The poet Robert Browning wrote, “The Best Is Yet to Be.”
Maybe. Maybe the future will be wonderful — if we can figure out how to live well. Ted Fishman, author of the best-selling “Shock of Gray,” wrote: “And while we will likely engineer ever-longer lives, can we figure out how to fill the extra years with vitality and joy?”
Nancy K. Schlossberg, who has spent most of her career as a professor of counseling psychology, is now taking her learnings to the social space. The author has more than 35 years of academia under her belt, having taught at Howard University and Wayne State in addition to spending 26 years at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Schlossberg has written nine books, including the popular “Retire Smart, Retire Happy” and “Revitalizing Retirement.”
Schlossberg answers Live Solid readers’ questions about life transitions:
Q: After seeing the adjustment some of my family members made when they retired, I’m definitely planning ahead now!
Schlossberg: You are wise to realize that planning ahead for retirement is important. My advice for anyone making a change–either retiring, changing jobs, moving to a new city, or any major transition–is to take account of two things: First, look at your Financial Portfolio with a financial planner or a bank and second, take account of your Psychological Portfolio. What do I mean by that?
Your Psychological Portfolio has three major components: your Identity, your Relationships and your Purpose. With every transition, your identity is challenged. You begin to ask yourself, “Who am I, how do I define myself now that I have, for example, left the work force and returned to school or retired?” Then ask yourself, “How is this transition going to change my relationships? Who will substitute for the relationships I had?” And finally, “How is this change going to influence my purpose?” Possibly, moving to a new city will open up new opportunities for new relationships; a new job might give you a renewed sense of purpose.
The bottom line: Planning ahead for any major transition includes considering both financial and the psychological consequences. If you start using these tools now–thinking of potential changes in your identity, relationships and purpose–when you retire you will be an expert at change.
Q: I would love some advice on how to help my aunt transition. She is very quiet and not very out-going and now that she has retired, she doesn’t get out much. Any thoughts on how I could get her involved in community activities would be great!
Schlossberg: Thanks for raising such an important question. I interviewed a number of young people about how they engaged their retired family members. Some examples: one nephew took his uncle to a senior baseball league game because he remembered his uncle loved baseball as a young man; one woman hired her mother as a part-time assistant in her PR firm. These are merely examples, and each situation is unique.
I suggest you plan a series of Activity Adventures. You need to figure out what your aunt used to like, and what activities she never had the time to pursue. That can be your clue to find the hook that will engage her in life. Some examples, you might find a great senior center–go there; you might find an inviting knitting shop, take her for lessons; she might enjoy dance lessons. In other words, try different activities and make it a day together. Hopefully, she will be attracted to one and then she will be able to pursue that herself.
Nancy Perry Graham, an editor of AARP The Magazine wrote in the January 2010 issue: “Just listen to the late-night comics. Scarcely an evening goes by that David Letterman…doesn’t mock a certain 73-year-old politician with lines such as ‘During the presidential campaign, Sarah [Palin] had to cut up John McCain’s meat for him.’ Recently Jimmy Fallon (granted, a youngster, at 35) announced that the family of a 70-year-old man who had run his 163rd marathon would celebrate by ‘taking him out to a five-star emergency room.’” Similarly, many birthday cards for those over fifty have negative comments about aging like, “It’s all downhill after 40.”
These cards and comics are merely the tip of the iceberg. We are bombarded with messages that older people have less—less energy, less opportunities, less sex, less money. Except for wrinkles it is all about less. Nancy Signorielli, Professor in the Communication Department at the University of Delaware, studied the under-representation of elderly characters on prime-time network. She concluded that “Television celebrates youth while it neglects and negates the elderly…and [while] television’s messages about young adulthood are particularly vibrant and interesting, messages about middle and old age present a very different scenario because there are so few vibrant and interesting role models.”
These negative messages about aging have reached all of us – that is part of the reason we are frantically pursuing the fountain of youth. Even though there has been a decrease in the number of people having plastic surgery, there are still millions of women and men who go in for tucks and hair dying in an attempt to look younger.
When will we honor the person who says, “You look great–your hair is white, and your wrinkles sparkle?” When will we exchange wrinkles for wisdom, when will the messages from the media start honoring age? Changing attitudes means we must confront our own biases and celebrate rather than negate our age and wrinkles.
I found the movie “Up in the Air” very disturbing. I was involved in a reduction in force (RIF) at NASA Space Flight Center a number of years ago. It turned out that information was fed into a computer and decisions were made about which job to eliminate. All 53 jobs that were eliminated were held by men, ranging from the grass cutter to top executive. It was horrible for the men—they said things like “It is worse than a diagnosis of cancer,” “How can I face my family?” “This is terrifying.” However, NASA handled this downsizing in a humane and helpful way.
Each individual was offered the opportunity to participate in a weeklong outplacement program. But more important, each individual was assigned to someone in human resources as a “buddy” until the person found an alternative job. So when we studied these men the week of the RIF and followed them up six months later, we heard things like, “I know now that I can handle anything now.” “Up in the Air” unfortunately shows the inhumanity of letting people go in today’s world. It reflects a heartless, cynical view of the way things are handled but not the way they could be handled.
Transition Tips: When you are initiating a transition for someone else, be sure to
1) Be honest and direct about what you are telling the other person;
2) Provide several alternatives for the person receiving the news;
3) Offer to meet again with the person to see how things are going;
4) Research the topic and suggest some books that might help;
5) Offer to link the person with someone else in the same boat.