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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.

 

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.  

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.

 

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