Tag Archives: Brain health

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

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:

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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Paul’s Left Brain Takes a Mayan Holiday

Paul has been reflecting on what he likes so much about travel – about being in “vacation mode”.  He’s not one to sit around the pool with a margarita, but can usually be found on an all-day walking tour, or working on a new foreign language.  He observed that his favourite principles of good vacations apply just as well to “everyday life at home” – although we don’t always remember them:

Paul's not above trying the local beer, however.

Paul’s not above trying the local beer, however.

Here’s something he wrote on the subject a couple years back…

Ah, to live life in vacation mode every day!  What does it take?

I explored the texture of that question on a recent trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

For sun-chair reading, I’d packed a copy of Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight.  Neuroscientist Dr. Jill reports “from the inside” what it felt like when a massive stroke shut down the left side of her brain, and put the right side in charge.  As I understand it, the left brain manages linear reasoning and language functions;  the right brain fills a more intuitive, holistic role.  In Dr. Jill’s case, for the first eight months of her eight-year recovery, the “little voice” in her head fell silent.  Imagine!  She used her experience to reflect upon her life in general, and in particular, the relationship between her two different aspects.

Dr. Jill observed that “vacation mode” derives from the right brain.  So simple, I mused?  The question hovered over me like an iridescent Yucatan hummingbird.  Meanwhile, I did the usual holiday things.

Even plain, the best tortillas ever!

Even plain, the best tortillas ever!

One of my travel activities has me strike up conversations with strangers for no reason.  I dusted off my knowledge of Spanish, German and Portuguese to talk to almost anyone I found myself next to, even tried to learn a little Mayan.  Bix a bel, tz’unu’un!  What’s up, Little Hummingbird?  Yet my wife and I both found it hard to start conversations at the resort.  Our fellow vacationers seemed reluctant to connect, as if locked in their tour buses with the windows up.  I felt frustrated.  After this mood settled over me, something startling took place.

En route to climb the great Mayan pyramid at Cobá, we pulled of the road at a corner store in one of the small towns that crouch in the Yucatan interior.  We squeezed in to harvest a few nuts and chicharrones to stave of the need for a tourist-priced lunch.

I plopped a couple of bags of munchies near the cash register, while we continued to hunt for more.  Just then, a small Mayan girl of six or seven came in, chose a bag of the pork-rind snacks and took them to the cashier.  As we arrived at the counter with the rest of our purchases, I saw the store owner already totaling our bill.  The young girl stood waiting.  I sensed him directing preferential treatment toward us “gringo elders”

En route to Cobá, the better known Chichén Itzá

En route to Cobá, the better known Chichén Itzá

In my most sophisticated Spanish, I explained that she had preceded us, and that he should look after her first.  Alas, my linguistic abilities failed me.  After a couple of failed attempts followed by puzzled looks, he asked me if I meant to pay for the young girl’s purchase.  Annoyed that my communication attempt had gone so completely wrong, I shook my head and replied, “No, no!  That’s not what I was trying to say.”  Chastened into silence, I let him continue with our order, and we left the store.

While we poked around decaying ruins that afternoon, however, I had my own “micro stroke of insight.”  I saw that I had at least two valid answers to the store owner’s question, “Do you want to pay for hers too?”

My “right-wrong” linear left brain had jumped in and taken control of the situation in the store.  “No, that’s wrong.  That’s not what I was trying to say.”  End of story.

Yet his question had another valid answer, one that my less linguistically adept right brain could only whisper on a quiet trail in a Mayan jungle.  Did I want to spend sixty cents to buy chips for a cute kid who looked as if sixty cents mattered?  Did I crave a chance to make the tiniest human connection, no matter how fleeting?  Yes. I did!  Yes, I had!  Yes, I would have!  And then a wave of sadness and disappointment flooded my soul concerning opportunity missed – not just this one, but for all the little missed opportunities of a lifetime.

Jungle-clad Cobá from the top of its pyramid

Jungle-clad Cobá from the top of its pyramid

Fresh from Dr. Jill’s book, I supplied mental hemispheric interpretation to the event.  My number one priority on this holiday involved connecting to people, just because – I thought that a right-brain function.  Yet I’d let my linear left brain run the whole show with its need to get the Spanish right.

This reflection troubled me.  My troubling in turn shocked me.  My own stroke of insight had allowed me to glimpse how my left brain’s reaction had drowned out my right brain’s voice, leaving my life just a little less rich.  A single thread dropped from an intricate Mayan blanket.  Even after returning from Mexico, I kept brooding.  Intrigued that such a trivial event had bothered me for days, I pulled at the loose thread.

How often had I missed an opportunity like this one because I didn’t want to get something wrong?  Ba’ax ka wa’alik?  Hell-o?  Now I see how many threads I’ve dropped in the tapestry of my life. It’s a good blanket regardless and it keeps me warm, but my stroke of insight showed me that I could weave it even warmer, more colourful.  Sometimes I hush my left brain’s chatter, listening for a second right answer, a fleeting chance to make the human connection, just because.

Is Paul destined for the Sacred Cenote (also known as the "Well of Sacrifice") at Chichén Itzá

Is Paul destined for the Sacred Cenote (also known as the “Well of Sacrifice”) at Chichén Itzá

I’ve watched myself drop a few more stitches since then.  Sometimes I’ve gone back and picked them up again.  I look forward to catching more before the tapestry runs out.  The colours brighten.

Yum bo’otik!  Thank you, Mayan sun god.

For further exploration:

Speaking of vacation mode, here's another lounge lizard from around the pool

Speaking of vacation mode, here’s another lounge lizard from around the pool

What’s “vacation mode” mean for you?

Why Live Alone

A few years back, we learned of a successful experiment in communal retirement living pursued by some old friends of ours in Australia.  They had joined with two other couples, and built a special home to their requirements.  While each couple has private sleeping quarters, they share most of the 3500 square-foot house.  They love it!

Collaborative retirement household featured in "A group solution to growing older", Sydney Morning Herald, June 3 2013

Collaborative retirement household featured in “A group solution to growing older”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3

What first caught our attention was the possibility of saving money, retiring sooner, and traveling more.

However, the more we looked into it, the more we discovered that the real value of their arrangement was the new community that came with it:  something equivalent to a new family.

As we approach the next phase of our lives, we can feel our old communities slipping away.  Our kids are preparing to leave home – we think.  When we retire from our current jobs, we will quickly lose touch with former colleagues.  Our friends are beginning to retire and move away – some to the countryside, some overseas.  We ourselves plan to move out of the City, and expect to spend more of the year abroad.

We watched what had happened to our parents, aunts, and uncles.  Many of them ended up living alone for the final years of their lives.  Some of them were shepherded into assisted living complexes when living alone became too uncertain.  Even for those who managed to stay independent – often with the help of several nearby grown children – the solo years struck us as missing something.  Was there a better way?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin - too much solitude now?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin – too much solitude now?

Cheryl and I have valued our privacy over the years.  We started our family in a development of five and ten-acre wooded lots.  We later enjoyed spending time with our boys at our off-grid island cabin.  Our retirement dream at one time included a 40-acre spread of wild countryside.

Now our perceptions are changing.  Selling the island cabin may have heralded this change;  we thought it would be too isolated as we got older.  Our experience with our own parents was pivotal:  we would probably live longer than they did, and – like most boomers – we have fewer children to rely on, children who are unlikely to live in the neighbourhood.  The same demographic shift likely means that the cost of assisted living will escalate while the quality of life in those complexes will decline.

Our reading has also underscored the importance of community.  The declining birthrate worldwide will make it harder to replace the old networks of support we are losing as we transition into the next phase of our lives.  Initiatives such as Blue Zones have shown how critical maintaining community is to our health and happiness as we age.  This aligns with advice on nurturing your communities in books such as Flourish and Younger Next Year.  We have all read by now how we can keep our brains younger by engaging in mental activity such as language skills and problem solving.  Living with other people is one way to ensure that kind of mental workout.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We’re now in the process of realigning our personal tradeoffs between privacy and community.  Can we construct a future for ourselves that replaces the communities we are losing?  We’re taking steps to reach out and join or create new communities for various activities.

What about collaborative living?  Is there a solution that will work for us?  Our friends in Australia had known their housemates for many years before moving in together.  When we took inventory of our own circles, we found very few possible candidates – when we broached the subject with some of those, they soon announced they were moving out of town.  Coincidence, we’re sure!

Can we find new partners for such a venture?  Perhaps.  It’s not a trivial exercise.  The householders and our friends call themselves The Shedders – primarily because of the physical and emotional baggage they had to “shed” in order to make living together work.  Will our circumstances dictate a different form of collaboration?  How far are we willing to go in trading our privacy for community?  We are grappling with now with these questions.  We’ll share some of what we learn over the months ahead.

Solitude or community - in the Marais district of Paris.

Solitude or community – in the Marais district of Paris.

Here are some of the sources that have influenced our journey.

  • Shedders:  This is Heather Bolstler’s personal blog about the journey to their collaborative retirement home.  The earlier entries are now available in this eminently readable Kindle eBook.  The Shedders are by no means the only ones to have made this work.  “My House Our House” profiles a group of three women who turned a preexisting house into a collaborative housing venture.  With an ageing population and lingering economic malaise, we predict a lot more of these in the coming decade.
  • A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    Our own recent experience – such as our recent cycle trip in Provence – has underscored our own need for community.

One of our reasons for starting this blog is to reach out to a wider circle in our search for community.  We’d love to hear from you on this subject.