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Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives

Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives

Ageless Women, Timeless Wisdom; Witty, Wicked, and Wise Reflections on Well-Lived Lives by Dr. Lois Frankel. 

Dr. Frankel is a psychotherapist, executive coach and now a documenter of women’s unique lives. The women included were septuagenarian to nonagenarian, with a few centenarians; some are from an earlier time and are deceased; others very much alive. The book opens with the Hasidic Proverb, “For the unlearned, old age is winter. For the learned, it is the season of the harvest.”

This is a treasure trove of wisdom from women who revel in their season of harvest. Full of life stories, memorable quotes, gentle advice, insights and inspiration, the book’s text is complemented throughout by the artwork of Lisa Graves- photos of contributors, photos of nature, and charming drawings.

Perhaps the best way to introduce this book is to share some of what the women interviewed said:

  • “Do a good deed and throw it in the flowing river, never expecting anything in return” – ZN, Republic of Georgia
  • “If life gives you lemons…look for the vodka”- JM, California
  • “Change is the one constant. Don’t waste your time looking for stability. Stay open to whatever happens” – EM, Pennsylvania
  • “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” – EL, Scotland
  • “Chi ha tempo non aspetti tempo… simple Italian phrase that means ‘lost time is never found again; do not postpone what you can do now’.” – ND, France

A beautiful homage to the wisdom and ongoing relevance and vitality of elders.

Waiting for the Weekend

Waiting for the Weekend

My dad chopped the end of his index finger off in a metal bending machine when I was eight. He was a blue-collar guy and worked in a factory. His job was cutting and bending sheet metal that would end up in box folding machines. It was hard, messy, dangerous work.

JRyder dad and brotherThe index finger plays an important role in gripping a golf club and there was a strong possibility my dad wouldn’t be able to play golf again. That was bad news because his passion was playing golf on weekends. 

He was a model employee; he did impeccable work and was well regarded in the workplace. He neither loved nor hated his job. It was just a job, the place he went Monday through Friday to get him to the weekend. After recovering, he was excited to discover he could still play. In fact, his game actually improved after he lost the finger.

Many years later when he retired everyone thought he would spend his days on the golf course. We were wrong. A few weeks into it he took a new position doing what he’d been doing most of his life – bending sheet metal. No one could believe it until he explained that his new position was not about bending sheet metal, rather it was about contributing to and helping expand the game he loved. You see, my dad was now manufacturing golf clubs.

A mentor once told me there are three pathways available in a working life; a job, a career, and a calling. While jobs and careers are plentiful, very few people are called. At 65 years old my dad found his calling. I know if he was still around today, he'd be asking people this challenge question—

What can you commit the rest of your life to accomplishing that would enhance the quality of your life and the lives of others?

If you’re so inclined, hang out with this question for a while. Create lots of ideas and possibilities. Stay with it and look to be called.

 

After completing 40 years as a creative director and educator in advertising, Julian Ryder founded The Right Brain Project—a creativity education and training firm helping leaders build creative cultures within their organizations. He is also an activist with The Hunger Project and ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. When not working, you’ll find Julian playing golf, skiing, or surfing.

 

Thanks for the Memories

Thanks for the Memories

Give it up for the Hippocampus

How do we know things? How do we know each other, ourselves, names of objects and historical events? How do we know where we left our keys or why we came into a room? We know these things because we have a memory of them, of course.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that most, if not all, seniors are concerned about their memory and their general cognitive function as well. Fortunately, we need not be greatly concerned if we can’t remember why we are standing in the middle of the kitchen or where we put our cell phone. This happens to everyone, not just seniors.

It does happen more frequently with seniors than with younger people though. This age-related increase in mild memory impairment is normal. I sometimes laugh at myself when I’m standing in front of an open refrigerator wondering what it was I needed.

In his book Successful Aging, Daniel Levitin shared a joke that is apparently popular with memory researchers:

Two elderly gentlemen are sitting next to each other at a dinner party.

“My wife and I had dinner at a new restaurant last week,” one of the men says.

“Oh, what’s it called?” the other man says.

“Um…I…I can’t remember.” (Thinks. Rubs chin.)

“Hmm…What is the name of that of that flower that you buy on romantic occasions? You know, it usually comes by the dozen, you can get it in different colors, there are thorns on the stem…?”

“Do you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s it!” (Leans across the table to where his wife is sitting.)

“Rose, what was the name of that restaurant we went to last week?”

 

As is true of other parts of our neurological systems, memory has evolved to help us adapt to the demands of the environment. There are several systems accountable for memory, and each is associated with specific anatomical area(s) of the brain. But before we start drilling down into brain parts, let’s look at how memory works and the types of memories we have.

Types of Memory

We have several different memory systems. Spatial memory allows us to know where we are. Procedural memory helps us remember how to perform simple tasks like using a faucet or activating the turn signal on our car. Short-term memory allows us to remember information we learned just a few minutes ago.

According to Levitin our memory systems form a hierarchy. Spatial, procedural, and short-term memory each use different neural circuits in the brain, and each is vital for daily functioning. But above them, at the top of the hierarchy, are implicit memory and explicit memory.

Implicit memory is the type of memory that we use to perform complex behaviors like playing the piano or tennis. Once these behaviors are learned, we do them automatically without having to think about them or consciously reconstruct them.

Explicit memory, on the other hand, includes two types of memory: semantic memory and episodic memory.

Sematic memory is the memory of general knowledge. This memory includes all the things and information we know but don’t remember learning. It’s knowledge we know so well that we take it for granted. For example, what is the capitol of Russia? Moscow, of course. But when did you learn that?

After so many decades spent acquiring knowledge, we older adults have a lot of information stored in sematic memory. According to professor Alan Castel in his book Better with Age: The Psychology of Successful Aging we sometimes have trouble retrieving general knowledge because we have so many semantic memories in our brains that they become cluttered. The sheer volume makes semantic memories harder to find and affects our recall.

Episodic memory, on the other hand, is the memory of all those things we know from particular events or episodes in our lives. Your wedding, the birth of a child, the funeral of a loved one. We remember these events because we were in them. We were there. What differentiates episodic memories from semantic memories is they have autobiographical components to them.

I recall that in 2007 I was a graduate student sitting in a conference room with three professors giving an oral defense of my dissertation. My committee members asked me a series of questions and asked for explanations of various points I made in my research. When they were done, they asked me to leave the room so they could discuss my work. In about 20 minutes they called me back into the room. I sat down at the table. My Chair stood up and extended her had. I took it and she said, “Congratulations, Dr. Lopez.”

I was so happy I almost started crying. Earning my doctorate at 59 years old was one of the seminal moments of my life. I remember every detail about that room and the members – their names, where they were sitting, even the items on the table in front of them. Heck, I even remember what color blouse my Chair wore that day. That is an episodic memory!

One thing we can glean from the example above is that emotion is a key factor in remembering. Even if the emotion is negative. This is true because the area of the brain that facilitates the storage of emotional memories–the amygdala–is active when we store emotional memories and less so when we store semantic memories. Semantic memory events rely more heavily on another area of the brain–the hippocampus.  

The Aging Brain Brain anatomy

One of the things we do well at when it comes to memory is recalling emotional information. This is probably because these memories carry greater importance for us and because emotions activate the amygdala. And the amygdala tends to continue to perform well even as we age.

On the other hand, the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for storing all memories, and general memories in particular, declines in volume by about 1% a year after the age of 50.

The hippocampus is a sort of gate keeper for all memories. Even though our memories are not actually stored there, the hippocampus is responsible for the dissemination of information to various areas of the brain where information is turned into memory.

HM: A Case Study

While researching this article, I dug out an old textbook I used when I taught undergraduate psychology–Foundations of Biopsychology  by Andrew Wickens­–and read the chapter on memory. In his book, Wickens describes a classic case study of a person known only as HM, a study from which we learned a great deal about the role of the hippocampus.

HM was born in 1926. At the age of 9 he had a bicycle accident and injured his head. He began having seizures, which increased in severity over time. By his late twenties, HM had such severe seizures that he could no longer work. After several attempts to correct the problem with toxic levels of medication, his doctor decided it would be helpful to remove his hippocampus. (What were they thinking?)

The operation was a success in that it stopped the seizures, but the side effects were disastrous. HM was no longer able to store information into long-term memory. HM suffered a profound case of anterograde amnesia. (Antero means “in front”.) He had good language skills, a good vocabulary, and above-average IQ. He could remember things from his past, but after the surgery he had only short-term memory. He could not consolidate any new long-term memories. A researcher who worked with HM for 40 years had to reintroduce herself to him every time she came to work with him.

What can we learn from this case? Maintaining the health of the hippocampus, is essential if we are to continue acquiring new long-term memories.

What Can We Do?

Fortunately, there are things we can do to support good brain health and even increase the volume of the hippocampus.

In Successful Aging1, Levitin references a book written by a neurologist Scott Grafton, Physical Intelligence: The Science of How the Body and the Mind Guide Each Other Through Life. Grafton points out that when thinking about brain health, the idea of a brain/body dualism is unproductive. The focus should be on the health of the whole organism not just the brain. You can’t separate the two.

Grafton argues that the single factor with the largest effect on mental health is exercise and physical activity in general. “We now have hundreds of trials with thousands of subjects” that show the benefit of physical activity.

In addition to exercise, Grafton also believes we benefit from “…problem solving, social enrichment, mind body coordination, and fresh air.”

So, should we all run out and buy a treadmill? Well, a treadmill may get oxygenated blood to your brain, but that’s not the whole picture. Yes, Levitin points out, “A systematic meta-analysis showed that for adults with mild cognitive impairment, exercise had a significant beneficial effect on memory.” But what about problem solving, social enrichment, and fresh air?

Okay, how about tennis? I don’t know how to play tennis. So, if I took it up, I would have to learn how to play. That would certainly involve mind-body coordination and problem solving as I dash around the court trying to figure out where the ball is going and how I need to swing the racket to be effective. Since, unlike a treadmill, I would need to find people to play with, I would probably make new friends. I think that would constitute social enrichment. And, unlike a treadmill, I would be outside in the fresh air.

Of course, few of us are likely to take up tennis as we age. So is there a happy medium?

The truth is, you don’t have to buy a treadmill or take up tennis to engage in healthful physical activity. Walking works. Just walk at a pace that moves you out of your comfort range to get your blood flowing.

Ideally, walk on a path in a park or in the wilderness. The constant need to make physical and spatial adjustments while walking on an unpaved surface stimulates the neural circuits in the brain and helps keep your navigational skills and memory systems in shape. The area most stimulated by those adjustments is the all-important hippocampus.

Need evidence? A study was done using a group of seniors that walked for 40 minutes three times a week and comparing them to a group of seniors that did stretching exercises three times a week. The study concluded that the average walking group member’s hippocampus increased in size by about 2% after one year.

So, if you want to stay sharp and slow the inevitable decline of your brain, and hence your memory, the best thing you can do is stay active. Do something that will get oxygen to your brain and require you to keep your brain focused on what you’re doing. And try to do it with other people.

Oh, and just for fun, see how a “memory athlete” can remember the first 10,000 digits of Pi.

 

Ed Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam. 

Achieving the Unimaginable: Being More Fulfilled at 72 than Ever Before

Achieving the Unimaginable: Being More Fulfilled at 72 than Ever Before

I dropped out of college after two weeks. I was fed up with having others dictate what I needed to think about and when I needed to think about it. I made a promise to myself going forward that I would only do what I wanted to do, and do it when and at the pace I chose to do it. It’s been a powerful and, at times, confronting choice, navigating me through disparate careers in music, television, radio, finance, meditation instruction, and philanthropy to the kind of self-reliance emotionally, spiritually and financially that I wanted.

In December 2004, I released a music album and was about to support it with live performances when the Indian Ocean tsunami occurred. I was struck by the struggles of survivors there. In a matter of minutes, more than 200,000 souls had been lost and 2 million displaced. Entire villages had been wiped out. Families were torn apart. The devastation was nearly incomprehensible.

I found myself wanting to help. Someone gave me the idea of producing a CD compilation with songs by independent artists such as myself. Sales would raise awareness about the need in Southeast Asia and fund rebuilding efforts.

The compilation began a magical ride. It immediately gained support from the United Nations and the Clinton Foundation, and in their wake, tracks were donated by name artists such as Paul McCartney, John Lennon (estate), Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, Ray Charles (estate), Maroon 5, and several others. This project opened my eyes to human crises on a global scale and soon led to my producing public service announcements and other awareness initiatives with NBA stars–including Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, and more–to bring attention to the genocide in Darfur.

Why these people were a “yes” to someone like myself with no credentials or track record was a mystery to me. But I was excited by the willingness of high-profile personalities to become involved in helping others in foreign lands and so, as I turned 60, along with a few others, I founded a new non-profit, Aid Still Required (ASR), dedicated to helping the most vulnerable survivors left behind after major disasters and human crises rebuild their lives.

Over the past 12 years ASR has reached more than one billion people worldwide with the stories of those forgotten after historic tragedies. Today our focus is on developing self-reliance in five of Haiti’s most at-risk communities through schools and various educational and vocational programs for children and adults.

As it turns out, working with adults who’ve been dealt a big blow, gotten back up and dusted themselves off, and are eager to improve their lives makes me the most happy - happier than I’ve been in any other profession. I’m thrilled by the stand they take for themselves, by their stick-to-itiveness, and the pride and dignity they carry.

Most fulfilling of all is the opportunity to give at-risk children the right start, spreading out pathways before them where they can realize lives they’d never dare dream of without the support systems ASR provides. What can possibly be better than that?

Today at 72 I feel far more valuable to this world than ever, both personally and professionally. I love my life and my work. I love giving back. And I love my age. It has honed my talents, proficiencies, wisdom, and perspective; allowed me to be fully present in most every situation without concern; and opened my heart like never before.

Now, if possible, I’d like to live forever.

 

 Hunter Payne is founder and president of Aid Still Required (ASR), an international non-profit organization working with at-risk communities devastated by major disasters and human crises. ASR’s Whole Community Approach provides pathways for survivors in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities to gain self-sufficiency. Additionally, through the use of television, radio, music and social media, and with the help of high-profile personalities, Aid Still Required’s awareness campaigns have brought the stories of those left behind in Haiti, Darfur, New Orleans, and the region affected by the 2004 tsunami to more than one billion people worldwide.

 

 

 

Aging - Don't Go There Alone

Aging - Don't Go There Alone

What Are You a Resource For?

One of my favorite children’s games was hide and seek. I loved to hide. I was small and could become invisible. But when the game was over, we all came together. Then, every once in a while, I liked being found.

Maybe, as elders, our job is to “be found” – be found as the resource, passion, and contribution we are. Where do we find that? In community.

Personally, I love those moments of my life where I can be by myself. Call it hiding, call it “quiet time”, or “going in”, whatever you want. This “Lily time” I find to be nurturing and important.

But where I’ve flourished and grown is with other people, in community.

In the beginning, my community was my immediate family. Then I started school and community grew to include my elementary and high school friends and teachers. In college, my community expanded to include roommates. And when I started working as a teacher, my colleagues and students joined my community. Then came my husband and his family, our neighbors, our local service providers, and of course, all of my new friends.

As an elder, my community is now vast, encompassing a lifetime of relationships, many of whom are networked together all over the world.

One of the best things I have learned from community is that we are all a unique resource for something. And that something can be found in what we are passionate about.

Each of us is passionate about something in life, whether our family or grandchildren, gardening, wine, art, travel, music, food, cooking, health and wellness. But all too frequently, we live life like we are “rotting resources”.

Webster’s defines “rotting” as “gradually deteriorating through lack of attention or opportunity.” That is, someone unused and not relevant, rather than the active, volcanic, explosive, dynamic resource we truly are!

What does this have to do with “Aging – Don’t Go There Alone”?

Maybe with others, we can discover our unique gifts. Find out from your friends, family, and others in your community what they say you are a resource for, what they see you are passionate about, what they consider your unique contribution. Listen and discover. Then be the resource, contribution, and passion you truly are.

So, maybe the true gift of being an elder, and the key to aging with freedom, grace, and power, is discovering who we really are.

And Community is where we discover it.

 

Lily Starr has been an educator her entire life, first as an award-winning primary school teacher of gifted and challenged students in the fourth and fifth grades, followed by 47 years of leading and managing the delivery of transformational programs in North America, Europe, Israel and Australia. Lily has been married for 50 years and she and her husband Gordon spend most of their time in their primary home in San Francisco.  

I don’t own anything. I don’t need an estate plan.

As an estate planning attorney, I hear a lot of people say, “I don’t own anything. I don’t need an estate plan.” Here we go again, I think. How could anyone think they don’t need an estate plan?

My first impulse is to run screaming out of the room. But then I say to myself, “What would you accomplish by doing that? Aren’t you committed to being of service and contribution to each and every prospective client?”

So, instead, I silence the screaming in my head. I remind myself that financial and legal literacy are not ubiquitous in our culture, which is actually why I chose this job. Then I calmly ask the prospective client to tell me about themself, their life, and what they want their legacy to be.

 More often than not, during our conversation a person will share with me that they have worked and saved a sizable nest egg, have one or more employer-funded 401k accounts, own a condo or house, or have family members and friends they love to whom they want to gift what is left after death and others to whom they want to leave nothing. They usually have very specific wishes about end-of-life care as well. And they really do want these decisions to be honored.

Unfortunately, unless you put your wishes in writing, there will be no record of who will be in charge or who is to receive what in the event of

your death. And in the event you are incapacitated – even temporarily – there will be no record of your medical wishes nor will there be someone of your choosing designated to make medical decisions for you.

So what happens without legally binding documentation? A probate court judge will choose someone to handle your finances and medical decision-making, and a probate court judge will determine who the beneficiaries of your estate are in accordance with the laws of intestate succession. Trust me, neither you nor your loved ones want to endure the expense, duration, and heartbreak of the probate court process should you become incapacitated or die intestate.

More often than not, by the end of our initial consultation, a prospective client will recognize the freedom, clarity, and peace of mind that come with putting their wishes in writing. And I am always glad I stifled the impulse to run screaming from the room.

I help each new client put together a comprehensive set of estate planning documents that includes some or all of the following:

  • A revocable trust in which managers of assets (successor Trustees) are named who will manage assets for the person’s needs upon incapacity and will distribute assets after death in accordance with the prospective client’s wishes after death;
  • A will by which a person funds assets into their revocable trust at time of death (called a pour-over will), or by which the person distributes assets after death;
  • Property powers of attorney in which a person designates agents to manage assets upon incapacity;
  • A medical directive in which a person sets forth their wishes about end-of-life medical care and decisions; and
  • A HIPAA authorization that permits the release of confidential medical information to the managers of assets, the property power of attorney agents, and the medical advocates.

Depending on the value of your estate and how you want to distribute assets after death, some or all of these documents can apply. And the process is not a lengthy one.

There is a Chinese proverb that goes: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and act now. Find an attorney you feel comfortable talking with, review your estate with the attorney, discuss your wishes, learn about your options, and if need be, plan your estate.

Once your estate planning documents are signed, you will have created a rock solid set of wishes that will be followed by whoever you have chosen, and you will have planted a tree sure to protect and shelter you and those you love.

Joel is an attorney licensed to practice in California. He has over 32 years’ experience helping people to plan their estates, carrying out their wishes during periods of incapacity, and honoring their wishes after death. Loquvam Law.

 

So You've Walked On the Moon, What's Next?

So You've Walked On the Moon, What's Next?

Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott reached the pinnacle of his career when he landed on and returned safely from the Moon. He was 39 years old. “My career had been finished,” he later told a reporter "and that's it. Now go find a new career.” There Scott was at 39 asking: What’s next? What do you do after you’ve landed on the Moon?

How many of us after we’ve finished our careers and retired have asked: What’s next?

I was 70 when I retired from a 45-year career that I loved.

Imagine, getting to do what you REALLY, REALLY LOVE. Imagine your job is something which for you is the most important way you could use your life. That’s how my career was for me.

Over the course of 45 years, I got to know and interact at a profound level with over 150,000 people from diverse cultures all over the planet, empowering them to create lives they loved. It was my version of a Moon walk. And then it was finished.

So, I’d Walked on the Moon.

What was next?

I used my newfound time to walk on the beach, read, and study. I discovered a new love–Pilates. I meditated. I spent time with family and friends. Basically, I did whatever I wanted to do.

But below the surface lurked a kind of a disturbing feeling, like an itch I couldn’t quite reach.

One day I got to that itch. It was something I had been saying to myself and had not heard. It went like this: I guess the best part of my life is over. I am never going to be that satisfied, that challenged, and that happy again.

I understood then that the part of my life where I made a real difference, where every day challenged me mentally and physically, and where I got the privilege of making a profound difference for people, was over. Worse, I understood that nothing I was going to do would ever match that life. Cue violins.

But then I saw “nothing I am going to do will ever match the job and the life I loved ” for what it was. I woke up to the reality that it was a lie, not true, in short, an interpretation.

I had been blind to the fact that it was an interpretation and it had cost me.

It had been sucking the life out of me, costing me loving my life, and blocking me from my power in creating what was next.

I took a stand. I refused to keep letting that interpretation guide my actions. I declined to let a circumstance (any circumstance) determine the quality of my life.

Being jolted by the falsity of that interpretation blew open a pathway to my creativity. I had room to create “what’s next”.

Now I have new questions: What is going to leave me being satisfied? Fulfilled? Proud of my life? What am I passionate about? How do I find what’s next? How will I know if I am choosing the “right” what’s next?

On the Path

Let me share with you what has shown up.

Being on the path to “what’s next” took cultivating loving the uncertainty.

I found I needed to defeat the drive to “have to know” and to have to know it NOW. ‘Not knowing’ is the space in which creativity happens.

Discovering for myself requires bravery. It requires that I give up worrying about whether I’m taking the right action, going in the right direction, or wasting time. I won’t analyze myself into paralysis. There are no wrong actions in this game.

Getting into the Game

Getting into and exploring what is next is giving me new openings for action. I know I cannot discover what’s next without getting into the game – I have to pick up the bat and swing. I have to lean into opportunities.

I keep listening for: What touches me? What moves me? What am I passionate about?

And recently, something quite unexpected caught my attention.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, I am seeing the real impact the people who govern have on our lives. I found myself being moved by the possibility of shifting political climates and making a difference in people’s lives.

I am in action. I am interviewing accomplished friends who have shaped public policy for years. I’m studying a lot. I’m studying the constitution. I’m studying people who govern as they speak on TV. I’m meeting people who hold office, I’m connecting to groups with visions and purposes similar to mine. I’m sharing.

Act 3

Maybe this is or is not my “what’s next”.

I am all in.

I have come to learn that when I’m walking the path to discover “what’s next” there is no wasted time. All detours bear fruit.

Why? Because in consciously authoring the third act of my life, I am living it now.

Alan Bean (Apollo 12) was another human who walked on the Moon. He continued working with NASA after returning to Earth. Then, after 18 years as an astronaut and 1,671 hours in space, he chose to become a full-time painter.

Bean, who passed away in 2018, said he took up painting because he had been “fortunate enough to visit worlds and see sights no artist’s eye, past or present, had ever viewed firsthand.” He wanted to capture those sights on canvas for all of us.

To me, this contribution is every bit as inspiring as the 31 hours and 31 minutes Bean spent on the lunar surface.

So, I’ve walked on the Moon, what’s next? It’s up to me and no one else.

And I am having the time of my life exploring that path right here on Earth.

 

Gale Barnum has spent 45 years as a Manager, Coach and a Leader for Landmark Worldwide. She has coached and led programs for 150,000+ people all over the world, empowering them to create and fulfill new breakthrough possibilities for their life and living. She retired from that career in July of 2019 and she is actively engaged in and pursuing "what's next".

Never Too Late For A Great Adventure

Never Too Late For A Great Adventure

Everything was fine. Really.

My husband and I found ourselves in our mid-sixties with a truly nice set of circumstances. We had our health, a solid 35-year marriage, three gainfully-employed daughters who actually like us, a lovely home on a tree-lined street in South Pasadena California*, and many very long term, VERY dear friends.

*If you think you don’t know South Pasadena, look at any commercial with craftsman houses or an old-timey pharmacy in the background…that’s it.

Why then was I discontented? I’m not sure I can explain it, you’ll just have to trust that after years of “everything’s fine” I found myself crying uncontrollably one day. I thought maybe I needed to leave my husband, and I blamed my despair on the lack of passion in our relationship. I resolved to have it out with him.

Well, the conversation did not go as expected (thank God).

When I very seriously began to describe my fear that I was on the slow roll to death he chimed in and said, “Well, maybe we should do something. Maybe we should move.”  I was dumbstruck. It was the LAST thing I expected to hear from my very- comfortable-in-his-man-cave husband.

I could tell the story about how we selected our destination but that would obscure the point. This is a story about taking a big chance later in life. We selected Petaluma, CA, a town I knew from many visits to my best friend who had lived there for a couple of decades. SO MANY things went well along the way….we took a year to gradually do the things we knew would make the most difference in the sale price of our house; it sold easily and for more than we could have hoped for…so many big and little miracles…

But it may be more useful for you, honored reader, is to hear about the crucible moment of doubt. It came for me one day when I was visiting my friend in Petaluma and doing some preliminary neighborhood-scouting. It was May, and we weren’t planning on putting our house on the market until July. I was driving by myself on the streets of this quaint little town when I was suddenly gripped by the gravity of what I was doing. I say I because I felt VERY responsible both for the fact that we were moving and the selection of the town. Really, my husband was doing this for me. My dear husband who had lived in the greater Los Angeles area for 40+ years and had all he really needed (a den that he loved) - I was moving him to a town with stop signs on every corner (he hates that) and where you can drive 10 minutes in any direction and be in a cow pasture.

Not only that, but we were going to put our house on the market and then what?  Logically we would have to wait til our old house was on the market to put in a bid on a new house…but what if our house didn’t sell? What if we didn’t find a place in Petaluma that would work for us? What if there was a gap between when escrow closed on the old house and finding/closing on the new house….where does our stuff go?  Where do my husband and I and the dog and the cat live in the meantime? What if he winds up hating Petaluma. What have I done???

And here’s the real point. I didn’t resolve those doubts in that moment. All I did in that moment was take the next step. And then the next one. And that step led me to walk in the door of the perfect house for us the very next day. Finding the perfect house two months too early led to some creative bargaining….creative bargaining led to a contingency where we would rent the new house til escrow closed on the old one, and that meant that we could move into it as soon as we needed to. We stepped up our game, put the South Pasadena house on the market a little early, sold it in 5 days….you get the picture.

We’ve lived in Petaluma almost 5 years now. By virtue of the connection we already had, the welcoming nature of this town, and our own willingness to dive in, we have developed a multitude of deep, dear friendships. My husband has more men-friends than I think he has ever had in his life, and he is absolutely thriving. (Turns out I had grossly underestimated him.) We’re both socially and politically engaged. We have a wonderful garden, a beautiful house, and all is well. I do miss my friends in LA, but with the ones that matter the most we mutually make the effort to stay connected…and anyway, those friendships are timeless.

My takeaways?

1) Communicate. Maybe it won’t turn out like you’re sure it will.

2) Swing out.

3) When you’re head starts screaming at you, take the next step….at the very least it will ALWAYS lead away from “the slow roll to death.”

I can’t end without this quote from Willaim Hutchison Murray….it’s been ringing in my ears since I started writing:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!

 

Micki CarrolMicki Carrolll, intermittently retired, spent most of her career in administration and management, albeit in wildly diverse settings. She currently takes on a small number of health coaching clients and spends most of her time immersing herself in her community’s political activities.

For Lack of Imagination

For Lack of Imagination

From age 46 to age 66 I ran my own business, an arty boutique in Santa Monica, CA. The ongoing conversation in my head, and with a few friends and acquaintances and, well okay, with some of my customers, coworkers, and the UPS guy, was that I had no intention of retiring. I would keep working until I couldn’t. Not for lack of money. I realize now that it was for lack of imagination! I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I retired.

I had to DO SOMETHING after all! I am a doer, and I don’t mean workaholic. I also DO movies, swimming, reading, TV, lunch dates, travel, shopping, museum visits, restaurants, theater, and Dodger baseball – sometimes at the stadium but mostly at home on the couch.

Another reason I couldn’t imagine retiring is that I am driven to be USEFUL. Not only at work, but also to my family and friends and to the organizations I participate with.

Then I closed my beloved store “gioia” (Italian for “joy”). I don’t need to tell you what has been happening to small retail businesses. Even I shop online now, so I can’t blame my customers, right?

Eventually my friend Ann, who I often chat with in the locker room at the Y, suggested I might like doing what she does – volunteering as a docent for school groups at the Getty Center. I was intrigued, and with the museum’s permission, I showed up one morning before they opened to “shadow” Ann.

The school children who visit the Getty are from Title 1 schools, that is to say low-income families. Many have never ever entered a museum.

At one point in our tour with 2nd- graders, Ann asked the students to look for creatures and objects almost hidden in a ceramic Rococo wall clock. They excitedly raised their hands and blurted out “a dragon!” or “a monkey!” I got the picture. I would use MY imagination to enable them to use THEIR imaginations to have FUN looking closely at art. This was for me. 

I’ve been a docent for four years now. I can tell you that kids delight in swaying back and forth like the green stalks of Van Gogh’s Irises. They revel in posing like a 19th-Century marble statue of Athena in full battle mode. And they love climbing to the top level at the back of the museum to see the view of Los Angeles. It is so rewarding to hear “Whoa!” and “Wow!” from these students, most of whom have never seen this view of their city and the ocean. From up there, even the 405 Freeway is fascinating.

I’ve come to love the students, the art, the site, the ongoing art education, and the fantastic community of docents I now belong to. Who knew that all it took was a little imagination to envision myself in a new endeavor? It’s one that I hope to sustain for many years.

After that? Imagine the possibilities.

 

Laura Owen is a retired entrepreneur and Stanford University graduate in film studies, Laura Owen is currently a Getty docent-in-waiting - that is to say, waiting for the day when the museum will again be welcoming visitors and school groups. Meanwhile, she is enjoying reading, walking and talking with her husband Sandy, Jeopardy, old black-and-white films on TCM, sharing life with friends on Facebook, and  phone calls with her two grown sons. She will be thrilled when Dodger baseball resumes, the YMCA pool reopens, and her local art house theaters go back to screening weird documentaries and vintage Italian movies.

 

Embracing Less

Age brings many opportunities to grow wiser if we are open to the possibilities an open mind brings. Opportunities to shift perspective–though sometimes unexpected and even unwelcome–are a part of life.

I have grown to appreciate my growing ability to move more gracefully toward the silver lining that lives just beyond the struggles and challenges I face. That is not to say I don’t grieve loss or grumble as I find my footing. I do. But I also accept change as a part of life and look for ways to ride the storms.

The past few months have certainly been an opportunity for us all to shift perspectives and reflect upon the value of embracing less. Restrictions and limitations on what we previously considered essential to daily life and on how we meet our needs have made revisions and new thinking inescapable. As we pause to consider what is most important to us, a growing need to consider the greater good of our communities and our world is also evolving.

 

We remind ourselves we are contributing to the greater good by staying home and mindfully considering what we need now and what can wait. And while the decisions each of us makes look different, a common theme is one of mindfulness and embracing less.

What if we hold on to this lesson of addition by subtraction and expand its use as we consider life transitions and choices going forward? Could embracing less be the gateway to mindful curation of an authentic, more fulfilling life? I say yes.

We can begin where we are, right now, by organizing our homes, our workspaces, and our schedules–at a pace that respects our energies, health, and budgets–to create emotional and physical environments that support, restore, and rejuvenate us. If you have more than you need, use, or love surrounding you; if you feel crowded and unsettled seeing overflowing garages and closets; if you say yes when you long to say no, it may be time to consider embracing less.

But just as pain follows surgery, the discomfort we may experience is temporary and part of the process.

When angst rears its ugly head, we may find the pesky voice of doubt asking, "What if I need it someday? What if I eventually remember what this thing fits and then I no longer have it? What if this thing is worth money and I give it away? What if I could have sold it? What if my kids want it someday? What if I move? What if, what if, what if...?"

What if I told you that there is a cost to keeping your stuff? Overcrowded spaces are more difficult to clean, limit freedom of movement, and may feel stagnant and block the energy needed for new ideas, current projects, and future adventures. And there are people who may truly need what you discard.

What if you ask yourself what embracing less could make space for in your life and what it could add to someone else’s? Would your answer ignite your decision to embrace all that comes with letting go of what no longer serves you?

Creative solutions to these challenges and obstacles are abundant. Finding motivation and sustaining momentum require that we temper enthusiasm with a pace that respects our mental and physical health. Many people seek outside help to manage time and energy and to navigate the myriad of resources waiting for what we choose not to keep.

Professional organizers and coaches are skilled at asking questions, supporting your efforts without judgment, and helping you tap into the creativity you may have lost sight of along the way.

I have seen first-hand the lightness of being that results from having less, both in my experience as an organizer coach and in my personal life. I have watched an ill client, usually too weak to lift a single box, jump up and dance around her garage and tell me how freeing it is to finally let go of the weight of boxes stagnating in her garage. I have been moved to tears by a voicemail from a client who donated her excess to a food bank. She had witnessed first-hand the most basic of needs right in her own community and was humbly motivated to continue to be of service.

I have moved homes many times in my life, and over time I became comfortable with keeping things for someday. That was sensible when I was a navy wife setting up a home every 1 to 2 years. Although masterful at organizing my stuff, my last move made letting go and living with less an essential element to my happiness. I was recently divorced and leaving behind a home of 17 years. I was starting fresh and curating an environment to support my new life. And I needed to be practical. I needed less to be more comfortable and to literally fit into my spaces.

I named my new home le petit chateau long before I held the keys to the front door. Naming my home shifted my perspective and allowed me to let go of resentment and anger and to embrace what was within my control. In the end, this move and the changes I made have added to my life in unexpected and beautiful ways. Le petite chateau reminds me that I am embracing less to have more–more joy, more calm, and more time for what I love.

The process of letting go and embracing less is like peeling an onion. We take it one layer at a time, wipe away the tears that sometimes result, and then let it sit until we are ready to peel again.

Eventually, we find the sweet center and marvel at the peacefulness of less.

 

Jennifer Raphael 2Jennifer Raphael is Certified Professional Organizer and Coach specializing in ADHD, Chronic Disorganization, and Aging. Her experiences as a Pediatric ICU Nurse, art teacher, military wife, and mother, enrich her mental toolbox. She is an advocate of neurodiversity with the belief it is possible for each of us to thrive given the right tools. You can find her at Less-Stress Organizing Solutions.

Becoming a Volunteer

Becoming a Volunteer

 

A Social Quid Pro Quo

About ten years ago I started thinking about retiring. I lived in Mexico and was teaching university students online, having already stepped back from the most active elements of my career working as a consultant for large organizations. A few years later, I moved back to the US and slowly wound down my teaching work. It took me a few years to go from “thinking about it” to making it official, but for the last three years I have been fully retired.

At first it was kind of nice; I had no serious responsibilities. I had no clients to call, no student papers to correct, and no research duties. Life was good…for a couple of months.

However, after catching up on my reading list and binge-watching Game of Thrones, I started to get bored. I started to not have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would lie there and think about what I had to do that day: Let’s see…coffee, read the local paper (bad news), surf the net (more bad news), and walk my dogs (the high point of my day). I started to wish I had kids and grandkids. Maybe I could offer some sage advice about something or nurture a sick child. Anything to make me feel like I was being of value as I had when I felt my clients and students held me in some regard. I had no real friends nearby so visiting them was out of the question.

I had lived in this state of mind for a few months when I started to realize it was affecting my mental health. I was starting to feel depressed...

Fortunately for me, my wife was beginning to wind down her career and that helped give me some much-needed social interaction. But still, I needed to be needed–like I was when I had a career.

Then one day I stumbled onto an article in the local paper written by someone who was a local “Master Gardener”. I figured if you were a master gardener then you must have a degree in botany or horticulture or something. But I was interested, and a blurb at the end of the newspaper column gave a web address for the organization, so I checked it out.

The first thing that caught my eye on the Master Gardener website was that they had something called the helpdesk. The helpdesk would diagnose your plant problems and give you possible solutions. Cool! The second thing I noticed was that they were looking for volunteers to join their organization. I wondered what it would be like to volunteer as a master gardener, so I inquired.

Long story short: I didn’t spend ten years thinking about this opportunity. I signed up, got interviewed and accepted, went through the formal training (quite extensive), and started doing my volunteer hours. Now, I am one of the people who mans the helpdesk.

Three things of value have come out of my master gardener experience. First, I am learning so much about plants and gardening, always been a casual interest of mine. Second, I have developed a new social network with a variety of interesting people with distinct backgrounds. Third, I am being of service to my community.

If you are a senior, and retired, volunteering is a great way to make friends and serve others in your community. It’s a great way to put some meaning back into your life.

Why Volunteer

Social participation. In a previous blog I discussed the relationship between loneliness and depression. I advocated for developing and maintaining a social network to stave off loneliness. Volunteering is an excellent way to do that and at the same time create the feeling of satisfaction that comes with being of service.

Research has shown that active and productive engagement in society is a key element in successful aging. When seniors increase their levels of social participation, we have a reduced rate of suicide, better physical health, reduced mortality in general, and higher levels of psychological well-being. Research has also shown that volunteering can help prevent depression.

Being of service. Even if your social life is robust, and your primary focus is not on expanding your social network, you can reap the psychological benefits of being of service to individuals and your community. Being a master gardener volunteer, I get to help people solve problems with their plants, develop and deliver library talks on a variety of gardening related topics, and establish a network of new friends in my community.

Another way I volunteer is by writing blogs for Love of Aging that, hopefully, inform seniors of things they can do in their lives that can support their successful aging.

Researchers have looked directly at the health benefits of volunteering as we age. One study concluded that for seniors, volunteering has a negative relationship with mortality; seniors that volunteered had a 44% lower rate of mortality than seniors that did not volunteer.

Another study showed other significant positive results for seniors who volunteered: Older volunteers reported a wide variety of benefits to the people they served, themselves, their families, and communities. More than 30% reported that they were “a great deal better off” because of volunteering, and almost 60% identified a benefit to their families.

Being of service to the community not only helps the members of the community that are being served but also those that are being of service.

Types of Volunteer Service

There are a large variety of volunteering opportunities available to seniors. One way to get our head around them is to organize them into different models. Here is an example of five distinct but overlapping models for understanding the nature of a specific volunteering opportunities:

Formal. These types of opportunities tend to be more formally organized and involve the delivery of services. These roles tend to be more strictly supervised and more highly structured.

  • Volunteering for the library cart in a local metropolitan hospital
  • Delivering meals to older adults through services such as Meals-on-Wheels
  • Providing activities and outing support in an aged care facility
  • Volunteer driver for a service organization
  • Volunteer animal care giver for organizations such as the ASPCA
  • Volunteering in tourism, museums, large charities and emergency services

Informal. Non-formal volunteering occurs in a variety of community settings. This type of volunteering is done in local communities and centers around specific social needs.  Volunteers work in unfunded, less structured settings.

  • Volunteering for a neighborhood group
  • Running the snack bar for a community sporting or recreational group
  • Coordinating the sale of merchandise for a self-help group
  • Volunteering for a specific hobby group
  • Providing services or support through a mutual support group

Governance. Governance volunteers serve on boards and management committees. They provide leadership and direction for the organization.

  • Secretary for the local soccer club
  • President of a service club, such as a local chapter of the Kiwanis
  • Serving on the board of an NGO

Social action. Social action groups are similar to non-formal groups in that people come together around a shared interest but differ in that social action groups have an interest and passion for bringing about defined changes.

  • Volunteering for an environmental group
  • Political lobbying
  • Getting out the vote
  • Volunteering for a community action group
  • Lobbying for change for a specific target group of people or cause

Projects. Project work is for people with specific periods of time available and are seeking out volunteer opportunities with clearly defined timeframes. These opportunities typically involve high levels of volunteer involvement over a short period of time. The idea is that the volunteer has a specific set of skills that can be brought into an organization for a specific project.

  • Volunteering to oversee the plan and construction of a new building
  • Running or assisting at a specific event
  • Redesigning the website for an organization
  • Volunteering to write a marketing plan for a community group

Volunteer Opportunities

Ready to stop thinking about it and volunteer? If you type into your web browser “volunteer opportunities” the search results will be overwhelming. There are thousands of opportunities out there. Here are ten examples from one website I found:

1. Animal Rescue Shelters. Local animal shelters almost always need volunteers. There may be administrative opportunities or working with the animals like dog walking.

2. National Parks. You can help maintain trails, gather scientific information, and even act as a docent.

3. Food Pantries. Food pantries and soup kitchens can always use a helping hand organizing a local food drive, raising money, or simply handing out hot meals to those in need.

4. Habitat for Humanity. Brush up or develop home DIY skills while helping other less fortunate folks find shelter.

5. Local Libraries. Libraries typically need help organizing shelves and assisting patrons, and you may also be of help setting up and running public events, such as author signings and book fairs.

6. Art Museums. Get involved in the community by volunteering for family programs and children’s activities at your local museum. Once you build up your knowledge base, you may qualify to be a tour guide or event planner.

7. Political Campaigns. No politician gets elected without volunteers manning the phones, distributing fliers, raising money, and answering emails. This kind of work can provide you with valuable experience on many levels and can be applied to a host of different industries.

8. YMCA. You can volunteer to help both children and adults, strengthen your leadership skills by coaching a sports team, or pick up some valuable teaching experience by tutoring literacy courses.

9. Retirement Homes and Senior Centers. Offer to give a lecture or teach a class. Offer your services utilizing your set of skills

10. Red Cross. If you don’t feel like giving blood, why not greet and assist customers looking to do so? Your skills may make you a good fit for grant writing, performing clerical tasks, or managing other volunteers. If you’ve got the drive, you can draw on any number of talents to help the Red Cross

Win-Win

Volunteering can make you feel better and actually help you live longer. That’s a big win for the volunteer, but also there is a win for the organizations we support and the individuals we directly assist. Put yourself out there and meet people and support your community. It’s good for you and good for them.

 

EdLopez 300x300Ed Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

 

Loneliness, Depression and Sociability in Seniors

All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?

There have been very few times in my adult life when I really needed to cry. The one time that stands out for me I was stationed in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division. You might think that there is a lot to be emotionally distressed about when serving in a war zone and you would be right. However, I wasn’t crying because I was afraid, I was crying because I felt incredibly alone. I was far from home, living with a bunch of men I hardly knew, and I was not sure if I was going to make it back. I thought about my family and friends and how much I missed them. These thoughts all came together to create an overwhelming sense of loneliness. 

Even now, 50 years later, I find myself sometimes being lonely. My wife and I have no children, and my wife is frequently away from home traveling on business. I can spend days in the house alone with my two dogs; reading, writing, surfing the net, gardening, and watching TV. Having been an academic, I’m used to spending a great deal of time reading books and journals. A very solitary endeavor.

To my advantage I don’t require a lot of social activity. I enjoy my own company and easily find ways to entertain myself. But the truth is, even a recluse needs some human interaction, which is why I’m always happy when my wife, who is very sociable, comes home. My biggest problem when it comes to feeling lonely is that I’m not very sociable. Sociability is important if we want to ward off loneliness. A lack of sociability can even affect our mortality, if it leads us toward depression.

Loneliness

Loneliness can be defined by two factors: one is our desired level of social interaction versus two, our actual level of social interaction. If you desire more social interaction than you have, you are at a greater risk of feeling lonely. The research on loneliness seems to be broadly divided into three areas: childhood and adolescence, early adulthood, and senior populations. In the younger groups, the variables that tend to get looked at are personality traits, social skills, and cognitive processes. For seniors, there tends to be more focus on longevity issues such as health, income levels, transportation, and social power.

Social power seems like a candidate for a lot of loneliness issues if we assume that being in ill health and not having transportation to visit others, which may result from reduced income, can cause us to lose control over our ability to interact with our social network. Regardless of the reasons, it is not a good thing to be lonely. Just the emotional experience of it is negative, but also, and perhaps most importantly, it can lead to depression.

Loneliness and Depression

When I was studying psychology at UCLA back in the 1970s, I recall hearing a professor refer to depression as the common cold of psychology. By that he meant that we all get sad or down or even depressed at various times in our lives, but things change, and we recover and move on. As we age, we may have bouts of depression that are more difficult to recover from. This is especially true when we experience a sense of loneliness.

There is a mountain of research on the relationship between the cognitive states of loneliness and depression. Some of these studies seem to have conflicting results. The one thing that is consistent in these findings though is that loneliness and depression are highly correlated , especially in older adults. That is to say, if you are experiencing loneliness you are much more likely to experience depression. I believe, however, that even though there is a strong correlation between loneliness, aging, and depression, this does not mean that as we age, we will automatically get depressed.

So, what counteracts loneliness? Certainly, one important way to ward off loneliness, and the resulting potential for depression, is that thing I rely on my wife for: being more sociable.

Sociability

The American Psychological Association defines sociability as: “Sociability is the need or tendency to seek out companions, friends and social relationships.” As we age it becomes more difficult to maintain our social connections. We may lose our spouse; our children may move away; and we will lose friends due to the normal rate of mortality for our age group. One certain way to ward off loneliness in the wake of these circumstances is to work at being more social. Sociability is important in seniors because it can help keep us from feeling lonely. If we have a fulfilling social life, we are much less likely to feel lonely, and hence depressed.

Improving Social Interaction

So how do we maintain our social network when we can’t drop by to visit our family and friends? How can we enhance and maintain our already existing social structure?

First, the answer is to actually be sociable. Yes, I know that can be difficult if you’re a bit reclusive like me or even if you want to develop and maintain new friendships but feel awkward trying. The thing is, you need to make an effort to stay in touch with the family and friends you already have. Invite them over. Host a game night. Establish weekly or monthly get togethers, so being together becomes routine and you have something to look forward to. I have found that it’s better to have an occasion in the calendar, and then move it if something gets in the way, than to schedule nothing.

To increase your sociability, you may also need to make an effort to meet new people. Where do the older people in your community meet? Is there a senior center nearby?  Where do the locals play bridge? There are groups for everything. Find the people who are interested in what interests you. I joined a gardening club and became a Master Gardener.

Second, you have to find a method that will allow you to achieve your social goals. This becomes more difficult as we age. We may not have transportation to actually go visit friends, or we may be dealing with health challenges that keep us from getting out at all. We may even be self-quarantining in the face of a pandemic.

I don’t think there is a perfect substitute for shaking hands, hugging, or kissing family and friends, but if it is just not possible to be with them physically, then technology can help.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article described a series of social apps that can help us stay in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Among the apps discussed, I think two have the greatest potential for helping us stay in touch with our social networks. The first one is FaceTime.

The trusted FaceTime app, available for all Apple devices, connects you to friends and relatives from all over the world, and it couldn’t be easier to use. Once downloaded, your contact list will show you who’s already using the app, and from there the route to a smiley, live face-to-face conversation is very short. Marco Polo, available also on Android, offers the same mood-boosting closeness, but on your own terms; short video messages can be recorded, decorated with funny backgrounds and effects, and sent to anyone who needs some love.

Here is a link to a You Tube video for beginners on how to use FaceTime.

The second app which I have just recently begun to use is Zoom. Zoom is especially good for communicating with more than one person at a time. You can see dozens of people at a time on your computer screen and they can see you and talk at the same time. My wife and I recently hosted a virtual baby shower using Zoom with about twenty people online talking and playing games. Zoom can be a valuable tool for staying in touch with friends and family, and a basic subscription is free.

The star of the COVID-19 crisis, Zoom is a conferencing app that’s intuitive, easy to join and allows participants to share their screen with the rest of the group. The Basic option limits your meeting to 40 minutes a session, and doesn’t allow recording, but you can “host” an endless amount for participants. While meeting, your friends and colleagues can secretly message each other in the Chat window (hello, gossip!) or chat with everyone at once. Currently popular with workout-class instructors, Zoom is also perfect for a collective dance party.

Here is a link to a You Tube video on how to use Zoom.

So, there it is. The two most important aspects of sociability are to want to be social and to have a method for being social if your social network is not readily available to you. Working toward greater sociability, and thereby fending off depression, can help us feel better and live longer.

  

EdLopez 300x300Ed Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

 

Twenty Years to Go

Getting older getting you down? Try flipping your aging paradigm.

On this crisp fall afternoon, I’m sitting at my desk in my Pacific Heights office, a converted A-frame studio condo at the top of a three-story Victorian, bathed in sunlight from windows on three sides. The flip chart behind me has scribbled notes from my earlier session with a group of exuberant, world-tackling millennials looking to join one of my leadership programs. I’m finishing my second cup of Peets Ethiopian coffee before a call with long-time client. My 72nd birthday is coming up, I’m thinking, which means I have 20 years to go.

gs1

It all started mid-July four years ago. I was at a rustic conference center in Bass Lake, high in the mountains just outside Yosemite. The days were beautiful, the birds singing, the majestic pines swaying gently in the warm breeze, and the nearby creek gurgling peacefully. Yet, I was not peaceful.

I was halfway through my 67th year and getting older was starting to get to me. Life felt familiar, routine; I had lost some enthusiasm. I seemed to be slowing down, my world seemed to be getting smaller, and my golf game was sliding. In my consulting practice, I supported visionary leaders in fulfilling on their most audacious ambitions. But, where were my audacious ambitions? Some of my best clients were retiring, my business waning. My wife, Lily, noting my lack of zest, had recently asked, “Is it time for you to retire?”

Was it? I asked myself in the contemplative mountain air. I had lived an extraordinary life. I had built a successful business doing work I loved. I had recently been selected as Chairman of the Board of the Pachamama Alliance, a highly successful global nonprofit committed to bringing about a thriving, just, and sustainable planet. My health had been great—since the age of 34, I’d run 19 marathons. I had a close family, a wide circle of incredible friends and colleagues and had been married to an unbelievable woman for more than four decades. I had been president of the student government in college and got my MBA from Stanford University. My professional work as a Silicon Valley executive and leadership consultant, and my volunteer work in ending world hunger, had taken me to well over 40 countries and given me the opportunity to meet with many world leaders, including President Bush and President Gorbachev. I had been a guest on a talk show in Moscow and written about in The New York Times and The Boston Globe. In 1989, USA Today had honored me as one of their “Top 10 People Who Made a Difference.” 

Now there I was, sitting in a scenic mountain retreat—with more experience and more capacity as a leader than at any time in my life —yet with a gnawing feeling of impending irrelevance as I meandered ahead toward what appeared to be a dwindling future. I recalled a chart one of my teachers and mentors, Brian Regnier of Landmark, had showed me years back. It depicted growth and development as most of us seem to expect it, rapid and robust up until about 60 or so, leveling off for a bit, and then declining rapidly until we die.

gs2

My life had been like the graph so far, reflecting continual growth and development. I’d had my share of big successes and big failures, and there were times when life seemed to stall and become predictable, but I always seemed to find something that allowed me to break the grip of inertia and get back on the upward growth and development path. Now, at age 67-and-a-half, was it time again to shake up life? Or was I out of juice? Had I actually peaked out, with my life’s expansion now heading downward until my inexorable death, just like that graph predicted?

Then it struck me. Birthdays are always about celebrating the past. You look backward at what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been. Each birthday you have another year to include. What if? I thought. What if I flipped it around? Rather than looking backward, what if I looked forward? Instead of counting up, I counted down? And celebrated what’s in front of me rather than what’s behind me? 

I recalled a second, comparative graph that Brian had presented back then. On this atypical chart, rather than growth and development peaking in the 60s, it keeps going up, peaking only when you die and not a moment earlier. Brian had posited: “What would be possible if, instead, we lived our lives like this?”

gs3

Right then I asked myself: How long am I going to live? Ninety-two seemed like a good age to wrap things up. So, I did the math. On my next birthday, I would have 24 years to go. This flipped-around thinking led me to the really important questions, not about the life I had lived, but about living life. What am I going to accomplish in the precious time I have left? Who am I going to be? How am I going to take advantage of what life has given me so far to make the maximum difference going forward?

If I thought about life like a golf game, it was as if I had just finished the 13th hole, with five holes to play. What were the holes I had already played good for, really? Great stories, for sure. But stories best told later on, over a beer. On the 14th tee box, the only things that really mattered were: How am I going to play the next 5 holes? Will I play them with the exuberance, commitment, joy, confidence and anticipation that comes with playing that very first hole of the morning with dew on the grass and the sun rising over the trees, walking down the fairway with a good buddy? 

If I wanted my life to go like graph two, then no more birthdays celebrating the past. I would celebrate the future. I admit it was a bit scary declaring only “24 years to go.” But that prospect was exhilarating at the same time. There is something wonderfully refreshing about golf - there is a point where it is decided, game over, that’s it. There’s a wonderful freedom in that certainty. Saying I had 24 years to go gave me that same sense of palm-sweaty freedom, clear when my round of life would be over. 

So, here I am, sitting in my office about to celebrate 20 years to go. In the four years since I inverted my view of aging in Yosemite, I reformulated my consulting practice inside a vision of business fulfilling on its awesome potential to make a difference in society.

gs4

My time and energy is no longer spent on a few lucrative engagements with large corporations. Rather, I have taken on having 1,000 Bay Area Leaders embody the principles of transformational leadership in their organizations, with a special focus on millennial and women leaders. 

My new focus on life took me on life-altering trips to Dubai, Lebanon, Armenia, Romania and China, pushing my “countries visited” number over 50. And when, in January of this year, I was diagnosed with an aggressive, high-risk prostate cancer, I kept looking forward. I was back working 60-hour weeks shortly after my surgery, and had invited my surgeons to do my upcoming leadership program. Living life was too imperative to let cancer slow me down. 

In a few moments, I will rinse out my coffee mug, go down the three flights of steps from my office to Pierce Street, and walk a few blocks to Via Veneto where I’ll meet Lily for dinner and celebrate my 20 Years to Go. We won’t be talking about winding it down. We will be engaged in vibrant conversation about these next two decades. What will they look like and what else can we create and contribute given who we have become. Tonight, Lily and I will be talking about winding it up, so we can fulfill our ever-expanding potential to make a difference in our cherished time left. 

It occurred to me as I was writing this blog, what if all of us baby boomers took on making the noteworthy contributions we are now uniquely qualified to make? What if we took on being partners with the upcoming generations, where they learn from us, and we learn from them, in service of taking what’s possible for us as a human race to a wholly new level? 

I invite you to join me in being an extraordinary elder. Becoming a member of the Years to Go club is really quite simple...

  • How many Years to Go? Choose your number.
  • What do you plan to accomplish with those precious, wonderful, years? What noteworthy contributions will you make? Come up with things that would have you jump out of bed in the morning. Share them widely with all who will listen.
  • Celebrate. On your birth date, celebrate the difference you plan to make in your years to go.

I pass forward to you a birthday wish I recently received from a good friend: Have a healthy, happy, fulfilling year of doing your greatest work in life so far!

gs5Gordon Starr is the founder and CEO of StarrCo (www.starrco.org). As a coach and consultant, Gordon supports visionary leaders in transforming their organizations and in producing breakthroughs in individual, team and organizational performance.

 

The Zen of Gardening

The Zen of Gardening

Science and Beauty From the Garden


The dichotomy of gardening

It has always occurred to me that there is a sort of fundamental dichotomy in gardening. On one hand gardening takes work, energy, perseverance, and money. On the other hand, it is relaxing, fulfilling and provides a sense of accomplishment. I am of an age where spending time on my hands and knees planting spring bulbs is taxing. Carrying bags of compost and potting soil taps into my back and knees. After a day in the garden, I need a hot bath and time to relax my aging muscles.

So, what is it that keeps me coming back and putting more effort into my small plot of land? There is not always an immediate sense of satisfaction. Bulbs takes months to come up and flower. Bare root roses take time to grow and bloom. Of course, there is the ongoing and sometimes time-consuming tasks of controlling weeds and pests. Unless I’m planting a bed of annuals, I’m not likely to get immediate gratification.

Certainly, there is a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day in the garden that can reinforce our hard work behavior. Of course, there is the satisfaction of knowing that in the not too distant future there will be beauty, but I think there is more to it than that. In my career I was a researcher and a teacher. My area of expertise is psychology. Since I have retired, I have more leisure time on my hands so I turned to gardening as a fulfilling pastime. I signed up and went through the Master Gardener training with the University of California Cooperative Extension. I thought I might be able to combine my career knowledge with my developing knowledge of gardening. I started looking at the psychological impact gardening has on us as humans and how we can use gardening as a way to recover from stress, help us heal, relieve our depression, and enhance our sense of wellbeing.

This is your brain on gardening

There are some interesting changes that occur in our brains when we spend time in the garden. In a well-controlled, peer reviewed study that I found quite interesting, experimenters used thirty gardeners to see if gardening resulted in reduced stress and an increased sense of wellbeing. The researchers measured levels of cortisol in the saliva of a group of 30 gardeners (average age of 58) after they were required to take a stress inducing, computer generated test. Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone, and it’s associated with your fight or flight response. It is generated by your adrenal glands and is regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in your brain. High levels of cortisol are associated with a bunch of unhealthy conditions including: anxiety, depression, headaches, digestion problems, sleeping problems, weight gain and memory and concentration problems.

Immediately after the test they sampled each person’s cortisol at its highest level, then they sent them to participate in one of two activities. Half of the subjects stayed indoors and read books, while the other group went outside and worked in a garden. After 30 minutes of engaging in these activities, the researchers took another sample of each subject’s cortisol level. They found that while both groups had lower levels of cortisol, indicating a recovery from stress, the subjects that worked in the garden had significantly lower levels or cortisol in their saliva than did the subjects that read. Also, the subjects from the gardening group reported a greater sense of wellbeing than did the book reading group.

This study shows one of the many values of gardening. We can use our time in the garden to help us recover from stressful events and experience a sense of wellbeing.

Healing effects of gardening

Over the past few decades there has been an important movement toward using gardens for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes. Having a background in clinical psychology, I was fascinated when I discovered the field of horticultural therapy. This is an area within clinical psychology that uses gardens as an intervention for therapeutic and rehabilitative purposes. Gardens have been shown to both improve the social psychological and physical wellbeing of older adults and help us overcome the depression that is sometimes associated with aging.

The healing powers of gardens and nature in general, have also been shown to have a positive effect on people recovering from injury. A group of researchers followed 46 post-surgical patients that were assigned to one of two groups. Half of the patients recovered in rooms that had window views that faced a brick wall and the other half of the group had windows that faced a small stand of deciduous trees. The group that had the view of the trees spent less postoperative time in the hospital, received fewer negative evaluations from the nursing staff, and took fewer strong pain medications than did the patients who viewed the brick wall from their room.

Research has also shown that exposure to natural settings can make people feel better when compared to people exposed to urban scenes that lack natural elements. Compared to the urban scenes, people exposed to nature scenes had an increase in positive affect including feelings of affection, friendliness, playfulness, and elation.

We can see the profound importance of gardens when we look back in history. The Koran and the Bible both refer to the garden of Eden as being the wellspring of humankind; an idyllic world of peace and harmony. In the Persian culture the idea of a garden of paradise goes back 6000 years. Even the Neanderthals valued the beauty and serenity of flowers. In graves dated back as far as 60,000 years ago, there was evidence of cornflowers, hyacinth, and yarrow being placed around bodies at burial.

Gardens can heal body and spirit and have subtle yet profound effects on us as we age and our lifestyles change. When we move away from the challenges of a fulltime career and toward a more leisurely life, retirees long for leisure activities that offer the possibility of engagement, self-fulfillment, and satisfaction. Gardening is one such activity. We can improve our mood and sense of well-being through the power of beauty in nature.

Carol Cumes, in her book Chakra Gardens, describes our wholistic relationship to gardens:

In the Andes mother earth is referred to as Pachamama. Throughout the world, healers, shamans and sages hear Pachamama’s cry to restore the planet to balance. ‘First heal the world, by healing yourself,’ She whispers, while extending an invitation to mankind to return to Her gardens. Go where nature draws you. Breath in the energies. Inhale the fragrant perfumes. Listen deeply, with your eyes closed, as Pachamama works with you to provide all you need.

There is much made in the literature about Zen gardens–gardens specifically designed to give us a sense of wellbeing and to focus our healing energies. I, however, think that we do not need a specifically designed garden to give us peace of mind, a sense of wellbeing, and soothing comfort from the stress of day-to-day life. Being in any garden, being with the beauty of nature, and touching, feeling, and smelling all that the garden holds will heal us. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can make your own garden space with a potted plant in a window or for that matter you can build your own Zen garden in the smallest of spaces. The important thing is to be with the beauty of nature and allow it to restore us.


EdLopezEd Lopez, PhD, Love of Aging’s Science Editor is a retired organizational psychologist, university instructor and researcher. His research has been presented at international conferences and published in a peer reviewed journal. Ed is also a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

 

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