Stuck? Confused? Can’t Find Your Late-in-Life Groove? You Need a ‘Tough Cookie’ Voice.

There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.                 -Carol Matthau
There is no old age. There is, as there always was, just you.
-Carol Matthau

Getting stuck in a life transition isn’t fun. Even smack in the middle of a lull when we feel something’s bound to come along to move us forward (we’re not sure what) is enough to make us think we missed a step we should have known about.

The situation prompts us to ask, “How did this happen to me?”

In the last two months I met three people baffled at their current lot in life who did want to talk (quietly) about being lost and stumped. They also disclosed how surprised they are to find themselves stupefied by the future.

With long and successful careers, each established firm future financial footing and chose traditional retirement in January of this year. If you think they were euphoric leaving the rat race behind to fill their Google calendars with what they wanted to do, you’d be right.

They were excited and exhilarated. But it didn’t last long. Their forays into freedom and wellbeing had a shelf life less than those onions you keep in a bin in your garage.

  • As a district manager of sales at Sears for over twenty years, Sara, 60, left in January when new management was at odds with her values. “It was time to go,” she said. By mid-March she’d done everything she ever wanted with a block of free time – clean out the garage, swim off Maui, paint the guest room, and visit old friends. “Now what am I supposed to do?” she asked. Friends tell her it’s time to volunteer but that doesn’t excite her at all. “I’m way off course, no idea what’s next and to be honest, a little dazed.”
  • John, 57, ended his 22 years as a school principal with a celebration. “I’m very pleased with my decision to retire,” he told me. “My heart just wasn’t in it anymore.” John said he was very restless after six months of not working and is concerned that his time ahead isn’t filled with more meaning. “I guess I’m shocked that I’d still like to work at something.” John also thinks about moving from Florida to Arizona. “I always dreamed of living in the desert.”
  • Penny, 59, left her position a small accounting firm in January then found the bliss of not working wore off in a mere 60 days. Her husband has no plans to retire. “He comes home from work full of things to talk about,” she said. Penny does yoga, goes to the cleaners and unloads the dishwasher. “It all makes a life that’s mighty uninteresting,” she whispered.

These spontaneous conversations with each individual at different social gatherings were clandestine in nature. Why? Because who wants to shout out, “Hey, come on over and hear me discuss how adrift, bewildered and stumped I am about what to do with my life.” Continue reading

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The #1 Myth of Midlife Change: How It Holds You Back and Ways to Bust It Up

IMG_3403“Roll up your sleeves – midlife change is your best and last chance to become the real you.”

Thus begins the article, “The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change,” in the Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Your Next Move, Summer 2015.

I was puzzled momentarily. The term “real you” is odd, isn’t it?

Who are you now if you’re not the real you?

Here’s the answer: You are the “everyday” you.

Most of us have two selves – the everyday self which gets all mixed up in living a life and your true self (also known as the “real you.”)

I read a description of the ‘true self’ as a beach ball submerged beneath the water.

  Because your true self is a like a beach ball pushed deep under the water—you only need to take your hands off of it, and it will explode to the surface. 

 Oh baloney. Most people are not holding their beach ball down.

They can’t find their beach ball.

Continue reading

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Crossing Muddy Waters: Feeling Deeply Through Loss

I am crossing muddy waters. Now the water’s wide and deep and brown. - Crossing Muddy Waters by John Hiatt
I am crossing muddy waters. Now the water’s wide and deep and brown.
- Crossing Muddy Waters by John Hiatt

What awaits all of us is loss. This is a grown-up truth.

Loss sneaks up on you. Suddenly it becomes harder to breathe.

Loss is large, small, often unexpected and unwanted. We all know individuals who face destroyed or derailed careers, tumultuous terminations of marriages, the negative biopsy report, cruel aftermaths of an unfortunate financial move or the plight of frail parents as they nosedive toward an end.

Loss can defeat us. Loss will bring you to your knees.

I am on mine.


Continue reading

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Five Things People Who Love Their Post50 Lives Don’t Do


"There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that." From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
“There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that.” From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

One day you think: Oh, here is the rest of my life. It’s finally arrived.

The map of how you got here may be in front of you, but what to do now? No map for that.

Still we do figure it out.

Not all of us do it well. At least, not every time.

 I solved life after college graduation rather fine. But post-divorce invoked a shaky time that curled my toes and wreaked havoc on providing for my daughter in a fitting way. (My mom sent money.)

 What followed was a long stretch of eight years as a single working mother who layered up a strong sense of self and confidence. I carried that forward.

 The first year of my second marriage created an interesting juxtaposition. How much could (or would) I compromise but still be in charge of me and my life?

My eleven-year-old daughter and I decorated her bedroom with Marimekko sheets and matching wallpaper. But I kept a suitcase with a stash of cash for a quick get-away for us inside my new closet.

 Symbolic of questioning marriage survival, yes, but also a sign of my wobbly sureness. ‘Could I somehow have misjudged this man who seemed so solid in promise-keeping and honesty?’ I hadn’t.

But it was an uncertain year.

A pre-planned midlife crisis resulted in professional choices to season my skills and buoy my finances to a higher level than I dreamed possible. But when the economy stumbled, so did I. 

Time to reinvent? Oh please. I ran away.

Sailing away for six months was a grand and valuable adventure. I only came back because I ran out of money. And because my husband hadn’t signed up for a marriage where he pinpointed his wife’s whereabouts by latitude and longitude.

 In my late fifties, I wandered too long in and out of ideas that hovered over the transition into a third life.

No one should have to do that. 

The conclusion was that I care deeply that I do a good job in all endeavors – especially this one of living the last third of life. I made a map.

Slipping into new shoes, I feel steady and rock-solid on this path. 

Just like other times.

I may not have known that the spots of figuring out what’s-next-for-my-life would be so prevalent, but I know it now.

Your story has different twists and turns.

And as much as each of us tries to swerve and miss the place of no map, we still end up here.

Over and over again. Continue reading

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Discover The Wild Heart of Your Life: Sleep Under a Railroad Trestle.

From stormy archipelagos, I brought my windy accordion, waves of crazy rain, the habitual slowness of natural things: they made up my wild heart. - Pablo Neruda
From stormy archipelagos, I brought my windy accordion, waves of crazy rain, the habitual slowness of natural things: they made up my wild heart. – Pablo Neruda

My best professor in graduate school at the University of Georgia was an alcoholic. He rarely showed up for class; office hours became a joke.

But when he did turn up, disheveled and bleary eyed, it was ‘game on’ for me and my fellow doctoral candidates.

We were going to get another blistering. He would raise his voice and degrade us. We’d cower. He’d tell us again and again how we were breaking his heart with our respectful, compliant lives.

We couldn’t wait.

Other profs in the department of Counseling and Human Behavior offered rigorous coursework in counseling methods and techniques, challenging practicums and thesis advisement.

This guy cared less about all that. His concern was about us living our unimaginative, tedious lives. It irked him to no end.

“How in the hell can you help others live their best lives

when you’re miserably failing at your own?”

“Don’t tell me you’re living a great life or even trying. . . because you are not. 

In fact, you are the most boring, pathetic group of students I’ve seen in a long time.”

We loved him. Partly because no one else in the department seemed to care how we were crafting our lives. But most of all, because his plea to “give life more” was so easily overlooked in our busy, well-constructed, high-achieving lives. Continue reading

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Betting on a Long Life of Productivity and Vitality? Don’t Put Money on It.

Sunday Afternoon in Plaza de San Sebastian, Cuenca, Ecuador
Sunday Afternoon in Plaza de San Sebastian, Cuenca, Ecuador

 I’m going to die.  You’re going to die, too.

Yes, we are living longer than ever. But we are not immortal.

With advances in science and medicine, some of us will live what can seem like another lifetime. I’m joyful about the opportunity.

Maybe, you are too.

To design a Post50 life that includes engagement in work until we are 85 or beyond and consume new-found freedom to do what we want has rousing, chirpy and strong appeal.

But a simple truth we may resist (myself included) is that many of us will not live our bonus years with health and vitality.

Nothing chirpy about that.

As pioneers in this brand new world of living long and productively, our gratitude is best paid to live well – for ourselves and as role models for future generations.

But we can’t just yahoo about an extra thirty years thinking we’ll have it all – health, vitality, creativity and loved ones. The majority of us won’t even come close to that kind of life.

So let’s be smart, realistic and open to what could befall us.

As we craft a Post50 life, each fact and factoid, possibility and challenge are just as essential in our planning as our hopes and dreams.

That’s How Long I Want to Live -75 Years Continue reading

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Letting Go of An Identity That Served You Well: Five Strategies


2014-09-15 18.26.23On a recent visit my best friend for fifty-one years placed three envelopes beside my morning coffee.

“I kept these for you,” Janice said.

Years ago phone calls were expensive for the volume of talking we wanted. We corresponded with letters – “notes to ourselves about our lives and ourselves.”

In retrospect the hours I carved out to write Janice – to reflect and contemplate decisions on the threshold of passages, challenging times, disappointments and joys – were the bread and butter of my self-development.

The letters in front of me were ones I wrote during the month following of my daughter’s birth, April 12, 1970. I was twenty-five, married for five years, had lived in five places in three years (following the career of my husband) and was an easily employed, happy teacher wherever we unloaded the U-Haul.

I looked at the letters written over 40 years ago and hesitated. I mean this is a damn long time ago and I recall an early adulthood route overloaded with societal markers and expectations I was beginning to question.

I read them.

The hour-by-hour description of labor and birth was in the first letter. The next two (both eight pages double-sided) described sleep-deprived days full of the wonder and practicalities of motherhood.

Then, there it was. Right there after making the choice between Pampers and a diaper service, were my most personal struggles. Concerns about the mother I would become, the good wife I was struggling to be and the blank space of my ‘self’ leaning in on me.

Looking back from a long distance I seemed like a young tree looking for sunlight. I was pretty soft and bendy in the identity department. I was trying to please a lot of people.

“This is me?” queried my today self.

Well, yes I wrote the letters, but the writer did not resemble much of who I am now except she did seem nice. I am nice.

In the end I did claim that woman writing at her kitchen table wearing bell-bottoms in the fetching house in the monied part of Akron, Ohio with the poodle, the entrepreneurial husband putting in his 10,000 hours headed to success and the beautiful baby girl.

I claim her not as ‘me,’ but as one of many selves I’ve been in life.

Five years later I would trade this self in for a new, improved one. (And, a less financially secure one.)

Trading selves is what we do as we grow up and change. Continue reading

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Stay in Touch: Did You Make Enough Friends to Last a Lifetime?

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”  “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” — E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web)
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
— E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web)

Welcome back to Part 5/5 on crafting a remarkable Post50 Life. We explored Geography  of Place, Freedom and Career Arc Extension. Today we focus on Personal Intimacy & Health to reveal that a strong social architecture is the nucleus of a long, productive and healthy life.

“So,” I say to my husband as we enjoy sunset on the terrace of our newly constructed Panhandle dream home.

After two months in our chosen and well-loved ‘Geography of Place,’ we can count using one index finger the number of people we can call ‘friend’ – our architect.

“How many friends have you made this week?” I inquire.

The question lacks sweetness. We’d moved to a place where we knew no one. We needed friends and finding them was more effort than we’d remembered.

Soon we’d be on a corner with a sign, “Will you be our friend?” or scouting the produce section of Piggly Wiggly for foodies to be dinner guests.

Just because I’m more extroverted doesn’t mean my husband is off the hook. “Find some friends,” I say. “You need to help.”

Cigars, Scotch and a local bar was his strategy followed by golf, more Scotch and cigars.

Today my husband has more friends than I do.

Not ‘best’ friends. Not people you are tight with or give bear hugs to.

More like fist-bump people. Continue reading

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Expand That Career Arc! The Wonderful Work of Odyssey.

2014-02-01 15.05.52-2Welcome back to Part 4/5 on crafting a remarkable Post50 Life. We explored Geography of Place and Freedom. Today, it’s about being productive in our longevity. We move on to Career Arc Extension, the third of the Four Elements of Post50 Lifestyle.

The purpose of a Post50 odyssey is to discover what the next stage of our life will hold – to find out what’s ahead. The journey is a series of experiences that gives us knowledge and understanding.

At the threshold of finding ‘future work’ for the last third of life, expect to feel dizzy.

  • Should I continue my current profession? (Career success or ‘loving our work’ often makes this seem a good idea when it’s not.)
  • Should I begin to learn skills for a different  industry?
  • Do I have time to build a new career?
  • Why not be content with past career success and become a volunteer?

With longevity available, most of us are set to do some kind of ‘work’ through our 70s and 80s.

Spike Lee said, “As an artist you have to want longevity because longevity allows you to do your work.”

To label myself an ‘artist’ always seemed inappropriate and far-fetched. Maybe you’ve felt this way.

I don’t paint or sculpt. I don’t ballet or write songs. Actually I require professional help just choosing fabric for throw pillows.

But as I ended my transition, I changed my mind. I am an artist.

No higher artistic expression exists than creating a life.

I own my first fifty years and dare myself to crave more and more from my time left. I marvel at my stops and starts, successes and failures, good fortune and bad luck. I am an illustrator and designer who collects stories of my past merging them into a collage of pictures of a future – my future.

I create a life – mine.

It’s the same for all of us. The craft and design of your Post50 life – where a new working identity is vital – is your ‘art.’

Marvelous and a bit heady, isn’t it, to be an artist? We could do wild things with our lives.

Let’s temper that for now.

A carefree focus on ‘art’ can impoverish future wellbeing. And in my mind, the phrase ‘starving artist’ has no charm. Continue reading

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Be Dangerous Again: A Renaissance for You in Post50 Freedom

Within us, beneath the noise is the source and core of everything.
Within us, beneath the noise is the source and core of everything.

Welcome back to Part 3/5 on crafting a remarkable Post50 Life. We explored Geography of Place last time and today, it’s all about getting our time back. We move on to Freedom, the second of the Four Elements of Post50 Lifestyle.

Retirement isn’t being retired. It’s already retired. You know that by now, right?

The old idea of “retirement”—a word that means withdrawal, describing a time when people gave up productive employment and shrank their activities—was a short-lived historical abnormality lasting approximately 70 years.

In 1935 a kind of pragmatic judgment using the favorable actuarial age of 65 became the basis on which this age was used for retirement under Social Security.

It’s over.

Poised to live longer in better health than ever before individuals are extending their working lives, often with new careers, phased retirement, entrepreneurial ventures, and volunteer service.

‘Un’ is a prefix freely used in English to form verbs expressing a reversal of some action or state. Unleash this negative force and we have wonderful words such as undressed, unbeloved, unforgettable and undone.

Today, we’ve uncorked the word ‘unretirement’ to explain this seismic change now in its early stages. (The word,’unretirement,’ first used in 1966, is now thriving.)

The ‘unretirement’ you’ll choose is not life as you know it.

You can look forward to a newfound sense of freedom- a freedom that’s been missing from your getting-educated-child-raising-finding-time-for-sex-career-consuming life.

Many smart people squander and misuse this parcel of time – often decades of it. Some people volunteer it away.

Will you be one of them? Continue reading

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