Monday, August 13, 2012

Favorite Things

Of all the things in this world, do you know what you like best? What are your favorites? Ever thought about it or perhaps even made a list? Your “favorite things” may be things to do or see, to give away or buy, things to remember or recreate or just to talk about. They may not be tangible things—but feelings, memories, or thoughts. They may be as big as watching a sunrise or as small as taking a nap.

They may be similar to what Julie Andrews’ character in The Sound of Music sang about in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s familiar song, “My Favorite Things.” That is, “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens….”

When I think about my favorite things, it is these lyrics that come to mind. They remind me of how so often it’s the little things in life—perhaps very simple things—that truly bring a sense of joy and satisfaction. It is from this place of “favorite things” that, in retirement, we may best find our answers to “What will I do all day?”

When we become aware of what delights us, we can use this awareness to make the most of the extra time we have in retirement. Time spent doing our “favorite things” is a great way to add meaning, direction, and enjoyment to the extra hours that we find when we don’t have to go in to work every day.

One of my friend’s favorite things to do is collect quotations—not just literary quotes but also things that she hears ordinary people say that give her pause to think. She writes them down in a little book in different colors of ink. She reads from her personal quotation book from time to time.

“It’s free,” she explains. “It fills my mind with fresh and interesting perspectives. It gives me the chance to keep beautiful language close at hand. It makes me feel rich inside.”

One of my favorite things to do is bake cookies—big cookies. When my children were young, I often baked cookies for their class parties. Baking cookies became one more task that I’d have to squeeze into my day, usually after the kids were in bed.

Now that I have more time and fewer commitments, I am able to thoroughly enjoy the process of baking. I take my time. It is in the experience of measuring, mixing, and forming the cookies, smelling them as they bake, and taking them out of the oven fresh and hot that I now take pleasure in—I’m not rushing through the process just to get it done. I am able to linger in the delight of the process itself. This is a change in the mindset that retirement allows us.

What are some of your favorite things? Write them down. Consider what it is about each experience that delights you.

Next, consider how you can add to your delight in this “favorite.” I call it “selling up.” For example, after baking cookies on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I packaged them—just like the song—in “brown paper packages tied up with strings”(I’m not kidding!). Then my husband and I delivered these packages to friends in the nursing home. My favorite thing, baking cookies, became the favorite part of the day for several other people. I know that many of them didn’t “feel so bad” after our visit. Favorite things have a way of doing that.

To get the most out of your favorites, immerse yourself completely in the experience. Multiply your joy by seeking out others to also enjoy the experience. And think about ways that you can sell-up your list of favorites.

Try it! Learn to think about and practice your “favorite things” often—especially if you’re not sure what to do all day.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Redefine Time

What is time? We know it as 24 hours in a day, but in certain circumstances we’ll see time differently. 

For example, for someone newly retired from meaningful full-time work, an extra 40-50 hours a week can feel like too much time, like being overloaded with freedom and uncertainty. The extra hours may drag on day after day and seem like eternity.

Then there are the times when people are facing eternity, such as when a patient with a terminal illness learns her time is running out in a matter of months. If you learned you were facing eternity—in just a few months—what would be your wish? More time? If so, I’m not surprised. Most of us would want more time, just a little longer time to spend with the people we love. 

Whether we have too much time on our hands or we’re praying for a little more time, in both circumstances our perspective on time changes.

Develop a new perspective on time
The extra hours available in retirement require us to develop a new perspective on how we spend our time. It’s interesting that we use the phrase "spend time."  We spend time just as we do that other necessary resource, money. Time is a limited resource that we invest in our lives. 

When we’re employed full-time we don’t think much about spending 40+ hours of our time at work. It doesn’t seem like we’re “spending” time but more like we’re investing it. Work is an honorable and financially responsible place to invest this resource. But, when work is no longer costing so much of our time, we need to determine where we want to use this precious resource. 

Sounds easy, but it’s not since we haven’t been trained on how to manage an abundance of this resource. We have a scarcity mentality. Up to now, all our skills have been focused on compressing time so we get the most out of it. 

As one retired accountant said to me, “I didn’t just fit everything into my day. I jammed it in.” It is going to take some work  to change the way we think about time and the value we place on it. 

Define the value of time
The newly found hours in retirement are an opportunity to define the value of your time on your own terms. When I was working full-time as a college administrator it was easy to assign a value, in dollars, to how I was spending this precious resource. Now that I have more time, I choose to give it my own value. 

For instance, some days when I shop for groceries I pretend I live in a small Tuscan village where buying groceries is a daily event. I enjoy finding a new recipe and then shopping for the ingredients. This may require driving out of my way to a farmer’s market for fresh produce or herbs. 

I’m aware that time management books and cost-cutting tips suggest that I spend as little time as possible in the grocery store since additional visits correlate with more time and money spent. However, I have the time to spend. And, I’m investing this time in an enjoyable experience that contributes to my physical and emotional well being. 

I think of it as going to the bank and saying, “I want to invest in a 36-month CD at 15% interest. Banks may not give me the option to choose the level of return on my investment, but with this new perspective, I can choose the return rate when investing my own time.

Divide your investments
It may be easier to form a new perspective on time when you divide your investments into different categories. Below are a few areas to consider. Next to each one, create an experience that is worth  your time. 

Invest in people and relationships: 

Invest in your health and well being:

Invest in giving to others:

Invest in memories:

Invest in your future happiness (growth and learning):

When you determine the value of your time 
and use it accordingly, 
you can expect a high return on your investment!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Simply Sign Up!

I’m amazed at how quickly positive change occurs when I take action, stop talking about doing something, and simplysign up. I try to live by the motto: Life rewards action. Still, it took a recent event to remind me of how true this is. 

Here’s my story:

For the past couple years I have considered joining a learn-to-row program. I’m talking about the long boat that gracefully moves through the water with 8 oarsmen (or women). My daughter rowed in college so I have stood on the banks of many rivers and lakes to cheer her on. Two years ago she emailed me a link to a learn-to-row program. I thought about registering for it, but found excuses to stay on the sidelines. Then this past spring I decided it’s time that I find out what it feels like to be in the boat. The decision was based on more than just wanting to test the waters.

When I coach people through the retirement process, I encourage them to pay attention to what is missing in their lives, and then to go looking for it. The same advice applies to me. I’m feeling a need to increase my social contacts and be part of a team, especially since the team I have been responsible for—my three children—are in England, Germany, and NYC. I need a new team. As it turns out, thisteam was only a click away. 

I’ve had one week of rowing classes and already I feel like a team player. By simply signing-up for the program I found what was missing in my life—more contact with people and a sense of belonging. In addition, my emotional well-being has benefitted from the endorphins that come from physical activity. I learned that it’s not so hard to find what I need if I’m willing to take action and simply sign up. 

What can you sign up for that will make a sudden difference in your life? If you want to be in the boat rather than just cheering from the sidelines, what action can you take right now to bring positive change to your life? Click submit. 

Simply sign up. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Midlife Whoa!

Retirement can bring on a midlife plateau. Life feels flat—leveled out. No big mountains in sight to climb. No rapidly moving streams that require you to pay attention to every step you take. Nothing grabs your attention quite the same way as when you wereworking. If this describes your life, then it’s time for a “midlife whoa.”

Last summer I took horseback riding lessons. One thing I noticed is that without much effort or direction on my part, the horse started walking around the rink. He had done this routine so often that he knew what to expect as soon as I got on his back…plod around the circle. I’ll admit that I was glad the horse knew where he was going because I certainly didn’t know how to direct him. However, once I got more comfortable with riding, I was ready for a bigger challenge. I got up the courage to say “whoa” and direct the reins toward another course.

Retirement also requires that you say “whoa” to the well-worn path that you know so well. At first this path provides comfort, especially when you’re navigating a new lifestyle, as in retirement. The more you can create your schedule and roles to mimic that of work, the more comfortable you will feel during this time of adjustment. But, eventually the time comes when you need to pull back on the reins and ask, “Where am I going? Is this the path I really want to be on? Is there another path I want to explore?” 

As horses believe, the grass is always greener on the other side. You may be guilty of the same belief system. However, be careful to not be fooled by what looks like the “greener side” of life. The “Whoa” is being willing to question your path—it’s not as drastic as jumping the fence. You don’t need a whole new pasture. Instead you need to pave some new paths in the territory you have already cultivated. Once you’re off the beaten path, then the grass will be fresh, thick, and rich with nutrients that will nourish your body and soul. The plateau will lose its “flatness,” and you will begin to see new vistas for your future.

I encourage you to pull back on the reins—have the courage to say, “Whoa.”