As a woman born in 1947, I have seen a lot of changes, been through many life transitions, and like you, lived many lives over these past 7 decades! Do I still have the same energy I had at 40, or 50 or 60? Of course not! Like all of us, I feel and see the physical changes that occur over time and many mornings, get up and say “That didn’t hurt yesterday!” Yet, here we are, and damn lucky to be here and be able to see life through a lens that has softened with compassion and empathy over time. We get to stand back and observe; laugh at ourselves and our foibles, weird habits, inability to remember the movie we saw last week or what we ate for dinner at that fabulous restaurant.
The challenges of aging are there for certain. But, if we can keep looking at ourselves with humor, compassion and gratitude, the rewards can be great.
Retired? Welcome to the blessing and curse of being at CHOICE. The best advice I received when I retired in 2013 was to “follow the clues” before jumping into something new or making new commitments. Following the clues does require a few disciplines. It requires you to practice:
- Presence and Observation
- Being present to discomfort: divine discontent
Taking the time to “follow the clues” may be frustrating to those who are used to a faster pace of life, but truly, it will be worth it. Learning to pay attention to the wisdom of mind, body and spirit, remaining curious and discerning, will always point you in the right direction.
If you are a woman, you might notice that after a certain age, you become, well… invisible. You are no longer noticed out in public the way a young woman may be and this can be very difficult for some. My feeling about invisibility is that it equals freedom. I feel as though I can move in the world as I truly wish, authentically, largely unconcerned about the opinion of others. Does that mean I go to Target in furry slippers and pj’s? No. But not because I fear the opinion of others — I don’t do that because I truly don’t want to. If my authentic self feels like dressing as an aging Hippie, I will certainly do that. I get to observe the world with a little distance now, a little more objectivity and that feels good.
Feelings of uselessness now that you are not working
A word about the word “work“: Whatever you have done in your life, whether for money or not, has been “work”. If you have raised a family, you have worked! If you have taken care of a home with all that that entails, you have worked! So, “work” refers to all that you have done in the course of your adult life.
Hopefully, whatever work you did was satisfying. I hope you felt valued, you contributed to something greater than yourself and were respected for your skills, abilities and intelligence. Maybe there came a time when you no longer had the same drive, level of commitment or energy and knew it was time to retire from that particular career, and/or children were grown and living their own lives. I know that happened for me. Without the external feedback from family, co-workers, staff or clients, some people begin to feel less valuable (in their own mind), dissatisfied and at loose ends. However, all those skills, abilities, experience and intelligence that it took to get where you are today are still there — they have not gone anywhere.
Here are a few suggestions and food for thought:
- What are your values? Pursuing something in alignment with your deepest values will be fulfilling whether you are being paid or not.
- What are you passionate about?
- Love to garden – become a Master Gardener
- Love animals – get involved in a rescue organization or shelter
- Love books and reading – be a literacy volunteer at your local library
- Executive experience? Volunteer at SCORE
- Join a “Meet-Up” group that strikes your fancy
- Love art? Love to dance? Take a class, join a group, exercise your “who cares what it looks like, I’m having fun” muscle.
- Love to learn and study or teach? Take courses at your local University, Community College or through OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), or even teach a class.
- Be of service to others. Using your natural gifts and talents to help others is richly rewarding.
- If you want to make money, now is the time to do or try the new venture you may have always dreamed about.
What do you have now that you didn’t have in your youth? WISDOM and EXPERIENCE. Offer your wisdom and experience in whatever fashion feels right to you.
Loss and Grief
Inevitably, as we age, we face the loss of loved ones: beloved family, friends, our precious animal companions. At this time, the presence of supportive community is more vital than ever. In the U.S. we are not — in general — particularly adept at being with death and dying even though the ebb and flow of life if the most natural process in the world. It is so hard to lose a loved one and can be just as hard to be present with someone who is dying, mainly because we want to “do” something. But, what a gift of love and compassion that can be! If you have friends who are grieving, reach out to them. All they really need is your presence, your compassion, your open heart. If you are grieving, please don’t isolate. There are many ways to connect with others where you can share your grief and all that goes along with a profound loss. It is important to have a safe container where you can be heard, held and loved without judgment or any attempt to “fix”. We are social animals, we humans, and need one another — most especially in times of loss and grief.
The dangers of “Contraction”
Many of us have met, and maybe have older family members who seem to contract with age: they get tighter, more narrow minded, angrier or more irritable, more judgmental, less flexible. Sound familiar?
No one wants to be like this, but if we are not conscious and attentive to ourselves and our own tendencies, it can happen.
Whatever path we continue to walk or garden we continue to cultivate will continue to grow, enriched with whatever compost and nutrients we are adding. For instance, if we have consciously tried to cultivate an inner garden of curiosity, learning, awareness of ourselves and how we interact with the world, gratitude and affection, we will tend to continue to reap the fruit of that garden. If, on the other hand, we are not awake to ourselves, and allow the daily pains, wounds, grievances, both imagined and real, to pull us down into depression, anger and resentment, we are likely to find an inner garden that is choked with the weeds of narrowness, judgment, tightness and hopelessness.
Aging is an opportunity to cultivate a rich inner garden which will bring its own unique and abundant rewards.