Sharing Wisdom

When Do You Retire?


Since I’ve become so interested in The Next Stage, or the Third Stage, or what most call Retirement, friends and colleagues have begun sending me their thoughts, including the thoughts of their friends and colleagues. So the conversation is beginning to spread.

I want to share with you one of the most moving statements sent to me recently:

I was thinking about what I want when I finish working and retire and this is the list I made for myself:

1. Financial security

2. Wake every day with a purpose

3. Engage in meaningful work that helps my community

4. Be in good health

5. Have time for and enjoy family and friends

6. Do more of the things I love

And I suddenly realized I could retire today! As long as I have a job, I am financially secure. I wake every day with a sense of purpose and engage in meaningful work because I am privileged to work in a nonprofit that helps women and families escape domestic violence and family homelessness. I am fortunate to be in good health and have time for family and friends. While I do things I love, I recognize that I want to do more of the things I love so I started a list and consciously look for opportunities. And then it hit me: Retirement is a state of mind! So, I retired that day.


What a fantastic view of her life! And what a wonderful way to be mindful about her values and what’s most important to her. Why wait, indeed? If it’s a state of mind, she can have that today!

I’m so excited about that! It moves us so much closer to the goal of living mindfully and being conscious of the choices we can make. I was taught long ago that in the face of extreme stress, Step 1 is to identify what you can control and focus on that. One thing I’m doing to begin to plan and prepare for that stage is to create a community of others at the same stage – to brainstorm, cheer each other on, challenge each other’s assumptions, and provide a place to explore possibilities

What would you most want to have today? What do you want when you retire? And what could you do to bring more of that into your life RIGHT NOW? I’d love to hear your thoughts and expand the conversation. Feel free to add your comments.


The Organ Recital

My sister called the other day and after a 10-minute recitation of the challenges of recovering from a bad ankle-break that had required surgery, a friend’s mother’s demise at the age of 94 after a stroke, and the difficulty of avoiding acid reflux, she said, “Well, so much for the organ recital!”  “The what?” I replied. “You know,” she said. “The organ recital. The way we all begin conversations now that we’ve reached a certain age. Haven’t you noticed?”

And indeed, as I thought about it, many conversations now begin with the ways in which our bodies have clearly become more vulnerable. Little aches and pains grab our attention – especially when getting out of bed in the morning. When we take a few weeks off from exercising, it’s amazing how much ground we’ve lost. We’re going to bed earlier, or not sleeping as well. More of our friends are beginning to deal with serious illness.

And yet, we don’t feel old. According to my informal survey, most people I know in their 50’s and 60’s, when asked how old they feel, name a number somewhere in the early 40’s. We’re startled by the face or body reflected in the mirror. So some of the discussion comes from a sense of wonder:  look what’s actually happening to me! I can’t believe it!

For me, some of that sense of wonder led to thoughts about what the next stage of life would be like for me. The questions that came up were: What did I want? Where did I want to live? How did I want to be connected to people? What if – God forbid! – I should find myself suddenly without my husband and partner of 30+ years? What would my life be like? These are hard questions. Even thinking about them can feel overwhelming – or even a little grim.

And yet, there’s another side to the story. Choice is important – and there are so many things we have choice about as we get older, especially if we don’t wait until the choices are made for us by circumstance. It’s wonderful that we still feel like we’re somewhere in our mid-40’s. And how terrific to feel that way and still have put in so many years in a career that we are now eligible to “retire” and maybe make some different choices about our life. How fabulous to feel that young and have our children (for the most part) finished with school and launched into lives of their own. 

So what are the choices we can make now? Let’s look at some of the big ones:

1. What would I like the next 20 years of my life to look like? Do I want to be working and if so, how much of my time do I want to spend at it?
2. Where would I most like to live? Is climate important to me? Do I want to be in a particular kind of community?
3. How much money do I need on a monthly basis to live the way I’d like to live?
4. What will make my life feel meaningful? How do I want to make a contribution to others?
5. What kind of social environment do I want for myself? What friends are important to me and how will I make new friends?
6. What about the spiritual side of my life?

Having a vision – or the beginning of one – for the next stage of life is a way of beginning to build it. We can begin to plan, to try out new environments through traveling, to begin to volunteer. And that kind of planning, trying things on for size, is a great way of continuing to feel you are somewhere in your 40’s, still enthusiastic, still involved, still making active decisions about your own life.

And our bodies? Well, rather than the daily organ recital, I prefer the instructions of my yoga teacher, Tara, at the end of each class. After we arise from savasana, she always reminds us to “Thank your body.” It reminds me to be grateful for how well it has served me, despite the demands I’ve placed on it for so many years.

In the next few postings, we’ll go deeper into these questions about the next stage.  Stay tuned! And since humor is so important in continuing to feel youthful, here’s a little something to smile at…

 This picture can be found, and many others like it, at The artist is Terry Border and his creations are truly a wonder

(This picture can be found, and many others like it, at The artist is Terry Border and his creations are truly a wonder!)



Grumpy Bird

Children’s books are a wonderful place to read powerful truths about life, people and how the world works.  In fact, sometimes I think they are wasted on children, who probably already know these simple lessons – it’s the adults who need reminding.  My current favorite is called Grumpy Bird (Grumpy Bird, by Jeremy Tankard).  This story, with extraordinary illustrations, is about a bird who wakes up one morning in a terrible mood.  He’s in such a terrible mood that he doesn’t feel like flying.  So he decided that today he will just walk.  He sets out and soon meets a friend who asks what he’s doing.  When he announces grumpily that he’s walking, the friend happily says, “That’s great!  I’ll come too.”  And off they go.  Bird meets one friend after another, each of whom thinks walking is a terrific idea, despite Bird’s irritable responses to them, and soon he has a train of animals in his wake.  At some point, Bird notices that whatever he does, his friends will copy him and soon he is having a great time making them play follow the leader.  He’s having such a good time that he forgets to be grumpy.  The powerful truth?  It really is possible to change your mood – it’s a question of where you focus.

Yesterday, I was a Grumpy Bird.  Nothing felt right and none of the things on my to-do list cheered me up.  As I ran an errand at the Container Store, I noticed that the piped in music was an old Stevie Wonder song.  I stopped to pay attention and realized that my body felt lighter, my step quickened, and I suddenly felt like smiling.  Later in the day, almost without thinking, I put on some music I hadn’t listened to in a long time – a wonderful jazz album by guitar master Ronnie Earl.  This music, too, lifted me, and I found myself chopping vegetables in time to the music.  I was no longer a Grumpy Bird.  So I began thinking:  how do you change your mood?  Life sends us all kinds of reasons to be grumpy, from small irritations to serious setbacks.  But after the first few minutes, being grumpy is really not much fun.  What helps?

frownPay attention.  Look around.  Listen to the birds arguing in the tree.  Notice the silly music in the store – it’s usually designed to improve your mood and make you buy more, sure.  But you could just let it improve your mood and stop there, couldn’t you?  Notice how something you like tastes.  Smell something good.  Notice someone around you smiling.  Pet the dog.

frownFocus small.  It’s so often the huge issues that make us grumpy:  Where am I going to find a job?  How can I improve this relationship?  How can I be a better parent?  How can I afford to live the way I want to?  But if we focus on something small, something that we can control, some immediate accomplishment, it can make us feel better.  Grumpy Bird made his friends all hop on one foot and got a kick out of it.

frown Be present in the present.  Those huge issues that weigh on you began in the past and expand far into the future.  It’s a cliché to tell yourself to focus on the present, to be in the moment.  But it can be a mood changer.  Right this minute, what would you like to do?  What would you like to hear?  Smell?  Taste?  What do you notice right this minute?  What happens if you pay attention to that?

frown Let yourself smile – laughing is even better.  Even if you are completely alone, in fact, especially if you are completely alone, it’s hard to stay grumpy if you smile.  Really let yourself smile.  Even if you start with a grimace, if you let yourself play with it you really do start to feel a little differently.    You may not want to joyously embrace the whole world, but it does lighten the grumpiness a little.  And let’s face it.  It really isn’t much fun to be grumpy after the first few minutes, is it?



It’s Not Always Straight

Following your life pathWhen I was young, I always thought it was important to choose a path and follow it. It would be a direct path and lead in a straight line. You were supposed to know where it would lead, know that when you reached the destination you imagined, that you would be happy, fulfilled and have a sense of completion.

But life isn’t like that. The path isn’t always straight. I was supposed to go to college, graduate, choose a career, perhaps go to graduate school, work in some company, get married, have children and live happily ever after. Instead, I discovered I wasn’t ready for college, so I managed to be “invited to leave” at the end of my freshman year and the trauma of that situation kept me away from school for 10 years. It was as though a huge tree had fallen across my path. It was a major setback and my self-esteem was in the gutter. Looking back, however, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. What I wanted more than anything at the time was to find my way as an adult – to live on my own and create a life for myself. I managed to create a situation that forced me to do just that. Painful as it was – and it was devastating – I learned some invaluable lessons.

I learned first and foremost that I could not be done in, that I would survive and make a life that I could be proud of. I was lonely. I survived it. I had no idea how to manage money. I learned. I didn’t know how to cook. I taught myself little by little. I didn’t know how I had gotten myself into such a mess. I got myself into therapy (paying for it myself!) and with help, I figured it out. In other words, I learned about my resilience, my resourcefulness and my determination. What could be more important?

My path continued to be pretty crooked. I got married, began having a family, became a family therapist (“through the back door,” as my mother never failed to remind me), divorced, eventually got not one but two master’s degrees (and still no B.A.), got remarried, started a company with my husband, and years later, became a coach. I love my life! I love where I’ve gotten to, and I love supporting others on their crooked paths. I know now how important those roadblocks, downed trees, detours and unexpected potholes are. That’s how you find out who you are. It’s where you get to test yourself, to learn from your setbacks as well as your successes, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other with the knowledge that you’re going to be fine.

Do I wish I could have avoided the pain and humiliation of getting thrown out of college? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it was painful and enraging, but on the other hand, look what I gained! Could I have learned those things another way? Maybe. But I keep being reminded of the wise words of Kahlil Gibran: “…is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”*

*Gibran, Kahlil. The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1961.




This blog is about the many things that are important to me. I hope they will resonate with you as well. My dream is for it to be a conversation, with comments and additions by all of you who read what I – and my guests – write. I hope you will feel free to share your wisdom. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

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