Category Archives: Productive Longevity

“One Year to Live” – My Class in San Miguel de Allende

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Two months ago when the waters of Santa Rosa Sound were choppy and the day so grey I could barely see the boat house at the end of the dock I was taken back in time and place.

Today reminds me of a time when my daughter, Elizabeth, and I were making our way southward on a 42-foot sailboat in mid-December.

Trapped by weather in Frazer’s Hog Cay, a small anchorage in the Berry Islands in the Bahamas, our early rise and assessment of the radio weather broadcast brings a realization that we aren’t going anywhere again this day – Day 3.

Simple pleasures of sitting outside in the cockpit or a walk on the near small island were not possible. With slanted, hard-driving rain we can’t even see that island. The dinghy tied at the stern fills with water and bobs furiously. Ugh.

So, what to do? Grab another cup of coffee at 7:15AM and decide how to live your best life in 42-feet of space below decks.

The engine drones to keep the faulty battery system powered. The fresh water supply diminishes as does our fuel. And our food? Well we have a lot of good olives I sneaked on board so we’ll be fine.

No television; no means of calling friends and family. With the hatches closed, the air is stale.

Let’s be miserable. This seems a good choice.

“What will make you happy today?”

I singsong the question to Elizabeth in her bunk face down in a pillow overwhelmed with disappointment. She doesn’t answer. I try a couple more times.

Then I ask myself, “What will make me happy today?”

Okay.

I can lay in my bunk and finish my book and then start another. Clean the stove. Clean the head. Listen to music (with an eye on the power.) Think how wonderfully stress free it is not to be in high preparation mode for Christmas. (Turns out we missed everything about that holiday including the stress.) Fold my clothes which are in major disarray tumbling out of the shelves. Re-arrange the olives.

What will I do to be happy today?

Our fate unfolds. We would arise early, dissect weather reports and be stuck for three more days.

We learn to ask and answer that question, “What will make me happy today?” with as much enthusiasm and positivity as we could muster.

Elizabeth knew I would sing the question over and over until she answered so she might as well get her head out from under that pillow.

Soon we would scrap our boat’s bottom on the rocks as we navigated the narrow, shallow passage only good at high tide and be on our way to Nassau. On our way!

This was an experiment in living each day – making choices given what you’ve got – and I haven’t forgotten how hard we struggled to make each day count. (Elizabeth made a pie one day. Miracle!)

But what if instead of one day to decide how to live, I had to consider a longer time.

A year perhaps …and then not be on my way.

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One Year to Live

Before I came to San Miguel de Allende three weeks ago to stay for a while, I sign up for a book discussion group led by Val Ward, teacher of Sociology and Psychology in England.

From 11-1pm for four Wednesdays at St. Paul’s Church on Calzada Del Cardo anyone interested was invited to gather to discuss Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live published in 1997. The author shares his insights in a year-long experiment living each day as if it were your last.

I figured, I’m new in town. Why not give this a try? I’ll leave if I don’t like it.

Last Wednesday I walk into a room of fifty people – more men than women. I wasn’t the youngest one or the oldest. Emma Jean, 90, is the oldest. She’s decided to look at her life one year at a time.

We laugh when she quips, “I have a short bucket list and most days I can’t remember it so it’s good that I live in the moment.”

From places including Latvia, Panama, NYC, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida and Colorado, some people had been in San Miguel de Allende for as much as 24 years. I was the newbie at one week. Some stay for 6-month increments; others are here “forever.” Some work while others make art or do what they choose.

Why did they come to a class on ‘One Year to Live?’

  • I want to live an “informed life.”
  • I would like to make my mind “shut up” telling me what to do and let me be in charge.
  • I would like to learn something.
  • I would like to start a new life.

The guy with a scraggly pony tail is here because he doesn’t want to leave a mess behind. A woman in her early 60s says she has  lived a life of busyness and frustration. She wants to change everything about it.

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What if You Had One Year Left?

The author, Stephen Levine, has accompanied the dying to the threshold over the last twenty years. In their last year, he says, many people feel as if they have a second chance at growth and healing. This renewal often occurs because they have been given a terminal diagnosis but can also occur because their natural wisdom inspires them to open more profoundly to life.

No one in our discussion group shared a terminal illness diagnosis. All appeared to be inspired by the concept of considering how to live life better.

In the book, the author presents his findings about how individuals feel and what they would do if facing death:

  • Many feel overwhelmed by a sense of failure with a closet full of regrets.
  • Some express remorse about neglecting spiritual growth.
  • Many felt they had little authentic joy.
  • Some would change their work situation or quit.
  • Most would study some long-admired skill even without the promise of making money.
  • Many acknowledged a love of nature that they allowed to go dormant.

Levine states that most all those individuals he has worked with or interviewed would adopt a gentler pace of life, change their surroundings and be less preoccupied with social ambitions. “They would move to the country; another country; the city; build new homes; tear down old ones.”

Sitting in the St. Paul pews in this discussion group were individuals who had not been selfish with their lives. Many spent much of their time and energy and often resources making other people happy or doing what they were supposed to do.

Some express pain and anger at themselves for a lifetime of diminishing their own needs.

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Now What Would They Do?

This morning one year to live or less is a reality for many. By the end of the week, many more.

In my group, individuals participate freely, take notes, smile, listen intently and do their homework.

“I have just given you the sad news that you have only one year to live,” said Val at the end of Session 1. The homework was to spend time to really think hard about what you would do if you had only one year.

Here are some of their answers:

  1. Pack bags and travel. (Popular idea. Two would get on a cruise ship immediately.)
  2. Write letter to friends and family telling them what they had meant to them.
  3. Get resources together to fund a grand-daughter’s college education.
  4. Have a big, big party. (More than one of these!)
  5. Go back to England to see the trees.
  6. In the African tradition, spend 24 hours mourning.
  7. Get my wills ready to roll. (This gentleman paid double to ensure he would be cremated in whatever country he died. If the country prohibited cremation, he was to be taken to the nearest country that would allow it. He wanted to double check it all.)

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 What Would I Do?

It is Saturday afternoon 3 days after class. I sit outside in a lush green outdoor space far away from family and friends. The sun shines, butterflies flit, the beautiful fountain gurgles and the firecrackers explode (typical Mexican afternoon sound.)

I have chosen this as a geography of place to stir my soul, invite newness to my days, finish writing a book and learn more about me as well as others.

I haven’t thought about having only one year to live ever. My current excellent health masks this idea.

But here goes:

  • First, I would be mad. Why did I only get one lifetime? Where did this lifetime go? I’m not ready yet.
  • Second, I would gather two grandchildren closer. I would do some 4-year-old things and 5-year-old things.
  • Third, I would ask for twelve days with my daughter to go on some outlandish adventure that stretched our physical capabilities. Something new that presented great challenge. We have rafted Chile’s Futaleufu River, one of the premier whitewater rivers in the world and hiked ‘The W’ in Patagonia. Perhaps she’d bicycle with me across Iowa.
  • Fourth, I will bring my husband to a lovely home I rented here in San Miguel for a while, not to make him love it here. But to help him understand why I do.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t get to do all these things. My life would not be more deeply lived if I did them. But to imagine having only a year is to create depth – to find a kind of self-expression – that we should not waste our time.

The irony of the question –what if I only had one year to live? – is that I very well may.

Possibly, if I just do more of what I did on the boat in the Berry Islands I will continue to create my one lifetime as I want it.

What can I do today to make me happy?

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What Would You Do?

Dear readers. Did you think I would end this post without asking?

You can make it a slow thought to ponder. You can shout from the rooftops that it’s a hypothetical question. You can use the question to create urgency and awareness.  You can be joyful that the moment is yours to contemplate.

You have one year left to live. How will you live it?

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I invite you to make a comment and join me on Facebook. Special thanks to all of you who continue to forward posts. I appreciate that!

All Photos by B. Pagano

 

 

 

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Posted in Living Your Best 3rd Third of Life, Productive Longevity, Productivity, Self-Management | 2 Comments

Not This Life . . . That Life

Nothing is forever, it was true. - from Miss Jane, A Novel by Brad Watson
Nothing is forever, it was true. – from Miss Jane, A Novel by Brad Watson

I have not posted in a while. I couldn’t.

I lost my endeavor.  I didn’t feel like it.

Besieged is how I have felt. Priorities I carefully chose suddenly began to compete for my energy. The necessities of participating in life (and moments of trying to figure it out what was happening) made even the creative possibilities I set in motion impossible.

I was deprived of clarity.

It happens all of us. Life is like that.

So I began days not with a to-do list but no list at all.

The space that allowed was not my undoing but my deep privilege. It’s been 7 months.

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Ambushed by Desire

What hit me was an intense longing.

I wasn’t unhappy. In fact, life was good. (more…)

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The Working Retirement: 7 Things To Do Within 5 Years of Leaving Your Job

IMG_0547It’s no joke. You intend to create a different kind of life in the future.

In this imagined life, you cease responding to texts and emails that waste your time. You’ll never again endure a narcissist’s rant.

No long commutes, improbable targets and boring, stupid meetings.

No way.

In this new life, the day unfolds just the way you’d like. You’ll ditch every person who really doesn’t matter to you because that’s what people do when time is precious.

Imagine that.

Ahead is travel, moments to stare at a river running, tea on the porch with old Aunt Phoebe and sharing gourmet strawberry-blueberry popsicles with a four-year-old grandchild who makes you swoon.

You’ll work.  Oh yeah.

This work beams enthusiasm and engagement into your life because you choose it. Best of all, you’ll make some money and avoid the #1 reported worry of running out of money in retirement.

Life will be grand, believe me.

IMG_0691Lights, Camera … Now What?

If you are mid-50s, 60s or 70s and don’t think this way, you should.

Just ahead is a big chunk of freedom, time and more than enough choices to create a life doing more what you want. It’s the last shot at getting it right which makes it different than other times in life.

This new life that heads straight for us but seems far away gets little of our bandwidth.

We make no firm plans. We prepare nothing in advance, put nothing in order nor concoct even one hair brain scheme to test the premise that the last third of life could be our very best.

It’s pure madness. (more…)

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Ten Ways to Transition into Paid Work Instead of Retirement

2014-10-04 15.37.08Yesterday outside Publix, I ran into an old friend. We talked, caught up and then he asked about my work.

“I’m helping people uncover possibilities for being productive in work until they want to retire at 85!”

He smiled. Gene is in his mid-sixties and lost his administrative job for a successful land developer when the economy sunk the business several years ago.

“Barbara,” he said, “I’m pretty much wasting away in front of the TV and doing social stuff. I would give anything short of bagging groceries to have work for 2-3 days a week.”

Gene isn’t depressed or unhappy with his life. But he could be happier if he were involved in work that utilized his talents.

If you are unemployed, already retired or looking ahead, the journey to discover work you want to do can confuse and overwhelm even the smartest, creative and most successful individual.

We are in the midst of a cultural shift – creating new paths for work and careers in this age of longevity – where many of us will have an addition 25-30 years of potential productive living ahead.

The good news is the world of work is opening up many possibilities for a late-in-life work-groove that fits the lifestyle you want to create.

This post is for you, Gene. (more…)

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My Life, My Art: How to Make 2016 Your Kick-Ass Year

Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum. - Steven Pressfield
Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes and easy smile is your museum. – Steven Pressfield

We live our lives. We don’t make our lives. Isn’t that right?

Of course not. I know you know this.

We make the lives we live – step by step, plunge by plunge. We construct, formulate and compose a production using our energies and spirit along with whatever else is thrown our way.

Currently our life’s play is stimulating, wonderful, dissatisfying, miserable, boring or downright dull. Yours may be infused with drama, a mishmash of responsibilities and consequences, just plain messy or ho-hum.

Unable to put your finger on what you don’t like about the scene in progress is bad enough. But now here comes an unwelcome interruption from a backstage voice booming a line that makes me cringe:

“You made your bed, now go lie in it.”

This is a punitive way of saying that we create the conditions of our condition.

Perhaps. But I don’t buy you have to stay in that bed.

Life as you know it can be better.

(more…)

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Starry, Starry ‘Life’ – Inspire Your Reinvention with a Transition Story (6 Tips and 9 Ideas)

I dream my painting, and I paint my dream. - Van Gogh
I dream my painting, and I paint my dream. – Van Gogh

What’s the dream for your life ahead? How hard are you pushing yourself to get it?

The Rijksmuseum is TripAdvisor’s #1 rated ‘Things to do” in Amsterdam. But not for me. On my visit last month I wanted none of those dark Dutch paintings.

I wanted Van Gogh’s “Starry, Starry Night.” Turns out “The Starry Night” is in New York and part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Collection since 1941.

Never mind. The  Van Gogh Museum is spectacular without it.

Spectacular? Yep. With three floors of 850 paintings, 1300 works on paper, and insights from his correspondence (940 letters), you come to know Van Gogh – the person, the artist, his heartaches and determination.

There’s Van Gogh the junior clerk at an art firm, the teacher, the bookseller and the preacher. All this before he decided to become an artist at the age of 27. Self-taught, unmarried, childless and supported (and loved) by his brother, Theo. The public did not know of Van Gogh until after his death at 37; he sold one painting during his lifetime.

The Van Gogh Museum experience was a highlight of my time in Holland and later that afternoon I recalled another museum two years ago with floor after floor of colorful works of art.

The Museu Picasso de Barcelona houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso whose life circumstances are the flip side of Van Gogh’s.

Picasso started to paint when he was eight, finished his first painting at nine (the year Van Gogh died) and at 13 he entered Barcelona’s School of Fine Arts, where his father taught. Picasso was an established artist at 20. Fame, fortune, numerous love affairs, three children – Picasso led the “good life.” He died at 91.

Each of these artists influenced future art and over 100 years later their works sell for millions.

In May 2015, Van Gogh’s “L’allée Des Alyscamps” was the big seller at Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art auction bringing $66.3 million – when it expected to sell for 40 million.
In May 2015, Van Gogh’s “L’allée Des Alyscamps” was the big seller at Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art auction bringing $66.3 million – when it expected to sell for 40 million.
Days later Picasso’s painting Women of Algiers set the record for the highest price ever paid for a painting when it sold for US$179.3 million at Christie's in New York.
Days later Picasso’s painting Women of Algiers set the record for the highest price ever paid for a painting when it sold for US$179.3 million at Christie’s in New York.

What does this have to do with you?

These twentieth century artists have two things in common:

  • Extraordinary productivity especially toward the end of their lives
  • A fire in their internal soul to continue their work – forever.

Neither of these artists allowed their flame for their work to be extinguished. You and I must discover and foster how this might be possible in our own lives.

How’s your flame doing?

When I was studying interior architecture, and playing around with glass because I really liked glass. There was one night when I blew a bubble and put a pipe into this glass I had melted and blew a bubble. From that moment, I wanted to be a glassblower. - Dale Chihuly Read more a
When I was studying interior architecture, and playing around with glass because I really liked glass. There was one night when I blew a bubble and put a pipe into this glass I had melted and blew a bubble. From that moment, I wanted to be a glassblower.
– Dale Chihuly

Off to Work We Go

It would have been understandable for Van Gogh to allow hardships which included anxiety, poverty and mental instability to dim his passion. Picasso didn’t need the money or much more fame. He could have stopped midlife.

Yet, in the last years of their lives they continued to pour energy into their work with remarkable results.

  • In his final years, Picasso had a tremendous last burst of productivity painting with the phenomenal speed he had had as a teenager in Barcelona.
  • Van Gogh painted 70 works in the last two months of his life.

People with high Career Wellbeing – doing meaningful work – are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall. (If you want to understand the research and documentation for choosing work, see Why You Must Dare, Dream and Work – Forever.)

We must ask:

How can we keep our flame for work and life from diminishing?

Do you feel your flame for putting your talents and skills to use in new ways?

Can you imagine doing your ‘work’ until the very last day of your life? (more…)

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Reinventing Yourself? Why You Need a Transition Story.

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The inside window ledges of the homes in Northern Holland tell stories.

During my ten-day visit I saw handsome turquoise pottery, painted pitchers, tall vases with flowers, ceramic birds and farm animals, wooden ships, and tin angels displayed in the windows.

In villages on the Frisian Islands, homes with large front windows edge the sidewalks. As I pause to look closely at what’s on a window ledge, I need only lift my gaze for a look straight through three rooms. Beyond the sofa area, a wood dining table with chairs and a small kitchen in the back complete the first floor.

Often I saw all the way through the back window into a yard with a garden or a clothesline full of floating clothes.

Curious as I was, I didn’t want to gawk. I kept my glances brief. Several times I surveyed the insides of these homes and missed noticing the people in the front room. They were more cordial than you or I might be to a stranger staring in their front window.

The father reading a story to a child on the sofa raised his head, met my eyes and smiled. The woman knitting in her corner chair gave me a pleasing nod.

Day after day I learned about people in places pronounced confidently and with staccato –Enkhuizen, Hoogkarspel, Oosterblokker, Wervershoof. They like order, tidiness, and enjoy a muted palette. They love flowers with large colorful blooms, Hollyhocks and Hydrangeas.

The Dutch are very polite. Because bikes are a primary means of transportation, bike paths meld into walkways and roads differentiated only by the color of the bricks. Many, many times a bike rider’s melodic, gentle bike bell advised me I was not on a foot path as I thought, but in the middle of the bike path.

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In villages everywhere I looked on window ledges, peered in homes, observed the young and old ride bikes, kite surf, maneuver boats and ships, and walk their dogs. I wondered about these people and their lives – who they were, their hopes, their dreams.

What were their stories? How did the things on the window ledges connect to them?

My window sills are bare and yours may be too. Still, we have stories. Everyone has stories.

Life is a narrative of stories. Unique stories, linked over time.

In our lives there are places where a story is about to stop before a new one has begun. That can be a confusing time.

When it’s time for a change in life – as a turning point begins and the future is unclear-that’s when you need a story the most.

Transitions without a story are hell to navigate. (more…)

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Lost in Transition? Try the ‘Tough Cookie 100-Day Plan for Getting Unstuck’ (Over 30 Ideas)

Time keeps on telling me who to love, where to go. Time keeps on pushing me further on down the road. -- Lyrics from "Time" by Josh Rouse
Time keeps on telling me who to love, where to go. Time keeps on pushing me further on down the road. — Lyrics from “Time” by Josh Rouse

There are only two types of people in the world: people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, and people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

I am the first type. I do what I say I am going to do. Unless, of course, I’m stuck. I hate getting stuck.

All of us, despite best intentions or track records of follow through, often find we’re lost, confused, undecided, doubtful and ambiguous. We’re frozen in place in the larger context of life, even as we manage to look busy and ooze a pretend-kind of happy.

When it comes to inventing life – a new or continued career, different view out the window, ways to make money, different people to hang with, better focused choices, more engaged productivity – the whole darn thing is daunting.

We think about how we might change. We think how life could be even better. We think we should start thinking about our last third of life.

Time passes and we drift around in our thoughts.

It’s not you that’s the problem. It’s the process. (more…)

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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.” (more…)

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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.

(more…)

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