THE LIE OF WORK/LIFE BALANCE
We were waiting for the luncheon speaker begin. He sat to my right, a small, energetic man in a sports jacket and an open-collared light blue shirt. As strangers will, he asked me what I did. My answer was that I am writing and speaking about what it takes for a good 50 year old to become a fabulous 80 year old here in the New Normal when education, work, retirement, family, health, and financial condition are being simultaneously struck by the lightning of discontinuous change Somehow, I hit a chord because Tim’s response was very thoughtful. Here it is:
“I might have figured it out earlier if I had been self-employed, but I can’t know that for sure. All those years I had a job with a big engineering company I thought of myself as selling a part of my life in exchange for income and benefits. There was work. There was my life; my real life with my family. I thought about work/life balance all the time. Sometimes I was pretty resentful.
Now that I am 77 and have failed retirement twice, I can see that it wasn’t a competition between my work and my life. It was all my life. The competition was between my control of my time and anyone else’s control of my time, especially my employers. It’s often about control, isn’t it? Even when I’m clever enough to call it something else, there are the dark, beady eyes of control staring back at me.”
Tim blew himself out of his employer when he was 58. Senior Management wanted to go one way. He thought their decisions were ill informed and said so. The company paid him to go quietly away, a small separation package that would keep him afloat financially for 90 days.
“Was my wife, Judy, ever surprised when she found me standing in the kitchen at 2 pm. She was even more surprised, and concerned, when I said I wasn’t going back. Ever.
A small subcontractor of my previous employer immediately hired me to be a project manager. I stayed for 7 years and retired the first time at 65. What was different about my new employment situation? Low on rules, high on individual and team responsibility. The owner and I knew, respected, and trusted each other. I liked my work. I never thought about work/life balance through those years. Judy liked to see me happy and never complained about longer hours. She did warn me that I should begin to develop more interests and that she had no intention of becoming my retirement entertainment committee. Then I retired.
I lasted 7 retired months; 2 months of the joy of no responsibilities, 5 months of Judy and me coming to agreement that excessive leisure (which looked good in my dreamscape) was a terrible fit for me on a daily basis. Having socked away my 90-day salary settlement and adding to it over those 7 years, I was able to buy a retail food franchise upon retirement. Working my rear end off for 3 years I made a huge success of it and sold it for much more than I had expected. In the beginning, it was rough. I hadn’t realized how much important work and how many crucial decisions – retirement planning, health care coverage, vacation policies, professional development, financial stability, strong vendor relationships, financial institution support, human resources – I had unthinkingly outsourced to my employers. I never thought of work/life balance during those early entrepreneurial years. Why? It wasn’t about balance at all. It was about the fact that I had control over my time, long hours and all. And I loved the challenge.
After selling the retail food franchise business, Judy and I took 9 months to travel. We flew and sailed and drove and went by train all over the place. For the first 7 months, we were deliriously happy. Then I began to complain. My work/life balance was out of kilter. I had too much life and not enough self-employment. Balance was important. So were challenge and deep engagement. We returned home simultaneously triumphant and disturbed. After intense and happy research, we started an online camping equipment business. Judy loves to camp. I don’t, but I love equipment generally and her enthusiasm.
Here we are, 3 years later with a significant online camping equipment business. Judy is our face person and also our big generator of ideas. I am the back of the house, negotiating with vendors and making sure that we didn’t have to invest in inventory, warehousing, or shipping facilities. I learned a lot from watching Amazon. Instead, our business model involves paying suppliers well and they drop ship directly to our customers. Judy works closely with the vendors to develop new products. I work closely with customer feedback and finance to make sure we’re delivering real, consistent value. Neither of us thinks about work/life balance. We chose this way of life – knowing what to anticipate and not much about the many, many surprises in store for us.
At 77 and 76, we see ourselves as entering into a new phase with new conversations. We love what we are doing, especially doing so much of it together. Yet, there will be a time when – just to be realistic and pragmatic – we will have a tough decision to make. Do we want to keep going, knowing that when something happens to one of us the other will be left to do all the cleanup and liquidation/selling of the business OR do we want to do that together soon so that neither of us has to face that burden alone?
We haven’t decided which of these alternatives we’re going to choose but we’re definitely hot and heavy into discussing it. Either way, we left the lie of work/life balance far behind us as soon as we admitted the real struggle we were having wasn’t about work/life balance at all. It was about having control of our own lives and living like grownups with our own decisions.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think what we’ve done is necessarily for everyone. We do think, however, that it would be much less stressful for most people in long term jobs to accept the realities of their choices rather than carrying on about work life balance.
We have cell phones and texts and email and scanning that invade our time just like most other people have whether they are freelancing, self-employed entrepreneurs, or long term employees. The world of work is still about jobs but not just about jobs. The workplace revolution is well underway. We think the solution is to find or create the right match for ourselves, not to struggle for elusive control in any situation in which it’s unlikely at best.”
What are your own thoughts about work/life balance in our New Normal? How is it working for you and what have you chosen to do about it?
What’s Different About Financial Advising In The New Normal?
I recently interviewed an experienced financial planner to discuss how financial planning and the advice people need has changed in The New Normal.
George: What was your work like when you first came into the Financial Services industry?
Financial Planner: It used to be so much simpler in the Old Normal when the norm for my clients was to predictably retire at 65. We all knew what retirement was supposed to look like. Retirement planning and investing were much less complex because of several factors. Entrepreneurism was not as prevalent. It seemed that most employees worked for large companies with pensions, retirement and healthcare benefits which are now almost obsolete. The gig economy and freelancing didn’t exist as it does today. Most people only had one long term job and source of income. Investing back then was mostly accomplished through buying stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Tax shelters were popular and would allow for generous write-offs against income. Insurance provided additional protection. At a specified retirement age, corporate employees could count on lifetime income payments from their employers and from Social Security. Future income was more secure and much of it could be known in advance, which made financial and investment planning much easier.
George: What was your process then?
“The old process” wasn’t a formula that investors could mathematically grasp and was often not the objective. We had some software that could calculate inflation-adjusted future income needs above and beyond the expected entitlements, so targeting a dollar amount and growing enough savings to generate that income was based on assuming a rate of savings and a rate of return. Most investors were just looking for ‘growth’ or ‘more money when I retire’. When the stock market was strong, discount brokerage firms became popular to ‘do it yourself’, and even speculative day trading was a bold way for investors to try to aggressively making money without a clear plan. Financial planners are more valuable now than the vintage stockbrokers because more planning and managing is involved, and clients don’t generally have the time or inclination to make constant decisions given the complexity of today’s markets.
George: What’s so different now?
Financial Planner: Where should I start? Welcome to the New Normal. For openers, not everyone will be able or want to retire. And their population segment is growing dramatically. Retirement is not homogenous and now has many faces and stories, as brought home to me by your recent blog. Not only is there a retirement savings deficit, most people after 50 don’t have enough years left to simply save their way out of the hole. Where our money comes from isn’t homogenous now either. It’s not just about jobs. I read a statistic that 50 million Americans are generating a billion dollars through freelancing, both full time and part time. Institutions are providing a much smaller portion of what retirees can count on. Most retirement savings are based on our own contributions and are more susceptible to falling short. So many sophisticated investment vehicles have been developed using complex technology that clients can now be very specific in their objectives and find a customizable way to work toward goals. Diversification is far broader because of so many securities and opportunities created in different industries and commodities that were previously only available to large institutions or not available at all to an average investor. The types of relationships that investors can have with advisors, compensation arrangements, and the tools that we can provide have all evolved and multiplied. The financial services industry has become less focused on transactions and more focused on professional management and planning services that were once only accessible to very high net worth individuals.
George: Do you have any recommendations for your fellow financial advisors?
Financial Advisor: In the New Normal we advisors need insight into the minds, lives, and futures of a new breed of empty-nesters, the realities of the generations coming up behind them, and what they are all actually facing in the coming decades. It’s like clients first need an adaptable, phased life plan that informs our financial planning instead of the other way around the way it used to be. I love the concept that “Retirement” isn’t about a single transition or phase of life any more. It’s about accepting and adapting to a lifetime of transitions. Financial advisors need to be reminded that people over 50 in real life don’t fit into stagnant profiles or static investments.
Our professional world has already shifted because our clients’ realities and futures are so different. These people are amazingly diverse. With the popularity of fee-based investment programs, we financial advisors need to develop a full set of ongoing financial planning skills instead of relying on a circumstantial or transactional type business. We may need to find a very qualified life planner with whom we can form a team. Our ability to add additional value lies in being part of a larger planning effort. Once the team is in place, the life plan, the financial plan, and the financial status will have to be reviewed annually together, not just a review of financial performance.
George: Thanks for talking with me.
Financial Advisor: It was a pleasure. Come back any time. And when your new book about all of this comes out in August, I’ll be in line to buy one.
IS THE NEW NORMAL OVER?
….it depends on how you define The New Normal and what your discontinuous future holds in store for you.
“The road that we’ve been on for such a long time, the so-called ‘new normal,’ is coming to an end, because it’s being eaten up by its own contradictions,” said Mohamed El-Erian, during an interview on Bloomberg TV. Mr. El-Erian is the chief economic advisor of Allianz SE. He was describing global political economy attempts to wrestle itself (at least somewhat) from the hands of central banks.
That may work for Mr. El-Erian and economics, but how about for those of us 50 plus who are planning (or not) and living professional and personal lives amidst the current uncertainties?
How about for those of us who are professional advisors (financial, legal, health, career, education) to people After 50?
Joe and Ellen, both 67, are adept at living in the Old Normal. Joe works in sales for a small, specialty pharmaceutical firm. Ellen, a nurse, stopped working when their children were toddlers and never got around to going back to work because she was always so busy. Now they have grown children, Joe’s long term employment, a house, preferences for their retirement, and about 1/3 of what they will need for retirement already saved (plus Social Security).
Of the several Old Normal life tools, their favorite is problem solving:
- define the problem
- create solution action steps
- execute the action steps
- get to the solution
- move beyond it forever
Among Joe’s and Ellen’s professional advisors is their Financial Advisor, Phil, age 52. Over the past 15 years, Joe and Phil have done a good job of managing their money. Ellen has been advised but didn’t get very involved. Phil, a hardworking and trustworthy professional, also loves problem solving:
- How old are you now?
- At what age do you want to retire?
- How long can we expect you to live?
- How much money will you need each year after work ends and before the end of your life?
- After Social Security and current savings/equities, how much remains to be saved per year until you retire so that you have the retirement money you need?
- Which investment products/programs best meet your need for safety, growth, and return?
Framed this way, it all seems manageable and quantifiable, although the dollar amount remaining to be saved for age 75 retirement is daunting. If they just execute on the investment plan everything will be fine.
What Joe, Ellen, and Phil don’t know is:
- Joe will be diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal cancer in 4 years and be gone in 7 months, leaving substantial hospital bills after health insurance pays the majority of the costs.
- Joe’s and Ellen’s divorced daughter and her children will come to live with Ellen for a transition time. The daughter will be working on earning a college degree that will qualify her for better employment.
- Phil will have a major job educating Ellen about where her money is and how to work with him to manage it well. Ellen will need to be financially literate.
- Ellen will have to go back to work but will require substantial retraining first, even to do home health care for the elderly.
- Joe’s shares in his employer/company will be worth far less than expected due to litigation over pricing and efficacy issues.
- Ellen and three widowed, long-time friends will buy a home together and form an intentional community for support and expense sharing.
- Ellen will live to be 102. She will outlive her daughter.
What makes this much more New Normal than Old Normal? The Answer: Little in life can be defined as a problem with a solution that actually results in a permanent resolution. Instead, Ellen, Phil, Joe’s and Ellen’s daughter, and the other members of Ellen’s intentional living community will have to:
- Regularly stop and substantially rethink their situations and the next smart steps.
- Remember that each day and week will require proactive effort on their parts. Anything akin to being on retirement cruise control won’t work.
- Make ongoing course corrections and small to large decisions without knowing what the future holds.
- Adjust their thinking to include a big emerging reality: the increased likelihood that they are going to live longer, requiring up to date professional skills, extended work-for-pay that might or might not be configured as a job, and the ability to finance and enjoy a longer life.
How much of the New Normal is emerging in your life? How is it showing up? What are ways you have found to adjust to it?
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?
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?
SOME OF THE MANY FACES OF RETIREMENT
There was a time when you said the word “Retirement” and everyone knew what it meant.
There was a consensual definition and set of expectations that looked like this: You had worked for years, probably at the same company, reasonably assured that you could move “up the ladder” as the people above you retired or transferred and made room for you. It was a stable company in which the organizational structure, job titles/descriptions, and experience/skills tended to have long shelf lives. Retirement was something to look forward to; a new and discrete stage of life. The time came at 65 when, after years of service, you were entitled to a parting gift, a recognition party, a pension check (large or small), and the final reward of entering your golden years of endless leisure. Some younger person stepped into your job and overnight you were free of responsibility for the first time in your adult life. You could be and do anything you wanted. It sounded like the ideal situation, although it often didn’t play out that way in practice in the lives of retirees.
Fast forward to Retirement today:
Bill and Doris Green both worked for the same company straight out of college beginning in 1975. When the kids came along, Doris left to be a stay at home mom. Bill changed employers twice, both times for significant promotions in manufacturing management. Pensions and defined benefit plans had, of course, gone away. In their place the Greens made it a priority to put money into 401Ks and employer matching plans as well as building a significant equity in their home over time. When he was 54, with two kids in college, Bill’s company was sold, his job was declared “redundant”, and he was laid off. Despite his best efforts, Bill was unable to land another comparable position in the decreasing pool of such jobs. They lived on their savings. Eventually Doris went to work in retail and Bill went back to school for retraining in technologies. It was a tough time. Their kids are now out of college. Both Doris and Bill are employed. Tearfully, they sold their house at the top of the market and now rent an apartment, which to their great surprise, has proven to be a happy change. They have rebuilt some of their savings but certainly not enough to stop working. As they look toward “Retirement” it looks increasingly like eventual part time work for both of them, indefinitely combined with local interests and activities. Their biggest retirement worry is outliving their money. Retirement isn’t a new and discrete phase of life in their future. It’s an integrated and logical extension of the decisions they are making and the life they are living now.
Barbara Kushner thought she and her husband had it all together financially and personally. They had just retired to Arizona from Ohio. She was looking forward to music and golf – a life of volunteering and good works. Then her husband, Tom, died suddenly. Barbara had never paid attention to the financial side of their lives. Tom took care of all of that. When he died she was suddenly propelled into a relationship with a financial advisor she didn’t know, a set of financial concepts and languages she didn’t understand, and a combination of decisions she wasn’t prepared to make yet couldn’t delay. It turned out that Tom had made two unwise investments that had recently eliminated a large portion of their net worth. She certainly isn’t going to lose the house nor is she going to be destitute. However, she will have to downscale her life style in order to live within her means. For Barbara, retirement looks like learning a whole body of financial knowledge she should have learned earlier, working part time, and gathering her friends and family around her to help her make the necessary transitions.
Carol Folsom and Rick Smedley met in law school years ago. Married early, they both pursued high powered, well paid professional careers. When their daughter came along, they readily adapted to sharing responsibility for her combined with a full time nanny. Their daughter grown and gone, they are both at the top of their careers and beginning to execute on their retirement plan. Carol and Rick had worked intensely hard for years, largely buffered by their professions from the business roller coaster beyond their doors. They are going to keep their condo in Chicago but have also purchased a condo in Florida. They plan winters in Florida and summers at home. Money is not an issue. Having been active and financially able philanthropists for years, they are moving a portion of their money to a Community Foundation in Florida, which will automatically make them members of an elite community of donors and non-profit board members. Rick is buying a boat. Carol is joining a tennis club. They are both planning on taking Lifelong Learning classes. Retirement for Rick and Carol looks like the ability to step into communities and interests that will provide them with new stimulation and friendships.
Ted Dawson failed retirement. Twice. Divorced and unsettled at 60; he jumped on the opportunity to retire, thinking it would be a fresh and wonderful relaunch for him. With his kids’ support, he visited 15 of the cities featured in 99 Best Places To Retire, chose the best one for him, bought a house and moved. This all happened quickly after the announcement was made that he was retiring from dentistry. During the first year in his new home and city, Ted volunteered widely. He worked at developing non-profit board expertise. He threw small dinner parties for other retirees in his neighborhood. Eventually he realized that part time volunteering wasn’t enough in his case and that he needed to find a full time job. For two years he became the Executive Director of a local non-profit. When he had taken the organization as far as he could take it, he retired again. Six months later, he felt as if he was floundering again, clearly wanting something he could own. The solution turned out to come with an opportunity to buy into a local dental practice and work 3 days a week, effectively job sharing with another dentist who wanted ownership and part time practice too. For Ted retirement looks like a combination of ownership, part time practice, volunteering, and uncommitted time.
There was a time when the word “retirement” was a bit like the word “apple”. Say either word and immediately almost everyone had a common image of it in their minds.
Now the word “retirement” is more akin to the word “shoe”. There are hundreds of images and we all need to find/create the right fit for ourselves.
What do you imagine the right retirement fit will look like for you?
The After 50 Goal Shift – From Validation to OK Anyway
Aging, let it be acknowledged, seldom arrives in our lives all at once. Instead, it appears in large and small changes in our environment. I was recently on a crowded metropolitan bus and a very polite teenager stood up and offered her seat. At first I looked around to see where her gestures were directed and was flabbergasted to realize…she was offering her seat to ME.
Gray hair. Loss of longtime friends. Fine print getting smaller (Surely it can’t be our eyes!). Consonants or vowels becoming more elusive in fast paced vocal music. Widespread challenges to our iconic values and beliefs (like permanent employment, home ownership, the relevance and place of a college education, our alliances with one political party or another). Our precious little grandchildren turning into people as tall (or taller) than we are, with strong opinions and positions of their own. Loss of muscle tone and skin suppleness. The winnowing of what’s important to us and how we continue to reassure ourselves of our potency and efficacy. Openness (or the opposite) to new experiences. The tectonic shifts in what we aspire to and what these aspirations mean to us.
All of this is offset, at least in part, by some magical combination of having little left to prove, greater patience with ourselves and others, a much shorter list of things we think of as life and death issues, the reward of longtime friends to whom we don’t have to explain a thing, and new friends who bring fresh ideas and interests to the mix of our lives.
If we’re paying attention this can be an amazingly rich period of life regardless of the national elections and turmoil.
Which brings me to our increasingly tricky relationship with goals After 50.
Earlier in our lives goals were a part of a complex approach to our personal development, and focusing primarily on our goals could be a kind of roller coaster. Still, If things didn’t work out we had lots of recuperative years left to move on and conquer something else. Goals were often irretrievably intertwined with our validation.
Example: Being a salesperson with significant, monthly territory sales goals. If you made your numbers you were on top of the world, but you were only as good as this month’s numbers. Next month you had to prove yourself all over again.
Example: Being a parent whose sense of successful parenting depended upon kids’ grades, athletic prowess, and college admissions. If your kid did well in your eyes, you had achieved your parental goal. If your kid did not do well there was something wrong with both of you. And you couldn’t be really OK until your kid was.
Example: Taking off 25 pounds and fitting into that dress or suit for your high school or college reunion. You were often only as good, at least for that evening, as your weight loss achievement.
Note in each example the direct correlation between your goal achievement and your sense of your own OKness.
Linda and I have friends (a married couple) who are serial entrepreneurs. They worked together in each business across the decades. Two years ago, for the first time, they disagreed. Her goal was to retire. His goal was to start a brand new entrepreneurial business. Eventually the wife capitulated. It was a struggle. He was only going to be as OK as his new venture was successful. How did they get through? For the first time in their lives together it was OK to have goals BUT NOT to hook their personal OKness to goal achievement. Their OKness had to be hooked to something else or, like the salesperson example above, they could only be as OK as their latest performance and results. Not the ideal condition for high quality of later life.
We also have long time friends who set up an elaborate set of travel goals. They had just retired and were so happy together. Their sense of self-esteem was closely coupled to the goals of being able to check each of the continents off their bucket list until none remained. Quite suddenly the husband died of lung cancer. Was it great that they had goals? Yes. Was it great that, as a widow, the wife’s OKness was uniformly tied to her husband and their shared bucket list of goals? No. She had to do the painful work of creating new goals for herself and not tying her ultimate OKness to them.
This all comes up for me now because I’ve just realized one of my biggest goals. I have signed a contract with a national publisher to publish my new book. Manuscript is due 12/15/16. Publication date is around July 1, 2017. What’s different for me – and somehow paradoxical – is that I can and do have goals but no longer have the luxury of letting them define my OKness. It’s not easy to give up the success/failure paradigm. I’d have to be pretty much OK whichever way the publication hammer falls. This is a huge shift in my relationship to goals.
What are your goals now?
What do you do to create your consistent OKness that isn’t tied to goal achievement?
I Do Therefore I Am With My Apologies to “The Reader”
Even for us it has been an extremely busy summer: My wife Linda’s work. My work. One to four granddaughters living with us over the course of six weeks. The new book in publisher review. Travel. Staying current with what’s being written in my field. Sogetsu Ikebana. TV appearances. Attending to my own becoming which, as a human development expert, is as much a part of my daily integrity as physical workouts would be for an Exercise Physiologist. The normal demands of home ownership and being in society. Coursework. My ongoing writings, including these blogs. Watching, slack jawed, national political campaigns unfold. Guests and dinners. Beginning the all-new new book project.
Yesterday morning my friend Eric and his bike appeared as scheduled at 6:30 am in our driveway. He rides every day and can leave me in the dust, but slows down for companionship rides with me once or twice a week. Rick knows I can always ride our 16-20 miles, punctuated by a stop at Coffee World at around the 14 mile mark. He also knows that I can’t (and don’t want to) go as fast as he can.
Which brings me to the crème colored leather chair in our family room that looks out onto the lake. Stick with me here. I promise to pull all of this together.
After returning home from the bike ride with Eric, I showered, dressed and sat down in the chair intending to bounce right back up and get to work. Instead I spent the day sitting there. Admittedly I took client calls, did my email and eventually cooked dinner for Linda and me, but for the most part I read. No music. No tv. Just our wonderfully silent house and that pile of reading I had been looking forward to.
As I sat there reflecting, all of this brought two experiences to my mind.
First was an encounter with the man I still think of as “The Reader”. We met him only once, several years ago, at a local party. I’ve long since forgotten his name or what he looks like, but he made quite an impression on me. He was in his late 60’s and had been retired for a few years. When I asked him how he spent his time he said his life was a circuit between his best reading chair and his favorite used book store. He’d buy a few books, go home and read them, and then go buy more books so he could go home and read some more. For variety he would sit and read outdoors instead of inside. He was serious and his wife verified it. I was quietly flabbergasted. How could a grown man not exercise his gifts in some contributory way? I can see now that I owe The Reader a quiet apology. His lifestyle wouldn’t work for me, but he was and is free to choose for himself.
Second was a Nextel ad campaign selling cell phone services. Plastered on city buses and billboards with bright yellow backgrounds and black print were the words: “I do. Therefore I am.” I was not so quietly outraged. Did they actually mean to suggest that existence depended upon being in motion? Had we lost our right to NOT do and still be? Existentially it stunk and I wasn’t happy about it. It was easier to suck me in then than it is now. And I still think the campaign was designed by young savants with little life understanding or interest beyond new and motion.
Which brings me back to the crème colored chair; my repository as it were for the day. It was only one day and it isn’t a pattern, but I do think being able to sit there for a day and mostly read is a step forward for me. It’s a pleasurable After 50 gift I could not have unwrapped or appreciated much earlier in my life. And I’m looking forward to another such day eventually. Just knowing I can do it is comforting and I may, like many of us, have to get better at it when I am much, much older.
What are you discovering about your own After 50 gifts that you couldn’t have appreciated or enjoyed much earlier in your life?