Tag Archives: Life Lists

Transitions

2015 has so far been a most unusual year.

Last Fall, I made a declaration that I would be “retiring” from my employer at year end.

I use “retire” in quotes because I’ve never much liked the word. Heather at Shedders suggested “advancement”, and I much prefer that – but it always requires so much explanation!

Today I’m thinking of it as a Declaration of Self-Actualization: a declaration that I’m no longer going to organize my life around earning money – safety, on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – but instead around expressing creativity, a quest for spiritual enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to contribute.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy, by FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I made this declaration with pained awareness that Cheryl and I had not yet reached our targeted level of financial independence. Being younger than I, and still at the peak of her career, she volunteered to go on working for the time-being. What a woman! That may add to the complexity of my new situation, however.

As I was contemplating how to make the transition from job to no-job, a friend recommended I read “Transitions” by William Bridges. As I had yet to complete the decluttering project begun last Spring, there just happened to be a copy unread on my bookshelves. It spoke to me.

Bridges writes about the need for a three-phase process: Endings, the “Neutral Zone”, and the New Beginning. But it was the Neutral Zone he stressed: a seemingly unproductive “time out”, the most frightening stage of a transition, yet a really important time for reorientation.

“Transitions” by William Bridges

I could sense the value of quiet reflection even as I knew I’d struggle with it at times. Realizing there’d be a pull to fill the time with time-wasters, I made a few rules for my next few months: limit Internet usage – email, social media, and news sites – to four evenings a week; similarly for videos (we’ve never had TV.) At the same time, I pledged to continue my Younger-Next-Year exercise program – at least 45 minutes at least six days a week – as well as Yin yoga weekly. I signed up for a five-evening course in mindful meditation with my son and his girlfriend. I even enrolled in a five-day silent retreat at the end of March.

I also resumed and ramped up our decluttering project, seeing it as a perfect physical metaphor for clearing the mind in the Neutral Zone. And I found it much more challenging that way than I’d expected. Every little trinket seems attached by sticky threads: this one was given by a dear departed relative; this one reminds me of that time in Rio or Venice or Perth; this book reminds me of my thought of returning to the study of architecture some day; that one was meant to be read by my kids when they got older. Eventually, I developed an ability to look at the stuff, thank it for its service, and let it go – mostly to charity stores and the like. In meditation, we learn that, when we have attachment to a thought, we just need to notice it and let it go. Decluttering must be a form of meditation: notice an attachment to something, let it go, notice an attachment, let it go, …

Perhaps unsurprisingly, decluttering seems much easier now than it ever has. Last month I sent off 30 boxes of books to a book sale – some of them had survived over a score of moves from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia and many points in between. I guess my growing detachment from physical things is a sign of approaching elderhood. In “What Are Old People For?”, Dr. Bill Thomas

“What Are Old People For?” by Dr. Bill Thomas

talks about how, after an adulthood centered on Doing and Having, elders return to the earlier childhood emphasis on Being. Sounds like fun to me.

Last week, there was a crisis. I started the week by awaking one morning and, for the first time, strongly feeling that my time was my own. But by the end of the week, I was updating my resume. Whoa! What happened here?

I’d made a promise to Cheryl that I wasn’t going to worry about my lack of salary for the next few months, at least, and here I was breaking it already. We had a serious tête-à-tête, and she re-enrolled me in the wisdom of my original intention. I trashed the proto-resume. There will likely be another one before too long – but it will be for volunteer positions, and much more fun to write.

Now I could really embark on building my retirement, whoops, self-actualization lifestyle. I dusted off my bucket list. I signed up for the mid-week hiking group and an online course on gratitude. I ramped up my efforts to complete my diplomas in Leadership and Conflict Resolution – I’d been working on the latter for over five years, but the goal is now close at hand. I had some of the completion conversations I needed to have about coming to grips with my last job. And I continued to plan some of our trips for this year. With the complexity of our current situation, we decided to defer European travel for a year and concentrate on local trips with our outdoor club this summer: kayaking in the Salish Sea, cycling Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, hiking on Mount Baker, and cycling from Oroville, Washington into British Columbia’s wine valley.

“The One Thing” by Gary Keller

And, ever so tentatively at first, I began to think about that New Beginning. What’s next? (I should have known I couldn’t do nothing for too long.)

To save me from overwhelm, another friend recommended I read “The One Thing” by Gary Keller. “By focusing on your ONE Thing, you can accomplish more by doing less. What’s your ONE Thing?” I’ve found it a good question to live into. It may save me from new mental clutter as I take on those aspects of self-actualization: creativity, enlightenment, learning, and contribution.

What transition are you making?

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Cycling in the southern Dalmatian Islands

“Pshaw!” said Cheryl. “They won’t blame you.” I wasn’t so sure.

Our long-awaited late-September boat and cycle trip through the southern Dalmatian Islands was to begin the next day. After two previous European cycle trips on our own, Cheryl and I had invited members of our outdoor club to join us in Croatia this year. We’d hoped for half a dozen. When the boat sold out 11 months ago, we had 17 in our group. Fantastic.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

Or was it? What if the trip wasn’t what we’d advertised to our friends? A mismanaged trip, or even a bad guide, and our names could be mud. The weather was threatening as well. We’d arrived in Dubrovnik a few days earlier only to wade through an unseasonal deluge that one fellow-traveler described as “biblical.”

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

We were also a nervous about the hills. This had been the biggest single topic of discussion among our group during the planning stages. While most of us were cyclists, we did range from late 50s to early 70s, so it made sense to be prepared. Like many in our group, Cheryl and I made sure to get several trips under our belt over the summer in the islands near our home – but they averaged less than half the heights we were expecting here.

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs.

Departure day dawned with bright sunshine. Arriving at the Port of Gruž by bus, Cheryl and I were buoyed when we spotted the elegant and modern yacht, the Harmonia, with more than 30 bicycles arrayed out in front of her on the dock. It was time to meet our two guides, the crew of six, and our 30 fellow-travelers. Besides our own group members, arriving in Dubrovnik on various itineraries, there were another 15 from other parties.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Of the 32 passengers, there was one American, a few each from Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark – and the rest were Canadian. On the previous week’s sailing, the majority had been German-speaking. The crew and the ride-leader guides were from various parts of Croatia, and like many Croatians we met, they all spoke excellent English. A good thing, as we found Croatian impenetrable.

Cheryl and I unpacked in our air-conditioned stateroom, which was bigger and better equipped than some hotel rooms we’ve been in. After that, our guides, Petra and Neven, introduced us to our bikes. While many in our group had brought their own pedals or seats, Cheryl and I decided we would live with whatever we got. After a few test rides around the dock, we were all satisfied: comfortable, easy-shifting, almost new, and well-maintained. Two of our group and a few of the others had elected to reserve e-bikes, and they were promised a complete lesson before the first ride.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it.  Try to avoid the crowds.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it. Try to avoid the crowds.

Our first formal activity was a tour of Dubrovnik with a professional guide. For some on the ship, this was their first visit to the city. Even though others of us had already spent two or three days here, we saw new parts of town and learned more of its thousand-year history. After some free time in town, we enjoyed the first of many tasty shipboard dinners featuring Croatian seafood and other specialties. The first evening also included wine and schnapps on the captain. “Živjeli!”

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

The follow morning Captain Josip set course across an incredibly azure Adriatic towards the first of our island destinations, Šipan. This was our test ride: fairly level and about 45 minutes each way from the harbour to the small town of Suđurađ. Everyone would have a chance to iron out any kinks in their bicycles … or legs.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

The promise of this ride was encouraging. The bikes performed well. The roads were quiet, and with a few exceptions, well signed and in good repair. Just in case, our guides had provided each of us with maps of the island, with our route hand-traced. Along the way, we passed vineyards and other crops, fascinating churches or occasional ruins, and figs and other fruit growing along the roadside. The quiet coffee stop at the picturesque waterfront town of Suđurađ was an excellent introduction to the many small island villages we would be visiting over the week to come. As we dug into our hot lunch back on the Harmonia, we got under way to our next destination.

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

About the only thing that had been missing from the Šipan ride were panoramic vistas. On Mljet, that would be remedied. We would pay for it in lengthy hill climbs and “undulating” roads, making it the “hardest ride of the week.” That turned out to be smart strategy on the part of the organizers, although some of the e-bike riders who hadn’t quite got the hang of their rides elected to sun themselves on the Harmonia as she sailed the length of the island to meet us. For the rest of us, as we contemplated the island summits each morning, we could always say, “Well, it can’t be as hard as Mljet!”

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra.  Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra. Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

The crew and the guides on these trips work long hours and hard. Yet somehow they manage to remain up-beat and friendly all the while. Besides three hot meals a day and the on-demand bar, great Croatian coffee was always ready before seven, and the last drinks were served after 10 pm. Once and often twice a day, the entire stock of 35 bikes had to be unloaded from the hold and readied for the next ride. (Those e-bikes are heavy.) There was always something interesting for us to do while the staff worked.

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Before our ride on Lastovo, some of us toured decaying Cold War era tunnels on the small connected island of Prežba, until recently an off-limits military base. Others kayaked lazily around the bay, or sunned themselves top side, while taking in the spectacular scenery.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

On Lastovo, we had another glimpse of the challenging job of ride leaders. As fifteen of us are in the same outdoor association, many of us have had experience leading bike trips of from ten to thirty individuals. We know how challenging it can be to provide suitable guidance, watch out for road safety, and still allow riders to set their own pace and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at the town of Lastovo, it came out during coffee and beer, that one of the riders had continued through town and not returned. His companions had become concerned when he didn’t show up, mentioning that he was “getting on in years.” Petra and Neven managed to spend a couple of hours searching the far end of the island, while coordinating others of us to help, and the rest to get back safely to the Harmonia. In the end, the wayward rider showed up unassisted at the ship, having spent a couple of hours drinking beer and discussing wines with a local farmer in his barn. All in a day’s work for our hard-working guides.

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home's social status

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home’s social status

There was a little bonus from the adventure. While Cheryl and I were out searching Lastovo with a friend of the missing man, we stumbled upon a tiny home-based winery, and were invited in for sampling and a mini-tour. Our companion was happy to buy a very inexpensive bottle of a very local wine. By policy, the tour company does not do winery stops in order to avoid dangerous afternoon riding conditions.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Our next trip was the first of two across the island of Korčula. Although the rides on Korčula were not as long as Mljet, they included some of the biggest hills of the week. A couple of them were more than five kilometers of uninterrupted climb, although never more than a 10 percent grade, and more often six to eight. Not impossible, but definitely a challenge if you aren’t used to hill climbing. Our club members all made it, but some of the other passengers sometimes pushed their rides, or made use of the e-bikes (which often meant they led the pack.) On most days, the guide who was “sweep” at the end of the group would start out with an e-bike so that they could swap if someone tired on their regular bicycle. This was not advertised, but it really showed the effort taken by Petra and Neven to ensure the trip worked for everyone.

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

Hey, did I mention the swimming? Most days, there were one or two opportunities for swimming off shower-equipped back of the Harmonia. It was impossible to resist. The water was stunningly clear, and that distinctive azure blue that characterizes the Adriatic in this area. It was also warm enough to get in and stay in. That despite the late September date following the “worse summer in decades.”

The water's great at Prigradica on Korčula

The water’s great at Prigradica on Korčula

After three days of hilly cycling, some of us were glad of a day off for a side trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others might have preferred not to break up the rhythm of the cycling. On the one hand, it was a two-hour bus ride each way, with lengthy stops at both Croatian and Bosnian customs in both directions. Mostar was hot, and rather overrun with tourists. On the other hand, it’s an iconic place, in terms of both its ancient and recent history.

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

Our guide, Senad, was interesting and informed, and I found it engaging to discuss with him some of the aspects of the recent ethnic conflict, together with his hopes for the future. With a little effort, we were able to visit places with fewer tourists, such as the interiors of some of the mosques that dot the city. In the quieter spaces, one could reflect on the significance of the cross upon the hill, or the war-damaged buildings. We could appreciate our return to our peaceful port that evening. “Mi smo tako sretni!” We are so lucky!

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

The entire tour had a satisfying cultural component. In addition to Dubrovnik and Mostar, we also had a professional guide in the old town of Korčula. For all the other islands and towns we visited, Petra gave an interesting historical or cultural presentation somewhere along the way. Although I’m sure she was well-versed in Croatian culture, it was obvious she put a lot of preparation into her job. Often, the guides went beyond the strict requirements of the job description. One morning, a half-hour Croatian language lesson lasted for 90 minutes; we were such eager students, she said.

"Good Morning!" While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

“Good Morning!” While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

One evening, as a special treat, Petra spent several hours giving us her personal view of some of the challenges of life in Croatia. The country suffered considerably during the multi-year war that followed its declaration of independence in 1991. Many industries have yet to recover, and the very personal scars of the war run deep. The country was hit hard again in the global crisis of 2008. Unemployment currently sits at over 17%, and the average gross income is less than $18000 per year. Petra had spent several years working as a nanny in the UK and the US before returning to the country she loved. As an independent guide in a seasonal industry, staying employed was always a challenge. Yet, she also knew that she was better off than many of her compatriots who would have to leave Croatia to find work. Croatia’s recent EU membership was not embraced by everyone. There have been some losers.

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

It was an engaging evening, and we definitely appreciated Petra’s frank and sometimes emotional delivery. We felt we were getting more than just the canned tourist spiel, and were grateful for it. Perhaps in return, we all opened up a bit more. On this trip, I learned things from some long-time friends that I’d never heard before.

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Back on Korčula again for one of the longer rides, the hills no longer seemed so forbidding. They were just part of the journey, and we knew that each one led to views more stunning than the previous. At the end of the longest climb, it was a cool delight to encounter a roadside fruit stand, where we quickly demolished more than one juicy watermelon. Riding along the seaside into Korčula town that evening, I felt a little sad knowing we had only one more day of riding.

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

That last day, for the first time all week, we woke to gray skies and whitecaps on the water. Given all we’d heard about the eastern Adriatic’s “year without a summer,” we thought ourselves lucky to have enjoyed the past six days of blue skies and sun on our shoulders. Our final day of riding took us through the old town of Ston, a salt-drying region since Roman times. The surrounding countryside is protected by a huge wall, second only to the Great Wall of China. Leaving Ston, we had to make a decision on whether to climb the final hill, which, on clear days, would offer “the most spectacular view yet.” Just then, the sky darkened and we heard the rumbling of an approaching storm. Our guides explained that coming down the hill could be dangerous in the rain, and advised that we might do better taking a shortcut down the Split-Dubrovnik highway. What to do?

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

We broke up into groups of three or four, and cycled down the paved shoulder at two-minute intervals. It was busy, although not as harrowing as I’d expected. In the end, it was almost certainly the better option. The storm broke just as we reached the ship. Had we gone over the hill, we would have found ourselves right at the top just when the deluge hit. Although riding in traffic is something I try to avoid, the last half hour in traffic reminded me that, for the entire rest of the week, we’d had the roads almost to ourselves. We often rode for an hour or more without seeing a single car. I even wondered why they kept such well-maintained roads for so little traffic. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best weeks of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed.

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

I needn’t have worried about letting our group down. Comments ranged from “awesome” to “best trip ever!” September is a great month for riding here, and the best month for swimming. Apparently, this is true even in an off year. This was a well-organized tour; the crew and guides were personable and highly professional. A beautiful part of the world, with history stretching back for millennia, the southern Dalmatian islands are a great place to swim, boat, and cycle. Or just to sit in the sun, watch the world go by, and enjoy a coffee, beer, or ice cream – national favourites, all. Some of us will be back.

"This trip was awesome! When's the next one?" (aboard the Harmonia)

“This trip was awesome! When’s the next one?” (aboard the Harmonia)

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If you want to follow in our tracks:

The tour company is Island Hopping, based in Germany. They operate similar tours in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, and Vietnam. Others in our club have been on a number of these; all reported great trips. Their organized approach is evident. As with our Dalmatian trip, Island Hopping charters local ships and crews, and contracts independent ride leaders and guides. Their tour list sounds like our bucket list.

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

We booked this trip through BikeTours.com (formerly Bike Tours Direct.) This is the second trip we’ve booked through them. You pay the same rate whether booking directly or through BikeTours.com, but we have done well going through a company we know, and in our time zone. The small team at BikeTours.com are all riders themselves – sometimes they’re spread a little thin when they’re out reviewing rides, but that’s the good news. They know a lot about the tours they sell. Simon & Richie did an excellent job of helping us coordinate the plans of 17 riders. (That may warrant a post of its own!) We look forward to dealing with them again. Meanwhile, here’s the tour: “Dalmatia from Dubrovnik

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

“The Best Grandma Ever”

I’m sitting here this morning listening to Andrea Bocelli sing the exquisite “Sancta Maria” from Pietro Mascagni’s famous opera, “Cavalleria rusticana”. It’s one of a handful of CDs and photographs we carried away from an out-of-town family reunion, brought together for the memorial for Cheryl’s Mom, Anne, who passed away last month.

As she had in life, Anne continued to bring together her extended family. We spent the three days renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, talking about old times we knew about, and many we could only imagine. Prior to the gathering, we had put considerable effort into digging up old photos, piecing together Anne’s family history, which seemed shrouded in

Grandma to be in her 20s

Grandma-to-be in her 20s

mystery. Like many in her era, she didn’t talk much about her often-challenging past, and like so many in our era, we didn’t think to ask about it … until it was too late.

I – and even Cheryl – didn’t get to know Anne well until she lost her husband about twenty years ago. Perhaps the two of them had “lived in each other’s shadows” for her widowhood propelled Anne into a series of new adventures: traveling solo and striking up conversations with unlikely strangers, enrolling in self-development workshops, and, of course, visiting us more frequently (all despite her fear of flying.)

It was also during this time that Grandma joined us for a spell during our half-year in Costa Rica. She and two friends toured some of the back roads with us, sleeping uncomplainingly in bug-infested mountain shelters that let the light through the walls. I recall one night when we stood on a barely cooled lava flow of Mt. Arenal, watching and listening to orange-red rocks tumble toward us from the glowing peak. I could tell that she was nervous, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of a good adventure.

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Our two boys, now young men, had nominated Anne as “best grandma ever”. When they were still too young to fly alone, they began a practice of each visiting Grandma for a solo week every summer. They must have been good times as both boys continued these annual visits well into their late teens – at least one of them had his first legal drink courtesy of Grandma. (The drinking age was lower where she lived.) More so than the boys’ parents, Grandma was game for the kinds of restaurants and movies that teenaged boys appreciated: Star Wars, the Matrix, Bruce Lee, and who knows what else. They drove her golf cart and probably lived in a junk food heaven.

Grandma also collected her extended family on other occasions. In the late 90s, she discovered Maui. The occasion of her discovery was not a happy one: the favourite aunt who’d invited her passed away while out in the surf. We were quite surprised when Anne elected to return to the same condo the following year,… and included all of us: kids, spouses, and grandkids. “Do you mind that I’m spending your inheritance?” she’d ask Cheryl. No one objected.

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

She did this twice more over the ensuing years, hooking the family on Hawaii forever. One of our boys talks of moving there, and both of them were quite happy to join the reunion a couple of years ago, which Grandma was unfortunately not well enough to enjoy. I suspect that Maui will be a spot of choice for future family reunions.

Anne was also a thoughtful conversationalist, well read, and interested in many subjects. Always when we saw each other, she and I would start conversations about politics, or demographics, or religious fundamentalism – and then continue them for months afterwards by email. While she held strong opinions, she was always open to persuasion by a good argument.

As for her opinion of me, her son-in-law, I’d say that once she’d sized me up and decided I would be good for her daughter, she was content to trust us, and never interfered in our lives. This sizing up took place quite quickly, thirty years back, and she’d reached this conclusion despite the fact I’d appeared out of nowhere, had not yet officially divorced my ex, and Cheryl and I had just applied to immigrate to Australia. I’d like to think Anne was a good judge of character: she was “no nonsense” and would size people up quickly. She also knew that “hands off” was the best policy once her kids had left the nest: a good example for Cheryl and me with ours.

One of our earlier visits

One of our earlier visits

Whatever challenges Anne may have had in her early life, she continued to have quite a few in her later years. Her husband died young. Several members of her immediate family became increasingly ill in their later years, and relied on Anne for daily care. By the time the last of them had passed away, she was exhausted. And determined never to set foot in a hospital again. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Like Mascagni’s sacred aria “Saint Mary”, which comes from an opera about seduction, revenge & adultery, Anne had her contradictions. Despite her generally healthy lifestyle, she was a lifelong smoker, and in the last few years, it caught up with her. Her declining health pushed her away from the activities she loved: golf, championship bridge, and time with friends. As she weakened, she resisted suggestions to move into an assisted living complex, … until it was too late, and she landed in a hospital ward instead. Over the next couple of years she bounced back and forth between the hospital and a senior’s complex. It took a toll on her “can do” attitude, and affected her family as well.

Grandma with our niece

Grandma with our niece

The last time I saw Grandma, she had made it out to visit us at Thanksgiving. She and I were discussing the idea of cohouseholding, one of the themes of this blog that Cheryl and I are investigating for our retirement. Anne turned to me and said, “You know, Paul, here’s what I wish I’d done 15 years ago. I wished I’d gotten together two or three of my widowed friends, and all moved into a big house together. I wouldn’t be in the condition I’m in today.” I had to agree.

In preparing for Grandma’s memorial service, I learned things I’d never known about the impact she’d had on our boys. One of them, now a producer of marketing videos, put together the DVD for the celebration of her life. He was relating to me one of his favourite memories about Grandma, one that was unfamiliar to me.

At the time, he was 12 and Grandma was traveling with us in Costa Rica. We were on a tour of a number of smaller locations around the country. All the arrangements for these two weeks had been made by our guide and driver, Alexander. This particular day, we were staying at a hotel run by an expat who thought himself above the “help”. He had put Alex in the “servant’s

Already the "world's best grandma"

Already the “world’s best grandma”

quarters” and hadn’t invited him to join us for meals. My son told me that Grandma would have none of that. She insisted that Alex be treated as part of the group, … or else, … and offered to pay extra if necessary. She must have had her way because Alex ate with us for every meal.

Clearly this had a deep impact on my son, and he clearly still sails by her sense of fairness a dozen years later. Such is the impact that the “world’s best grandma” can have.

When and if our turn comes, may we rise to the task.

PS. Here’s a link to my post about my own Mom.

 

 

 

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:

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:

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