Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lessons from Work

Seth Godin is the author of 15 international best selling books that focus primarily on changing the way people think about marketing and work. I recently read his book, The Icarus Deception. As I read, I keep thinking that Seth’s message is also applicable to retirees. I’ve identified 5 points that may change the way you think about retirement.

1.    “It’s your turn.”

Seth makes the point that you are not your career. I think he’s primarily speaking to people who are still slaving away in jobs/careers and suggesting another way of working and thinking. But, this message is also applicable to retirees. Now that we don’t have to go into work everyday, we can “take our turn” and not have to worry if it is going to pay the bills or please the boss.

2.    “We’ve been so thoroughly brainwashed and intimidated and socialized that we stay huddled together, waiting for instructions, when we have the first, best, and once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something extraordinary instead.”

As Seth states, we have been socialized to wait for instructions—to have someone tell us what to do next. New retirees often feel uncomfortable with their newfound freedom and as a result they continue to wait for instructions. No instructions are coming. This is your opportunity to write your own instructions.

3.    “If others are busy deciding which metrics ought to matter to you, you have given up something precious indeed.”

Retirement is the time to choose your own metrics. You are the boss. You’re no longer confined or defined by other people’s standards. You write the rules.

4.    “If we are going to say no, we need to know what a yes looks like.”

Be aware of how often you are saying no to opportunities, invitations, and new possibilities. I have a friend that I frequently invite to join me on new adventures. I invite her because I know she would be fun to have along. However, I can almost be assured that she will have a reason to decline my invitation. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy my company. I’m quite sure of this. Instead, it has become easier to say no than yes.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when being able to say no is a good thing. Otherwise you’ll find yourself being stretched in too many directions doing things that you don’t really care about. But, if you are saying no, then ask yourself, “What does yes look like?”

I learned this lesson a couple years ago when I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to the Philippines with PEER Servants—a Christian microfinance organization. When the time came to commit, I almost said no. No is easy. No takes the pressure off of having to do anything more. But if the Philippines is a “no” then what is a “yes”? The purpose of this trip was perfectly suited to my talents—to research and write a case study on best practices of microfinance loan officers. I turned this opportunity into a yes. By doing so, it will be easier to stretch my comfort zone for what the next “yes” looks like.

5.    “Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked. To seek out permission, authority, and safety that come from a publisher or a talk-show host or even a blogger who says, ‘I pick you.’  No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

In my retirement workshops, attendees are often interested in how I wrote and published a book. Mostly, they want to know how I got a publisher. I didn’t. I didn’t even try. Why wait for someone to “pick me” when I can pick myself. After spending two years writing my book, I had a published copy in my hands in less than a week. You can too.

Of course I’m still trying to “get picked” by some big names. I’ve sent my book to the TODAY Show and over the years I’ve sent many ideas to Oprah. But, I haven’t put my life on hold waiting to be picked. If I had, I would still be waiting.

Stop waiting. Whatever it is that you want to do, pick yourself and get to work.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Want the Ideal or Reality?

One of the exercises I do in my retirement seminars is to ask couples to play a game similar to the TV show many of us remember from the early 1970s, “The Newlywed Game.” I call it “The Newly Retired Game.”

In the game I give each partner a few questions to answer according to how they believe their partner will respond. What usually happens is that the exercise illustrates that most couples have no idea how their spouses or partners view retirement and the changes it will bring to their relationship. One person’s responses often do not match up with their partner’s responses.

I gave Tom (not his real name) the following question to ponder:

“What are your spouse or partner’s housing plans for the future in retirement? Scale down, stay where you are, or build a dream house?”

Tom’s initial response to me caused me to stop and think. He asked, “Do you want the ideal or reality?” No one had ever asked this question in my previous workshops.

Tom ended up answering the question both ways—his idea of his wife Janice’s ideal choice and what he thought would be her realistic choice. It turned out that Tom’s answer did match Janice’s response. It was evident that Tom and Janice (not her real name) had been discussing this decision as they were preparing for retirement.

Still, I couldn’t help but observe how noticeably the energy in Tom’s voice changed when he shifted from ideally what he knew Janice would want and realistically what she would be able to reasonably expect for their future.

I try not to be too much of a Pollyanna. I do believe in optimism but within reason. Yet, as I drove home from the seminar, I kept thinking: What would be ideal versus what would be realistic? Which kind of expectation would make me want to jump out of bed in the morning—pursuing an ideal vision of how I’d like to live out my retirement or settling for a realistic version of what I could easily expect?

I know that I get more excited about aiming for the ideal. The ideal is what I’m willing to make sacrifices for. The great homerun hitter Babe Ruth is credited with saying, “We only hit what we aim for.” When I “get up to bat,” I’m one who still wants to “swing for the fence.”

Tom’s wife had always dreamed of living in a large home. This is Janice’s “ideal.” If there is any way to make this happen, I’d say, “Go for it—aim for the ideal!”

But if Tom and Janice find that realizing this dream would be impossible at a time when their income is fixed, I’d say, “Look for another approach.” That is, if the “ideal” is only a Pollyanna daydream, consider the more realistic approach: Get to the heart of what the ideal represents. 

For Tom and Janice, the question is, “If the larger home is out of reach, what could you aim for that represents this dream?”

Perhaps the answer is to create a more open floor plan in their existing home. Or perhaps Janice and Tom could convert three bedrooms into two bedrooms and make them more spacious, along with adding a master bath. Representing the “ideal” of what they’d most like to have will allow this husband and wife to go after what energizes them; they won’t have to just “settle” for what’s realistic.

Have you thought about how you’d like to approach your retirement? What is your ideal lifestyle? Describe it in detail—in writing. If your wishes seem too Pollyannaish, then ask yourself, “What is at the heart of this ideal?” Then create a plan that speaks to this longing.

Once you have a plan that makes you want to jump out of bed each morning, then you know what you’re aiming for. Now it’s time to swing for the fence!

The Expanded Life

The first six to twelve months of retirement are known as the “honeymoon phase.” This is because you’re likely to feel a blissful sense of relief from not having the pressures and stress of work. But like most honeymoons, this phase will come to an end. After it does, you may feel as if the days are getting longer and your life is getting smaller. The hours start to drag on. . . .

By 10:20 a.m., if you’re looking at the clock hoping it’s time for lunch, then you know what I’m talking about. If by 1:20 p.m. you’ve no idea what to do with yourself for the rest of the day, then you really know what I’m talking about.

Getting a “smaller” life means that instead of doing more than you have in the past, you’re doing less. The world seems smaller as the range of activities you engage in narrows. If this experience sounds familiar to you, then read on! I’m going to show you how to change your retirement years from a longsmall life into a life that is big and expanded.

In her book, “The Right to Write,” Julia Cameron asks readers to envision an “expanded life” by thinking about how they’d respond to questions about their “ideal life.” For example, she asks, what does your ideal life look like in terms of the following:

your spirituality?
your friendships?
your work life?
your living space?
your vacations?
your creative projects?

Try this exercise! It is similar to writing a clear, compelling vision for your future, with the added benefit of offering a few specific ideas to help you focus your vision.

When your days as a retiree start to feel just too long, it’s easy to wish you were back in your old job. At least there you knew what to do all day. But before you go running back to the safe world of work, ask if this choice will create opportunities for expansion. Being back in the workforce (full-time) can be an outside force that will limit such opportunities. (It’s true that work also relieves you of the responsibility to create an expanded life.) 

Here are 5 tips to help you enjoy an expanded life:

1.Make peace with work. If you choose to work, then make something of it. To quote the Hewlett-Packard commercial that aired during the 2012 Olympics, “If you’re going to do something, make it matter.” In creating my own expanded life, I see that I need to expand my consulting business, to make something more of it, and “make it matter.” If I don’t bring my personal values to this business, I’ll continue to look for “real” work and step back into a box that limits expansion.

2.Place value on the things that matter to you. If a beautifully groomed lawn is something you value, seek to truly enjoy the hours you invest in caring for the lawn. Claim it as an important part of your expanded life. If your grandchildren are what make up your expanded life, don’t apologize for spending “too much” time with them. Be excited about the time you make and the closer relationships you will develop.

3.Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Expansion is hard to experience if you are not willing to try new things, even things you may not feel like doing. When I’m practicing yoga, the way to create expansion is to relax and breathe into the pose. It may not feel good at the moment, but with time and practice the yoga poses get easier. The same is true for the expanded life. Push yourself past your comfort level, knowing this is how expansion comes about.

4.Consult your map daily. That is, use your description of an expanded life as a map for what to do all day. Refer to it when the day begins to feel long instead of big. For instance, if you want to cultivate more friendships in your expanded life, consider what you can do today to make this come true. Do you need to plan a party? Invite friends over for dinner? Make chicken soup for a friend who is sick? 

5.Wake up expanded! Wake up in the morning with the expanded life on your mind. Savor this stage in your life when you have time to explore what is on the other side of the “walls” that once surrounded you when you were working. You’re free now—breathe deep!

Resume Speed

Out of the corner of my eye as I was driving 60 mph, I saw a sign at a yard sale that said, 
“Resume Speed.” A simple enough sign that most people probably drove by and didn’t even notice. But for me, the words, resume speed, struck a chord and continued to run through my head long after I passed the yard sale. I asked myself, “What am I suppose to learn from these words?”  

After reflecting on these words for a couple weeks, I believe the message that I’m supposed to learn is I need to get back up to speed. For my own well being, I need to resume speed. I need to expect more of myself. I need to push harder. I need to set more challenging goals. Life is becoming too easy, and when it becomes too easy, it becomes boring and I become boring.

I still have what it takes to “resume speed.”

What affect (if any) does “resume speed” have on you? If you’re like me, you need a reminder that a great deal of life satisfaction comes from setting goals and attaining them. That you still have a lot to give and you still have what it takes to resume speed.  Yet, without the demands of work and deadlines breathing down our backs, we have less motivation to do the things in life that we really want to do.

This was the case for Cathy, a woman that I write about in my book.  Cathy left corporate sales to pursue something that she enjoyed doing “for the love of it.” Although she wasn’t sure what that was, she was excited about finally having time to explore her interests. A few months after leaving her job it came as a big surprise when her motivation and energy plummeted. She had freed herself of the pressures and deadlines of the workplace, but she found she needed a little “fire breathing down my back” to get things done. In other words, she needed to resume speed.

Resume speed may have the opposite effect on you—you may feel a sense of relief that you don’t have to “resume speed.” Perhaps before retirement your life was extremely busy, stressful, and moving at lightening speed. This sign serves as a reminder that you don’t have to resume speed—and that is a wonderful thing!

I spoke with a friend who is a couple years from retirement. When we were talking about his work, he said, “I don’t understand why everything at work has to be done so quickly.” His day feels like a race from beginning to end. He’s looking forward to doing something different during his retirement years, such as teaching at the college level, but he’s going to do it at his speed.  He’s going to “teach, slow.”

Resume speed may also relate to getting “up to speed.” As I sit at Barnes & Noble, I am surrounded by men in their 70s and 80s who are on their laptops and have their iPhones on the table next to them. They are “up to speed” on technology. Life isn’t passing them by. They don’t have to worry about living too long, to the point that technology totally leaves them behind.

Resume speed may mean to keep your foot on the accelerator. Maybe the cruise control is set at a little slower pace (60 mph instead of 85 mph), but it is consistent. It is moving. And there is enough going on that life moves at that rate automatically. At any time you can hit the brake for a time out, that’s the joy of being flexible in retirement, but most of the time you have enough going on that you are at resume speed.

It’s interesting how little things can prompt a thought or help us get in touch with a deeper need or emotion. It happens at unexpected places and times. For me, it was simply driving by an obscure sign that revealed my need and desire to create more challenging goals and higher expectations.

When something draws your attention, pay attention.  What is the message? What is the lesson you are to learn from this encounter? Take note.  And respond.