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Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age

The Book Brigade talks to psychologist and transitions expert Nancy Schlossberg.

Used with permission of author Nancy Schlossberg
Source: Used with permission of author Nancy Schlossberg

The “golden years” can mean something completely different from the stereotypes of aging: not mellowing out in a rocking chair, nor experiencing a period of decline with less of everything except for wrinkles. It is possible to develop new passions and new purpose in life.

Should we try to continue working, even if we cannot keep up with the frenetic pace of today?

It is important to stay engaged either by working or volunteering. There is ample evidence that working on complex tasks increases our cognitive ability. There is a saying, “If you don’t use it you lose it.” Since so many people are concerned about losing their cognitive ability, working at something and exercising will minimize that.

What are the three most important things someone needs to know about the retirement years?

Just as you have a financial portfolio, you have a psychological portfolio, and both need strengthening in retirement. Your psychological portfolio includes your identity, relationships, and purpose. These change when you retire. You no longer have a clear sense of your identity, your relationships change, and often your sense of purpose diminishes. You need to pay attention to all three.

How can we accommodate unexpected events?

You need to be ready to go to Plan B at any moment, since life is full of unexpected twists and turns. When the unexpected happens, you first need to give yourself some time to absorb what has happened. Do you see it as positive, negative, or benign? Do you feel you have the coping resources to deal with it? If not, you need to decide on your coping strategy. You can ask yourself some coping questions: Do I want to change the unexpected event? If so, brainstorm ways to do that. Or do I want to reframe the unexpected happening and see it in a positive light? In addition, how do I relax in the face of this change and, last, perhaps I should do nothing.

Linda decided to move closer to her parents who were not doing well. She arranged to work by internet. However, after two months her job was eliminated. Then she found herself in a new community, with no supports and no job. After recovering from the shock of losing her job, she started networking, going to meetings, joining a church. She saw what happened as negative but knew she had the inner resources to cope with it.

What are the two most important things you need to know about the retirement years?

Strengthen your psychological portfolio and choose your retirement path. Retirement can last many years. For example, if you retire at 65 and live to 95 you have 30 years to figure out what to do with your life. First, you need to periodically revisit your psychological portfolio, which consists of your identity, relationships, and purpose. When you retire, your identity is in flux. Who are you now that you do not have a work tag? Retiring often results in changing relationships. How do you negotiate if you and a spouse or partner are now together “for lunch?” What do you do if your adult children expect you to babysit and you want to be doing other things? And, perhaps most important, have you developed a post-retirement purpose? As one woman said, “I used to help companies write a mission statement. Now I need my own retirement mission statement."

Second, choose your retirement path or paths. Think about whether or not you want to be a continuer (someone who keeps doing much of what was done before but in a modified form. I was a professor, now I no longer teach but continue writing about the same topics I did as a professor. Do you want to be an adventurer and do something entirely different, like the researcher who became a massage therapist or the homemaker who became a docent in a museum? Or do you want to let each day unfold with no set agenda? Easy gliders are like that—some days they will go to a movie, others babysit, others go to the library—whatever they feel like. Then there are involved spectators, those individuals who are still involved with their work but not in an active way. For example, the retired museum curator who now visits galleries and keeps up with the field. We will all become searchers, maybe many times over the course of our retirement years. Then many are tempted to become retreaters, as they become couch potatoes. You can combine paths or change paths as your life evolves.

What is your personal purpose in retirement?

I am committed to translating what I know as a scholar and researcher into readable, accessible formats to help people:

1) Understand the transitions they are experiencing.

2) And learn strategies for coping with the inevitable ups and downs over the lifespan. In retirement, I moved from writing academic books to paperback self-help books.

If you had one piece of advice for the rest of us, what would it be?

Because we are living longer, we have no role models or known paths to follow. No one has told us how to meet someone on the Internet, how to deal with the fear of outliving our money, how to think through end-of-life issues, how to fight against being ignored or dismissed, how to avoid loneliness. We therefore need to forge our new paths by:

1) Improvising, trying out new things, taking risks and chances.

2) Keeping our dance card full by staying engaged and meeting new people.

3) Using the kaleidoscope as a metaphor for aging. When you turn the kaleidoscope things are seen in a new light. That is what all of us need to keep doing as we age.

About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.

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Too Young to Be Old: Love Learn, Work, and Play as You Age

Used with permission of author Nancy Schlossberg
Source: Used with permission of author Nancy Schlossberg
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