transitive verb with long term friends as the objects. And this is a potential, durable problem for all of us After 50.
In social network theory Strong Relationships/Strong Networks of Relationships is used to describe interpersonal connections characterized by high levels of trust, significant shared history, similarity of values, intentions in common, mutual support, and well established assumptions about one another. How many of these relationships are enough depends upon the individual. Strong Relationships/Networks are very important because they are efficient, reliable, and trustworthy. You don’t have to explain. You can make direct requests without preamble. Working on something at home or on the job can feel choreographed because you know how to move together. And sometimes you can even finish each other’s sentences. We all need Strong Relationships/Networks.
Again in social network theory Weak Relationships/Weak Networks of Relationships is used to describe interpersonal connections characterized by little knowledge of each other, few if any shared friendships, potentially different background or approaches to life, and values which are not identical to our own. How many of these relationships are enough depends upon the individual. Weak Relationships/Networks are very important because they are the source of new possibilities, contacts, and approaches. They are also the source of a significant number of AHAs! and fresh ideas. If you are looking for an insightful answer or piece of information, weak relationships are more often than not a superior source because the individual is not burdened with assumptions about you and is likely to come from a totally different place than your own. We all need Weak Relationships/Networks.
The severing of a longtime friendship at this time is more than the termination of one strong relationship. It’s also the eradication of a significant number of weak connections your former strong connection could have arranged for you. How many strong relationships do you currently have and how does this total compare to what you really need in your life right now?
How many weak relationships – including connections through your strong relationships – do you currently have and how does this total compare to what you really need in your life right now?
Impoverishment in relationships later in life often comes because:
- The individual has not maintained his/her strong relationships AND has failed to replenish the network as people dropped out through moving, illness, no longer working together, or any of a number of other causes.
- The individual has failed to maintain and adequate weak network of relationships and, therefore, has few candidates in line to occupy strong connection positions.
- 1 and 2 lead directly to isolation.
I am asking you to consider how much energy, time, and effort it takes to build and maintain enough strong relationships. No one knows where our country is really going. It’s like hanging on to a surf board bouncing across the waves at the moment.
Do you have such an excess that you can easily afford to jettison previously important and strong relationships?
How are you resolving the relationship divide and the loss of trust with your strong friends who didn’t vote the way you did?
How strong is your Weak Network?
I propose a checklist of isolatioin conditions:
- Impoverishment of Strong Networks
- Failure to nurture Weak Networks
- Diminishment of curiosity
- Failure to remain and interesting person
- Capitulation and victimization
How many of these conditions exist in your networks? What can you do about them?
Please let me know.
What Do We Owe To Our Grandchildren?
There I was in a long line with my grocery cart. The lady at the front – the OCD woman with 30 clipped magazine coupons to scan, each of which will save her 1.5 cents – was proudly waving her fanned collection at the checker as if she were about to be a big winner in Reno. This was going to take a while.
So, I did what I always do to distract myself. I looked for something to read. To my immediate left at eye level were THE TABLOIDS, the early, spawning originators of fake news and voyeur headlines.
How often has your first reaction to something been “I’m so glad my grandchildren aren’t here to see/experience this.”? It happens to me with surprising frequency. It isn’t that I want to insulate them from the world. I don’t have primary responsibility for them nor should I be setting priorities. They have parents for that. Still, these times always trigger in me concern about what I am doing on a regular basis to help my grandchildren.
Grandparents come in a dazzling variety of configurations. Some can’t wait to buy teddy bears and books to read together. Some don’t want much to do with them until they are old enough to get into the car on their own for a ride. Other grandparents delight in baby sitting or taking a teenager out for her first cup of coffee or helping them become diehard team fans or setting aside money for college or attending piano recitals and T-ball games.
My personal configuration is built around the intention that I can give each of them confidence and adaptability. Provided we have the foundation of high quality one on one time together, I can add experiences which will serve them well for the rest of their lives. For example, finding their way (safely) through a new experience in a place they don’t know well with other kids they don’t know at all – Circus or Marine Biology or Theater day camp, for instance. Or lunch with me at a white table cloth restaurant followed by a movie or a play. Or walking down Grant Avenue together hand in hand and going into a tea shop for a cup where the rest of the customers are all Chinese and over 70. Or going down ALL the waterslides together several times at a sunny resort.
How does what I want to give to them differ from what I owe them? THE TABLOIDS pushed me into exploring the difference.
I discovered I’m clear about what I want to give to them: any kind of new experience that will 1. allow them expanded forms of curiosity and knowledge they hadn’t thought of before, 2. provide them with enjoyable social and cultural surprises and insight, and 3. add to their confidence that they are smart, adaptable, and highly competent people.
As for what I owe to them, I have to remember that their lives won’t necessarily be an extension of mine. In fact, their lives may differ as significantly as the world they are inheriting differs from the one handed to me.
Here, after much reflection, is my list of what I owe to my grandchildren:
- My own authenticity (and non-pedantic exposure through me) to the norms of my generation
- Explanation more than total protection. I could blind them to THE TABLOIDS or I could have a serious conversation about the implications of rampant voyeurism and fake news.
- Trust and respect that in the long run they will make good decisions about their lives as they move into a future which I can only imagine.
- Unadulterated, non-demanding affection.
- Continual remembering – and the behaviors that go with it – that I am their grandfather and not their parent.
- Sincere interest in them and their interests.
- Enough high-quality availability without being like hot water, always available at the turn of the tap.
- Respect and support for their individuality. I remember, when I was 17, my own maternal grandmother gently taking my hands in hers and saying “Do what you want to do, dear. You will anyway.” I have never forgotten it.
In a nice way, I owe the OCD coupon-waving customer and THE TABLOIDS in the rack a moment of gratitude. Without them I wouldn’t have been pressed to distinguish between give and owe.
As for what my grandchildren want from me, I’m saving that for a future blog.
The new year is now upon us. What is it you want to give to your grandchildren in the coming year?
What is it you think you owe to your grandchildren in the coming year?
What is it you think your grandchildren want from you?
Let me know, please.
Quality of Life? Start the New Year with this easy survey!
There she stood just inside our front door with her hands on her hips. “You keep writing about other people’s After 50 stories.”, she said, “Mine is different and it deserves telling, too”. Pushing past me she settled into a chair in our living room, said, “OK. Help me.”
“OK. I’ll play.”, I said sitting down opposite Coleen. “Who are you?” Her answer: “I’m Coleen White. I recently met you and your wife, Linda, at one of our fundraising parties for childrens’ charities. I’m 67, recently divorced, a retired nurse, not very connected to my grandchildren, far from wealthy but ok, not religious, still like men and romance, smart, funny, and a bit bored. I like where I’m living. I’m finding it difficult to get my thoughts organized enough around my Quality of Life.”
“What does Quality of Life mean to you?” I asked. Her answer: “Your writing provoked my interest in Becoming After 50. Most people don’t seem to get that After 50 is a prime time for personal becoming. I get it. I was married to a physician for years. When he left he liberated both of us – I can see now – from a terrible inertia. I’m a new kind of free. I like it. Quality of Life is suddenly the key for me. I don’t want just more of the same. I don’t need to solve problems from my past. I don’t need therapy. I want Quality of Life to be an everyday thing, not some place I visit on special trips and vacations. I need a way to evaluate and prioritize. I want to create myself and my future. So here I am.”
I sat back in my chair. “Quality of Life”, I said, “is a very personal thing. It changes periodically, being made up of moving components. If it were easily measured it would be called Quantity of Life but that’s not what you’re talking about is it?” “No”, she said, “I’m talking about Quality of Life that I can create and adjust as my life progresses. I want clarity. I’ll need to be adaptable, too.”
“Would it help if I gave you a Quality of Life Survey as a starting place?”, I asked. “Are you kidding? Of course!”, she replied.
So I gave her the following survey.
As she left I reminded Coleen that not every component can or should be a 10 all the time. “Don’t worry. I’ll remember”, she said, “and I’ll be back soon. Finally, a framework I can work with for my Quality of Life. World, get out of my way!”
Coleen went on to do the work of exploring her answers to the questionnaire and building a very successful action plan as a result.
The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give the questionnaire to you as a New Years gift. So I am doing just that.
What are you most interested in exploring about yourself and your life today?
Inspiration Might Be Sitting On Your Left
I’ve just come back to the office from a deeply inspiring lunch meeting. For all our important work with “Seniors” and the services many of them need, I think we tend to carelessly lump then together, regularly falling into the trap of no longer seeing them as individuals and very, very bright people with full biographies. The fact is lots of “Seniors” are still trucking along admirably with significant humor, vigor, and insightful thinking. Chronological age is clearly not the primary determinant of much of anything.
I am fortunate enough to belong to an almost 70-year-old professional media and journalism-oriented organization. It is made up of retired print and broadcast executives and professionals, along with the rest of us still working in several forms of journalism and media.
These older men and women were heavy hitters with long careers in exciting times for their industry, complete with opportunities that are now unlikely if not impossible. It’s always a revelation to occasionally experience myself as one of the youngest people in a room full of really articulate, experienced, passionate people. How often do my peers and I get that chance for inspiration?
Essentially, the organization is a luncheon club where we come together at a common table with microphones available to review and discuss a wide variety of topics from journalism and media perspectives. We discuss current issues of local, national, and international importance (political positions and religion are not permitted). This isn’t a bunch of geezers telling war stories and reminiscing. This is a group of thoughtful, experienced minds coming together for highly informed discussions. About 45 of us gather each time, both men and women. The membership is larger than that, so the attendance is slightly different at each meeting.
What did I find inspiring today, you ask? I’m glad you inquired.
A woman in her late 70s (an unrepentant thespian) played her instrument-studded washboard and sang everything from Jazz to Rap as warmup entertainment. She remarked on her pig tails and wrinkles, and then announced that all it took was moderate musical prowess and, blessedly – no longer having much sense of shame – an increased capacity for joy. She knew how to seize a point and get it across, grabbing our attention without doing or being anyone we would usually expect. And all the while her significant dignity shone through. How many of us can do that well, I ask you?
The gentleman on my left, 93, remarked about having written a piece with his daughter announcing his wife’s recent death for posting on his Facebook page.
Two men in their early eighties got into a heated debate about where journalism ends and media begins. Journalism and media, although we often mash them together, are not synonymous as we all know.
Today there was a general discussion about the November 13 letter to New York Times readers from the Publisher and the Senior Editor reflecting on issues with their campaign and election coverage. Full article HERE .
A famous elections polling analyst/scientist and journalist, easily in his late 70s, talked about the intelligent limits of polling and how they can miss what’s really going on.
I’m not some voyeur at these lunches. When it was my turn, I talked about my notion that we had all been prisoners of the images and language of local/regional/identity politics and, therefore, unwilling and unable to think and behave otherwise. It’s my opinion that we, as a nation, HAVE AN EXCESS OF LANGUAGES AND IMAGES THAT SEPARATE US AND are missing the ALTERNATIVE language and images to understand commonly shared pain and hope, without which we have little opportunity to actually create an inclusive dialogue. I’d like us to do a journalistic investigation of this without having to have another September 11 to pull us all together again.
The lady to my right, in her middle 70’s, is so alert and attentive that her eyes sparkle. She worked with Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, among others, and clearly understood the historic nuances in all of the remarks.
It’s my experience that many of us suffer from absence of intelligent intergenerational engagement and the inspiration that can accompany it. My grandchildren regularly teach me important information I might otherwise miss entirely. When I say intergenerational engagement, I’m not talking about 3 or 4 generations showing up for a big holiday meal and watching sports on television rather than actually interacting. I’m talking about seizing the opportunity to look to my right and my left and observe the wisdom and perspective each generation brings from the lives they have led, regardless of age.
I’m inspired and this came from accomplished professionals senior to me.
What do you do for inspiration in your own life, especially multigenerational inspiration?
The Return Of The 10’ Christmas Tree
I admit it. By the time the boys were teenagers, my enthusiasm for decorating for the holidays, putting up a large Christmas tree, hanging lights on the house, and later taking it all down and putting it away again was so minuscule it could only be detected through a microscope.
This was eventually followed by the day when I sold the family house and, for the first time in decades, I no longer owned a house, hose, lawn mower, wheel barrow, outside holiday lights, or an extension ladder. Of course I paid for packing and security locker storage of the indoor holiday decorations we had bought together, along with all of those Halloween, Easter, and Thanksgiving items the kids had made in school. Those were of obvious historic and sentimental importance, weren’t they? In the meantime, Liberation! The “Urban Condo Period” of my life had begun.
Then Linda came along and everything changed hue. Throughout our wonderful urban condo years together, holiday decorating totaled:
- a wreath on the front door
- extra candles Linda placed around strategically
- a lovely but reusable 4’ decorator-designed tree I bought at a charity auction.
Decorating for the holidays became a 20-minute process. Putting everything away took 15 minutes.
Eventually I was struck by the we’re-too-young-to-get-too-comfortable-so-let’s-go-challenge-ourselves-while-we’re-still-young-enough bug. Developmental Psychologists who believe in walking their talk will tend, as a part of integrity, to do these things. The idea was that if we could move to a really well-selected place where we knew no one and then build a great life for ourselves within 5 years, nothing was going to happen to us for the rest of our lives that we couldn’t handle together. The theory has since proved to be sound in practice.
To begin our challenge to ourselves, we built a template of great-fit characteristics. We spent 3 years looking for a place that would work for both and each of us. It had to be someplace where we could pursue our interests and continue our work with no desire to “retire”.
The 5-year experiment began when we found a great-fit area on the opposite coast, bought a house we loved, and moved across the country. We kept our city condo as a fallback, renting it instead of selling it. All of our good friends were supportive. Several of them still think we’re crazy but have finally given up waiting for us to move back.
Our 1st Holiday Season in the new house was limited to decorations A thru C above from our Urban Condo Period. The following year, to our great surprise, we acquired a 10’ Christmas tree for our living room which we happily spent 2 full days decorating with our large assortment of tree and home decorations (fresh from security storage after all those years). We had tree ornaments my parents collected throughout my childhood, Linda’s parents’ ornaments from the earliest days of their marriage, ornaments we had each acquired through the years, and ornaments we had given each other. We did have to sort through and purge the junk and, I admit it again, dump much of that stuff the kids had made years ago that no longer seemed to be of such obvious historic and sentimental value. Actually I wondered why I had kept all that stuff they didn’t care about. In the end the tree looked great and we had plenty of ornaments for all 10’. We bought more anyway. And we have looked forward to doing all of it again every holiday season.
Now we’re approaching the 10th Holiday Season of our 5-year experiment. A full decade of life can make a big difference in preferences and priorities for all of us. We have benefited and prospered in our now-not-so-new location and have no regrets about having made the big leap. It’s still lovely after all this time to be back in a real house with bigger rooms, higher ceilings and lots of space and light. We enjoy having room for our professional work and special, personal projects and interests without having to put them away in a closet or drawer all the time. We have great confidence in the quality of the experience and skills we’ve accrued over these years.
What brings all of this up? The holidays do. It’s Appreciation Time for all who have become part of our lives as well as for the depth and breadth of our friendships.
I concede the 10” tree is looking taller and more daunting than it did 10 Christmases ago when we bought it, but it really goes with the house and who we are in it. Of course, we have the added inspiration of living in this neighborhood. Ours is one of the few houses that won’t have imaginative outdoor holiday lights. Down the street you’ll find a 16’ Frosty made of industrial-strength chicken wire with a gazillion lights. For counterpoint there’s a lighted Menorah in one yard and a house where not one bush or tree has escaped some form of seasonal electrification.
This all makes a 10’ tree in our living room seem like a really happy tradition for Linda and me. None of us knows what the future will bring or what decisions we’ll face. The day will come when a desire for simplification will overtake us, and we’ll be on to the next residential period of our lives. After 18 years together we know our lives, like most people’s, won’t unroll like a ribbon in a straight line. We’ve kept our 4’ decorator tree all these years as a happy remembrance and just in case we need it again someday in smaller quarters.
Our holiday commitment to ourselves and to our friends is to open-eyed “normalcy” in a world currently sloshing through changes we hadn’t imagined and can’t control. In the “spirit of normal” our tree is decorated with memories, hopes, good intentions, and sincere best wishes to all of you and yours for happy times during the Holidays and throughout the coming year.
Blessings from our home to you and yours.