Monday, August 19, 2019

Return to What You Know

My mom taught me to sew when I was in the fifth grade. And for the next 30 years, I sewed something almost every day. During that time I had a baby quilt business and also designed and manufactured my own line of children’s clothing. Most days you’d find me walking around the house wearing a tape measure as if it were a necklace. 

These days I don’t sew very often, so yesterday when I made new cushion covers for a wicker chair, I noticed how good it felt to have a tape measure around my neck.  I sensed I was returning to a familiar activity that brings great satisfaction. I was rediscovering the simple pleasure of sewing.

Retirement is a perfect time to learn new skills and explore different interests and hobbies. And it’s also a time to return to what you know—especially if you feel like everything has changed. This was the case for Ruth Reichl, former Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine, a role she held for 10 years until the magazine came to an abrupt closing in 2009.

In her book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Save My Life, Reichl writes, “My kitchen year started in time of trouble, but it taught me a great deal. When I went back to cooking I rediscovered simple pleasures, and as I began to appreciate the world around me, I learned that the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things.”

As you work to create a meaningful retirement, remember what used to bring joy and satisfaction. Then go do more of that.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What do you do?

Possibly the most dreaded question in retirement is, “What do you do?” Many of us fumble when answering this question. We try to talk about something that feels important and significant. As a retired school principal said, “I feel like I have to keep talking until I see validation in their eyes.”

Instead of talking about what we’re doing, it’s easier to revert to what we did. “I’m a retired teacher.” “I’m a retired dentist.” People understand these jobs and the socio-economic status that comes with them. But in most cases, they are not what we’re “doing.” And by not talking about what we’re doing—what we’re aiming for or creating—we miss an opportunity to build that next thing.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about what you did. It’s certainly a part of who you are and what you bring into your retirement. But I also want you to say, “… and now I’m doing ______.” It’s the and that gets you and others excited about getting out of bed in the morning. People want to support and encourage your next thing. They’re eager to “add logs to the fire” and play a part in your success and happiness. They can’t do this if you don’t tell them what you’re thinking about—your dreams and goals for this next chapter in life.

Author Paolo Gallo shares a message from his dad in The Compass and the Radar: The Art of Building a Rewarding Career While Remaining True to Yourself. Because of his dad’s job, Paolo saw him only a few times during the year. At a certain age, his dad stopped asking what had happened since the last time they were together. Instead he said, “Son, starting tomorrow, don’t talk about what you did, but ask yourself if you love what you do, what you have learned and if you’ve managed to help others: nothing else matters.” Perhaps this message applies to us too.

Do I love what I do?
Am I learning something?
Am I helping someone?

So what do you love to do? Make a list. If you love baking big gooey chocolate chip cookies, do it. Don’t let your education, former status and impressive accomplishments keep you from doing what you enjoy. Get over yourself and be good to yourself.

What are you learning? It’s important for your brain’s health to keep learning and stimulating new connections between nerve cells. Mentally stimulating activities such as taking courses, completing word puzzles and math problems, as well as activities that require manual dexterity such as drawing, painting, and other crafts contribute to brain health.  

Who am I helping? We know from studies in Positive Psychology that being involved in something “greater than ourselves” contributes to happiness and life satisfaction. Where can your skills and talents make a difference? What cause do you care about and how can you get involved?

Starting today when asked, “What do you do?” talk less about what you did and more about the life you’re creating.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Discover Possibilities by Doing

I’m aiming to make 2019 my Best Year Yet. So on January 1st I made a list of goals and wrote down detailed action steps. On July 1st I reviewed my goals and progress to see how I’m doing and where I need to put forth extra effort. I know what I’m aiming for. I have a clear path of what I want. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life with this approach. Set a goal. Outline steps to achieve this goal. Work tirelessly to accomplish it. Celebrate. Set next goal.

This method of working back from a goal usually succeeds when we’re really clear about what we want and how to accomplish it. But sometimes life isn’t so clear. This is especially true in retirement. At this stage of life there are questions we didn’t have time to consider or that weren’t applicable when we were working—Who am I without a job title? What can I do that will bring more purpose, direction and meaning to my life? What’s next? When we don’t have answers, a good place to start is with what we already know.

According David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, “we learn who we are in practice, not in theory.” Epstein quotes Paul Graham (computer scientist and cofounder of Y Combinator) stating, “instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations….don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.” One thing I need in retirement is a greater sense of community. Today I was asked to help support the women’s ministry leaders in my church. This is a promising option that’s available now. I’m going to take it and see where it goes.

Along the same lines, Herminia Ibarra (professor of organizational behavior at London Business School) reasons, “We learn who we are only by living, and not before.” Instead of having a clear path of what we want before acting, Ibarra suggests, “first act and then think….we discover the possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” Epstein encourages us to “flirt with your possible selves.” We don’t have to know the grand scheme.  

So where can we begin to act? What options do we already have available? Let’s approach each situation with a beginner’s mindset, being open to learning and growing. We can quit if something doesn’t fit, and move on to the next experiment. We’ll discover possibilities by doing—we’ll learn by living—and not before.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


I live in Saratoga Springs, NY where the historic thoroughbred racetrack attracts thousands of visitors every summer. Since residing here, I’ve learned a little something about horse racing.

As the horses move into position at the starting gate, some of them are fitted with blinkers—firm leather squares that attach to the bridle. The blinkers allow horses to only see what is directly in front of them, eliminating distractions from their peripheral vision. Without the blinkers, they can end up running off course. The blinkers keep them focused.

Maybe there’s a place for “blinkers” in retirement, especially when it comes to being in the starting gate. Let me explain.

In my retirement workshops, I frequently talk with people who are wrestling with the question, “What’s next?” The answer to this question often requires starting something. But when I begin to explore possibilities, people are quick to talk about all the reasons not to start. “It’s going to cost too much. It’s going to take too long. It’s going to require work.” 

Instead of being distracted with all the reasons not to start, what if you put on blinkers? What if, no matter what your circumstances and reasons for not doing something, you imagine yourself in the starting gate? The blinkers keep you focused. They help you successfully finish the race.

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Life Responds

"Life isn't happening to you. Life is responding to you." --Rhonda Byrne

This quote arrived in my “Best Year Yet” daily email at exactly the right time. I had just finished an interview for a part-time job that I almost didn’t apply for because I didn’t want to update my references. If I hadn’t reached out to my references, nothing would have happened. My application would be incomplete, and consequently it would never be brought to the selection committee. Instead, by putting something into motion, life responded with an opportunity to interview. My actions made a difference.

Psychologists call this feeling of control over actions and their consequences a “sense of agency.” It serves an important role in our mental and physical health. And yet, research suggests starting at around age of 50 years, and especially between 60-80 years old, we increasingly feel less control over what happens in our lives. Often this has to do with poor health and a reduction in quality of life. Which brings me back to the quote: “Life isn’t happening to you. Life is responding to you.”

For life to respond, you have to put something into motion. The good news is even the smallest movement matters. Frans Johansson of The Click Moment agrees, "By taking action, you open up a wide range of new ideas, possibilities, and connections." By putting something into motion, you "create something for these forces to latch on to. You must actually do something, even if you are not sure where it will lead."

What can you do to increase your sense of agency? Put something into motion and then enjoy the thrill of seeing how life responds!

Copyright 2019. Patrice Jenkins. All Rights Reserved.