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A for Accomplishment

A for Accomplishment

Monetary aspects of retirement are usually first and foremost in people’s minds. They diligently save money for their golden years. This is a fear based approach though. People worry about not having money to live after they stop working so they singularly focus on that.

I was the perfect example of that kind of singular focus. The minute I was convinced I had enough financial resources to sustain my life, I retired. The honeymoon phase of retirement is nice. Not having to wake up early every day; not sitting through endless and meaningless meetings; not having to deal with people who don’t hesitate to hurt you in order to advance their careers. Retirement was bliss, for a minute!

Some of us are intrinsically driven. Work provides more than money for us to live, it provides meaning and satisfaction. Turns out, I am one of those people. I missed the structure of waking up at a set time to start my day; I missed the camaraderie of (some) of my colleagues; I even missed some of the meetings where useful projects were discussed and accomplished.

Accomplishment is one of the dimensions of well being according to positive psychology. After retirement, a significant contributor to this dimension is no longer available. It is natural to become bored or feel useless. Statistics show that depression, alcoholism, and divorce rates go up for retirees. We need to find new ways to satisfy this part of our lives. These can include volunteering, taking on a part time job, starting a business, going back to school, etc. 

A friend of mine chose volunteering and part time work. Every time we talk, I see that the spark, that she had lost after retirement, has returned to her eyes. I am so happy for her. I chose volunteering, and school, and new business. Unfortunately, the pandemic ended my volunteer opportunity, but I am grateful for the two businesses that I started. Not only do they provide additional income but also an opportunity to learn new things and a sense of accomplishment.

So, as you ponder your retirement, please take a moment to reflect and consider how you are going to address this important dimension of well being. Will you learn a new trade like wood carving or cake decorating? (Working with your hands is an important way to slow cognitive decline.) Will you start mentoring your younger former colleagues? Will you at long last start that coffee roasting business that you had been thinking about for years, like one of my former clients did? Whatever it is, even just reflecting and planning for these things will help.

Wishing you a fulfilling retirement!

Let’s do this! (1)

Let’s do this! (1)

I decided to retire at 55. I didn’t have a plan A or a B for what I would do once I got to Chicago. This much I knew though, I was going to move to Chicago eventually. I had purchased a condo there the year before, just a couple of weeks before my granddaughter was born. I purchased the condo thinking it would be a crash pad for when I drove up to see my daughter and her family. Living in it permanently was a long term plan. I didn’t expect my working conditions to turn to hell so quickly, but they did and I decided to take early retirement. My long term plan became a very short term reality.

Fast forward 6 years and I am flourishing, gratefully. I stumbled through these six years, bumping into many walls, most of which were my own making. 

Recently, I delivered several webinars and workshops related to dealing with change in our lives. What started as an academic exercise, turned into a personal revelation. Turns out, my experience was a textbook case of transition.

The late Dr. William Bridges wrote that change is what happens and transition is how we process that change internally. His three step transition process starts with an ending. Retirement is this ending. Then comes the “neutral zone” which is one of confusion, but can also be one of creativity. The walls that I bumped against, all the shopping trips I made were a part of this confusion. My identity took a hit with retirement. If I wasn’t an Assistant VP at Ball State University, who was I? With a lot of luck and help, I finally figured this out and it has nothing to do with what I do for a living. The last stage of transition is the “new beginning.” I feel that I have finally am at this stage. 

Join me in this series of posts as I try to articulate this process through both my personal experience and plenty of learning and reading. I hope you can find some useful kernels for your life. 

Much love

#retirementcoaching #lifecoaching #lifetransition #managingchange

Sky Is Falling

Sky Is Falling

Is it just me, or does Chicken Little live in everyone’s head? Knowing that there are umpteen books on anxiety, and countless memes/words of wisdom of encouragement, I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

In their book “The Resilience Factor” psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte call this “sky is falling” thinking process catastrophizing. We all do it. We take a mole hill and turn it into a mountain. It starts out innocently, for our protection. But, over the years, this protection turns into extreme chatter that limits our lives.

Covid certainly made things worse, especially for us members of the mature crowd. And for good reason. I wrote about my own brush with fear of Covid in an earlier blog. This time, I want to offer another possible way to overcome the “sky is falling” thoughts. Drs Reivich and Shatte suggest this technique of disputation. Let’s give it a shot:

The Chicken Little in my head tries to convince me that the worst possible outcome will come to pass. As my 4 year old grandson is running through the house, all I can think of is oh my god he’s going to go through the window, or fall down the stairs, or, or , or… As I am asked to present a webinar, all I can think of is, these people already know what I’m going to say, how can I possibly contribute? These are not the thoughts I want, nor do I like them.

How can I overcome this Chicken Little in my head? With evidence: My grandson has been running through his house ever since he has learned to run. That’s what little boys do. He knows his way around his own house and where to stop running. I can trust him. The people/organizations who have asked me to present a webinar think that I have something to contribute because they have heard me speaking at another event. I can trust myself, and them.

I dispute Chicken Little’s prediction that Cameron will hurt himself or I will fall flat on my face during the presentation with evidence that those predictions are false based on past experience. So instead of stopping Cameron from enjoying himself or stopping myself from meeting new people or earning some money, I allow myself to go past those limits. I hush Chicken Little with evidence that the sky is in fact not falling.

Emotional Resilience Practice

Emotional Resilience Practice

Just as we think we are leaving Covid 19 behind and returning to our “normal” lives, there is talk about a new variant, Deltacron (a combination of Delta and Omicron), surfacing. It is understandable to feel discouraged if not defeated. Acknowledging these emotions is really important if we are to continue our lives with hope and enthusiasm.

When I first heard about the RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, nurture) meditation from the wonderful Tara Brach, I was still in the habit of pushing my emotions down and pushing through life. But then one day during the early days of Covid I had the unfortunate opportunity to practice it. Since then, I have not only become a believer but tell about it to everyone. Here’s my story:

One April morning in 2020, I woke up not feeling normal. I went about my routine of starting my coffee and drinking my glass of water, but something was amiss. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking and my heart was racing. At first I tried my usual “this too shall pass” attitude but it didn’t. I made my way to my couch to steady myself. I remembered RAIN and decided to give it a try.

I recognized that I was shaking with fear. Fear of this unknown disease that was causing so much pain visible every day on my TV screen. I was in fear for my life. I decided to just sit and allow that fear to wash over me instead of trying to push it away with a distraction. It was gone in a couple of minutes and I was no longer shaking. I looked around my apartment with gratitude. I was safely at home and I was healthy. I got up and went about my day.

According to researchers, emotions only last for about 90 seconds (https://www.alysonmstone.com/90-seconds-to-emotional-resilience/). But, pushing them away as a voluntary practice or a habit can lead to negative health effects. 

So, the next time you are facing an emotion try this practice:

R – recognize the feeling (labeling emotions is an important first step)

A – allow yourself to feel the emotion, don’t push it away (it’ll be over in 90 seconds)

I – investigate the origin of this emotion

N – nurture or at least acknowledge yourself for this calming practice

Mindful Resilience

Mindful Resilience

Picture this: Lucy, a young girl in her teens, living about 300,000 years ago, is looking for berries as she walks out in the African Savanna. In the distance, she sees a large beige object. This could be a lion, or a rock. If Lucy decides it is a rock and continues to walk toward it and lo and behold the beige object turns out to be a lion, Lucy becomes lunch! If on the other hand, Lucy decides the distant beige object is a lion she becomes afraid and runs away. Result is that her body has released stress hormones to create a flight response so that she is saved, from a rock – or a lion. 

We are programmed by nature to have such a negativity bias. Our survival and evolution depended on it. Even if we no longer need to fear becoming lunch for a lion, it is the same response that gets us out of the way of an oncoming car. Unfortunately, it is also likely to be the basis for our excessive worrying and rumination. 

Acute stress, running away from an oncoming car, is a good thing for survival. However chronic stress, such as the Covid 19 pandemic has put on us over the last couple of years, is not. Our bodies were designed to be mostly in a relaxed state so that they can respond to danger with a rush of stress hormones. However, constant release of those hormones deteriorate our bodies with devastating effects.

To build resilience and bring ourselves back to the desired relaxed state, we can employ a variety of strategies. One of these is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is training our brain to be aware of our moment by moment experiences. If we are living in the moment, aware of our experiences of the moment, we are not ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.

Thankfully, our brains are trainable. Just like we can strengthen our quadriceps muscles with squats and lunges, we can strengthen our brain’s mindful awareness capacity by exercising it. One exercise for our brain is meditation. One doesn’t have to be a Buddhist monk to meditate. Nor does one need to sit for an hour without thinking. First of all, that is impossible for us mere mortals. Second, that isn’t even the point of this secular meditation. If you have never done a squat in your life, you will not be able to do 60 of them on your first try. Meditation is no different. Set yourself up for success, and start with perhaps a minute or so. Again, the point of this exercise is not to sit without thinking. The point is to notice when you are lost in thought and bring your attention to the present moment. Our breath is a good tool in this training, because it is always there.

If meditation is not your cup of tea, another mindfulness exercise could be done while you are brushing your teeth. Just pay attention to each tooth as your brush touches it. Or the movement of your hand as it manipulates the brush. There, you don’t even need to extra time to practice Mindfulness.

Bringing our attention from our past/future to the present helps build resilience and reduces stress. There are many, many studies that prove this point. In addition to resilience, Mindfulness has many other benefits, but those are topics for another post.

Retirement is a Journey

Retirement is a Journey

I’ve been retired for 6 ½ years. From the first day that I didn’t have an office to go to, to today, a lot has changed in my life and a lot has changed in me. Looking back, I wish I had kept a journal of my retirement days. I was not much of a writer back then, so no record. Writing is one of those changes.

I was having a difficult time accepting certain things at work, so the decision to retire was not that difficult. I also had concrete plans for the next few months so I didn’t feel the “what now” phase until much, much later. I was very, very lucky and grateful that I was able to get away from a source of stress and frustration and embrace a much more peaceful place where I would get to hangout with my granddaughter.

This more peaceful place was Chicago, Illinois, a four-hour drive from my home in Muncie, Indiana. This meant packing up a home I had lived in for 24 years and moving. It meant selling the home where my kids grew up. It meant saying good-bye to the city I called home for 28 years to my back yard where I could see the stars in complete darkness; to the campus where I had offices in seven different buildings throughout my career; to the colleagues with whom I had worked for 28 years and to my dear friends with whom I had shared countless meals, drinks, stories…

Retirement is more than stopping going to work. It is a major life change. In this section of my blog, I want to share with you my experiences in retirement. It will, hopefully, help ease your apprehensions (if you have any) about retirement and let you know that you are not alone.