ELDER MUSIC: Tom Rush
A Delicious TGB Extra

How Do You Want to Live the Rest of Your Life?

EDITORIAL NOTE: Here is an old-fashioned word for you: nonplussed (to be surprised and confused so much that you are unsure how to react). That's how I feel.

There is such a gigantic amount to be said following the nominee hearings, the Russia-related political events of last week and Trump's attack on John Lewis on Martin Luther King weekend that I don't know what to say first. Or second. Or third.

I am politically speechless for the time-being so even though I think there ought to be a discussion about our collective political nightmare, we'll do something else today.

* * *

When I first started this blog 14 or so years ago, hardly anything was published in the popular press about ageing. When old people were mentioned at all, it was sure to be ageist, negative or both - often something about how awful life after 40 is.

That changed with a vengeance beginning in 2006, when the entire media took notice at once that the oldest baby boomers were turning 60 that year. Suddenly, ageing was lucrative, if not “cool.”

Every magazine did a cover story that year about the don't-trust-anyone-over-30 generation's crossover into old age.

A torrent of books followed, along with a slew of articles in print, on brand new old-age websites, and right behind all of that a sudden upsurge in the number of people self-identified as “senior life coaches” - apparently for those of us who need instruction on how to grow old.

All that and more are still around - a now well-established corner of the lucrative personal advice market - so much so that I receive half a dozen press releases in an average week about new books, sometimes a television show, magazine or online articles whose writers I am told I should interview.

The thing is, however, they all have the same advice. After you translate the psychological or academic jargon of many and plow through the filler, each expert boils it down “empowerment” - bumper sticker wisdom ready-made for embroidering on a pillow, or the internet equivalent thereof, that we've known for most of our lives:

Be positive
Be true to yourself
Be who you truly are
Age gracefully
Successful ageing

That last one is a common promise of age gurus that leaves me wondering what the opposite looks like. Some time ago, one “expert” I was being asked to interview believed that decluttering the house was all anyone needed to “empower” their old age.

Nothing wrong with cleaning up but let's not overstate its transformational “power” of throwing out old knick-knacks.

You don't have to go far to find old age advice but these banal prescriptions, a lot of them from the flourishing life coach industry, sound flimsy, inadequate and ineffective. And anyway, why can't we just let life happen?

After we got past the fireman and princess stages, hardly any kids I knew in school had an inkling of what they wanted to be when we grew up and only a handful of the few who were passionate about becoming a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief actually did it.

Although teachers regularly asked us to write essays about our career goals, I never could come up with an answer.

After high school with adulthood looming, I didn't need a teacher to goad me into thinking about what to do with my life although by then, in keeping with the predicable stage of development I was passing through, it seemed more an existential question than the need to choose an occupation.

Pondering what might bring me personal satisfaction didn't get me any closer to to finding a worthwhile or interesting way to pay the rent than high school essay assignments so I made a deliberate decision to not make a decision.

I clearly recall thinking it through when I was 20 or 21: I would just keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of the other and see where it would lead me - starting out with my single marketable skill, typing.

And you know what? It worked. It worked out amazingly well for me: several related careers producing radio, then television, then being part of the team creatiing one of the first news websites in the mid-1990s which gave me an internet career for the decade until I retired.

Without exception, it was compelling, satisfying work thaty expanded my knowledge of the world every day while giving me the chops to do this blog which has extended the same pleasures and rewards into my later years.

How lucky is that for someone without a plan?

No small part of the ongoing research for this blog has been paying enough attention to the senior life coaches and other old-age gurus (as distinct from medical and health information) to keep up with what they prescribe.

So far, there has been nothing useful to pass on to you that the ancient Greeks hadn't already told us (see above list).

Although it is not their purpose, what these “experts” have convinced me is that I should live the rest of my life as I did during the preceding half century – just keep moving and see where it takes me. After all, it worked well then; why not now?

What about you? Do you have a plan for how to live the rest of your life? Did you ever have a plan or, like me, did you just let it happen?

Makeyoursoulhappy1

Comments

I believe there an inner pilot that was always willing to get into the cockpit without particular destinations in mind, but which helped me avoid things that were likely to be dangerous or hold untenable consequences. So far, so good. I still trust the pilot.

May plan is exactly that--taking time to do what makes my soul happy.

For me life did just happen. On leaving school I felt I "ought" to do English literature at university till a friend suggested that as I LOVED art I should consider art college. This took me from Ireland to England, to marrying an englishman and raising three children and changing career to nursery teacher to tie in with the children's school hours to moving within England to a new city for my husband's job to retirement in a lovely, lively northern English city. Now retired- life has been a succession of interesting surprises. Looking forward to more!

Honestly, although it obviously worked out for you, I think it's better for young people if they set goals and plan ahead, especially in these more competitive times. However, at this point in our lives there's no better advice than what you gave us -- just keep on keeping on.

I always thought that I was the only one who hadn't spent much time or energy planning my life. I felt sorta guilty about it, truth to tell. Because my life has turned out so well, there was even a bit of 'survivor guilt' in the mix as well. But I've come to the realization that I likely couldn't have planned it any better -and it's not over yet. Yeah, I've been lucky, but I think I made a lot of that good luck. I look forward to seeing what I do next.

It is not so much a plan, as a stategy. Stay healthy! I can't control my health, or even make any but feeble attempts to manage it, but I can do healthy stuff. Eat healthy but not too much, get exercise, take care of my body parts, be positive,, try new stuff.

When we retired our big plan was to move cross country. The plan was delayed by several years, but we did finally move and that was an adventure. I am so glad we persevered. But after that, I am afraid there hasn't been too much planning.

One thing that I have learned in the last few years is that the way to live successfully as an old person, one must learn to compromise.
In fact, the aging process is a series of compromises.
For the first time in my life, I am living a stress-free existence.
I have a safe, secure place to live. I don't owe anybody a dime, and I am fortunate enough not to have any life-altering medical problems.
However, for all of this, there is a trade-off (a compromise if you will).
I have had to give up much of my independence, my privacy and my money.
Therefor, the degree at which you are willing to compromise will, for many of us, set the tone for how the rest of our lives will turn out.

I have to admit I hate that advice, age gracefully. Would someone care to actually define it? Is that someone who never gives a groan or complaint out loud?

I had no plan as there was no money for college even if I did think I wanted to study nursing. At that time you had to take Latin in school, which of course I had not. I started caring for an elderly consigned to her room until I convinced her we could get her to the family table. That didn't happen but I think once, because they really didn't want to see Aunt Mary's untidy eating habits. From there I went on to the local hospital as a Nurses Aide.

My entire plan was only to make money to live on and do for others. Now I just take a day at a time.

I've always made plans. But they have never worked out the way I expected. If I had doggedly stuck to them, I would have been miserable. So I make plans and wait to see what happens. So far, so good.

It used to be said that after graduation, most of what you learned was out of date within 10 years or so. That is accelerating and yet most political input into education about learning is actually about training. I'm long past job hunting, but I'm still applying the same principles as I did then - learn new stuff.

You can't predict what will come up, so as well as deepening your skills in what you are doing now, take every opportunity to widen them too. I worked most of my life in local government in the UK in a specific professional role as a city planner. I learned more about the context for my work, and moved into wider policy making. I took every opportunity to learn generic skills like policy analysis. I also took courses in my own time on writing and in basic teaching skills. I worked, pro bono, for community groups and gained experience there too, which helped my day to day work, but also gave me a business when I was made redundant.

Since retiring I've turned a life long interest in photography into a small business and I'm studying printmaking.

My point is that you can't know how the world will change - especially after January 20th! You need the flexibility to seize the chances when they come and they may not come from straight in front of you.

The only plan I recommend is two fold: For young people, get an education (at least a degree, in anything!). For older folk, pay attention to your health—what you eat, and how much you exercise. Not much else is in our control!

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” -Pericles (circa 495-429 BCE)

Ronni,
Thank you for being a good and decent part of my life.

I too have led an unplanned life, and sometimes felt somehow "less than" for doing so. Even though it worked......depending on one's needs and desires. There was an inner guide, spirit that would not be denied, though it allowed for plenty of going down blind alleys. It was unrecognized until I was in my forties. I never got the MFA, or even tried for the big show in New York, I was too busy doing it. Would I be better off had I planned? Financially, probably. Possibly not. But I am proud that I followed the inner spirit that I didn't begin to understand until my forties.
So now at 73, pretty good health, though several scares, I would be safer, life would be easier......when it all feels too much I think about living in a retirement situation, assisted living. But I walked in the woods this morning, meditated in the circle of stones yesterday afternoon, still do some drawing sessions, painting, art facilitation in my studio........life is very good when I'm not terrified by a leaking roof, or my "orphan elder" status. So really, I'm still just going along, following that inner guide.

Following personal interests, I got a BA in journalism and after that just sort of followed my nose through a variety of publishing jobs. I really had no plans in mind for my retirement years other than the realization one day that I could finally move to Colorado. But as for the rest of my life, I've been just drifting along, trying to stay happy and comfortable without worrying too much. Not always easy for someone prone to anxiety. A retirement home might alleviate some of the anxiety, but I cringe at the thought of living with so many other people.

I had a great plan for when I left my teaching career. No one else followed through with my ideas, though. No one was interested in hiring a retired school teacher to work in their nonprofit organization. Oh, they were quite happy to have me volunteer, but paid work didn't happen. That's okay. I moved back to our house, paid for, in central California, to do that volunteer work in my own community. It is very fulfilling, but doesn't provide an income that I had planned to supplement my pension.

I have always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. But I wanted my life planned like a NASA space mission. My life has turned out well, and I consider myself to be a very lucky person. However, I wished I hadn't wasted so much time. But then I love to waste time. It's all very complicated. We are what we are.

I love this, Ronnie! I've long been as suspicious of "life planning" as I have been of the latest trend in management theory, which is usually just a way to shake money out of individuals or organizations.

Like you, I had minimal skills but lots of energy and it turned in to a career (who'd have thought?) at a natural food consumer co-op that was a product of early 70s attempts to save money on groceries. I had no experience in marketing, but a strong focus on education, and none in business or grocery, but a great interest in helping coax food production into more nature-friendly practices. Also, no background in health, but a great interest in helping people figure out how to avoid food-related illness.

My husband and I are amazed at how well things turned out, as we never planned past lunch. Actually, we rarely planned lunch until the kiddo came along in our thirties, after which we planned just enough to not raise him in utter chaos. He was the best planning tool we ever had! We often turned to him and said "thank you for making all this necessary." I doubt we'd have gotten around to buying a house if we hadn't had him, so now our living costs are relatively low. That is a great help, as rents have soared in our city.

We tried retirement financial planning once but it made our heads spin. So we just do what got us this far: be cheap when it comes to most of life but spare no expense on dental care, foot-ware, mattresses and pillows; cook whole food from scratch; walk at the Mall in bad weather and use You Tube workout videos or taped PBS workout shows instead of joining a fitness club. Use the library. Use Magic Jack for phone service ($48/year). Sign up for every environmental program the utility companies offer for a discount on service (lately, solar garden electricity).

My husband has a saying: "Initiative comes to those who wait." Rather garbled, but for us it seems to work! I thought for a year about buying him a Fitbit. Recently a friend gave us one that he received as a gift. I thought about buying an under-desk exercise cycle, but someone offered me an elliptical version of same. Hubby liked it so much that when he noticed one for $10, barely used, at a thrift store he bought it. It was 40% off day, so he got it for $6.

What does that have to do with planning? Not much, except to say don't rush to get things. Somehow this wasteful culture will churn out things you might want for a pittance, so don't throw your hard won treasure at them too soon while you stop and smell the roses.

I also let it happen & had mostly good job experiences.
The best part is that my work life allowed me the wonderful gift of retirement.

I've never really had a life plan, either, just fell into opportunities that enriched my life and career/s. But now that I'm in my seventies and no longer have any responsibilities outside of myself I am restless and longing for a plan. I keep busy, get out often for "life enrichment" type stuff but it all feels like biding time. waiting for something better to come along. That stresses me out sometimes because time is running out!

Every now and then another new periodical for seniors pops up, and always it is disappointing. They feature the usual patronizing articles about aging people's need for community, our need to keep learning and creative, our need to live healthy; but it is obvious, since the magazine is always stuffed with advertising for expensive retirement homes in the area, that the articles are fillers, perhaps assigned to the limited imaginations of younger staff who make one whopping BIG mistake about the aging - that we are homogenous!

Since we are living longer than any previous generation, of course it's hard to find advice or role models. We are it - pioneers, and we must resist attempts to homogenize us. We must insist on being who we are and doing what we do as long as we can and as well as we can. And, now and then, it's refreshing to recreate oneself, to open up a new dimension and grow into it.

"Independent as a hog on ice", as my Dad used to say. Post-colleges, worked in S&L industry, hating every day, and doing ineffectual things for ineffectual people. At 40, I started my home building/contracting business. I loved it. 26 years-worth. "Love what you do", I guess.
Then, retired, amid 3 years of boredom, I learned to heed that little voice inside me, beckoning me to: "Try something(s) new. What can it hurt? Take a chance, Tim!" I 'listen' more now. My days are frequently a daze. Of activity: Volleyball, creative writing, poetry. I've recovered that delight in my life now. "What's that little voice saying This time?
Oh, boy!!" Well then, here we go - -

Wasn't there a saying in the 70's - if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans 😂.

In my 20's I always had a plan. In my 30's I'd learned it was best to have Plan A and Plan B. By my 40's it was Plans A,B, and C... You get the picture. My life, like many here, was a series of gut instincts and happy accidents, and it's all been good, even the painful parts and big lessons.

Yes, keep on, keeping on...

I'm fine with planning and setting goals as long as you don't necessarily believe them. Planning and goals contribute to a rigidity of the spirit. I always feel sorry for those so lost in the planning that they don't see the sunrise in front of them.

Needless to say, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and it worked. I wouldn't have chosen the Army but having been forced into it I found a career in computers and programming that served me my entire processional life. It's not everyone's experience of the army. But it worked for me.

And now I'm continuing to do it. One foot in front of the other in retirement and I keep having experiences that surprise me. And entertain me. And teach me.

Mostly I'm the same person doing the same stuff but less of it. Oh, except I'm not jumping on men. I stopped that 5-10 years ago. I'm 75 and intend to have yet more adventures. They may be ones I choose or ones over which I have no control. I expect to be entertained by it all. I could never have planned how wonderful my past has been.

What do I want to do the rest of my life? Live quietly and thankfully.

Ronni, you do pose the most interesting questions.

Because of your post, today has been a reflecting day thinking about life and goals.

When I was 15-16-17 there we so many choices, be a librarian, be a musician (trombone, if you please!) explore, and on and on.

Life, for me, has not been a narrow path, with goals defined and, perhaps, attained. Life has been a series of choices, some chosen by me, others chosen by chance.

With a few serious mistakes along the way, I have mostly been happy with the choices I've made. If not, I never would have made it to this ancient age.

There are still choices to come. I hope I make the correct ones.

Again, it's been a joy to ponder this subject on and off today. I would not have done it without your excellent post. Thank you.

Thank goodness, an original approach, and realistic too. I've made a video course in which there's a module about finding your purpose in life. My steer: "Don't bother unless you really want to do this for your own reasons. You already have a purpose: being alive and being as happy as you can." It's so demoralising to think you MUST have a purpose, you MUST have goals. We are not corporations: we're people doing the best we can.

Plan? The social atmosphere in the mid-50s pushed me towards a "good career for a woman", quoting my parents. But college was not as interesting as getting married and finding out what "it" was all about. Boy howdy! I'm almost 81 now and today I think "it" is all about resilience, open-mindedness, adventure welcoming, self-confidence and a bunch of good luck balancing the bad. I hope I can remember that in the challenging years ahead.

Ronni, your thoughtful blog last week about the gradual letting go of aging has been on my mind ever since. It has helped me to realize that resilience is a part of this faze of life as well. It's a new adventure to be embraced and met with determination to keep on keeping on while watching for opportunities for joy.

I had no burning passion, other than want to be financially independant, ergo a well paying job, ergo get paper degrees. Its worked out ok. Having kids definitely helps - always used to say that's the best thing I've done in my life and no regrets.

I'm now 65+ and think myself on the scrap heap. Then I read of Trump at 70 taking on POTUS..... and shake my head. Also look at Pelosi, and the two oldest women in Congress (80+) and shake my head even more. I definitely need to up my game!!

I really enjoyed this post, and especially the comments. We elder folks have such great ideas, and have histories full of everything! Living life is such an adventure. Thanks everyone!

I have no idea how I want to live the rest of my life--it's a work in progress just like the first 79 years were. At least I'm not distracted by an overly-active social life, as I was in my 20s and early 30s, which thoroughly derailed whatever plan I might have had at the time.

I'm so done with all the advice, mostly provided by younger people, about how to age "successfully" whatever that means. Sometimes I think I'll just eat what I want and quit exercising (which I detest anyway). After all, at 80 I'm not about to die "young"! Still, I keep trying to eat right, walk daily and stay reasonably active. That's because I have no desire to render my 87 Y/O spouse a widower or leave our 3 senior felines without their cat-mom. Above and beyond that, I want to retain as much of my independence and functionality as possible up until the moment I drop dead.

I agree with Bruce C. that some compromises are necessary. I admire his ability to make the compromises he has. Speaking strictly for myself, independence and privacy are way up there on my list of essentials, and I don't think giving those up completely is a compromise I could make for long. That's probably a good thing because I sure couldn't come up with the money most retirement communities demand!

Life in general is a balancing act--it is, always has been and probably always will be!

Sometimes it seemed that it wasn't planning as much as being prepared. Prepared to take risks, to take advantage of opportunities, to make commitments and to pick myself up after a fall and continue on. Things still left to do as I get to 70 and being prepared is still the way to go. Great topic

What a relief to read all these comments! Some of my friends have ageing plans of various kinds and, because I don't, I've felt like a slacker -- that I am doomed to the rest of my life becoming gradually less pleasant as a result of not having goals. Thanks to your comments and this column de-bunking what "everyone" says we need to have/do to age "successfully," I see that my current life would feel a lot better if I quit living in (worrying about) the future. However fast I'm moving and whatever it is I'm doing today would seem to be just the thing to do. I'm reminded of the song "Ain't nobody's business what I do."

Like you, Ronnie, I left college with a BA (mine was in American literature) and one marketable skill: typing. I had no plan. I wanted "to write". I knew I could and world write no matter what else I was doing to pay the rent, or when I soon married and had children (as society urged we young women to do) I continued to write.

Mostly serendipity has taken me on a fascinating, satisfying and, at least to me, quite wonderful life journey. I am now 78, have ended up, to my surprise, on Cape Cod where I find a wonderful life among a peer group such as I've always longed to have -- active, interesting, educated, mostly healthy people more or less my age. (At last 13% of the year round population of Cape Cod are over 60). My only "plan" is to continue healthy habits (eating and exercising, regular check ups with doctors) and more writing. I've added art quilting to my satisfactions as well as teaching seniors skills to write about their lives. None of this was planned. It evolved out of all that came earlier in life. I just kept on keeping on. And I've NEVER stopped typing.

Aside from deciding on marriage and children, my life has always happened to me, mostly against my will. A divorce, sudden death of my young adult daughter, raising a grandchild, losing everything in Hurricane Katrina, caring for an adult child who developed schizophrenia at age 23. All this was beyond my control and yet here I am, still walking upright and on most days still full of wonder and curiosity about the world. If I made a plan for the future, I am sure the universe would somehow thwart it. So I go along as best I can with hope in my heart.

Nonplussed indeed. I am so with you, Ronni. This is one of the many posts which confirm for me why I love this blog. TGB is our Safe Place where we can think out loud about things that might cause our friends or grown children a bit of alarm about our elder wisdom. What I mean is that we can talk about not only the deeper meaning of elderhood as well as very strong political viewpoints, but also unload about the day to day irritations and disappointments of growing old---everything from incontinence to illness and death to loneliness or lack of same.

We can admit that our wisdom was gained haphazardly through the events of lives that just happened to us. We can honestly admit that even though we're alone, many of us kind of like it that way, occasionally missing human companionship but mostly glad to be free of the irritations and obligations of maintaining social relationships.

I guess one of the things I also love about TGB is that it acknowledges that old people can say or read words like shit or fuck without getting the vapors. And that we can get very, very angry when a bigoted sociopath high-jacks our country even though we might not have a lot of time left to live in it.

I also love the way our comments can make us feel better instead of guilty about our foibles and failures. We share to give each other dispensation from the fake nobility of aging. In my case, doing anything gracefully is beyond my clumsy capabilities and TGB makes that okay.

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