When it comes to aging, life is not always considerate. In an ideal situation, daily undertakings should become easier as we grow more experienced and learn to deal with the unexpected. It just makes sense that we should get better at living the longer we are at it. But insidious changes to the body we used to know can force us to deal with challenges we have had no prior experience with. How we individually cope with changes due to advancing age may very well make or break a fulfilling retired life.
My wife and I recently went to lunch with our 84-year-old neighbor. Beverly has been through a lifetime of challenges ranging from on-going issues with helping her children to intensifying health concerns with her partner.
Spending the afternoon with her, you would have no inkling of the tumultuous side of her world. She truly has a love of life and an appreciation for all she has been blessed with. Rather than focus on the problems that litter her retirement landscape, she chooses to savor the moment. She finishes each day sitting on her veranda watching the sunset. A warm smile and easy laugh are ever present, and she seems to be at least ten years younger than she claims to be. Before the day was through, my wife and I had to share with her how she genuinely gives us hope for our future. Rather than fear our later years, if we might live a life like hers at 84, the road ahead looks bright.
When I asked Beverly how she stays so positive with all that is going on in her life she explained her formula for success: “I am a pragmatist. I have learned to roll with the punches and take what life throws my way. Why not live for today and enjoy what you have rather than worry about things out of your control?”
Here are some ways to use this “roll with the punches” mantra to address some of the challenges that come with aging:
Relationships. Although happily growing old and sharing a perfect life together may be the theme of love ballads and movies, the reality can be different. Physical challenges tend to increase in proportion to our age. The once simple activities that we took for granted can begin to test our resolve. Independence that we enjoyed may be in jeopardy if we reach a point where we are unable to safely live at home. One member of the couple may start to have health issues that require extra effort and tolerance from the partner.
In addition to the relationship with our partner, our interactions with family and friends can also change. Due to difficult economic times, children are sometimes forced to move back home. On the other side of the coin is the case where parents are forced to move in with their children, putting a different but equally significant strain on family dynamics.
In such difficult situations, it isn’t easy to roll with the punches. But, in some cases, you can work toward an outcome that will benefit everyone. The situation of caring for a loved one won’t last forever, and it’s important to set up a support system so that you won’t become overwhelmed.
Fading passions. What drove our passions at one point in our life can change as we grow older. A friend retired with a clear plan to pursue his passion for dancing and traveling the world. For ten happy years, he was a dance instructor on a cruise line, waltzing his way from port to exotic port. Then, unexpectedly, his interest waned. He no longer found this path exciting and eventually he stopped. Without his passion, he began to grow bored and lose his previous zest for living.
How can we cope with dimming or changing passions? One possible way is to have multiple passions at our fingertips. Then, should one fade, you can happily move on to the next. Our cruise friend always had a tremendous passion for music. He discovered a wonderful internationally-known singer and is currently the president of her fan club. He gets to appease his musical interests and on occasion satisfy his travel needs by attending a concert abroad. He was able to roll with the punches and discover a new exciting passion to occupy his days.
Physical limitations. You can’t lift as much as you once could, it is harder to bend over, crisp vision is a distant memory and you could swear people are deliberately whispering their words as you strain to follow conversations. Welcome to old age. No one ever said it was going to be easy, but the reality can still be a shock. For those used to pushing the envelope of physical capabilities, these changes can be even more disheartening. The fact that others are in the same boat is not very comforting.
This is another opportunity to try to implement our “roll with the punches” mantra. Although we are not necessarily capable of doing all we once could, perhaps we can still do 80 percent or even 50 percent. Accepting our limitations does not mean we must take a seat on the sidelines. Rather than focus on what we cannot do, we might find some satisfaction and even joy in what we are still able to accomplish as the years tick on by.
Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.