Type A personality types who must be constantly busy and productive must also be constantly exhausted. Or maybe I just wish that so I don’t feel guilty about not being as virtuous as they are. Much as I wish I could be like them, that’s not the way I was engineered. My mother had to register me in morning kindergarten so I could nap in the afternoons and unfortunately, the habit stuck. I still love to nap in the afternoons. It was inconvenient when I was working (!!) but now that I’m retired I am free to do—not entirely without guilt but it helps if no one else is home to make me feel like I should be doing something productive. I guess I’d describe myself as Type D-minus. Having nothing on my agenda and lots of time to devote to it is my idea of a perfect day.
Life wasn’t always a week of Saturdays which is why I appreciate retirement so much. During all those years of getting up in the dark, driving to work in the dark, driving home in the dark, preparing a meal, doing chores and never getting enough sleep I only dreamed of the schedule I enjoy today. Sometimes at work, I’d be so totally exhausted I’d feel like my head was going to thump down on my desk. It was everything I could do to keep my eyelids from slamming shut. Sleep deprivation is a common affliction among working people and we’re made to feel guilty if we aren’t giving our jobs one hundred and ten percent. I think millennials have turned their backs on that attitude, which is another topic for another day. It was different for boomers and even more so for our parents, The Greatest Generation.
Retirement has afforded me the time to be my own boss—a well-earned luxury and a privilege. Spending a day in my own home doing whatever I want is a complete and utter joy. Most of the time I don’t even put the radio on as the news or a talk show that focuses on political or social conflicts only spoils my tranquility. Daytime television is verboten unless I have a pile of ironing to do. Then, I set up the ironing board in the living room and iron while I watch one of my favourite PVR’d shows. I read voraciously; I compose my rants for Boomerbroadcast; I sit in the yard; go for a walk; putter about the house; generally I live my best life.
That’s not to say I’m anti-social or inactive. Not at all. Lunches with girlfriends are great fun. We now have the time and energy required for entertaining at home from time to time. Attending seminars on subjects of personal interest, visiting friends and indulging in hobbies are all part of retirement life. Even having the luxury of being able to go grocery shopping on a quiet Tuesday morning is an utter joy. There are always new sights in the city to see, new movies to check out or author readings to attend. Many boomers are dedicated volunteers, contributing generous, unpaid hours to various community services.
But there’s nothing quite as delicious as a day chez moi. Too many of those days would, of course, be sad but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’ve spent considerable time and a little bit of money getting my home to be a place of complete comfort and joy. My boomer gal pals have also created colourful, creatively decorated homes that they too enjoy and enjoy sharing with friends. We’re nesting and loving it.
Now that I’m in my 70s (Yeoww! That number still blows my mind), I’ve become philosophical about my time left. It could be 20 years, which will fly by far too quickly, or it could be 20 minutes. As we’ve watched some of our friends cope with illness and others pass away, we have a greater appreciation for the time we’re enjoying now. Every day is truly a gift, wherever and however I choose to spend it. And for that, I am truly grateful. How do you spend your days of eternal Saturdays?
Creaky joints, back pain and stiff shoulders are a way of life for many boomers as we now enter the third period of an unpredictable and tough game. Bumps, bruises and the odd metaphorical concussion over the years have taken a toll and we now rely on our innate skills of playing the game like pros to get us through each day. It takes a little more effort to hoist ourselves up from our LaZgirl chair and leaping up stairs two at a time is a distant memory. When we reflect back on our younger working days with stressful jobs, families and little to no time to ourselves, we wonder how we had the stamina. The answer is simple. We were young.
That’s not to say this stage of life isn’t without benefits. Many years ago when I asked my Aunt Lois to describe the best and happiest time in her life she unhesitatingly answered “When your Uncle Ron and I first retired”. That’s the stage most baby boomers are at right now and speaking from personal experience, I couldn’t agree with her more. There’s no place I’d rather be than now. There are so many benefits:
We’re finally our own “boss of me”. No more daily grind, going to the workplace in overpacked subways and buses or sitting in traffic jams on overcrowded highways.
Seniors discounts—all over the place—at certain retailers on particular days of the week, movie theatres, public transit. Even the fee-hungry, greedy banks give us free chequing, just for being, you know, old.
OAC (old age pension) and CPP (Canada Pension Plan), lovely little automatic deposits into our bank accounts every month, after a lifetime of payout.
Time management is now purely a matter of personal choice. We’re no longer subject to the tyranny of report deadlines, sales quotas or production schedules. We can now choose if and when we want to golf, play tennis or go to yoga classes. This includes the ability to say “No” without the accompanying guilt.
We can toss the Spanx and stilettos because we’re no longer beholden to the latest fashion fads. We finally know what works best for each of us and can opt for comfort.
We’re financially comfortable. As my friend Margaret likes to say, “I have enough.” We realize that relationships are the true foundations of happiness. With close friends, a roof over our heads, a warm bed and assurance of three squares a day, we’re in heaven.
No longer sleep deprived, we can stay in bed as long as we like on cold mornings and grab a few zzzz’s in the afternoon if we feel like it.
Even though we occasionally forget where we left our keys or why we entered a room, we’re considerably and blessedly smarter and wiser now. No more worries about making bad choices in romance, fashion and lifestyle. We’ve finally sorted things out and disposed of most of the crap in our lives.
Thanks to the movement started all those years ago by Tommy Douglas, we have universal health care. And because we’re Canadian, we don’t have to sell the car or mortgage the condo to pay for a hip replacement or refill our cholesterol and gout meds.
Our #metoo days are pretty much behind us and that’s a good thing. No more competing for jobs, recognition and attention from the opposite sex. At our age, most boomers are now well beyond the scope of predators. We know we’re fantastic and that’s good enough for us.
Every day is a gift and we’re now the best we’ll ever be. This is the best perk of all. As Mary Pipher said in a recent New York Times article, “Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.” Let’s just to it.
Our music has stood the test of time. And we can still dance to it. I’m constantly amazed at how much I’m enjoying this stage of life. We’ve earned an ice advantage, there’s no pressure to score. Post-menopausal women over the years have often touted their lives after menopause as being the best but I think they predated it a bit. It’s actually when we retire that we hit the real sweet spot. Keep your stick on the ice ladies. As baby boomer women we are now playing the best game of our lives. And it’s oh soooo sweet.
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I was going to title this piece Things I wish I’d known when I was 20. Then I realized the same wisdom applies at age 30, 60 or at any point in our lives. Knowledge is knowledge. It’s all about whether you absorb it and make it work for you. I wish someone had told me these things (and I’d actually taken it heart) when I was 20. So, Gen Xers, Y’s and Millennials, this is for you. Here are some things I’ve learned for sure along the road of life:
Things dry up as we get older—skin, nails, eyes, vaginas—all our body parts. Appreciate your dewiness while you still have it. It won’t last. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry—to keep us lubricated and functioning.
Your hair is the best it will ever be. As we get older, our hair thins, loses its shine and is never as luxurious and abundant as it was when we were twenty. That’s why we have expensive salon treatments that become increasingly more expensive as we age.
Menopause symptoms are not a short-term inconvenience. They can last for years. In my case, the hot flashes were never-ending and lasted more than 20 years. The accompanying weight gain is practically irreversible. Try not to beat yourself up. Millennials, Gen-X’s and Y’s—consider yourselves warned. You’re not immune and this too will happen to you, no matter how many ab crunches you do.
Being assertive in business is a good thing. If I learned nothing else after 40 years in the corporate world, it’s take of yourself first! Men have no qualms about asking for raises, a company car or an extra week of vacation. Boomer gals were raised to be polite, compliant and patient, hoping our rewards will come. Didn’t really do us a lot of good. Put yourself first.
Loyalty to your employer is not in your best interest. I think most men understand the basic premise here but women tend to take some convincing. All those late nights working to meet a deadline, family time traded for priorities at work? Not worth it. Your tombstone won’t read “Loyal Employee”. See Item 4 above.
Manage and promote your personal brand. We’d never heard of those things in the workplace when boomer gals were trying to get ahead or even survive in those last decades of the twentieth century. We were raised to believe that’s it’s wrong to self-promote. It’s wrong not to.
Catch that 5 lb. weight gain before it becomes 10 lbs. or 20. Once you hit menopause you’re screwed and it’s nearly impossible to lose weight. That’s just life.
Financial security is paramount. It’s tempting to spend, spend, spend when you’re young and making good money. But when you hit mid-life you might want to change careers or take a sabbatical. Financial security and ultimately financial independence equips you with options later in life. That cool car or those expensive shoes and purses you couldn’t live without in your twenties are long gone and forgotten when you’re reading your bank statements with enormous regret at fifty. Save, save, save. It’s only when you’re financially independent that you’re truly free.
Be yourself. You’re a worthy, whole and valid person without changing your personality for the sake of someone you think you love. Love yourself first.
Be healthy. Everything in moderation. A little bit of this; a little bit of that, without overindulging in all the things we like—wine, desserts, sugar, bad carbs, red meat etc. Taking care of our bodies will pay off as we get older. Smoking causes cancer, a raspy voice and zillions of wrinkles. Keep drinking under control, keep moving, stay curious and take care of yourself.
I’m not sure I would have listened to any of this advice when I was young but for what it’s worth, here it is. Like most people, I did some things right and a few things wrong but overall, baby boomers are the healthiest, most financially secure generation ever. Was it our music? Our parents? Hard work? Whatever came together to create our generation, we have a lot to be thankful for.
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Math has never been my strong suit. I’m a consistent 20% tipper in restaurants because it’s easier to calculate 20% than 15% in my head (and because I was a waitress a long time ago, so I appreciate the value of tips to servers). But, as baby boomers age, we realize that it’s easier to get through life with two people than it is with one. I was single for ten years before I married for the first time and spent seventeen years between husband number one and number two, so I’ve had a total of twenty-seven years of experience being single and on my own. And I’ve come to the conclusion that as we round out our third quarter, as The Beatles so eloquently put it, “we get by with a little help from our friends”. And that includes husbands, partners, neighbours, family members and even pets. They all help us get through the day. They filled the void during all those times I was on my own and continue to do so. The much maligned phrase uttered by Tom Cruise in Jerry McGuire, “You complete me,” is suddenly not so corny.
I’ve written before (click here to read I’m not OK. Are you OK?) about the downside of certain aspects of aging. Being forgetful or absent-minded is natural—rather like defragging our hard-drive. Our brain has to dump old data to make room for new input. Regrettable but understandable. But my honey and I have recently experienced too many memory faults and error messages to write them off as simple updating of our ROM. Just last night we were sitting at dinner and couldn’t figure out what year we moved into our house. Was it two years ago or three? The mental exertion soon proved to onerous so we moved on to dessert.
One day when I was checking out of a big box store I got caught with 12 items in my cart and only 11 items on my bill. I’d picked up two bags of pecans and accidentally only rang up one. I naively thought I was intelligent enough to handle the self checkout but obviously I over-estimated my abilities. To make it worse, just as I was standing there sorting out the issue with the checker at the door, while the lineup of impatient shoppers grew even longer behind me, I hear “Hi Lynda”. My friend Jeannette happened to be passing by just in time to witness my embarrassing shakedown by store security. Two lessons emerged from this experience:
I am incapable of managing self-checkout without supervision
Henceforth, I will always check out with a cashier because, a) they not only do a better job, but, b) I’m saving a job. Self-checkouts and other self-serve functions deprive someone of a real job and that’s not good for anyone.
Last week I mentioned to my husband that the windshield washer tank in my car was empty. When I kept pushing the lever, nothing happened. He was inappropriately smug and a tad too condescending when he informed me later that I’d been pushing the wrong lever.
And the list goes on. I gathered some girlfriends recently to watch a Christmas movie and swill wine but my television froze. Nothing worked. A couple of days later when the cable guy came out, it was a loose connection on the back of the receiver—which I had already checked, several times. He was very understanding, under the circumstances (dealing with an old lady).
But the pièce de résistance came earlier this week when my laptop computer died. It’s only 18 months old and when I bought it I also purchased every warranty and service package available to humankind for just such occasions. I checked the power outlet to make sure it was working, even moving it to an outlet in the kitchen to double-check. I changed the battery in the mouse and double-checked that the mouse was ‘On’. I couldn’t even reboot, which usually solves most problems, because it wouldn’t turn on or off. I pushed the laptop’s On/Off button multiple times with varying degrees of pressure and lengths of time in futile attempts to achieve ignition. No luck. Like Monty Python’s parrot; it was dead—not resting, not asleep—definitely dead!
So, I called Microsoft and the nice man informed me I might have a faulty display driver and suggested I take it to the Microsoft store where they would address my problems and perhaps replace my laptop. I was thankful for my brilliant foresight in purchasing those expensive warranty and service contracts. The next morning I made a 45-minute drive to the store. When I explained my situation to the little boy working there, he laid a nice protective pad on the counter, placed my dead parrot on the pad . . . and . . . TURNED IT ON. It worked!!! Heaven only knows why I couldn’t do the same thing pushing that little button; maybe my laptop just wanted to go for a nice long car ride and be fingered by someone with a gentler touch. Even my technically challenged husband now takes great delight in offering to turn my computer on.
As I said earlier, I’m not a math whiz; in fact I’m a complete ditz but when it comes to numbers. Fortunately my husband is amazing so he helps me. But he’s not good with the English language, written or spoken so I’m always available to bail him out with spelling and pronunciation issues. It’s the perfect yin and yang. We support each other’s shortcomings. Watching my parents as they grew older, I began to appreciate the value in having someone alongside to help shoulder the load. Now we’re in the same boat. What one can’t do, the other usually can. We muddle through. My friend Terry showed me how to use the timer on my oven; Gail’s our social convener; her husband Mike’s our go-to I.T. guy. I’m the source of new Britcoms on television. When we’re feeling discouraged or in need of a little moral support, who do we call? Our friends.
The challenges of aging aren’t what John Lennon and Paul McCartney had in mind when they penned “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends” but even then they understood the depth of meaning in the words to When I’m Sixty-Four. So far, he still needs me, still feeds me (twice a week when it’s his turn to cook), and still sends me Valentines. Mine for ever more. The reciprocal shortcomings of two people added together equals a whole in any equation. That’s not just science; it’s life. Maybe Jerry McGuire wasn’t so stupid after all.
Who spends their entire working life with one company any more? Does the end of careers spent with a single employer mean the end of alumni associations and their attendant lunches/get-togethers, long-term service awards and even retirement dinners? Most baby boomers probably had more than one job during the course of our decades-long working lives, although there are some who may have spent the majority of their career at one company.
When I started working for Bell Canada (then called The Bell Telephone Company of Canada) in 1965, it was common for people to spend their entire lives working for one large corporation like Bell, General Motors, an insurance company or Ontario Hydro. Those companies attracted new hires with such incentives as paid on-the-job training, benefits and pensions—even though those perks were the last things on our young minds way back then. Now that we realize the importance of company pensions, it’s too late and most companies no longer offer them.
Perhaps we intended to stay with a single employer when we started work. After all, our parents grew up in the Depression and just having a job was something to be revered and appreciated. But as time went on, perhaps we got restless, wanted a change of scenery or were offered a better position at another company. Consequently, most of us had half a dozen jobs or so over the span of our working lives. I did spent a major portion of my working life with EllisDon Corporation (builder of Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, and other multi-million dollar projects) but I did have enough other jobs to qualify as being well-rounded career-wise.
I was honoured recently to be asked to speak on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni lunch for retired and former Toronto area employees of Coca-Cola Canada. With my baby boomer-targeted blog and a new book coming out, they thought my message would resonate and inspire. In discussions with attendees and fellow speakers prior to the luncheon, it soon became obvious that while we have so many common denominators, we’re not like earlier generations of retired people. We’re healthier; we live longer; we’re working from a different playbook in planning and living out our retirement.
We’re also a vanishing breed in a world of young people with short interest spans who change jobs every couple of years. This means the day will soon come when there will be no alumni associations because workers will no longer identify with a single employer. Any friendships we develop with co-workers are most often maintained by individuals themselves as corporations lend very little support to the alumni ethos. The old days of “Bell Pioneers” and other groups of retirees supported and respected by their former employer may be numbered.
One of the lessons I learned during four decades in the corporate world is that there’s no reward for loyalty in business. Those all-nighters we pulled to meet a deadline, the weekends spent working instead of being with family, the stress associated with our jobs will not be noted on our tombstones, nor would we want it to be. It is most certainly not noted by our former employers. Having watched their parents or grandparents sacrificing so much for their jobs, millennials have rejected this mindset by insisting on more balance with their personal lives and much as it irks me at times, I can’t fault them.
So, as we pay out of our own pockets for those alumni lunches, let’s enjoy the company of our former coworkers as long as we can. Those people understand what we’ve been through together and they share our joy in being retired, as no one else can. Those lunches are just another one of those dinosaurs going the way of long-term service awards and company pension plans . . . and baby boomers.
The other day I posted a book review that included a condemnation of our tendency to judge people without knowing their background story. In fact, my entire blog is a form of judgement. I did it again this week, at the grocery store. I’ll give you the details and let you be the judge.
It’s harvest season in Ontario, the season for juicy, fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peaches and no end of wonderful local produce. Shoppers are checking out with bushels of Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and fruit for preserving. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year for fresh food.
As I was standing in the produce section husking corn into a giant bin in the middle of the floor, a small, very elderly, very frail gentleman approached. He was probably in his nineties and his face was sweet and kind looking. His grocery tote was a hand truck he’d brought with him with a single reuseable vinyl grocery bag propped open on the base. He was wearing worn, comfortable shoes and socks, a short-sleeved plaid shirt and beige shorts. His shorts were held up with striped suspenders and where one of the suspender’s clips was broken, he’d used a bit of twine to tie the suspenders to the belt loop of his shorts. This simple piece of twine touched my heart as it reminded me of how resourceful and practical his generation is—those who grew up in the Depression—so different from the obscene consumerism of subsequent generations.
For a few minutes I was transfixed as I watched this stooped gentleman pick three ears of corn and place them in his vinyl shopping bag. An Asian woman standing nearby helped him dig through the bin to find some nice ones. All of a sudden I found myself contemplating his entire back story in my imagination. Where did he live? Did he live alone? Did he drive himself here? Did he walk, pushing his hand truck? How does he manage in winter? Particularly in a large city it’s so easy for these vulnerable people to be forgotten.
Because he was buying groceries, he obviously does not live in an assisted living facility. Perhaps he lives in a nearby apartment or maybe he’s still living in the same little bungalow he bought in the 1950s and is unwilling to leave. Does he have children? Do they visit him and help him out? Is his wife still alive or did she pass a few years ago? Is he lonely? Does he need help? So many questions swirled around in my head for the few minutes I observed him.
I found myself thinking of my own father who is 92 and lives in the most wonderful assisted living residence I could imagine. He’s happy, healthy, well taken care of, still drives and is mentally as sharp as ever. His residence overlooks the Trent Canal in front and Ranney Falls on the Trent River behind the building. It’s an idyllic environment and he’s surrounded by kind, caring people and fellow residents he’s known for decades.
My dilemma concerns my judgement of the elderly man in the grocery store. My initial reaction to seeing this man was sadness. I found myself wishing he could be living carefree in a residence like my father’s. Then, he wouldn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning or even getting his clothes mended. But perhaps I’m wrong to cast judgement. Maybe he’s living the life he chooses, independent and busy with the simple rituals and routines of daily life. Perhaps my concern is misplaced and he’s happily living his best life. I wonder if and how my husband I will be coping when we’re in our nineties—which isn’t that far off anymore, and if we make it that far. Once again I found myself casting judgement on someone I knew nothing about, however, sympathetic my intentions. I’m still thinking about him, days later. I can’t get him out of my mind, wondering how he’s doing. Is he OK? Are they all OK?