Your 2nd-Act Career – Part II

Last week we shared some of the ideas that came up at a recent “Free at 55” Meetup around the subject of post-retirement careers:  envisioning your lifestyle, knowing both your strengths and your requirements, consulting gigs, overseas teaching assignments, and volunteering.  This week, we continue sharing our members’ ideas around 2nd-act careers, including some ideas that came up at previous evenings.

Take the travel blogger who also finances her overseas travel by doing the research for her children’s books set in foreign lands.  Or the couple who organize small group African safari expeditions that cover the cost of their own participation.

A series authored by one of our Meetup members

A series authored by one of our Meetup members

One idea that garnered a fair amount of attention a our last evening was starting a business, especially a web business that could be managed from anywhere on the planet that has good Internet access.

As with other 2nd-act careers, lifestyle considerations are key.  The trick is to create a business that can succeed with the level of effort you want to devote to it.  Trading a 40-hour a week desk job for a non-stop commitment requiring more than 60 hours a week of your time may not be what you had in mind.  As some of our members shared, it’s relatively easy to end up in this situation.  A bit of reality check may help avoid forging new chains.

One piece of advice was to be sure to tailor services to an audience whose business needs complement your lifestyle needs.  Serving a niche with more laid-back expectations may be the wisest course.  Remember also that you don’t have to do everything well, even within that well-defined niche.  As Tim Ferris and others have suggested, it’s never been easier to outsource the portion of the work that your not prepared to do.

As we heard last week, most 2nd-act careers build on past careers skills and successes in some way.  Look for ways to use the skills you already have and benefit from what you already know.  Last year one of our Meetup members, Elizabeth, told us about her experience as a “retiring” midwife.  She spent many months putting together a polished set of videos on natural childbirth, as well as a workbook and relaxation audios.  By outsourcing the technical work she created a web site to advertise and  sell this educational package.  Since launching, she has been able to bring in enough of an income to allow her to retire, and, as she wrote to me recently, is “now living in sunny Spain 6 months of the year, and loving it.”  Since launching the original site, she has naturally branched out into the post-birth market with a second site: BellyToBabyCoupons.com.

Another Meetup member's information product line

Another Meetup member’s information product line

Elizabeth’s experience underscored an important lesson that we also heard from others who started a  business.  Building a business is a different activity to working in a business.  You need to enjoy the process of building and working on your business.  In Elizabeth’s case, once she had her subject matter recorded in her video-and-workbook package, there wasn’t much “midwifery” left to do.  What there was to do instead was finding new customers – the work of marketing her product.  This meant searching out and acting on opportunities to interact with others in her marketplace, whether affiliates, referrals, or just communities of potential clients.  She reported that the single biggest factor affecting her monthly income was how much marketing she was doing.

Despite the promise of books such as “The 4-Hour Workweek”, most of our members who tried this had found that it took a lot more than four hours a week, especially to get started.  This is not the end of the world, if you are enjoying the time you put into it, and it still allows you the lifestyle you want.  However, some found they’d traded a job they loved for a business full of jobs they hated.  In this case, taking stock and a possible reset may be involved.  Some of our participants were looking at their second or third attempt.

Still, many of us felt there was a lot of potential in a web-based business, whether it be local or international in scope.  Maybe it’s creating events and happenings for your tribe.  Or selling information products such as eBooks, downloadable manuals, videos and podcasts.  There are no end of resources available to help you with this, and, while all of us had some ideas, none of us were experts in this area.

A great resource for a career self-assessment

A great resource for a career self-assessment

And yes, there truly is no end to the assistance that will be offered you if you mention that you’re thinking of starting a business, particularly an Internet-based business.  Some of the offers will likely be fraudulent, and many more bordering on that.  But even after eliminating all the questionable advice, you can still be overwhelmed by all the well-meaning and often quite useful coaches, blogs, sites and systems that offer you a path to business success.  You’ll soon find that you’ll want to pick a few sources that work for you – perhaps they resonate with your background or aspirations – and ignore the remaining 99%.

Perhaps you’ll run into something that really speaks to you.  Recently, I was looking into a program called “How to Start Software and SaaS Companies from Nothing” offered by “The Foundation”.  While I didn’t sign up for their six-month program, I was still able to glean some valuable advice from their website marketing videos.  In addition to offering some concrete examples of how much of starting an Internet business was about the marketing – in fact, the technical work itself was usually outsourced – they pointed to something very important for many of us looking to make something new happen in our lives.  Starting a new career or business will require you to transcend your self-limiting beliefs about money, … or ability, … or any number of beliefs that get in the way of doing something creative, and becoming that 2nd-act butterfly.

Trying out a new career at La Scala in Milan

Trying out a new career at La Scala in Milan

Who knew “retirement” was going to be so much work?

It’s not all bad news, though.  The act of taking on a new challenge of growth may be the very thing that keeps you young and healthy when the calendar suggests you should be losing your edge.

It may also be the opportunity to seek out new social networks as you look for support in making these changes.  Finding them is not that hard.  If nothing else, you can join one of the numerous Meetups devoted to new business success, Internet marketing, or other sorts of “dream building” such as our own “Free at 55” Meetup.

Perhaps you’re on the same path as we and other members of our Meetup.  If so, you’ll:

  • Have a detailed plan for your post-retirement life, captured in a compelling “vision document,” and including detailed budgeting of expected costs and investment income.
  • Create an inventory of past experience and business skills, with emphasis on those you most enjoy using.
  • Connect with others who can support you.
  • Start trying things on.
  • Have a plan, and be persistent.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the ride!  Perhaps the most important lesson shared by everyone at the Meetup was that “retirement is not a destination – it’s a journey.”  Your 2nd-act career may be just one of many “second” acts.  It will almost certainly evolve over time.

So when you start “Dancing your 2nd-Act Career”, know that you’ll keep on dancing till the end…

“Dance me to the end of love, dance me to the end of love.  Dance me to the end of love.” – Leonard Cohen

Hallelujah!

More Resources:

I wonder if there's a future in medieval royalty?

I wonder if there’s a future in medieval royalty?

Here a few more resources that came up during our evening:

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Dancing Your Second-Act Career

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin. Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in. Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove. Dance me to the end of love.  –  Leonard Cohen

Our “Free at 55” Meetup has attracted a group of more than 100 lively, adventuresome and interesting people.   We’ve talked and learned about travel, collaborative housing, financing travel, life transitions, and – did I mention it? – travel.  Last month, a dozen of us braved sudden snowstorm to discuss one of our most popular topics:  “After I retire, what will I do for work?”

Like many of us near retirement age, we would have thought this question ludicrous a few years ago.  “What kind of retirement is that if I’m still working?”  But the financial sea change of the last decade led us to new realizations.  We started by coming to terms with the fact that our investments were not going to deliver the kind of sustainable income we’d built our plan around.  Working after “retirement” began to look like a requirement.  For some of us in the Meetup, a supplementary income might not be needed to keep us off cat food – but to finance the international travel experiences we had on our bucket lists, it was essential.

One of the pre-reading assignments for our discussion

One of the pre-reading assignments for our discussion

However, once we begin to accept the necessity of continuing to work well beyond 55 or even 65, we began to see it had many non-financial upsides.  Most of us can expect to live 20, 30, or even 40 years beyond that traditional retirement age.  For a good many of us, a career of some sort will be an essential part of our mental and social life, not to mention a sense of purpose that gets us up in the morning.  For those without financial constraints, volunteering, sports, and hobbies may fill the bill, but for the rest of us, why not do something that also tops up the pension.

So we brought together our dreams, plans, and experiences, as well as our favourite ideas from some of the preparation reading we’d done before the Meetup.  In this post and the next, I’ll offer a sampling of what we shared.

For most of us contemplating second-act careers, the most important advice was to envision your lifestyle, and let that vision drive your career planning.  How are you going to travel for several months out of every year, if you’re chained to a desk with three weeks off?  What many of us are looking for are “lifestyle careers” – determine a desired post-retirement lifestyle, and then find or create the career, business or job that is compatible with that life.

This takes work.  You need to toss out your assumptions about how life “is”, and take a fresh look at how you’d like it to be.  Where do you want to live?  Who do you want to hang out with?  How close do you want your kids, ageing parents, or other family?  How, when, where and how much do you want to travel?  How much are you willing to work?  What kind of daily rhythm suits you?  And how much is all this going to cost, … really?

Determining your post-retirement costs can be challenging, especially if you anticipate a lot of lifestyle changes:  downsizing, empty-nesting, collaborative householding, going rural or even overseas, changing priorities.  Many financial consultants have their own perspectives and agendas, and their well-meaning advice can only take you so far.  At some point, you’ll have to do some research and crunch some numbers:  basic budgeting, rent-buy calculations, cost-of-living differences in your planned new location, expected rates of return from investments or annuities.  Our Meetup participants reported success with two key approaches:  talk to retirees who are similar to you and ask them what they are spending – get a reality check!  And practice living on your post-retirement income – now.

The Ideal Job Venn Diagram, by David Hamil

The Ideal Job Venn Diagram, by David Hamil

Another key piece of the puzzle is what do you really like to do, that you are good at, and that people would pay you for?  For some of us, this has the feel of a second adolescence:  an identity crisis of growing into the “third age.”  We can fall prey to a belief that this “new me” has to be a complete break from the past.  However, the experience of some in our group and of others we read about suggests a different approach:  a repositioning of our lifetime of training and experience in the service of new dreams and goals.  Most likely that “second act” butterfly of a new career is hiding in the desiccating shell forming around the “first act” worm of the old one.

We discussed some ways to leverage our current work experience in the service of a new lifestyle and new goals.  Members shared their research and experience regarding consulting.  Aim for a narrow and well-defined niche;  don’t try to do it all.  Test it out with small companies or non-profits with better work-life balance.  Build off your existing networks.

Some of our group were investigating teaching options: at home, overseas, or online.  These days entire university curricula are being offered online.  Why not your expertise?  People are consulting and teaching skills online that only recently required personal instruction:  learning a language, a musical instrument, or even natural childbirth (as one of our Meetup members is already doing, while living part-time in Spain).  Personal and career coaching is now routinely delivered to international clients via skype and similar technologies.

One of many copies of Michelangelo's work in Florence

One of many copies of Michelangelo’s work in Florence

Becoming a teacher may have other benefits as well.  Keeping your skills up might require some overseas study.  Many foreign universities offer inexpensive room and board to visiting students.  Why not go to Florence for a month – or a year – and study art?  Teaching also offers other potential opportunities to travel.  Besides teaching English as a second language, you might be able to teach a non-work related skill, such as swimming, fundraising, or even cooking.

In the second half of this post, we’ll share some other ideas that our members had about starting a new Internet or other business.  And talk a little about where this journey has taken us so far.  We’ll also explain what any of this has to do with Leonard Cohen’s dancing to the end of love, and include some more resources.

Meanwhile, here are a few to get you started.

Monarch Butterfly Emerging from Chrysalis, by Armon

Monarch Butterfly Emerging from Chrysalis, by Armon

Here are a few that came up during our evening:

And, if you’re already dancing your second-act career, we’d love to see your comments on how you did it.

Till next week… dance me to

Keeping Travel Alive between Trips

A couple of friends remarked recently, “Haven’t seen much about travel at ‘No Pension, Will Travel.’  Sounds like no pension, no travel.

Yes, it’s true.  I’ve been writing about almost every other aspect of our journey these days.  Cheryl and I were lamenting that – as we are still both working – all of our vacation time is spoken for this year, and our first trip longer than a weekend isn’t until late June.  So how do we keep travel alive when we’re not traveling?

There’s the usual travel-related tasks such as budgeting for the next trip – a lot more exciting than paying for the last one!  Or trying to find the cheapest way from Rome to Rio.  (If you don’t let the shenanigans of the airline and other travel sites drive you crazy!)  Planning a vacation is often listed as one of the top ways to improve your mood.  We’ve discovered quite a few others.

Canoeing in Croatia's National Plitvice Park - photo credit Huck Finn Adventure Tours

Canoeing in Croatia’s National Plitvice Park – photo credit Huck Finn Adventure Tours

Most of our upcoming trips are with groups of various sizes.  Following our resolution made on our cycling trip in Provence, we pulled together an ad hoc group of 16 people for a week of cycling in Croatia.  This has given us lots of excuses to get together with fun-loving people and talk about the upcoming trip.  Half of the original group of 16 decided to add on another week of exploring Croatia’s Plitvice National Park, so we met at the coordinator’s home for spaghetti, wine, and a little bit of travel planning.  With eight people, we have enough to make a custom itinerary cost-effective.  In the next month or so, we hope to get all 16 together for dinner as some of us have yet to meet.

Arranging accommodation through services such as Servas, Couchsurfing and AirBnB has given us another way to start a trip months before liftoff.  Once we’ve booked something, we often find the host happy to talk about our upcoming visit, offering us information and ideas, as well as just getting to know each other a little.  Recently we’ve been chatting with Sara, our upcoming host in the old centre of Ljubljana, Slovenia this Fall.  Nothing like connecting with a real person to make it feel like you’re already there.  We also stay in loose touch with hosts we’ve had on earlier trips – to Paris, Avignon, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Tuscany, and the Italian Riviera.  Add Mexico and Columbia for those we’ve hosted here.  Often it’s just Facebook, but special connections warrant something more.

Slovenian Sunday Brunch - photo credit EatWith.com

Slovenian Sunday Brunch – photo credit EatWith.com

Learning something about the culture of the countries we’re going to visit is another way to savour an upcoming trip, one that can also amplify the experience when we’re there.  We’re hoping to visit the local Croatian cultural centre before we go – in our city, there seems to be a centre for almost every ethnicity you can imagine.  Something we’ve yet to try is EatWith.com, billed as “Dine in homes around the world! Meet amazing people, eat great food and enjoy unforgettable experiences!  Besides using them when we travel, we could also find an authentic Croatian meal right in our home town.

Perhaps the most significant cultural undertaking before a trip is to learn something of the language. As Rita Mae Brown observed, “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.  I’m just starting my Croatian lessons, hoping I can achieve a working knowledge before we arrive in Dubrovnik.  Travel has been the main reason that I’ve learned several other languages since leaving high school, although there are other advantages.  Sure you can get by with English in most countries these days, but bear in mind the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby – so helpless and so ridiculous.

In the meantime, my volunteer work as an immigrant mentor has led to a number of invitations to meals and parties among the local Chinese community.  Most recent was an invitation to a house party to welcome in the Chinese Year of the Horse on January 31.  Definitely a cultural

40th annual Chinese New Year parade, Vancouver, Canada

40th annual Chinese New Year parade, Vancouver, Canada

experience, even if we don’t yet have a trip to China in the planning stages.  Even if you don’t have any personal immigrant connections, check out the public festivals celebrated by immigrant communities in your area.

There are lots of other ways to travel between trips.  As members of Servas and Couchsurfing, we also host overseas visitors from time to time.  This Spring we have a special visit in the works.  Through dabbling in my family tree on the great collaborative genealogy site, WikiTree, I’ve made contact with hitherto unknown second and third cousins in England, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Australia and Brazil.  Our current challenge is to choose between invitations to several countries.  A cousin from Brazil plans to visit us this year, and Cheryl and I are already making tentative plans to visit my new extended family in Florianópolis in the next couple of years.  It would be great stopover en route to learning tango in Buenos Aires.

If you keep your eyes open, there are lots of opportunities to experience the world within easy commuting distance.  In most cities, there are frequent “world music” concerts to expose you to new sounds.  I’ve been greatly enjoying my first attempts to learn Latin Funk Dance.  I’m pretty much off balance for the entire hour every week, but just think of all the new synapses I’m creating.  And with that Latin beat, I could be back in the main square of Santiago de Cuba.

Being “off balance” is a lot of what good travel is about.  As a dear friend recently reminded me in her post, “Out of the Blue”, travel “rattles our carefully-designed world view.”  If you have any doubts, check out one of the many Internet lists on how travel makes you a better person.  The truth is, however, that we don’t have to travel at all to live in “vacation mode.”

A Tree Drum - photo credit, Drumming & Health

A Tree Drum – photo credit, Drumming & Health

I was reminded of this the other day when I discovered an opportunity to join a “drumming circle” and bring along as many friends as I could muster.  The opportunity to join a drumming master, schooled for months in western Africa, and experiment with call-response rhythms on djenbe and other drums sounds like a great new experience.  I jumped at the chance, and invited 25 of my friends along too.  I was sure that they’d all leap at the chance to experience something new.  Yet, as the excuses started to dribble in – “I have to go skiing the weekend following.” – “I’ve got to do my tax return.” – Really!? – I began to realize that not everyone saw the value in jumping in to brand new experiences.  It’s a pity.  The evening was magical, and those who showed up were excited to invite others to a future event.

I think this points to the real way to keep travel alive even when you’re not traveling:  bring that attitude of open-mindedness, that stance of being perpetually a little “off balance”, to everything you do.  I collected some of the markers of my own travel attitude in a “vacation mode” posting a few years back: “Do only one good thing every day…  Talk to people for no reason…  Live with less material stuff…  Go outside even when the weather isn’t cooperating…  Spend time with friends and family that you enjoy being with…  Have sex any time of the day…”  You get the picture.

Under a Full Moon - photo credit, Meetup.com

Under a Full Moon – photo credit, Meetup.com

So, what can you do today in that spirit of exploring a brand new place you’ve never been before?  How can you rekindle that wide-eyed curiosity in familiar surroundings?  When you start to look, there’s no shortage of opportunities.  On Valentine’s evening, Cheryl and I joined a small group for a snowshoe hike under the full moon.  Snowshoeing is a fairly new activity for us, and this was the first time we’d ever been out after dark.  It was magical.  And, yes, it was romantic too.

What are you taking on in vacation mode?  How do you keep the travel spirit alive between trips?

Related:

Small Meditation on a Big Marriage

Paul is postponing his planned post due to a death in Cheryl’s family.  Instead, here is a piece he wrote three years ago about his parents’ relationship – just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Last Friday was my 28th anniversary – of my wedding to an inspiring and wonderful woman. We spent the day apart. Instead I was diving into a weekend workshop on self-expression, knowing that my efforts there were fully supported on the home front.

Sharing about my marriage with the other participants and seeing how it moved them, I was again reminded how blessed I am to be in such a loving relationship.

My teenaged parents, five years before their wedding

My teenaged parents, five years before their wedding

So many people tell me that what my wife and I have is rare, almost extinct. That may be. But another anniversary last weekend reminded me of other examples – right in my own back yard.

Two years ago last Saturday my beloved mother passed away at the age of 84. When I was going through her effects, I found, framed and faded and hanging on the wall, an old vinyl 78 recording of “their song”. Sixty-five years earlier, Mom and Dad had courted to the musical poetry of “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

I knew this of course. On their 40th anniversary, we had gathered friends and family in an intimate banquet room, where my own wife and I surprised and delighted my parents with our wavering a-cappella rendition of the Kern classic.

My parents remained “an item” for over sixty years including the time of their courtship. Their friends still thought of them as they did when they were first “going steady”. They were smitten with each other their whole life through. My brother used to say that if you looked up the definition of “devoted” in an illustrated dictionary, you’d see a picture of Dad. He wasn’t far wrong.

Wedding Day in 1947

Wedding Day in 1947

After Dad passed away, Mom continued to live her life as the vibrant woman she was. She was lively and healthy, involved in numerous activities, a fantastic mother, mother-in-law, grandparent – and a wonderful friend to many. She helped many of her peers deal with the advancing years, and when she needed a little more action, she hung out with new friends in the younger set.

Yet vibrant and alive as she was, half of her was no longer with us – the “Dad half”. That was our daily experience of Mom for the next six and half years. When Mom learned that her time with us was running out, sad as she was to be leaving us, she was – I believe – very happy to be “following Dad”. She told us many times how her lifelong love affair with Dad had made her life as full as any person could wish for, and that she was completely satisfied with how her life had turned out. I doubt I will ever have the privilege of witnessing another spirit whose final days were as full and serene.

When the time came to find a home for Mom’s ashes, the answer came strong and unbidden to me and my siblings. So a few weeks later, the three of us gathered around Dad’s grave on a chilly afternoon, where we sprinkled Mom’s ashes over it – in the warm care of Dad’s loving arms. Our three loving spouses were there with us in every way: a most fitting sendoff to a love that had begun more than sixty-five years earlier. I like to think it’s a story that will be repeated.

During their overseas years, 1947-1952.

During their overseas years, 1947-1952.

More than once.

(Dedicated to my brother and sister, and our three loving spouses. To those who believe in love. And of course, to Mom and Dad.)

References

Do Not Go Gently: Adventures in Aging

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
–  
Dylan Thomas   (1914-1953)

“It’s started!  My body’s starting to die!”  Those thoughts flashed through my mind when, at the age of 30, I noticed that one of my front teeth had simply up and died.  Irreversibly.  For the first time it hit me that, as Aristotle pointed out, I am a man and all men are mortal, and … well, you take it from there.

More than three decades on, a blog post on the theme of aging got me thinking:  the signs of getting old can be a spur to new adventures.  That seems a better way to view it.

gettingOlderMy own mother had been a shining example in the last months of her life.  Diagnosed with a terminal cancer, she seemed to grow in peace and grace as the illness consumed her physical energy.  My siblings and I felt ourselves in awe as her spirit expanded with each passing day.  Somehow, the approach of death had moved her to a new level.  How different, I thought, from others I had known who grew bitter by the same measure.

On much less demanding aspects of aging, I’ve noticed that I often gain something new as each part of my body loses its shine.  My own good doctor has helped with this.  A man of my own age, he eschews pharmaceutical solutions where possible.  He also has an annoying habit of co-opting my complaints.  I went to him with a sleep problem – an “inevitable sign of aging.”  His response: “If you’re playing computer solitaire at 3AM, look for me online and we can play together.”  Instead, I tried a biofeedback clinic and got a lot more than I bargained for.  Using the biofeedback technology, I was able to reduce my overall stress levels.  At the clinic, I met a world-class peak-performance trainer, and learned new breathing techniques to increase my heart-rate variability.  It turns out increased HRV is a key marker for reduced mortality – not to mention increased willpower.  It was an exciting and useful discovery.

That was not last dose of my doctor’s empathy.  “Doctor, I’m really tired of late.  Do you think I need testosterone?”  He humoured me by running a test.  His prescription?  “You should try some volunteering.  Nothing like feeling useful to keep you alive.”  That was how I ended up mentoring new immigrants, a fantastic experience that’s still developing.

On my last visit to the doctor’s office, I was complaining about the lingering pain in my shoulders, brought on by a game of trampoline dodge-ball months earlier at the local “extreme air park.”  (Was the name a tip-off?)  “Yeah,” he said, “that shoulder pain really messes up my tennis serve.  But try strengthening the muscles in your back.”  So, I spent a few sessions with a personal trainer to develop a new travel-friendly exercise regime to add to my “Younger Next Year” program.  Not only are my shoulders in much better shape, but I’m starting to feel “buff”.

Promotional picture for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park

Promotional picture for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park

My aging libido has been a huge source of new experiences.  I was naïve enough to think that being slower to “get it up” might at least lead to more endurance.  Not.  This time I knew I could probably get a little blue pill from my doctor, but I opted for looking into some massage training and even some Tantra.  These areas turned out to be rich areas for fun and exploration, for both Cheryl and me.  Pursuing these activities also led me to find a great personal development coach (who became a friend), as well as joining a men’s support group, also a new and life-altering experience.  Even starting my bucket list grew out of this quest to compensate for dropping testosterone levels.

Another complaint as we age is how we lose our friends.  At first, they just become less active and available;  later, we lose them for good.  When Cheryl and I noticed that it was getting harder to get our friends out hiking, we joined an outdoor club, leading to many more friends, and brand new adventures.

Eulalia Pérez de Guillén Mariné (1765–1878), ca. 1870; published in 1900

Eulalia Pérez de Guillén Mariné (1765–1878), ca. 1870; published 1900

I sense a pattern.  If we embrace each challenge that aging brings, and rise to meet it, rather than settle for an ever-shrinking life, we can grow in new directions as long as we can still take another breath.  I know I’ve yet to be hit with the really big challenges of aging, like the one my mother surfed so well.  When I am, with her example, and through practice with the smaller challenges, I hope to do half as well as she did.

For now, I’m grateful to benefit from the upsides of the smaller aging setbacks, to see the possibility in each new skill I need to learn in order to battle entropy.

My current quest to create a post-retirement career has proven a challenging one.  May it prove rich as well.  I recently started working with a counselor to see if I could move things forward faster.  A top local hypnotherapist, this woman is a “poster child” for what’s possible career-wise.  Well into her 80s, she’s one of the City’s top practitioners in a field she only entered after retiring from teaching at 65.  I’m now working on transcending some lifelong beliefs I’ve held that have likely been a drag on my career success.  Once again, a crisis of aging is pushing me into exciting new territory.

Latin Funk Dance with Gustavo Ferman

Latin Funk Dance with Gustavo Ferman

There’s a playful side too.  One area we identified for growth was exercising my creative muscle, and in particular, the operation of my corpus callosum, that part of the brain that coordinates the left and right hemispheres.  One of the best ways to build up your corpus callosum is to learn some new dance steps.  So, after years of putting it off, I signed up both my left feet for weekly lessons in Latin Funk dance.  I’m loving it!  My new shoulders are holding out, too.  And, although the instructor is male, most of my classmates are not.  All those Latin-swinging hips aren’t bad for the aging libido either.

Related:

Younger Next Year

Paul is almost half-way through his first year on the Younger Next Year program.  Here’s his interim report…

We were headed out on a multi-day hiking “summer camp” with our outdoor association.  For reading, I had along a copy of “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.

There must be some magic in the book.  Despite reading admonitions like the following, I resolved there and then to start the program.

“If you thought there was no easy answers to getting Younger Next Year … um, you were right. It’s a torture. And it lasts the rest of your life.  Serious exercise, SIX DAYS A WEEK, until death. How about them apples? How in the world do we sell a single book? But here’s the funny thing. We sell a ton of them and have, from the beginning. And readers write these amazing letters ALL THE TIME. About how much they like their new lives. And new waist lines. And the look. And the book. Weird.”

Cover of "Younger Next Year: Live Strong,...

Cover via Amazon

My experience has been similar.

I wasn’t exactly a couch potato six months ago.  Despite being a nerdy non-physical kid, long before my 60s, I was a committed exerciser.  I had acquired a Concept 2 rowing machine, which I used almost daily.  I aimed for and generally achieved three to four hours of aerobic exercise a week, and supplemented that with another four to eight hours a week of hiking and biking in the summer.  Getting out more on weekends got easier after we’d joined an outdoor club the year before.

Still, all this activity hadn’t been enough to combat the effects of growing older on maintaining my weight.  From around 155 pounds in my 30s (down from 175), I’d crept up over the years, and was on track to enter my 60s at over 200 pounds.  In 2010, I’d discovered alternate day dieting (a variant of intermittent fasting), and just before Christmas of that year, got back to 155.  I blogged that journey elsewhere.

Staying in that region for the next couple of years proved challenging, but possible.

Then, last June, a friend recommended Younger Next Year.  He wasn’t on it himself, but had received strong recommendations from others crossing the six-decade threshold.

By mid-July I was reading the book in the tent at the summer camp.  The prescription was pretty simple:

"Snow Camp": our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

“Snow Camp”: our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

One other feature was the concept of a “kedge” – as Younger Next Year defines it, “a serious adventure trip with friends. Hike, surf, bike, ski, run a marathon – whatever turns you on, even if you’ve never done anything like this before (maybe especially if you haven’t)  and get training.”  At the summer camp, we had the opportunity to do more mountain hiking than I’d ever done before, it was the ideal way to kick off the program.  I actually screamed and kicked very little.  I just started – with several 15-mile mountain hikes – and didn’t stop.

One of the finer points of the exercise program is the need for at least two of the daily exercise routines to be strength training routines.  I had no good options at that time, so I decided to postpone that modification until the Fall.  Meanwhile, between hikes and bike rides, I cranked up my rowing program to a minimum of 45 minutes a day – about 10,000 meters at my rate.

I was soon looking for alternatives to rowing, especially during our travel season when I was so often away from my machine.  I can’t run for miles without causing knee problems due to fallen arches.  A good  alternative is hill running or stair climbing, which allows me to get more exercise in a shorter time. By using a heart monitor, as urged by the book, I determined that I could keep my heart rate in the target range by finding a good hill or stairway, and alternating trotting down with climbing up as fast as I could.  One advantage:  it’s much easier to find a hill than a rowing machine.  We have a great set of beach stairs nearby – over 300 steps with a vertical rise of 150 feet.

By the end of the summer, I’d fallen into a good rhythm, and seldom missed a day – and never two in a week.  It was now time to take on strength training.  A shoulder problem showed me the way.  I’d been struggling with some rotator cuff problems since a game of trampoline dodgeball in the Spring.  Massage and physiotherapy were slow in making a dint in the pain and flexibility challenges.  My family doctor suggested strengthening my upper back muscles, so I sensed some synergy here.

I signed up with a very good local personal fitness trainer, and had her design for me a set of

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

strength training exercises I could do with little or no equipment.  I wanted a routine that I could take with me on trips, and not tie us to destinations with fitness equipment.  PJ came up with a couple of good one-hour high-intensity workouts that involve a lot of plank work, as well as one-legged and asymmetrical arm exercises.  One of its virtues – if you can call it that – is that it’s high enough intensity that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or even think about it much until it’s all over.

I’m now two or three months into incorporating these workouts into my daily exercise routine three times a week.  The results were apparent quite quickly.  Within a couple of weeks, I was making progress on both form and repetitions.  The icing on the cake came at the Christmas party for Cheryl’s swim team.  When her swim coach showed up, it was the first time I’d seen her since last year’s party.  One of the first things she said was, “You look like you’ve been bulking up.”  So, in just two months, I’d put on enough muscle mass on my upper body to be noticeable to a trained professional.  Sweet!

It’s a bit early for hard evidence, but I’m also expecting this routine to help with the weight control.  As I’ve been adding muscle bulk, I haven’t been adding weight.  So, my waist size is back at its lowest point reached three years ago, even though now I’m tipping the scale in the low 160s.  For just under six feet, that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, we’re planning our kedges for the New Year.  We have a number of multi-day bike and kayaking tours arranged for the year.  The most demanding will likely be a week of cycling in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands, with far higher hills than we’re used to.  Despite the challenges of a more time-consuming job, and despite her younger years, Cheryl has been hot on my heals in implementing the program.  And she’s way out front with kedges, signing up for her first half marathon, her third sprint triathlon, and her first open-water 3000 meter swim race this year.

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600' hill climbs. This is the island of Vis.  (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600′ hill climbs. This is the island of Vis. (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

My family doctor thinks this is a great program.  The only problem, he says, is where do you find the time if you’re not retired?  I’m convinced, and the book has played a big role in this, that it’s a matter of not burying one’s head in the sand about ageing.

I’m off to climb the beach stairs now.  What about you?  Will you be younger next year?

By the same author:

A Peace of Christmas

We’ll be taking a Christmas break from the blog, but before we go, Paul shares some holiday memories.

I’ve never fallen out of love with Christmas.  I’m thankful for that.

Somehow the madness of the holiday season – the crowded malls, the in-your-face commercialism, the social occasions with relatives you can’t stand – have all passed me by.

My personal Christmas is still infused with the memories of more than fifty years ago.  The smallish city I lived in then was blanketed in peace and tranquility on Christmas morning, with ghosts of solitary tire tracks on snow-covered lanes.

Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To this day, some of my favourite seasonal music were the songs I first heard on an old Columbia Masterworks 10-inch Christmas LP – sounds that came out of hiding every December to evoke the holidays season:  “Patapan”, “Gloucestershire Wassail”, “Sing we Noel once more”, and others one hears too rarely these days.  The music was similar to that which played on my favourite Christmas movie – then and now – the black-and-white version of “A Christmas Carol” with Alastair Sim.

For a few glorious years in my childhood, the family assembled at least thirty five members from cousins to great aunts and uncles for a dozen hours of feasting and games.  Not willing to choose between the English tradition of ham and plum pudding, and the North American tradition of turkey and trifle, the family did both – one meal at one house, then everyone heading over to a second home for the other tradition.

Now perhaps as young children, my siblings, cousins, and I were protected from harsh realities such as family feuds.  But I doubt it.  I really believe that all thirty five of us were happy to be there, and everyone got along.  We were a family that truly enjoyed each other’s company, playing games, singing songs, and generally being jolly until the night overtook us.

Somehow I’ve been able to carry that sense of Christmas peace and love and family with me for half a dozen decades, despite the many changes the years have wrought.  The grandparents, great aunts and great uncles are long ago departed – most of the parents, aunts and uncles too.  Cousins and siblings have scattered far and wide.  The city has grown substantially and no longer shuts down completely for a couple of days in late December.

All the older photos were destroyed in a flood.  At this time, the gathering was under a dozen.

All the older photos were destroyed in a flood. At this time, the gathering was under a dozen.

I think my secret has been to keep the spirit and not fret the form.  A few years ago, when we were still buying a few Christmas presents for close family, I made a decision that I would henceforth avoid the box stores, malls and traffic jams.  I would eschew the best bargains for presents bought in the spirit of Christmas.  I would choose a quiet area of town, where stores were walkable, and do my shopping on foot at a leisurely pace, and without really knowing what I’d find.  I’d stroll the relatively quiet streets, chatting to shopkeepers, and seeing what caught my eye.  I always found what I needed. While others all around me were complaining of crowds and Christmas commercialization, I felt the same inner peace I’d felt in my childhood.

Not many years later, I noticed that Cheryl was finding Christmas more stressful.  Despite pacts with parents and siblings to eliminate gift exchanges, as our kids were growing up, it seemed as if old rituals were evolving into new obligations.  Holiday parties were becoming impositions, and even shopping for Christmas meals seemed to involve fighting crowds and traffic.  So we made a further pact with our two sons that we’d skip the presents altogether and put the money towards a Christmas holiday in Hawaii or some other tropical destination.  As it turned out, Cheryl’s Mom chipped in generously on more than one occasion, and we’ve enjoyed several low-stress extended-family tropical Christmases in recent years.

Christmas in Hawaii:  stars in the gift shop.

Christmas in Hawaii: stars in the gift shop.

More recently we’ve had to adapt to new realities.  Changes in family dynamics mean that getting everyone together on Christmas Day is rarely possible.  Both of my siblings are now grandparents, and the grand-kids may be claimed for the day by other families, taking their grandparents with them.  One or the other of our boys may be invited to Christmas dinner with their girlfriend’s family.  So, we roll with the punches.  Some years the day itself is a quiet one – this year, for instance, we may be on our own and spend the evening taking in the light displays in the neighbourhood.  Our family Christmas dinner may be on the 24th.

Still, new traditions are forming.  In some recent years, we’ve held a variant of the “widows and orphans” party on the 26th – we’ve invited friends and acquaintances who perhaps have no relatives nearby, and who we think might enjoy the sort of  fun, songs, and games my family used to enjoy over half a century ago.  This year we’ve invited about fifteen from a variety of backgrounds – we’re hoping to play Murder, a game we learned from one the recent immigrants I’ve been assisting, and who’ll be joining us that day.  Like our childhood games, this one requires no purchases and no supplies beyond a few pencils and scraps of paper – only a willingness to slow down and enjoy the family atmosphere.

It doesn't take much to enjoy Christmas.

It doesn’t take much to enjoy Christmas.

Will things change again?  No doubt they will.  The arrival of grandchildren – not yet on the horizon – will herald another major shift.  Gift-buying may once again be part of Christmas for us.  The “peace” of Christmas may only be found after the little ones fall asleep on the couch.  One day we may be celebrating Christmas in a retirement commune.   I have one other dream – a bucket-list promise to take Cheryl to a small village in the Alps for a traditional Austrian Christmas.

Thinking back over the years, I can remember many other sorts of Christmases.  Gatherings with family friends where my father would sing – the only time of the year I ever heard that.  A decade later, it was tobogganing with friends down the hill behind our country home..  Ten years after that, Cheryl and I were living in Australia and passed several Christmases on the beach under a blistering sun.  One year, while camping at Byron Bay, NSW, a Christmas-eve flash flood left us drying everything on tree branches the following day, while we barbecued crabs and sucked on fresh mangoes.  A few years later we were snowed in for days at my parents’ hilltop home, periodically hiking down the hill for supplies.  There was one low-key Christmas in Costa Rica.  More recently, I joined a Christmas choir one winter to sing at the light show at the botanical gardens.  And so it goes.

Main accessible beach from Byron Bay ...

Main accessible beach from Byron Bay (Australia), close to the swimming pool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The same theme runs through them all:  a sense of peace, and love, and family – externally shaped by the conditions of the day, internally unaffected by the ebb and flow of life.

If I have any trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, I have only to play an old musical favourite like Patapan, and my heart once more fills with all those wonderful Christmas gatherings of family and friends.

Have a peaceful holiday season, both inside and out.  See you next year!

Related Content:

Transcendence, … or Insanity

Is transcendence possible?

No, I’m not talking about the theme of the upcoming movie with Johnny Depp.

Here’s the meaning I’m focused on.  “Transcendence: the state of excelling or surpassing or going beyond or exceeding usual limits, the act of rising above something to a superior state, extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience.”  It’s somewhat relate to “transformation: a marked change in appearance or character, especially one for the better.”

The reason?

I’ve been struggling with the attempt to establish a new “retirement friendly” career, and falling short of my expectations.  Some of the most interesting research I’ve done during this struggle has led me to the websites of coaches who claim that the kind of “career reinvention” I’m looking for will require of me a transformation – to transcend my current limits and experience.

The transcendence of Esmeralda & Quasimodo - from Victor Hugo's place in Paris, France.

The transcendence of Esmeralda & Quasimodo – from Victor Hugo’s place in Paris, France.

For instance, prosperity coach Steve Chandler stresses the need to “choose transformation over information.”  Dane Maxwell and Andy Drish at The Foundation – a startup coaching school – talk about the need for a wannabe entrepreneurs to shift their identity by altering long-held beliefs.

This is both good and bad news.  On the one hand, how hard can it be to change my self-limiting beliefs?  On the other hand, as the definition suggests, this transcendence involves moving to a state “lying beyond the ordinary range of perception, beyond comprehension.”  That seems a tall order.

So, I find myself asking, is transcendence possible?

While contemplating this, I chanced to think about how I was as a young person, during my high school years.  Were there beliefs and attitudes I transcended?

In my youth – in fact, until I was in my thirties – I was convinced that I would never be a father.  I had no interest in children, and none whatsoever in parenting.  This was a done deal as far as I was concerned.  Some people would have children; I would not.  I was so sure that I even asked to have a vasectomy at the University medical centre – they didn’t make it easy, and fortunately I didn’t pursue it.

The transcendence of a different era.  Assyrian human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883--859 BC (Louvre)

The transcendence of a different era. Assyrian human-headed winged lion (lamassu), 883–859 BC (Louvre)

I’m not sure just what led to my change of heart.  Perhaps it was just meeting the right woman.  Or maybe I saw that underneath that man committed to childlessness was a father wanting to burst forth.  Whatever the cause, from where I now stand, fatherhood is one of the signature accomplishments of my life.  I can’t imagine my life any other way.

I transcended my beliefs of forty years ago.

I can actually find many such examples if I choose to look for them.  I was a “math nerd” when I was in school – other kids used to tease me by calling me “The Physical Einstein.”  The emphasis was on the “physical”: I was someone who flunked Phys Ed.  My interest was in book learning, and if you’d told me that two decades later I’d place in a State Masters Swimming event for the butterfly, I have thought you were crazy.  But I did.  Now, in my sixties, I think little of doing a sixty-mile bike ride, or a fifteen-mile hike in the mountains.  I’m in better shape than I was five years ago, and definitely in above-average condition for my age.  What’s more, this didn’t happen by accident, but from strong commitment over many years.  Another example of transcendence?

At the gun range: something else I thought I'd never do

At the gun range: something else I thought I’d never do

“The Physical Einstein” also hated languages, starting with an excruciating French class in Grade 5, and continuing through years of just squeaking by language exams in high school.  Yet a dozen years after that first hateful exposure, a new way of looking at language learning had me fall in love with the process and become fluent in several.

So perhaps transcendence is possible?

Yet I continue to feel and act is if it’s not.  Reinventing myself career-wise seems to lie “beyond the ordinary range of perception, beyond comprehension.”  Not surprising that something beyond perception and comprehension should be elusive.

But a more detached view, one informed by the experience of over six decades, might suggest a hint of irrationality in my current position.  So I’ve decided to view it as a form of insanity.

“To recognize one’s own insanity is, of course, the arising of sanity, the beginning of healing and transcendence.” ― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Sounds good to me.

A solemn yet heartfelt declaration of insanity

A solemn yet heartfelt declaration of insanity

Learning Languages for Fun, Travel & the Fountain of Youth

Apart from his native English ability, Paul’s profile lists professional working proficiency in Portuguese and German, limited proficiency in Spanish, and elementary in French and Italian.  Here he hints at how he acquired these other languages and why he doesn’t intend to stop there. Do you speak a second language?  Why not? According to Science Daily, “The majority of people in the world learn to speak more than one language during their lifetime.”  However, I don’t think native-born North Americans are pulling their weight.

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary ...

English: A USSR stamp, 70th Birth Anniversary of Nelson Mandela. Date of issue: 18th July 1988. Designer: B. Ilyukhin. Michel catalogue number: 5853. 10 K. multicoloured. Portrait of Nelson Mandela (fighter for freedom of Africa). Русский: Марка СССР Н. Мандела (1988, ЦФА №5971). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Learning other languages – even just a nodding acquaintance – makes travel so much more rewarding.  Opening a conversation with a few words of the native language transforms us from tourist to traveler in the ears of the person we’re addressing.  According to a Czech proverb, “You live a new life for every new language you speak.”  Learning other languages may even be the key to peace and reconciliation.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart” – Nelson Mandela

At my age, I’m often tempted to say, “I’m too old for this.  Our sensitive period for language learning goes downhill after age seven!  On top of that, my hearing is going, and even understanding English is getting harder!”  You look at initiatives like “Fluent in 3 Months” or “Fluent Every Year” and say, “Yeah, but, those are young folks!” If that’s your excuse, perhaps it’s time to set it aside.  There may even be more at stake than getting around Paris, Venice, or Dubrovnik.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Every year, new studies come out showing that learning a second language is one of the best ways known to reduce or postpone age-related cognitive decline – even Alzheimer’s.  A recent study in Toronto suggests that learning a second language can delay the symptoms of that brain-wasting disease for years.  Lead neuroscientist, Dr. Schweizer, said that a second language appears to delay the onset of symptoms by four or five years.  “This is fantastic,” he said, adding that no existing medicine is that effective.  Perhaps only social dancing has a stronger effect, but not every senior is able to take up dancing. There’s also good news on the other side of the equation.  New research in neuroplasticity is showing that the brain continues to develop throughout our entire lives.  Books like Norman Doidge’s “The Brain that Changes Itself” offer remarkable and inspirational stories about this phenomenon.  While we seniors may have to adapt the way we use our brains in order to learn new languages, such adaptation is possible, and science continues to understand it better.  This excellent if lengthy article, “Memory Problems in Seniors and Learning a New Language”, offers some surprising advice based on recent research.

“How a child learned this was from hearing and using the constructions thousands of times before ever beginning their formal education.  The child associates images with the words and phrases – he can use grammar correctly because he heard and repeated correct grammar over and over again!  What an adult does, most unfortunately, is not associate images with words and phrases in which correct grammar and vocabulary is learned, but rather tries to remember words and phrases in the foreign language as an association with words and phrases in his native language.  He is constantly, and erroneously, associating the foreign language with his native one.  This short-circuits the second language learning!

This emphasis on how children learn language is a key one, especially now that we know that we retain a considerable amount of the child’s neuroplasticity all our lives.  Not only does learning a second language keep us young, but also it may be necessary to “think young” in order to learn that language.

Practicing German with Swiss cyclists in Brisighella, Italy

Practicing German with Swiss cyclists in Brisighella, Italy

I’ve taken that one step further.  From my own experience, I’ve concluded that to learn another language most efficiently, you need to become as much like a child as possible.  In a blog post a few years ago, I recounted my experience learning my first foreign language in my early twenties.  The principles I distilled pretty much sum up the way a young child comes at learning their first language.

  • Put something at stake that’s more important than looking good.
  • Cut off all escape routes.
  • Stop trying to translate everything.  Learn how to think in others’ terms.
  • Trust the “music of the language.”  Don’t let the words get in the way.
  • Unleash your natural mimic
  • Relax and have fun!  Enjoy the game!

Perhaps the reason we adults have trouble learning new languages has nothing to do with our ability to act like children.  Maybe it has more to do with our willingness.  It’s just not cool! Others are saying much the same thing.  A new initiative, called Velocity Language Learning, has adult participants wearing funny hats and playing silly games as part of their strategy for getting them back into that childlike state of wonder and learning.

The cofounder of Velocity Learning models a hat

The cofounder of Velocity Learning models a hat

There are so many Internet resources for learning languages, it’s overwhelming.  I listed a few in my earlier piece on “The Language Lab of Life.”  I’ll list a few more links at the end of this article.  My advice is to use those that give you the greatest freedom and incentive to free your inner child – and set her about learning that next language the way she learned her first.  She didn’t engage endless vocabulary drills, or consult translation dictionaries and grammar texts.  Instead, she was born into the pool, and it was sink or swim – and if she was lucky, the adults around her paid more attention to what she was trying to say than how many mistakes she made along the way. So, throw yourself in the pool.  Go join a Meetup for your target language, or try an ESL one or polyglot one where you may find others willing to trade their language for English conversation.  Leave a comment on this post and let us know what you’re doing, or what’s working for learning your new language.

Our AirBnB hosts in Paris helped our French!

Our AirBnB hosts in Paris helped our French!

My own project for the coming year is to move my Italian to the next level for a return trip to Italy.  Some elementary Croatian would also be helpful for the bike tour we’re doing out of Dubrovnik on that same trip.  Beyond that, who knows?  To paraphrase Sandra Martz, “When I am deaf, I shall learn Sign Language.” A few more resources:

I fear that projects like SIGMO or Google Translate will reduce the incentive to learn other languages.  What will keep us young then?

More than a few unanswered questions

Shedders is our favourite blog. It doesn’t hurt that the author is a long-time friend. Here she writes about one of the many great conversations we had when she and her husband came north for their annual visit last summer – their “Down Under” winter.

SHEDDERS, by Heather Bolstler

IMG_2890We had an interesting conversation at breakfast yesterday. Old friends Paul and Cheryl had met up with Rick and me in Powell River BC for a few days‘ exploration, and we were all relishing the Breakfast part of B&B existence. You may be amused by the familiarity of the threads of our discussion – except for the tragedy and frustration of it.

The conversation began as you might expect with compliments on the fine food served up by Yvonne, our hostess, and then drifted to the very social lifestyle of B&B proprietors. We found similarities with Rick and my Shedders’ co-housing arrangement, and that in turn led into co-housing communities that some of us had recently inspected, here on BC’s west coast.

From there, we fell smack into more dangerous territory. All these retirement communities, we lamented; where have all the children gone? Yvonne wondered why our children tend not…

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