Paraphrasing an oft-quoted saying by Star Trek's "Mr. Spock," Roger G. ended the first article in this monthly series about aging in the Berkshires. In this article I will share two tips on how to "live long and prosper" in today's aging society.
As Roger pointed out, today we're living on average 15 years longer than when Social Security was enacted in 1935.
Retirement today is vastly different from then when the average life expectancy was 62. Today we're healthier, and we work longer. Yet many of us are totally unprepared for today's version of retirement.
Many of us who are nearing or already in retirement fear we are not emotionally prepared to answer the question: How do I give up my career when I believe it partially defines me?
My personal and professional passion as a life coach is to empower people to find their own answers to such questions, and discover new dimensions of life in the emotional challenges of retirement in an aging America.
In other words, I love to help people "Refire to Retire." And my favorite way of doing this is to help people, as much as possible, understand the psychological principles behind the question, and to find their own answer.
A good place to start finding your answer to a question like this is to consider that you may have arrived at this moment in your life still identified with some role or expectation that no longer serves you. Your way forward could be to dis-identify with this role or expectation.
There are two tempting ways to mis-handle this situation, both defensive and, in the long run, defeating:
• to repress;
• to blame.
In repression mode we try not to pay attention —to suck it up and soldier on — to distract ourselves with irrelevant activities. This helps us dampen down the immediate pain, but the issue may show up later as medical or emotional illness.
The second way to mis-handle the situation is to blame it on our childhood experience, our parents, or on some outside force like the boss or the economy.
Much healthier ways to deal with the situation are instead of repressing it, to bring it fully into our conscious awareness. And instead of blaming our past or some external influence, to take full responsibility, and respond as best we can.
Find your own answer
Side-step the chatter in your head that keeps you stuck in your situation by setting aside some time in a place free of distractions. Sit in a relaxed but upright position.
Bring the focus of your attention to your breathing. Notice the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation. Notice the length of time you take for each, and see if you can gradually extend the length of each to 6 seconds.
This helps disengage you from the trap of your chattering mind, and opens you to new messages from other more visceral areas of your body.
Scan your body starting with your feet and going upward. Notice any tightness. As you continue to breathe, focus on these areas one at a time. Become curious about what this tension represents. Is this something you are holding onto that you can let go of when you are ready?
Now bring your attention to the issue that is troubling you. Welcome it into your consciousness not as your enemy, but as a friend who has a message for you.
Become curious about what that message might be. For example, if your issue is the potential loss of a career identity, ask what you can learn from the experience.
If it is anxiety about what comes next in your life, ask what new room it provides for expansion of your possibilities. Then take full responsibility for exploring and bringing these possibilities into your life.
The benefit of this exercise is to damp down your anxiety without repressing or ignoring it and to help you take a few steps forward, no matter how small.
So there you have it. Two life coach-backed tips to "Live long and prosper" in today's aging society — no co-pay required.
• Resist the temptations of avoiding or blaming;
• Instead go inward using deep breathing to consciously explore your situation, investigate, and take even the smallest steps toward what new opportunities it may present for you.
Paul Carter, life and business coach, has lived and worked out of Lenox for the last 20 years. He is a member of the Active Agers Advisory Council for the Berkshire Age Friendly initiative. Contact Paul at 413-551- 9311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Seven will return next week.