Are We Allowed to Slow Down in Retirement?

Retiring but Not Shy

Several years ago, a friend and I were talking about what we would do after we “retired.” I wanted to start a new career writing, teaching part-time, doing public speaking gigs, and blogging. She wanted to start a preschool! After decades at our corporate jobs, this was how we viewed retirement.

I was reminded of our conversation as I read the excellent book Retiring but not Shy, by Ellen Cole and Mary Gergen. The book is a collection of essays by women psychologists on the subject of their own retirement. Although some essays were by women who retired a while back, the ones I found most troubling were by those who were either considering retirement or had recently retired.

Like my friend and I, these bright, well-educated women had laundry lists of all the incredible new tasks and initiatives they would undertake. Retirement meant converting from busy/busy to busy/busy. Beyond financial security, many seemed afraid that giving up their jobs meant they would no longer “matter.” These stellar professionals, some of minority ethnicity, feared being marginalized by society after retirement.

Especially for us feminists, it’s hard to imagine walking away from the battlefield. We struggled against the social tide for those degrees, titles, professions and salaries. The achievement of professional stature became our our identity, our source of power, our protective shield.

When I gave up my profession, I didn’t feel special anymore, and looking back, this was where my post-retirement life got interesting. I found myself tackling some heavy questions.

  • Did I have value to society without my work? Does anybody?
  • Did I fear a judgment I’d attached to others who didn’t work? (As a society, this question has implications with elders as well as stay-at-home parents.)
  • Would I ever have the confidence not to work? To give up positional power? To still see myself as special, even without the hard-won mantle of office?

Ultimately, the greatest triumph of my sixth decade was gaining a sense of self-worth exclusive of my profession. To value myself without the suit and heels meant I had to view the rest of society in a more forgiving way. to look beyond the uniform and titles – or lack thereof.

In the book, one of the writers asks: if work equates to feminism and independence, to what does retirement equate?

I have come to see retirement as a time of enlightenment and the letting go of ego.

One writer says “I believe that even in retirement women must contribute to make a difference, to be perceived as powerful and to have power.” But powerful in whose estimation? We cannot make society respect us – we can only respect ourselves. And as for feminist battles, can’t we just model feminist principles as we putter in the yard, go to church, or help out down at the shelter? Why do we need to start a new national/international effort toward whatsis?

Will we ever accept that we are good enough?

Nurse Was Right to Refuse CPR

A couple weeks ago a nurse made international headlines when she refused to perform CPR on an elderly, dying woman in Bakersfield, California. The tape of the frantic 911 dispatcher was played over and over again. Newscasters spoke of the need to expand “good Samaritan” laws. The country was outraged.

Somewhat surprisingly, the woman’s family declined to sue, saying she had wanted no extreme measures to prolong her life.

Extreme measures? It’s just CPR, right?

Maybe not. In some cases, denying CPR may be the most humane option.

The following is a quote from the horrendously enlightening article, How Doctors Die by Dr. Ken Murray. I read it a year ago but it was so profound, it stayed with me. I’ll never forget this:

Some doctors are so afraid of having their Do Not Resuscitate orders ignored that they have NO CODE tattooed on their chests.

What could cause doctors to fear life-saving measures? Here’s an excerpt of one doctor describing resuscitation measures:

The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the intensive care unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist.

Did you know CPR often breaks ribs? I didn’t either. Here’s more:

Feeding into the problem are unrealistic expectations of what doctors can accomplish. Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming.

This article in Forbes laments the fact that there was no “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file at the home, and I agree. However, even if you have such an order on file with the facility, over-zealous or lawsuit-shy staff may completely disregard them. “Jack,” who had such orders on file only to have them ignored, was lucky enough to be removed from life support by the doctor who wrote this article. The doctor said:

Although he had thoroughly documented his wishes, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my actions (i.e. complying with Jack’s DNR orders) as a possible homicide.

It’s difficult to imaging leaving a patient to die without taking measures to revive her. However, I read the Murray article before the Bakersfield incident occurred, and thus my first thought was that the nurse was a hero, courageous enough to honor the patient’s wishes. It’s apparent that the family felt the same way.

But I still kind of feel like getting a tattoo.

Aging with Grace

I asked my friend Nanci, at long last retired from her career in K-12 education (as a teacher and principal) how she is adjusting to all her free time. Nanci, in her early sixties, has a brilliant, introspective, ethical and spiritual mind. You might remember her from these skydiving pictures. She’s no wuss. Here’s what she wrote recently, and I think it exemplifies transitioning with grace as we age:a
Last week I went to a kayak class in our local Ocean Kayak Clinic. It offers lots of classes from kayak surfing, rolling, expeditions, crabbing and rescues. My neighbor, Roy, and I thought that we might take rescue together, since we often kayak and it would be good to be able to help each other and ourselves should we capsize. I had taken the same class 8 years ago and felt that it was a good class to have and to repeat.
It was a cold, rainy day… there were eight of us in the class. I was one of two women and the oldest in the class. I feel that I am a pretty accomplished kayaker, but in this class I was terrible. I was able to help others, but every time it was my turn in the water I could not get back into my boat, except with a ton of help. I remember being in classes with other “lame” (IMO) people and was embarrassed for them and wondered why they were even in the classes.
Eventually the class ended and I took my very chilled and soggy body home. I then ruminated on what exactly this means for me. Should I work to regain upper body strength (although I do yoga regularly and it’s not usually a problem for me) or should I just not do any hard kayaking where I might get in trouble or perhaps there may be some other ways to think about the experience.
I hosted a Tapas Party a few days later with a bunch of “foodie” friends, including my wonderful yoga teacher. During the conversation, someone asked me about my class…I laughed and said, “True confessions”, and told the group of my struggle.
Laura, my teacher, said, “Well, Nanci, what I hear is benevolence of spirit.”
And she was right…and this is my real learning from this experience. Because for most of my life I would have been totally humiliated and would have slithered home and berated myself for days. I would never have shared my experience for the sheer embarrassment of it.  For once, I had accepted and loved myself enough to be able to just contemplate what this meant in the realm of my life, without severe judgement. And it felt good. I’m not sure if this is a gift of age, or if it is a late learning for me. It is something I wish I could pass on to young people who live in the shame and embarrassment that I have carried with me all these years. Imagine what we could accomplish as humans if we could be self loving.  Benevolence of spirit, what a wonderful term and a life expanding concept!
Nanci, I’m inspired by your words, and happy you’ve found that sweet place of self-appreciation. Unfortunately, it probably is something the kids will have to wait and work for, because I think it mainly comes with age. Thanks for letting me share your story.

After 50, No Positive Milestones

If you’re post-menopausal and (one hopes) female, you’ve probably got at least as many years left as the number you spent raising your kids. Men, a little less but still plenty. What milestones might you be looking forward to in this, the second half of your one precious life?

Here’s what the culture tells you to expect:

  • You’ll lose things: bone density, skin tone, hair (except where you don’t want hair. There, you’ll get lots of it, overnight and without warning), memory, energy, friends, loved ones.
  • You’ll need lots of pills.
  • You’ll decline further and die.

Society has no expectations of you in the second half of your life, in contrast to the first:

  • You’ll get teeth! You’ll stand upright and walk! You’ll enter school!
  • You’ll get your license! Prom! Graduation! First job!
  • Marriage/kids/career/anniversaries/grandkids!
  • Retirement!!

Then what? Uh oh. See above. So that sucks. What to do, what to do?

Here’s what I recommend. We’re an independent bunch, right?

Let’s establish our own awesome, middle-age-and-older milestones to which one can look forward with delight. If you lived in a different culture than one in which we do (the Hollywood-defined one in which, as Steve Almond says in his profoundly thoughtful introduction to Cheryl’s Strayed’s new book, explosions/shiny tits comprise our personhood), you might not have to do this, but since you do, you may as well revel in the freedom to make things up. So, what milestones might, in your ideal world, beckon to you in the second half of life?

Here are some ideas to get you started, and then I hope you’ll contribute.


  • Women will develop a new and highly personal sense of style, characterized by three essential elements: fashion, comfort, and making young women envious.
  • Pursuit of your grand objective is expected. Whatever dream you’ve blathered about for the past fifty years or so – travel, a sport, painting, starting a business, writing, reading, thinking, teaching, computer expertise, living fulltime in an RV, photography, dance, singing, escaping – you’ll be expected to make major moves in that direction.
  • Your overriding political interest will change from your own good to the welfare of the country and planet. I.E., larger than yourself.
  • Your kids will see you as an example of how to live powerfully in the second half. (They won’t pity you, as in this sad little article.)

Listen, people. We’re old; we’re awesome – those lines in your face speak of hard-won experience. How about we tap into our power instead of giving it away by worshipping at the altar of a culture that tells us that if we’re not fertile (women) or kickingass/takingnames (men), we’re pointless?

Please share your utopian dreams with us.

Did You Reach Your 2011 Goals?

At our age, we’ve been through a few hundred New Years’ resolutions. You’d think by now it would have resulted in all of us being thin, healthy and accomplished.

Last year, I wrote about setting goals and having something to show at the end of 2o11. I didn’t do everything, but I came close. For example, I didn’t publish my book, but I did revise it with the help of a great, wonderful editor, and now I’m vetting agents. So that feels good.

I’ve hung onto my Weight Watchers accomplishment – barely. With all the holiday eating I lost my way but sure had fun! And since all of America is embarking on a “lose weight, get fit” journey this month, the energy is palpable. I’ll ride that wave for a few months until everybody drops out in March, but by then I’ll be back at my goal weight.

I decided to have one goal for 2012, just one, and I’m pretty excited about it: to embark on my own personal Creativity Training Camp. Let me explain. Back in October I freaked out when I learned that alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer. (If you want to know more, read this.) So I cut WAY back, to almost nothing.

There was another element to my healthful period: exercise. According to the 20-year long Nurses Health Study, walking three hours a week can reduce your risk of cancer and improve just about everything else in your health profile. So I did that for a month, too. I kept track on my calendar and achieved 180 minutes a week, one way or the other. I either went to the gym, or walked or rode my bike around the neighborhood, or swam.

It was fantastic. I slept well, my creativity and curiosity shot through the roof, and I was less anxious and more peaceful and productive. Then Thanksgiving hit, and the holiday decadence began. Whoopee! I sure did enjoy all those calories. Yum.

But now I’m back to restless sleep, anxiety, and stupid-brain, which is not going to help me at all as I embark on the rough draft of my new book, Golden Years My Ass. Yes, that’s the title, for now anyway. I want to enjoy the process of creating and writing, and to return to that place before the holidays where I felt so calm, happy and productive, so that’s my only goal: Creativity Training Camp. I’ll go back to the regime I started before the holidays. If you’d like to join me by creating your own version, let us know about it.

How do we motivate ourselves?

You probably know that fear is not an effective motivator. Even fear of death can’t make us do anything after the novelty of the thought wears off. What is a motivator is the thought of a positive outcome, and that’s what’s I keep in my mind. I already know how good I’m going to feel if as I stick with my Creativity Training Camp program. I’m already looking forward to the inspirational lightbulbs going off in my brain.

How about you? Are you resolved to make a change or do something new in 2012?

Note from last week’s contest: I hope you don’t think I’ve been ignoring your awesome responses, but I didn’t want to influence anybody who might sense a route to win the $25 gift card and two free books. Thus I’ve refrained from commenting to any great extent. While I appreciated all of your thoughtful comments, I felt that Dr. Lee would be the most excited about Marilyn Patrick’s past life recollections, so I am going to award her the prize. Thanks so much for participating, and happy new year!

What If We Didn’t Consider Aging a Problem?

Rossellini younger

The world is a magical place limited to some extent by our low expectations.   Today while I was meditating these ideas bubbled up: [Read more…]

Goals, Schmoals

I went into my office (If it’s laundry day, the commute is hell) to check on my goals. They’re written on a big old calendar which sits open on my desk. Evidently I’ve drifted so far away from my goals that I can’t remember them without reading my list. But anyway, I inadvertently dumped a glass of red wine across them. So the ink ran and the red covered the letters and now I can’t see them.

Accident? Or my subconscious rebelling? Bad subconscious. Down, girl.

Hey, life is complicated. If you read this blog regularly, you know my life just got a teense more busy, with my Mom’s hospitalization. I’m not a maniac; I would defer my goals for a few months, but the only thing that bothers me is that next year I’ll be wanting to make new goals and there will be the old ones all over again. And I’ll feel kind of like a failure, or at the least, hugely unmotivated.

So I want them done. Completed. I want new goals. I want to see progress, but I have so little time. Which is why I felt so excited when I discovered a solution, something smart and helpful, from a great book called The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss.

You might be thinking, 4 hours? What a huckster this guy must be! But I loved what he had to say, based on long-time science and his own curious, energetic brain. For example, he reminds us of the Pareto Principle, wherein 80% of our results arise from 20% of our efforts. In his example, he decided to get rid of all his customers except the 20% who generated the most sales for the least effort, and he ended up working less and making more.

Now, as a writer, I’m not sure how I’ll use that information, but I might stop wasting so much time on the Internet where it’s not productive, and assess what, for example, drives more readership to this blog. (I once got 355 hits in one day from commenting energetically all over the Huffington Post.)

Another example: if I look for a way to limit tasks to those that will generate the most outcome, having a GREAT logline for my next novel would be one way, because it would force me to focus. My draft will be tighter, and I can avoid wasting time and creativity on dead ends or misdirected characters.

In my next post, we’ll talk about another proven scientific principle for increasing your outcomes via reduced effort.

(Update on Mom: she is now at a rehab hospital near my home and I can see her daily. She was sad last night but it’s our way to lose our strength in the evening and regain it in the morning, so she knew not to let it overcome her. Still, she was dealing with the frustration of having been SO CAREFUL and still falling and breaking her leg. What a setback at 85! More later.)

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You Look MAHvelous

I was standing in a mini-mart the other day waiting to pay for gas, and the beautiful young woman in front of me was complaining to the cashier that even though she’s 30, she always gets carded. I said, “It’s because you’ve got a face like a peach.” It just flew out of my mouth, and then I was glad, because she got it. The girl’s eyes got real big and her mouth opened in this gigantic smile as she thanked me. For a second I thought she was going to hug me.

Recently I was walking out of an office and a woman was walking in, and we held the doors for each other and then laughed, and as I went through, I told her the truth:  “You look wonderful.” She did. She had gone to a lot of trouble on her hair and makeup, and her outfit and jewelry were to die for. “Thank you,” she said, beaming. I think when you hand someone a spontaneous, honest compliment like that, it’s so unexpected that you get extra mileage out of it. Maybe that’s because the recipient knows in her gut that a total stranger wouldn’t say that unless it was sincere.

I read about this a long time ago, in a now-defunct magazine called “Lears – for the Woman Who Wasn’t Born Yesterday.” The writer said she was standing on a street corner in NYC, and this woman marched up, dressed to the nines, very tall, very put together, quite intimidating. Everybody was watching her, and her eyes were narrowed, as if daring someone to whistle. She stopped next to the writer, who said, “You look magnificent!” The tigress melted.

Of course we’re afraid to compliment strangers. It’s a weird old world out there, so we’re more guarded, but I think that makes it even nicer when it happens. Go ahead, take a chance. Tell another woman she looks great. Say it with conviction and a smile. Yes, it takes a bit of courage, but why not generate a burst of positivity in the world? The worst she can do is ignore you. The best that can happen is that you’ll feel great about yourself all day long.

On a Lighter Note, Can Old People Learn?

I’m laughing about how a friend recently had a run-in with a younger person. This younger person expressed doubt that older people could learn new things.

Yes, old people can learn, if they think it’s important. If, say the “old gal” is a public school teacher and she’s being asked to learn yet another package of cross-your-fingers curriculum to improve test scores, handed to her by a central office administration that hasn’t even bothered to determine whether or not this newest package is effective…well, the old gal might just tell you – and she likely WILL tell you, because this ain’t her first beauty contest – what she thinks of the new effort. Can she learn? Most certainly. Will she make the effort? Maybe not.

Rather than throwing up their hands in ageist defeat, today’s employers might find it more effective to demonstrate the value of the new thing to the older workers.

Hey, that sounds familiar. Isn’t that what they’re saying about the millennials?