Friday, October 24, 2014

How did Mom and Dad figure this out?

Confession time. There are days when I feel like a creaky old relic from another time, struggling to cope in a new and changing world. How can we make the best of our October Years? More to the point, is there any “best” left in us by now?
You see, I write about “thriving in our 60s and 70s” as if I really know how to do that. Lest I be accused of peddling tainted expertise, let me set the record straight. What I know about “thriving” has been learned the old fashioned way---by trial and error. (Heavy on the error.) Yet, even then I have paused from time to time to look for outside guidance, something to confirm that I was on the right track, before plowing ahead.

It is a human thing, isn’t it---the way we doubt ourselves, and seek to validate our often feeble efforts? For some of us the biggest obstacle is admitting that we don’t know what to do. Why is “I don’t know” such a hard notion to accept? Whatever our reasons, there is no denying that we do sometimes harbor those self doubts, the ones that send us looking for someone else’s better idea. 

When that happens we run the risk of being swept up in the flood of “how to” and “self-improvement” offers that wash up on our internet shores every day. It seems there is “expert” advice available for everything under the sun---including retirement and thriving in our October Years. At every turn there is some guru promising to sell his “tried and true” success formula at a significant discount. (Or not.)

So how do suppose our parents and grandparents made their way through that same daunting time of life? How did they carry on without the help of some unsolicited “expert”? No matter how long their October Years lasted I doubt that many of them relied on some bestseller, other than the family Bible, for tips on how to live out their late life. So how did they know what to do?  I don’t recall my parents discussing the advice of their “career coach.” Perhaps with offspring like me, there was no reason to seek improvement---though I doubt that.

In any case, for better or worse today’s October population has more “help” options than ever before. Whether you question your own ability to chart a retirement course, are looking for ways to supplement your planning, or feel the need for a mentor to lay out a path for you to follow---there is no shortage of willing helpers ready to guide you toward success. Of course, you mustn't be surprised when the path they recommend comes at a price. To illustrate the range of possibilities, a recent Sunday issue of USA Today newspaper offered a range of new books that offer help to the floundering retirement seeker.
In Encore Career Handbook Marci Aboher says she can show us how to make a difference in the “second half of our life.” Fact is, I had to read that claim more than once. In my October world I don’t think I have “half a lifetime” ahead of me. Still, I was drawn to her “As we age we realize we have only so much time left---so make the most of it.” I believe I’ve read that before in these pages. It is, after all, a recipe for thriving in our 60s and 70s.

Another take on our October game plan comes from Joe Burger in Why Do I Do That? Mr Burger’s retirement advice apparently boils down to ”Life is too short to spend our remaining years merely fulfilling a sense of obligation.” The answer he proposes will hinge on identifying one’s “true passion.” I’m not sure I know how to define what that is---or if I knew, whether I would be willing to admit it publicly. Still, Mr Burger poses a question we all ask ourselves from time to time---Why do I do that?

Paul Irving, in his book The Upside of Aging, paints retirement as a time of change---a focus that will be familiar to regular October Years and Tanner Chronicles readers. In particular, he stresses the importance of helping people adapt to their changing world. “We should enable life-long learning and skills development, so people can apply that new learning as they age.” How about you, does it feel like you are still learning?

Finally, Adam Taggert’s Finding Your Authentic Career is directed primarily at career seekers who are looking for the life’s work that best suits them. Yet I think it applies to seniors seeking a retirement that fits them. Truth be told, it sounds a lot like my own rants about preparing for our October Years. Taggert writes, ”The vast majority of people are actively dissatisfied---or at best unfulfilled---by their current situation. If only they realized that their purpose is out there waiting for them.”
So what are these so-called experts telling us? “We have only so much time left.” “We need to keep learning.” “We are meant to seek our passion.” “Our purpose is waiting for us.” Did our forefathers need a guru and guidebook to know that? Probably not. Still, it can’t hurt to be reminded---if only to keep us thriving.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October instincts -- should we run from them?

So you’re retired now. You’ve finally reached those golden years at the end of that work-a-day rainbow. Hopefully these October Years are providing you with the time to pursue at least some of the dreams you dreamed on the way to this special place. But while it’s nice to have time for those things, I've heard some of our October peers complain of having too much time on their hands. That, in turn, leads to a different question---one we are sometimes reluctant to face. If you find yourself in that “too much time” space, whose job is it to make better use of the time left to you? (Of course, your plan may be to sit passively in front of your TV, waiting for those days to pass.)
Most of us have learned by now that an hour of June or July time is different than an hour of October time. After all, our world has changed. Our expectations are different. We have new goals to strive for. Our capabilities have probably retreated a bit, perhaps more than a bit. In light of all that why should we expect the same old  “going to work” and “raising a family” answers to work now?
Hopefully we learned along the way that when our circumstances change, we must adapt---our responses need to reflect our new reality. I’ll bet you used that logic in your career, your parenting, and your relationships. Well surprise--it also applies in retirement. We are finding that October is a sometimes unfamiliar world, with new rules and new challenges. If ever there was a time to trust our instincts, this is it. 
I can think of times when I faced the need to “adapt.” Perhaps you too have found yourself in that space---knowing that the old ways weren’t as effective as they used to be, but unsure how to change them. Truth be told, I’ve probably spent more time than most people focusing on October problems. After all, each of my nine Tanner Chronicles novels deals with one or more of those late-life challenges---situations that I've lived with for weeks, even months as I created the story.
There have been times when I’ve gone to bed feeling so pleased with how a new story idea had come together, how it said exactly what I wanted to say.  But how often, when I revisited my efforts the next morning, did it seem the logic I was trying to illustrate had vanished? Something had changed, but I wasn’t sure what. Then, quite by surprise, I stumbled onto what promises to be a new, more accountable sort of “change agent.”
I have included the following disclaimer before in the course of my blogging. I am neither competent nor qualified to be a literary reviewer. So when I mention a book (other than my own) it is because its message has touched me personally. In this case the book I am referring to, the “change agent” I mentioned above, is T D Jakes’ latest title---Instinct.
I was taken by Jakes’ way of addressing the notion of change---at any time of life, even retirement. The change he writes about is not an “off-the-shelf,”  “one-size-fits-all” process. Instead, he stresses the uniquely personal nature of change. To be successful it must focus on the individual---taking into account his or her history, preferences, capabilities, expectations, and perhaps surprisingly---his or her instincts. All that, of course, requires serious self-examination, something most of us resist. Yet, without a thorough understanding of what makes us the person we are, how can we expect to create change?
For some people, of course, T D Jakes’ reputation will precede him. He is, after all, a very successful mega-church pastor who often writes on Christian topics. For some that is a red flag. My take on such concerns is pretty simple. If you disagree with Jakes’ treatment of change, and role of instinct in that process, I assure you it won’t be because he has turned his case into a religious rant. There is nothing remotely like a sermon in the whole book---just his straight-forward explanation of the many ways instinct impacts change, or the lack of change.
We who live in an October world know the truth of it---change is inevitable. We can choose to play a part in directing our own change, or simply sit on the sidelines and accept whatever change comes our way. If you decide that you want a voice in the matter, you might consider T D Jakes’ reasons for relying on your own instincts to plot your course toward a new, more age appropriate you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I love Paris in the Spring - but Bogota or Bangkok in October?

I’ve mentioned before how I sometimes took advantage of my dad. Today, however, I was reminding myself that he too was capable of his own dirty tricks. For instance---in spite of all the many good things he did for my mother, brother, and me, he managed to bequeath to me a particularly troublesome bit of himself. You see, I was the one who inherited the Old Man’s lifelong curse---a pesky and persistent infection he called “wanderlust.”
In my case the symptoms began surfacing at an early age. By seven or eight I was spending hours leafing through the big Rand McNally World Atlas the folks kept under the coffee table. From map to map to map---one colorful country after another---I tried my best to sound out the strange names, while imagining the people who called those far away places home, and wondering what it would be like to live there. At thirteen I ran away from home, determined to see the world for myself---or at least Eastern Oregon. It seemed that I was born with that urge to explore new and interesting places and meet the people who live there. And I’ve never outgrown that. Later, Roma and I were fortunate to visit some of those places, as many as our resources and family situation would allow. It was great, but definitely not a cure for an advanced case of wanderlust.
Then in my mid-sixties, I retired and moved into my own October Years. And surprise---there it was again, that undiminished urge to see the world. But now I had time to indulge those fantasies---to mull the possibility of becoming one of those “strange” people living in one of those far away lands. But how much travel could we afford, even if we had the time? Of course, those with a hefty pension and fat IRA had more choices. Even with the pull of friends and family urging them to stay close to home in retirement, they might decide that “home” ought to be in the sunny southland---Arizona or Florida for instance.

Yet many of us without those resources are likely to want the same things for ourselves. If so, there are other options we might consider---other ways to scratch our travel itch. Today’s internet world offers new possibilities at every turn. My favorite “wanderlust fix” seems to arrive every few months, as it has for years. As near as I can tell the message has never changed in all that time. I have only to open the email or envelope, recite the first sentence or two, and Roma is heading for another room.
“The hibiscus are in bloom,” the message begins. “As they are every month of the year. The gardener watches over them and the rest of the grounds, while the maid/cook maintains order in your bright and airy home. Just months before you would never have dreamed that the two of you could retire in such luxury for less than $1,800 a month. But now you know what so many others do not---that the good life and affordable health care are well within your reach.
You’ve probably seen the pitch---how you can afford the retirement you dream about---somewhere. And perhaps you find a certain appeal in dreaming about that. I know I do. For decades our fellow Americans have been taking advantage of low-cost foreign retirement, especially in Mexico and Central America. Lately, in the face of an increasingly harsh economic environment, that trend has taken on new and novel forms.

In this brave new world of ours an updated list of well-publicized retirement havens is enough to send us back to the atlas. At that point ask yourself what it would take to make Colombia a viable place to live out your Golden Years? Or Peru, or Thailand, or Uruguay, or Belize? I see e-mails advertising $300 seminars that will provide all the information you need to establish a home and live the good life in any of those countries, at a fraction of the cost you’ll pay here in the U.S. The sponsors claim they can make the case for that. Could they convince you?

By all accounts the “offshore” retirement trend will continue to accelerate. We read every day that many retirees will not have saved enough to fund a decent retirement---at least not in the USA. For a certain portion of that population the lower cost of “overseas” living, especially the reduced cost of health care, will make that sound like a viable option.
Of late, the articles I have read online tout two particular retirement destinations---Panama and Belize. Certainly Panama has a long history of dealing with and providing for US citizens. Belize, on the other hand, was formerly a British colony. It is the only Central American nation where English is the official language. Each of those countries already hosts a sizable ex-patriot population.
But in the end we’re left to decide what “retirement”---the label we assign to life-after-work---means to each of us. For a wanderlust junky like me the lure of inexpensive living in new and far-away places, especially an exotic, out-of-the-way locale, is hard to ignore.
Then, about the time I get caught up in the wonderful possibilities, another of those pesky October realities kicks in. “Is it practical?” I ask myself. We are a family-oriented family. How would it work to have Grandma and Grandpa living on the seashore of sunny Belize, thousands of miles from the clan, following our grandkids on Facebook or Skype, perhaps visiting them every year or two? That doesn't sound appealing at all. Beyond that, both Roma and I are kind of set in our ways. How would we adapt to a very different way of life, no matter how luxurious or inexpensive it was, or how adventurous the challenge? When it’s all said and done chances are I’ll have to settle for being a “strange” person right here at home.
How about you? Do the possibilities of tropical splendor on a shoestring resonate with you? Or does “Is it practical?” win out?