Thursday, May 17, 2018

Lessons from Darwin

Bucket List: Trip to the Galapagos Islands. ✔ Check.

Honestly, I don’t have a bucket list. So when friends, Dennis and Jan, invited us to join them on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, I didn’t even know where to find this destination on the map. This trip was on Dennis’ bucket list. Still, Dave and I are always up for an adventure so we signed up, and then did our research.

The Galapagos Islands is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The Galapagos tortoise might be the most popularly recognized animal, but the diversity of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else, is the reason it’s considered one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing. 

We were aboard the National Geographic Endeavor II, a beautiful ship that accommodates 96 guests. It was an expedition—each day filled with hiking, deep-sea snorkeling, kayaking, all while observing amazing animals, fish, and plant life. Now I understand why people have the Galapagos Islands on their bucket lists!

The Galapagos Islands is also home to the Charles Darwin Research Station. As I was entering the lobby, the quote on the door grabbed my attention. “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”—Charles Darwin, English naturalist and geologist

Adapts to change—seems to fit the challenge of adapting to retirement. If you’re resisting change, feeling like retirement has robbed you of who you used to be, how's this working for you? Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of The Third Chapter, reminds us, “Resisting change in retirement is like trying to stand still in a fast moving river.”

Instead of hanging on to what you used to be, Lawrence-Lightfoot suggests retirement “requires the willingness to take risks, experience vulnerability and uncertainty, learn from experimentation and failure, seek guidance and counsel from younger generations, and develop new relationships of support and intimacy.”

No one said retirement was going to be easy. But if you want to do more than just survive, if you want to thrive, take Darwin's advice: be adaptable to change.

Copyright 2018. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Application for Retirement

I had a couple minutes to spare before speaking to a group of retiring teachers. I used this time to glance at the informational pamphlets available to the participants: Preparing for retirement, Working in retirement, and Understanding Social Security, to name a few.  Just before walking to the podium, a handout grabbed my attention: Application for Retirement.

I thought the heading sounded like an application for employment. We’re all familiar with these forms, having completed a few or more over the past 25-40 years. Until now, I bet no one at the seminar had filled out an application for retirement. It’s not something we do every five years.

Intrigued by this idea, I decided to veer from my usual speaking outline. I asked the audience, “Who picked up the Application for Retirement form?” Hands around the room waved wildly with excitement. Then I asked, “What if an application for retirement required the same type of information that is found in an application for employment?” 
  • What is your retirement objective?
  • Describe your education, skills, knowledge and experience. In what ways do these make you a good candidate for retirement?
  • What are your strengths? How will these benefit you in retirement?
  • What are your weaknesses? How will you address these weaknesses?
  • If I were a retirement employer, why would I choose your application?

After considering these questions, I asked, “Now who thinks they’re a good candidate for retirement?” Very few hands lifted.

An application for retirement requires more than documenting years of service, naming a beneficiary, and identifying a bank account for the direct deposit of a pension check (if you’re one of the fortunate people to receive a pension!) Just as you developed skills and knowledge to succeed in the workplace, you need to do the same for retirement.

Begin by creating a plan for how you want to live in retirement. This includes developing roles apart from your work identity, investing in new hobbies and interests, expanding your social network, and embracing opportunities to learn and grow. Identity your core values, incorporating these into your life design. Develop a new relationship with time, realizing that busyness does not equate with significance. Know what matters to you, then do something that matters. 

If you prepare for retirement in the same way you prepare for employment, you’ll be a much better candidate for this new role.

Copyright 2018. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Irons in the Fire

When I speak with people who are preparing for retirement, I encourage them to get involved in just a few things, and then become deeply absorbed. Author and researcher Morton Hansen advises, “Do less, then obsess.” The rewards we miss from work, such as a sense of accomplishment, team camaraderie, belonging, and doing something that matters, comes when we dig deep and invest our time, effort and skills.

This is all good, sound advice. But there’s more. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, authors of The Start Up of You, advise, “It's unwise, no matter your stage of life, to try to pinpoint a single dream around which your existence revolves.”

So while I suggest getting deeply involved in just a few areas, I also want you to always have several possibilities available. I call this having “irons in the fire”—a phrase that originated from when a blacksmith would efficiently work on several pieces, returning each to the fire after the metal was too cool to shape, then picking up another hot iron to mold.

So which is it—deeply involved in a few areas or broadly seeking several possibilities? It’s both.

When it comes to volunteer opportunities, it’s best to become deeply involved with just a few organizations. Totally embrace your role and reap the benefits of full engagement.

And when it comes to your goals and dreams, I recommend having several possibilities on the line. Good things take time. If we need something to happen soon, we might be convinced that it’s time to give up—to decide it’s a failure. By having several irons in the fire, we can enjoy involvement in more than one area while another interest or aspiration heats up.

Copyright 2018. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Short Term Learning Goals

For over three years, Brian, a retired engineer, has been saying that he’s “figuring out retirement”—that he’s "working on it.” I see lots of “Brians” in my retirement consulting. They sincerely want to create meaning and direction in this next stage of life. The problem is they don’t have the tools to “work on it.” It’s hard to solve a problem when you don’t have a formula.

As an organizational psychologist, I often look to business theories and practices to solve retirement problems. I take the best of work and use it to create the best in retirement. So for Brian, and others like him, I recommend developing short-term learning goals.

Short-term learning goals are related to the Lean Startup methodology—a scientific approach developed by Eric Ries to create and manage a startup business. One of the principles of this model is don’t assume you know what the customer wants. Instead, create a minimum viable product and then test your assumptions by creating experiments, short term learning goals, to validate or negate these beliefs. 

Let’s apply this to retirement. But before we do, foremost, you need to want to create a better retirement, just as an entrepreneur has the fire in his belly to create a new product or service. Now it’s time to start working on retirement.

Ask yourself, “If anything is possible, how would I like to live in retirement?” Your vision of a better retirement begins with noticing and appreciating what you love and value about your life, just the way it is right now. Write down what’s working, and what you want to continue and leverage. Then build on this foundation by considering the key issues and challenges you’re facing. Write these down.

Next, what emerging opportunities excite you? What can you do now to explore these possibilities? Make a phone call. Send an email. Meet up for lunch. Hofffman and Casnocha, authors of The Start Up of You, remind us, “Whatever the situation, actions, not plans, generate lessons that help you test your hypotheses against reality. Actions help you discover where you want to go and how to get there.”

What seems impossible but would be super cool if it were possible? Let your mind go crazy. Limiting beliefs and assumptions are going to get in the way. Clear these out by writing them down. Keep a running list. Then one by one create an experiment to test each assumption.

For example, maybe you never had time to coach your son’s Little League team when you were working long hours. You notice as you drive by the baseball field that you’re missing those days when you had a reason to be at the field. Now you have time to coach, but you assume the commitment will limit your freedom, or that you’re not qualified, or that only coaches who can commit to being at every practice and game are needed. 

List your assumptions and then test them. Speak to someone who’s currently coaching. Ask if assistant coaches are needed. Offer to help with practices. Each step you take is an experiment that will show you what’s possible. Maybe you’ll realize that coaching is not what you want to do. That’s okay. On to another possibility and experiment. After all, you’re working on retirement.

Copyright 2018. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Peak Moments

Take out a piece of paper and write down 10 most memorable moments in your life. Really. Do it now.

(Pause—I’m waiting for you to write your list.)

Got it? Ok. Now read through your list and put a check mark next to the events that happened before your 40th birthday.

Maybe your list looks something like the top 10 memorable experiences that authors Dan and Chip Heath uncovered in their research for The Power of Moments:

1.     Having children
2.     Marriage
3.     Begin school
4.     College
5.     Fall in love
6.     Others’ death
7.     Retirement
8.     Leave home
9.     Parents’ death
10. First job.

You’ll notice that for most of us, seven of these events happen before we’re 40 years old. And, two of the three remaining events are related to death. Not exactly something to look forward to.

How many check marks do you have for the under-40 question? If you have six or more, you might ask, “Have I already lived my best years?”

Not necessarily.

The reason we remember moments at an earlier age is because we experience many firsts during this stage of life. Firsts have the power of being high emotion—hence, memorable. However, in retirement, our day-to-day emotions are pretty even. Not many high peaks—unless we intentionally create the moments. But how?

According to Power of Moments, do three things:

First, boost sensory appeal.
Second, raise the stakes.
Third, break the script.

Creating peak moments requires effort—most good things do—and it’s worth it. I created a powerful memory for my family over the Christmas holidays. Our adult children made plans to come home—requiring flights and using vacation time for all of them. So instead of just another Christmas at home, where everyone knows the routine and falls into expected roles, I decided to apply the peak moments’ formula, starting with renting an Adirondack home in Lake Placid for four days.

Christmas in Lake Placid broke the script. Sensory appeal was boosted by a sense of adventure. The stakes were raised by having matching pajamas, searching for a Christmas tree on December 24, and skating on the Olympic outdoor rink. My son-in-law and my son’s fiancé both experienced firsts: cross-country skiing and going on the Olympic bobsled and skeleton rides.

According to the authors, “Moments of elevation are experiences that rise above the routine. They make us feel engaged, joyful, amazed, motivated.” These words perfectly describe our Lake Placid Christmas—a peak moment that will continue to live on in our memories. 

Retirement is the perfect opportunity to invest your extra time into creating peak moments!

Copyright 2018. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.