Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.

Retirement options

Dreams vs. Reality

Ah, retirement! The "Golden Years!" The classic picture of the elderly couple strolling together on a beach.

It's a nice image, but, it is a marketing image.

My parents loathed being termed "seniors." My mother, in particular, scoffed at the term "Golden Years." Both terms were clearly euphemisms coined by a younger generation, probably justifying its own situation of overwork, frenetic rushing about, and even despondency about lack of accomplishments. Such terms placate by implying that there will still be time, a better time, later, for desired rest and enjoyment. "Yes, you're too busy now, but wait until your retirement, your 'golden years'..."

The real picture of aging, of retirement, is quite different. Replace the beach with a street. Remove one person. The remaining person is dependent on an automobile to reach food, doctors, prescriptions, daily needs...but has no driver's license. Her fixed income seems to shrink each year, as utilities and taxes continue to increase. Unexpected repairs are needed: appliances break, the roof leaks...

So much for "basic needs." What about "quality" of life: the ability to meet up with friends, to see a film, play or art exhibit, to eat out occasionally, or simply to get to stores or the library?

This person, the "senior," is now classified and "addressed" by industry (yes, there is a "retirement industry" and a "seniors industry"... just google either), government and the media as "a sector" of the population. Seen less as an individual, she becomes viewed as only a part of an abstract "issue." A "growing problem in our society."

Business has created a commercial, and highly profitable, "solution." "Retirement communities" and "assisted living" are now standard "options." Ironically, the inhabitants of these "options" themselves have coined a term for them: "Waiting rooms for God." Costs for these "options" are in the thousands of dollars per month.

How do we face this picture? For our parents? For ourselves? How does one see what are viable options versus marketing dreams? My parents determined what were the aspects of living (when they were retired) that would be most important to them. They included basic needs, as well as things that were more subjective in terms of "quality." They ranked specific options in terms of the weighted criteria.

The answer from this exercise was not what they really wanted to hear, but they felt it to be "correct." After all, it was based on their expressed values, their assessments. Despite knowing "it was right," however, they postponed moving from their home of many years to a new location, one that would better suit my mother should my father die first. When my father did die first, my mother revisited the work they had done together, realizing that without him, some criteria, which had been ranked by them together, were now even more important to her, on her own. She called me to say that she was executing the decision "we should have made years ago."

In making decisions, we can find common ground, but we need to respect individuality. Although marketeers appeal to the masses, criteria are not universal. Each couple, each person, must define and weigh their own needs. Options also will satisfy in differing ways. Importance of criteria and the range of options can change when circumstances change. Revisiting a plan, after any significant change, is essential.


Poetry, music...

Back in the Sixties, while doing practice teaching for my degree, I taught an English class, covering poetry. The course was based on a given typical outline for poetry in high school, covering simple, beautiful poems from decades before.

Although we diligently covered the selected poems, per the plan, they were too distant from the lives of many in the class, who would be headed straight to a war when they finished school that year. Poetry, they thought, did not fit in with their reality.

An assignment followed to go seek and read the poems appearing in the "underground" newspapers in Boston, penned by vets returning from Vietnam. Friends from the drama department came and did a reading of war poems spanning centuries. It had the students completely riveted as they felt the power of soldier-poets. Poetry didn't have to be pretty. Poetry's "beauty" was its power to evoke, to conjure and to capture the essence of various aspects of life.

Not too long ago I stumbled across an NPR broadcast about Brian Turner's collection of poems from his tour of duty in Iraq, "Here, Bullet." I don't know how I missed this book when it was first published in 2005. It is powerful. It immediately reminded me of the reading so many decades before. I was torn between the fact that the poems add to a body of brilliant war poetry and the very fact that yet another war was being chronicled.

Another truth, however, came to mind. The New York Times touches on it in its review of "Here, Bullet:"

"The day of the first moonwalk, my father's college literature professor told his class, 'Someday they'll send a poet, and we'll find out what it's really like.' Turner has sent back a dispatch from a place arguably more incomprehensible than the moon - the war in Iraq - and deserves our thanks for delivering in these earnest and proficient poems the kinds of observations we would never find in a Pentagon press release."

In all things worthwhile, one cannot disregard emotion. (A fact also more objectively put forth in the book "How We Decide," by Jonah Lehrer.) Our better choices, or decisions, are made when there is recognition of, and allowance for, the emotional drivers that are undercurrents. Eliciting and understanding the nuances that are driven by emotion are critical.

In the film "Mr. Holland's Opus," the protagonist argues, quite wonderfully, that music class is the one place where students are focused entirely on listening. Add to that the study of poetry, meaningful poetry, where students seek to understand nuance and emotion and relevancy. These are the types of studies that truly prepare one for life.

Nation of Fear

Swimming with Sharks

A number of my friends from Europe and South America have remarked on the culture of the U.S. as being "fear based." From their perspectives, most TV advertisements surrounding the news center on fear of succumbing to disease. The news, itself, seems a compendium of real, or worse, merely potential disasters. We fear terrorism. We fear job loss. We fear disease. We fear snow. Stir the pot of fear, and then it's "News at Eleven." Fear is the great "hook" for attracting "viewing audiences." The great marketing mechanism.

Recently, the New York Times wrote an article on the manipulation of a prevalent fear about Medicare being diminished during health care reform. We've all heard the ignorant shout of "Don't let the government touch my Medicare!" Let us add to the litany of fears, fear of our own government, the hand that feeds us, in this case.

Decisions are clearly influenced when one has been reared in a culture of fear. A few years ago, I took a colleague through use of our software to determine what he sought in a new job. He started by listing everything he did not want in a job. His statements evolved from unpleasant situations that he had experienced in the past in other jobs. For every negative statement he made starting with "Well, I don't want..." I worked with him to rephrase the statement to be more what he would be looking for, and less about what he was worried. So a statement such as "I don't want to be in a dead end job." became "The job will have potential for growth and advancement." "I don't want to wind up giving up all my free time, working weekends, etc." became "The job will respect my personal life, allowing me my own personal time."

Re-phrasing negatives to positives helps. However, this can go only so far. One still is framing a future based on fears about the past.

Steeped in a culture of fear, it is hard NOT to frame one's future based on overcoming or avoiding perceived problems. But doing so is not choosing a destination. It is merely "winding up somewhere," having been pushed into that position by fear.

Focusing on a desired destination can prevent this "backing in" to one's future. No matter how unrealistic positive desires may sound at first, state them. This may seem much harder to do, than to bow before a future not chosen, but which appears inevitable. It may take time to do this.

Life will never be trouble free, of course. But, overcoming troubles can be put in better perspective if one knows where one is headed by choice. It is the difference between swimming with sharks, and swimming through sharks to a better destination. Yes, one could be eaten in either case. But in the former, one will die in a miserable state of fear. In the latter, one dies with hope. The smell of fear can invite being preyed upon. Manipulators count upon it.

Pope in Prague

Signing on for Faith, or Religion

The Pope recently visited Prague. It is interesting that, as reported on the BBC, the Catholic Church supposes that the main reason for the loss of followers in the Czech Republic is the prior reign of Communism.

This, of course, would not explain why there has been a decrease in followers worldwide, and a significant decrease in the United States. Nor why a spider made the New York Times' reporting of his visit more interesting than the message he delivered, itself.

A basic difference in how people view religion vs. faith has already been noted in the U.S., where there is a growing trend of people to indicate having a form of faith they refer to as "spirituality." Quite a few persons profess a strong belief in God, but an objection to the many religions who have overlaid basic faith and belief in God with a set of rules not found in the Bible or other mainstream religions' foundational books. Each religion's rules, written by humans with all their fallibilities, seem to distort for a purpose that on examination appears more earthly than divine.

Even more so, many religions, beyond their own rules, appear to have become politicized. The "platforms" of religions, and the belligerent attitude of "my God is better than your God" do nothing to further the faith of those who truly believe in a God. [Overfocusing on Christmas the Commercial Venture, with sales starting in July, and stores stocking Christmas ribbons and paper smack alongside the Back to School specials, has not helped keep one's focus on faith, either.]

It would be an interesting exercise, on one hand, to ask people what is important to them in terms of a "religion". For some I know, the sense of community and belonging is one important aspect. For others it is the disciplined time set aside to open one's heart and connect with the divine. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see how people described "faith" and why it was important to them. I'd, of course, suggest weighting each set to determine their relative importance. In reviewing the differences, it might explain a lot about where religion and faith have diverged.

[Added October 10, 2009: In response to the above, someone sent me in hardcopy PARADE magazine from October 4 on the topic of America and the dichotomy between spirituality and religion.  Worth a look.]

Comments (2)

F***ing Tennis Anyone?

I just read the articles on Federer being fined for audible obscenity, Williams being fined for her obscenities and outbursts, and countless others grunting on their way to or from tennis stardom.

A few decades ago, I spied a license plate with the number 10SNE1. It took me awhile to "get it," but I did, and I thought "how cute." It was in an era before tennis bracelets, and, to be frank, before tennis was considered a sport for "NE1." The opening up of tennis to other than the upper classes has not been a bad evolution. It has enriched the sport to include a wide array of talents who are more than just competent. I am a believer in sports that are not elitist. But cannot sport elevate more than one's earnings alone?

Gone are the days of watching films or stage plays in which a WASP-ish, ivy-league, white-shorted, cable v-necked, dashing twenty-something asks an ingenue and her entourage about the possibility for a set. Okay. I can live without that contrivance. But, does everything have to be gritty, and vulgar, to be "real?"

I think I gave up on sports when my TV set became filled with various sports that centered less on the aspects of the games themselves, and more on spitting, crotch-grabbing and vulgarity. I missed just hearing the solid "thwack" of a well hit ball without any attendant screeching of the person who had hit it. I loved tennis for its fluidity and the fact that, unlike American football, it had a fairly rapid pace to it. It did not seem bound to infinitesimal measures, nor overblown theatrics.

This brings me around to identifying the types of programming I like to watch. I can list these characteristics, prioritize them, and then weigh the programs offered against them. This exercise led me to acknowledge that most TV offerings were not geared to my viewing pleasure. I would need to create my own entertainment, and not accept the "LOP" ("least objectionable program") or the "most objectional programming" then being broadcast by corporate giants. TVNE1? Don't think so.


Life transitions, and are but part of the job hunting solution.

We were asked by a good friend to help them in contemplation of one of life's big decisions. Changing jobs after decades with one company. Such a decision is not just about a job, or about comparing one's current job with an opportunity that suddenly appears.

Embedded in all important life decisions are unique underlying elements that define one's own particular philosophy of life. Qualities or aspects for an individual that make "life good." Without clarity of these elements and their relative importance, one runs the risk of moving from job to job, and of having one's life defined for one, instead of choosing one's own path.

A job can appeal for being a "stepping stone" or because one "needs the money." Such reasons need to be viewed in the overall context of one's desired happiness in life. The argument against such contemplation, especially during tough economic times, is that it is a luxury. One hour for one's happiness? A small luxury indeed. The framework one creates structures the discussion of the particulars of any job. Without it, a job selected may not be part of a chosen "path" to the future. One may indeed be only taking the next step to "wherever one winds up." Big difference.

One hour. Write down what is important in one's life, not just one's job. Determine the relative importance of each statement written. Assess job opportunities in terms of those statements. Which opportunities are most supportive, cumulatively, in helping achieve all your desires? In tough economic times, temptation will be strong to take the job offering the most money. But roads "diverge in the yellow wood," and we know that things "lead on" from choices made. It may not always be an option to retrace one's steps. Better to know the desired destination, and have it frame the choice one makes and the paths one chooses.
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