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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:

  1. define the problem
  2. create solution action steps
  3. execute the action steps
  4. get to the solution
  5. 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:

  1. How old are you now?
  2. At what age do you want to retire?
  3. How long can we expect you to live?
  4. How much money will you need each year after work ends and before the end of your life?
  5. 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?
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Ellen will have to go back to work but will require substantial retraining first, even to do home health care for the elderly.
  5. Joe’s shares in his employer/company will be worth far less than expected due to litigation over pricing and efficacy issues.
  6. Ellen and three widowed, long-time friends will buy a home together and form an intentional community for support and expense sharing.
  7. 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:

  1. Regularly stop and substantially rethink their situations and the next smart steps.
  2. Remember that each day and week will require proactive effort on their parts.   Anything akin to being on retirement cruise control won’t work.
  3. Make ongoing course corrections and small to large decisions without knowing what the future holds.
  4. 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?

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?

 

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?

 

My Big Book News

Writing a book, as you may know, requires multiple skills. At the conceptual level, whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, you must have the core ideas and the ability to articulate the content. You have to make it interesting, coherent, and allow the reader to connect the dots. It’s all too easy to lose track or become overwhelmed with so many things in motion.

Sort of like having your first baby, it’s can be charming in concept and utterly different in practice.

I’m having a baby. Fortunately it’s not my first. I have some idea of what I have gotten myself into, although books can be as different from one another as each of our kids can be.

It’s a book about what we have to understand to craft After 50 lives in a world of increasingly short term planning – a world without fixed pathways, reliable signposts, stable rules, or fallback guaranties. I’ve just signed a publishing contract with AMACOM, the publishing division of the American Management Association. The book proposal, outline, introduction, and several completed chapters came first. Many of the interviews were completed early with a small number remaining to be done.  I didn’t, of course, do this alone. I had the support of my virtual team of editor, subject matter interviewees, social media professionals, and trusted colleagues. Their jobs were to 1. Read the manuscript and give me those blinding glimpses of the obvious that elude writers from time to time and 2. Make sure I am not hanging my current OKness on this book or forgetting all of my biography that preceded it.

Now the fully completed manuscript is due in mid-December for an anticipated July 1 publication date. I think of this as upping my game and expanding my sphere of possibilities. It’s very exciting.

Several of my friends are choosing to shrink their worlds overall. Several others are expanding their possibilities. Yet others are downsizing their possessions, and growing both their spheres of interest and their professional/volunteer engagement simultaneously. There are also some with zero awareness of even the questions surrounding these decisions and actions.

All of these approaches are highly personal and not subject to second guessing by me.   That said, my own experience of the new book contract leads me to wonder about the choices my blog readers are making.

What kind of life planning are you doing?

How far out can you reasonably plan?

When can you know you are on track or off?

Please let me know and thanks.

Rethinking the 4-Stage Life Model

 

Remember the four-stage life model?

1. Childhood

2. Education

3. Work and Family

4. Retirement

It seemed to work so well for our parents and grandparents.  But our world is very different from theirs.  So is this model obsolete?

For many, if not most of us, I believe the answer is a resounding YES.

 

Why?  Let me count some of the ways.

  1. Many of us are living far longer than our parents’ generation, and with those additional years (even decades) our needs and expectations will be different than in generations past.   Will you live longer and healthier than your parents?
  2. The famous financial planning three-legged stool may require a fourth leg.  The first leg, the planned benefit retirement with pensions, is growing scarce.  The second, Social Security,  may be at risk, at least in the form it is now.  The third, retirement savings, is, in the majority of households, grossly insufficient.  Many people will need extended, if smaller, income streams from some type of work for pay to bring some stability to the weakened legs of the stool.   Do/will you have all three legs in place and absolutely assured?   How long will you have to work for pay at what you are doing now?  Might you need or want additional income stream(s)?
  3. The elimination of entire segments of jobs, companies, and industries puts income security at risk.  What we studied in college and learned in the jobs we later held are no longer a guarantee of employability in the future.  How solid is the match between your skills/expertise and the emerging, in-demand jobs/gigs in today’s world of work for pay?   What have you done to update your employability and skill set?
  4. Many of our institutions—marriage, churches, healthcare systems, employee/employer partnerships, governments—have transformed, and in so doing weakened traditional safety nets.  With later-in-life divorces on the rise, the perceived value of churchgoing on the wane, healthcare costs rising, employers showing little loyalty to employees and government programs inadequate, that support has weakened. Can anyone or any institution be more responsible for you than you are?  Upon which institutions can you depend for your future?

The alternative

If the four-stage life model is outmoded, what should take its place?

I propose a six-stage model:

1. Childhood

2. Work/Education

3. Work/Family

4. Work/Extended Mid Life

5. Work/Leisure, and

6. Needs Help Elderly

What?  No retirement?   How unfair!   Well, not really.    Let’s get real here, one stage at a time.

Childhood.  Childhood used to be simple to identify.  Children were young and shorter and less mature.  And with years and height and experience, they grew out of it.  And left home.  Now it’s much more complicated.  Kids move out and often move back in, not always alone.   Employment problems, financial difficulty, marital problems, and saving money for education are only a few contributing factors.  While these kids may also be grownups, and living with parents on an extended basis prolongs the parent/kid bond, the jury is still out on the long-term impact on both the adult children and the aging parents.  For purposes of this blog I would like to define children as those dependent upon their parents for financial support, judgment and critical thinking, and guidance about crucial life choices.

Work/Education.  At some point in high school or before/during college, some experience of the world can make a huge contribution to the quality of learning and depth of maturity.  Malia Obama is going to take a “gap year” before going to Harvard as a freshman.   Gap year doesn’t mean empty time or a traditional job.  It means the space for transformative learning between academics-dominated periods of time.   Ms. Obama is not average, I admit, but she isn’t non-representative either.  My own 17-year-old granddaughter, Laura, will be living with my wife Linda and me this summer (a gap summer!) between her junior and senior years of high school.  She will be volunteering 2 days a week at a marine biology center and interning 3 days a week at a regional Women’s Resource Center.

In my day, work and education were considered separate realms.  Today, with technologies and integrated learning, I think they do and must overlap.

Work/Family.  Eventually Laura will complete college, find one or more good fits in the work for pay department (not necessarily a job), and join/form one or more bonded groups.   Some will be genetically connected and some won’t.   All may form a part of extended family.

Work/Extended Midlife.  If we’re going to live longer and healthier, we have a choice to make.  Do we want to add those years to our elderly period or would we like to add them to our midlife?  I vote for midlife.  Why?  Because the period between 50 and elderly can be the most rewarding of our lives.  We can do some of the most significant, creative, meaningful things in our lives at this time.  And we may want to consider a kind gap year for ourselves—not between high school and college or college and graduate school, but between careers.

Work/Leisure.  We may not be slowing down as we age, but there will be a shift in the balance between work (freelancing, entrepreneurial efforts, jobs) and leisure (volunteering, individual creative projects, athletics, hobbies, travel).  Certainly not a dead stop, as in one day fully employed, next day fully retired.   We’ll still be driven by the need for an income stream, extended belonging (which we often find at our place of work) and ongoing intellectual stimulation.

Needs Help/Older.  We may not be the first to realize we’ve reached the point where we need help in one or more aspects of our lives.  Regardless, denial may arise.  So may reality.  I think it’s a skill, certainly a graceful skill, to listen well to someone who thinks we need help and then make a clean, informed decision about it.  It’s an equally graceful skill to notice something about ourselves and ask for help.

The distribution of our lives over a longer time frame will require reorienting ourselves to altered realities and needs.  It will also mean surrendering models that are obsolete, and that can take tenacity and courage.

What are you doing in anticipation of your own future life?

 

Life in the Middle Lane – Guest Blog by John Trauth

Youth is life in the fast lane.  Our metabolism is high, our reflexes are quick, our intensity is great, and we live at a fast pace.  As we explore what life has to offer, we take risks in the belief that life is eternal.  We believe that any misfortunes or setbacks will be followed by rapid recovery, and very soon we will be back in the fast lane.  Ergo, zoom!

But we can’t keep this up forever.   As author John Jensen once said, “The trouble with life in the fast lane is that you get to the other end in an awful hurry.”

As we age, our metabolism gradually decreases and we begin to slow down. “Life in the Middle Lane” now more aptly describes our lifestyle.  We pursue our careers, we build our families, we gain and grow from experience, and we now look beyond the present and into the future as we build our assets and invest in our retirement accounts.  As we mature, we tend to take fewer risks, physical, financial and emotional, since we realize it will take us longer to recover and time is no longer on our side.  Our parents pass on, and we personally experience life no longer as a perpetual journey but as a finite one.

But if we keep ourselves “fit,” physically, financially and emotionally (as discussed in our last newsletter), this middle lane can sustain a long and productive life.  The problem comes when we retire.

Many of us look forward to a less active lifestyle in retirement.  “Now, at last, I can relax and just do the things I want to do.”  With no specific schedule, we can “sleep in.”  “My retirement will be a perpetual vacation.” Now it will be “Life in the Slow Lane.”

Sound nice?  The problem is that life in the slow lane sends physiological signals to both your body and your mind that it is time to shut down, as explained in detail in the book, “Younger Next Year” (see “Resources” section below).  Life in the slow lane is actually a fast way to demise and death.  There are too many examples of people who retired, expecting a long life of leisure, and died soon thereafter.

Many of us do not realize that work gives our lives three very important things: structure (when to get up in the morning, where to go, when to come home, etc.), purpose (a cause to pursue), and a community of other people with whom to engage on a daily basis.  And while we may complain about the physical demands of our work, meeting those demands raises our metabolism and keeps us active and functioning.  So, in retirement, we need to re-create structure, purpose and community for our lives which will, in turn, keep us going.

The trick is how to do this in a way that will make us fulfilled.  In our book, “Your Retirement, Your Way,” we take readers through a process of self-discovery which will help them make the choices that are right for them as they craft their “New Life.” Step by step, they create for themselves a lifestyle which will be consistent with their unique personality and individual motivational needs, leading to satisfaction and fulfillment.  Then they develop a strategy to get there and a financial plan to support their new lifestyle.

It may seem counterintuitive but it’s true that, in “retirement,” by raising metabolism, challenging ourselves mentally and physically, and continuing to explore new horizons, we continue to grow and postpone decay. The intent is to preserve “Life in the Middle Lane” as long as possible, which will in turn help preserve us for the long term, physically, mentally and emotionally.

“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid of standing still.

—Old Chinese proverb

Management consultant and speaker John Trauth is the author of “Your Retirement, Your Way.”  

Resources 

An excellent book on the subject of crafting a healthy, fulfilling life in middle age and beyond is “Younger Next Year,” by Chris Crowley and Harry S. Lodge, M.D.

Dr. Lodge, a prominent physician, focuses on developments in cellular and evolutionary biology, explaining that how we live sends important signals to our body. Crowley, his guinea pig, was in bad shape when he retired and his physical’s test scores were like those of a much older man. As a result, Dr. Lodge gave him only a few years to live.  By creating an active and healthy life for himself, applying Dr. Lodge’s advice, he is now older but active and in much better shape, physically and mentally, with test scores of a much younger man and increased life expectancy.  Hence the title, “Younger Next Year.”

It is an easily readable and entertaining book.  The key lesson here is not trying to stop the aging process (there is only one way to do that, and it is not pretty) but rather slowing it down.  By doing so, the authors contend that you can live like you were in your 50s well into your 70s and 80s.  Not a bad goal for any of us.

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