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coaching

Retiring Like a Chameleon

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I had a retirement coaching conversation with a fellow recently, which turned out to be refreshingly different than the kind I have with most. This gentleman is a serious mover and shaker in his industry, well known to many and highly respected by all who know him. In retirement, he wants to stay the same on the inside, but he wants to be different on the outside. By appearing differently on the outside, he hopes that others will engage with him in a different manner than they currently do. He just wants to be a normal guy, and he doesn’t want to be seen as “the boss” any longer.

In retirement, he wants to shed his work persona, and retire from his reputation. While he very much appreciates and is grateful for the status and the respect he is granted, he is poised to leave it all behind. He has a favourite charity where he has enjoyed a longstanding leadership role. His challenge is to figure out how to work quietly in this realm where he has long been regarded as the guru. In retirement he wants to lick the envelopes now, not the run the thing! He still wants to contribute to an industry that is extremely meaningful to him, but in a vastly different manner. He said he would like to be like a chameleon; be the same guy, with the same goals and values, just appear differently to people who know him only as “the boss”. My client’s goal is to shed the obvious trappings of being the boss; the status, the authority, and the decision-making so that he can work and be treated as a volunteer just like everyone else.

One of the keys to retirement lies in our ability to adapt to our environment. Be the same person and do many of the same things, perhaps just look a little differently doing them. Kind of like a chameleon.

The chameleon never stops being the same creature. The magic lies in its ability to be the same creature but change its appearance to enable or enhance survival. In retirement, we are still the same person. However, our happiness and ability to thrive depends on our ability to change some things about ourselves. Indeed, our goals and values might remain exactly the same, but the way we accomplish them can be different.

Retirement success requires adaptability. For some, the changes need to happen on the inside where values, goals and purpose are revisited. For others it might simply be an exterior adaptation. As in the case with this gentleman, he knows exactly what he wants to do with his life so that he will be engaged, happy and fulfilled. His adaptation is more of an outside job. He wants the world to engage with him as something other than the boss, and it is his challenge to find a way to get the world to see him a bit differently.

While some may be reluctant to change or want to stick with all that they know, the folks that will be happiest in retirement are the ones that embrace the unknown as a welcome change into their lives. A positive mental attitude goes a long way in preparing us for the dramatic changes that happen in retirement. All of this will depend on one’s ability to adapt. My client who has been the “boss” for so many years is focusing his attention on interacting with his fellow volunteers in a different way. It is his responsibility to teach others how he is different and how he would like to be regarded. As with many worthwhile things in life, it can be difficult. However, he is keenly aware that his happiness in retirement lies in his ability to show others who he is becoming.

Like many retirees, my client can learn a lot from the chameleon, a creature that has mastered the art of changing in response to its environment so that it can thrive. Kind of like what is needed for a successful retirement!

 

 

 

 

What Frog Catching Taught Me About Ageism

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I spent the Canada Day weekend frogging. If you’re not sure what that means, you probably haven’t spent time at a cottage with a 12 year old boy. My intention was to spend the weekend with my feet up and sipping Sangria on the dock, not filling buckets with frogs for later release.

The boundless energy of a 12 year old can be tough to keep up with, but I’m always game to give it a go. This weekend was no different except that now I am lugging around a purple cast from a recently broken arm. While he bounced around from one activity to the next, I found myself taking a bit longer to get things done. “Hurry up!” is what I heard over and over. When I lagged behind while on frog catching detail, his final cry was “Don’t be such a grandma!” Well Hmmph! I suppose that wouldn’t have stung so much if I was actually his grandmother…but I’m not. I’m his aunt!

Of course, everybody chuckled and quickly joined in the chorus, “hurry up grandma!” Now I can take a joke as well as anybody, and I laughed too. But lately, I’ve heard so much abut ageism as the most tolerated form of prejudice, that I couldn’t help but notice how it slips into our conversations with very little awareness on our part.

In my retirement coaching business, I encounter clients who experience a fair amount of ageism. Some folks experience it in the workplace, others in their families, but it is rampant out there. It hadn’t really occurred to me how much we do it without even being aware of it. But this harmless little example reminded me that we need to be more conscious of our language and how without even being aware, we demean others and ourselves. With his “hurry up grandma” comment, not only did I feel the sting of being associated with an old person, but his actual grandmother reacted to it as well. “Whats wrong with being a grandma anyway?” she called out.

In one comment, poking fun at my ridiculously slow attempts to catch a frog, I realized how the language we use can conjure images of mental or physical frailty, disdain, and even incompetence. This ageism and the words we choose, can lead younger generations to make unfair assumptions about the capabilities of older people solely based on age.

When he called me grandma, I’m confidant he did not intend to insult anyone, just to poke fun at my slow pace. Interestingly, his choice of words suggested that my slow, slightly uncoordinated movements were comparable to a grandmother. On the surface it seems ok. But is it really? Is it ok to demean “grandmas” like that? Isn’t it like stereotyping all grandmothers as slow and incompetent? Seems like making unfair assumptions about people simply based on their age. Perhaps most intriguing, was that everybody in the group (including me) had a good laugh at the comparison. Wouldn’t it have been better to compare me with something that actually is slow? Like molasses in January, or maybe a turtle?

And what’s up with my reaction? How dare he call me a grandma? My knee-jerk reaction was “hey, don’t call me old!” Why does the idea of being old conjure such a negative reaction? Seems some of us have a long way to go when it comes to conquering ageism. Is the idea of being old the problem? Or is it the negative stereotype that bothers us? These labels tell us very little about the actual capabilities of people, who they are and what they stand for. We all know people who have lived many years that are perfectly fit, healthy and don’t fit that stereotype. Maybe it’s time to become more aware of our own feelings about aging.

Now the real grandma in the group, feeling mildly insulted, set us all straight. She hopped in the water, scooped up a frog, tossed it into the bucket with a smug grin and announced that grandmothers can be good froggers too. Lesson learned!

So, why do we talk like that? For the most part, we don’t intend to insult anyone. But our language in the area of ageism has rarely been checked before. Over the years, we have all learned to check our language about other “isms”, such as sexism and racism. But ageism is still rampant and we are not usually conscious of doing it.

Not only do we do it to others, but we do it to ourselves as well! How often have you heard someone say, “I’m having a senior moment”, or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, or “I’m over the hill”. We associate our aging with negativity.

People who are entering retirement today want a different experience with aging. They want to be recognized as people with plenty to offer, without the unfair assumptions of their abilities based on age. They are working hard to reduce ageism in our society. Learning to check our language is one small way that we can all help.

After we got on with the frog catching, to my astonishment, I actually managed to scoop up a frog. A particularly slow frog, but still… Upon closer inspection, I was told to let him go. “Let the poor thing go. He’s old,” he said. Hmmm what to make of that? Why the association of old with being a “poor thing?” Ageist language is a thing and we all need to become more aware of how we use it. We need to challenge our assumptions of aging and educate ourselves on the many valuable contributions of our older adults. With ageism there is still so much to learn. But who thought I’d be learning this lesson from a kid and a frog? Well, why not?

 

 

 

Retiring? Better Have “The Talk” With Your Partner!

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Have you and your partner had “the talk?” You know; the one where you tell your partner that you’re retiring soon and that you’ll be kicking around the house a whole lot more. A successful conversation will be more likely if you appreciate that your partner might have a different perspective on how this whole retirement thing should unfold.

 

Before retirement, most couples have a long established pattern of how they typically live and work together. They’re usually pretty clear on the division of household labour, how they spend time together and how they spend time apart. At retirement, those routines are disrupted and suddenly couples are dismayed when they start bumping into each other around the house. Couples, who don’t have a plan to deal with the realities of this new togetherness, may need to re-learn how to be around their spouses so much.

 

Partners may have different visions of what retirement will look like, when retirement will begin, and how they should allocate their time and financial resources. With all this togetherness, each may feel that the other is cramping their style, and friction can occur if partners do not discuss their new domestic order. Each person’s retirement is a significant life event for him or her as an individual, but one that also has an impact on the marriage. As with many things in life, good communication can help minimize potential issues. Each spouse needs to hear and understand what the other’s goals and perception of retirement might be. It’s usually best to face any differences early on rather than letting them fester and become a larger source of conflict.

 

What Do You Need To Talk About?

 

  1. Expectations on how time will be spent together and apart – “me” and “we” time
  2. Timing of retirement – will you retire together or at different times?
  3. Sharing of household responsibilities – will the person usually responsible for household management continue to do so? Will one partner expect more help now that the other is home?
  4. Social life and relationships within and outside of the family – does one partner have a larger social circle than the other? Do you expect your partner to fulfill all your needs? How much time will be devoted to children/grandchildren?
  5. Where to live – stay where you are, downsize, move to new location?
  6. Changing roles and identities – who are each of you becoming?
  7. How to fulfill meaning and purpose in life – what activities will give meaning to your days
  8. Reconciling different retirement dreams and goals- Will you both want the same things? What will you do together? Apart?
  9. Travel and leisure expectations – do you both want to travel? Do you want to go the same places? Will you engage in leisure activities together/apart?
  10. Finances – are you in agreement about how money will be spent/allocated to different areas of your life?

 

Retirement can put a real strain on a marriage, but it doesn’t have to! The key to a happy retirement lies in the plan that you create with your partner. Remaining flexible as you both adjust to your new life together will go a long way toward a smooth transition into retirement. Success depends on each partner’s willingness to clearly express expectations, desires and goals for the future. You must be willing to tell your partner when you’re feeling crowded or neglected. Your partner couldn’t read your mind before retirement and won’t likely be any better after it, so brush up on your communication skills and work together to clearly understand each other’s retirement desires. Having a plan in place is the key to creating the retirement of your dreams.

 

 

 

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