Post-Retirement Work: Finding the Right Balance

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged (other than once about the election when I couldn’t help myself). The past few months have been extremely busy and, in hindsight, another period of adjustment. I haven’t felt much like writing, so I decided to simply take a break and not force myself.

After we returned from a busy summer of traveling, I went back to work (sort of) in October. I realized that we don’t have the money or inclination to travel constantly, and, when we’re home for long stretches, I often get bored. Last spring, I devoted substantial time to the non-profit organization that I co-founded, Alive and Well Women, helping to get our business infrastructure up and running. I appreciated being back in a work environment, using my skills, and even collecting a modest paycheck.

Besides an education in the non-profit world, my stint at Alive and Well Women was a good learning experience in other ways, as I discovered:

  1. The limits of how much and when I want to work (about 10-15 hours a week, and only in the afternoons so I can exercise in the morning); and
  2. My ideal arrangement is one where I can easily take off to travel and not be responsible for things while I’m gone (I don’t mind the occasional email or question, but I spent far too much time in my former career thinking about work and checking my old BlackBerry while on vacation); and
  3. If I provide services of more than a few hours a week to an organization, I want to be compensated fairly.

In other words, I want to be mindful about how I spend my time in retirement. I don’t NEED to work, so any part-time employment should be rewarding and enjoyable and not detract from the activities that I love. I certainly don’t want to find myself back on the proverbial work treadmill.

So, also last spring, I began discussions with a friend from church about potentially doing contract work for the organization she runs. Her company provides accounting and human resource support for non-profit organizations, and my background seemed like a good fit. After a couple of conversations, her proposal was ideal – I will simply let her know when I am home and available for work, and, if they have projects for me, I will be paid on an hourly basis. We agreed on compensation that was fair (more than Alive and Well Women could afford but less than I made pre-retirement – which is the price I pay for flexibility).  When I told her my first availability wouldn’t be until October, she didn’t bat an eye!

Fast forward to October, when I showed up for my first day of work. I was fighting an internal battle, part of me excited, part of me worried I might hate working again. Part of me wanted to be as accommodating as possible (since that’s how I was conditioned as a consultant for 25 years) and part of me wanted to set very strict boundaries so as not to disrupt my lifestyle. In the end, I decided to strike a balance. I emphatically announced on my very first day that I preferred working afternoons only, and that, for this initial trial period, I was available through the week before Thanksgiving, and then not again until after the holidays (i.e., January), and that I would not be accessible in the interim. I confess I held my breath for a moment, since being so unbendable in a professional setting is totally foreign to me. To my relief, without skipping a beat, they graciously agreed to my conditions.  In return, I made myself available every afternoon as needed, giving work projects priority over personal matters.workplace-clipart

For this first foray, I decided to set firm limits for several reasons. First, to give myself (and the organization) an easy out at the end of the initial period if it wasn’t working for either of us. Second, I wanted to clearly set expectations that I would not assume on-going responsibility for projects when I’m gone (see #2 in list above). The last thing I want is a full-time job in any shape or form, and I really need to turn off the switch and do other things in between work periods.

Given my unusual situation and extensive list of demands, I was curious how this grand experiment would work out. I was given two projects, one internal and one for a client. I was able to do much of the work from home, but I was project manager for the internal assignment, which required two or three in-person team meetings a week at the office (about a 15-minute drive from home).   This proved to be a nice balance, as my time in the office gave me the opportunity to get to know the staff and enjoy some office camaraderie, while working at home afforded me both flexibility and distraction-free efficiency.focusgroup20

All in all, from my standpoint, this first round was a big success. I learned a lot from work that was challenging and gratifying. Observing the strong, assertive, yet compassionate, leadership style of my friend has been an unexpected treat. The team is very competent, incredibly nice and motivated, and the clients being supported are non-profits and faith-based organizations doing great work in the world. And, of course, the extra money in my bank account has been icing on the cake.

When I left the office on the Friday before Thanksgiving, having handed off my projects before I left, my friend (and new boss) expressed enthusiastic satisfaction with the work I completed and optimism that we could continue to find opportunities to work together. In the two weeks since, they have respected my boundary and nobody has dared contact me (even though it was a running joke in the office that they had my cellphone and weren’t afraid to use it).

Now, the downside of working is that it leaves less time and energy for other things, such as lunch dates with my husband or friends, trip planning, blogging, or doing nothing. I suspect that it will be important, in the future, to schedule non-travel/non-work blocks to give myself down time at home.

I’ve learned that retirement, like the rest of life, is a journey of self-discovery. I am continually striving for the right balance of work and rest, service and enjoyment. I am grateful for partners along the way, from my Alive and Well Women co-founder, who has been ever patient and flexible and supportive as I navigate my way through an uncharted sea of ever-changing priorities, to my friend (and new employer) who has been so accommodating and encouraging.  Most of all, I’m learning, no matter how old I am, to never stop growing!

Only in Vegas, Baby

My husband and I just returned from a whirlwind two-night trip to Las Vegas. In my corporate days, I traveled there frequently,  but this had to be my most Vegas-y experience ever.

I know they say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but, since I’m basically an open book I’ll reveal what happened. I got a “free” Vegas trip. The “free” trip required attendance at a Mandatory Presentation. We dined at two fabulous restaurants, scored front-row seats at Cirque du Soleil and tickets to Celine Dion at Caesars Palace.  We bought a time-share for a day.  And we were barely two days in Vegas.

And now the full story.   My good friend Lakita called a couple months ago to offer me a “free” Las Vegas vacation that she couldn’t use. I had just been thinking about a Vegas trip, so I saw this as an omen. When I called “Ryan” (as directed by Lakita) to schedule my “free” trip, he demanded a refundable $200 credit card deposit and said we’d be required to attend a 90-minute sales presentation to receive our free gifts and our $200 back. I  almost hung up on Ryan at least four times, but he kept adding more freebies, including meals and shows. When I finally agreed to the deal and then broke the news to my husband (who hates sales pitches), a pained look came over his face, and he unconvincingly said he thought it would all be fine and we wouldn’t get swindled. Our agreed strategy was to say no to whatever they tried to sell us, and hope they didn’t separate and lock us in windowless rooms or clean out our bank account.

There's no place like Vegas!

There’s no place like Vegas!

Fast forward to Monday, when we arrived in Las Vegas. Our “free” hotel was adequate but certainly not posh and miles from the Strip. We walked to the discount ticket booth and picked up two half-price tickets to Mystere.  Prior to the show, we enjoyed a magical sunset dinner at Bouchon, a Thomas Keller restaurant (chef of French Laundry in Napa Valley) on a rooftop patio at the Venetian by a fountain. At the show, we were upgraded to middle orchestra seats.  Acrobats were flying overhead, and we could almost touch the performers. What a wonderful, fun night. Boy, was our trip off to an excellent start!

On Tuesday morning, we arrived promptly for our Mandatory Presentation in Just Say No mode and quickly discovered the sale items were time-shares. My husband won the fun group credit card bingo game and received ANOTHER dinner gift card. Then Jeff, the head sales guy, showed slides of all the fantastic properties we would own and spoke movingly of how our lives would be enriched by the program. Then we moved to a table with our assigned sales guy, Norm, who started the conversation by telling us about his late wife who died from cancer and the son he had to raise singly, and how he recently moved to Vegas to care for his aged mother. After which he hit us with time-share numbers and dollars and figures. Jeff came back and earnestly answered our questions. I could now hear the Sirens’ Song – time-share ownership WOULD be perfect AND a good deal with all the money we’d save on hotels – but I knew I had to stay strong and disciplined. Then they left my husband and me alone to talk it over.

My husband, one of the most skeptical people I know, looked at me very sincerely, and said that he thought a time-share would be great for us. That it would give us exciting new travel opportunities and a structure through which we could make great time-share memories together. I found this somewhat preposterous but I have never loved my husband more than I did at that moment. So the two of us, three graduate degrees between us, impulsively agreed to buy a time-share. After we signed all the papers (finishing at about the three hours mark) they took our picture, had us spin a roulette wheel and gave us another $100 VISA gift certificate prize, while everybody cheered.

How did this happen? We never had the slightest interest in buying a time-share; we always research the heck out of everything we buy, and we never make spur-of-the-moment major financial decisions. It can only be that we drank the Vegas Kool-Aid. A party atmosphere with balloons and music from our youth (designed to evoke warm feelings of family vacations?) combined with the lure of a great deal and a total play on emotions. I’m pretty sure Jeff made up most of his stories about how time-shares saved marriages and families and I’m doubtful that Norm even has a mother in Las Vegas.

When I later pulled out the freebies we received for attending the Mandatory Presentation, I discovered that the “free” $200 dinner was instead a couple of restaurant.com cards that are redeemable only at limited cheapo places, and the “free” show tickets were random two-for-one coupons for completely unappealing shows. So we headed back to the discount ticket booth and found low-priced tickets to a Celine concert (hoping to get upgraded again) and used most of our $200 refund to cover the cost.

Before the show, we used the rest of our $200 refund and our $100 VISA gift certificate on Delmonico’s, another great restaurant in the Venetian, and I was rolling on a gift card high. Another great evening!

Celine Dion, from our nosebleed seats in the Coliseum at Caesar's Palace. It was still fantastic!

Celine Dion, from our nosebleed seats in the Coliseum at Caesar’s Palace. It was still fantastic!

However, while waiting for Celine to come on, I Googled time-shares and the company we now co-owned, and I wasn’t happy with some of what I found. I paused to enjoy a beautiful, passionate and poignant show (its was Celine’s first week back after her husband passed away). Later, I continued my due diligence back at the hotel, and found we had only five days to cancel under the contract. Based on some potential red flags we uncovered, our lack of adequate research, and our newfound Buyer’s Remorse, we decided to pull out, and I drafted a written cancellation notice to deliver the next day.

After a fairly sleepless night, we showed up at the time-share sales office, and they seemed to know exactly why we were there. We were quickly ushered into an office with Jeff, who irritably and rather half-heartedly tried to talk us out of cancelling. He soon realized our minds were set and he was not nearly as nice as he’d been the previous day. He even asked us to return the $100 VISA GIFT card. Really?!

After a thankfully brief 10 minutes with Jeff, we were time-share divested and on our way home. We celebrated with a grand slam breakfast at Denny’s (since we were out of cash). But you know what? We had a blast in Vegas. The only real deal we got was a $15-dollar-a-night mediocre hotel, but it was all so, you know, Vegas. We sampled world-class food and wine, we saw two unforgettable shows, I used my legal training, we came home with a pocketful of discount cards. I learned a lot about time-shares, and we even owned one for a day.

Fifty-Seven and a Half

This week I turned fifty-seven and a half. When I was growing up, our family celebrated half-birthdays. The half-birthday honoree was allowed to pick his or her dinner of choice, and I always chose hot dogs and chocolate milk.

My half-birthday dinner of choice. A plain hot dog.

My half-birthday dinner of choice.
A plain hot dog.

The half-birthday celebration was particularly important to me, since my birthday is in early August, a terrible time for a kid in a Navy family.   We were almost always either in the process of moving to, or had just arrived, someplace new. In either case, my hopes for a fancy birthday party with friends, which is all I ever wanted (that, and a new Barbie), were constantly thwarted.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure my mother concocted the half-birthday tradition just for me, mainly to mitigate her guilt over my lack of fancy birthday parties with friends, knowing how gypped I felt. My brothers didn’t seem quite as taken with the half-birthday idea as I was. And the whole family made, in hindsight, a suspiciously over-enthusiastic celebration out of my half-birthday. I suspect they were all in cahoots with my mother, forced to be cheery under severe threat of retribution.

In any event, I enjoyed my half-birthday hot dogs, and to this day, I still keep half-birthdays on my calendar – my husband’s, my son’s, and mine. Not that we do anything special, but I still smile when I see a half-birthday on the calendar.

My half-birthday drink of choice. Milk with Bosco chocolate syrup.

My half-birthday drink of choice.
Milk with Bosco chocolate syrup.

Until this year. I looked at my calendar this week, and saw that I am now fifty-seven and a half. Holy you-know-what!   I am not only halfway between fifty-seven and fifty-eight, but I am halfway between fifty-five and SIXTY!

In my mind, fifty-five was cool. It meant I was eligible for early retirement, and still sounded relatively young. And what could be more hip than a financially independent, relatively young woman? I couldn’t wait to turn fifty-five! But now the years are flying by and I am swiftly approaching SIXTY. Try as I might, I doubt I’ll feel as snug about SIXTY as I did about fifty-five.

Coincidently, this week I read a post entitled The Old Woman I Want to Be on NotQuiteOld, a blog I enjoy following. Nancy Roman, the blogger, recently celebrated her sixty-fifth birthday, and reflects on the significance of this milestone and how she wants to live her remaining years. A sentiment in her post that particularly resonates with me is her fear of wasting time. She writes, “I want to make the most of whatever time I have left – and to enjoy that time. Maybe that still means television and shopping. But maybe not.”

I’ve increasingly noticed in myself that urgency to use my time wisely. This week, during an Ash Wednesday service, I unexpectedly decided to give up Facebook for Lent (and I’m not even Catholic), partly because I often find myself wasting time on it almost reflexively, and I want to make space for more intentional pursuits. (I’ll see if I can link this post to Facebook automatically so I don’t blow my vow on Day Two and enter the forbidden land!)

When I was young, time seemed to be an infinite commodity. I had endless new adventures and new stages of life to look forward to. Not so the older I get.   Today I have the health, resources and time to do almost anything I want. I worked hard all my life to get to this point and I want to squeeze as much as I can out of every day. I am acutely aware that this stage is finite and I want to take full advantage of it while it lasts. This outlook may partly stem from my fairly recent experience as the child in charge of care for both of my parents at the end of their lives. I saw how quickly their lives changed when their health declined.

The flip side of this urgency to live as if I were on leave from death row is that, taken to its extreme, it can be crazy making. Not every day or moment can, or should be, filled with ultra-significant moments or experiences. Left to my own devices, I can easily fill our calendar with terrific events every day of the week, in the process wearing myself out and driving my husband mad. As Nancy quotes John Lennon in her post, sometimes “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”   It all comes down to finding that right balance.

With that, I think that I will go waste some time and make myself a hot dog and some chocolate milk. Happy half-birthday to me!

My New Favorite Yoga Teacher

Remember when I lost my favorite yoga teacher Diane?  An Homage to Diane, or, Life Lessons I Learned from my Yoga Instructor And I thought (1) my life was, so to speak, over, or, (2) I’d never ever find anyone that I like as much?

Well, guess what? I found my new favorite yoga teacher Lucy. Conveniently for me, Lucy took over Diane’s Gentle Yoga classes at the YMCA, which were my favorites, and still are. Lucy is not Diane, and there are some things I still miss about Diane’s classes. But Lucy does other things I love that Diane didn’t do. And Diane’s lasting gift to me was teaching me how to adapt to any yoga class or teacher.

Whereas Diane was calm and soothing, Lucy is loud and bubbly and fun. Lucy starts each of her classes with a short theme or message. She shares an idea (like when we “open and close”) and how this concept applies in her life and how it can apply in ours and in our yoga practice.   She also works hard on that upper back area where, at my age, we are starting to round and stoop. When I’m in Downward Facing Dog, she comes by and presses down on that sweet spot on my back, where I’m rounding, and then squeals “Yeeeeeessss!” at my straight backbone and her joy is infectious.

One of my "happy places" is yoga classes at the YMCA

One of my “happy places” is yoga classes at the YMCA

I am grateful I have a new favorite yoga teacher Lucy in my life. But even more, this yoga teacher transition came in the midst of a personal gloomy bout and taught me (or I should say “reminded me” since I never seem to permanently learn anything) a few valuable lessons:

Change is hard. I completely understand that transitioning to a new yoga teacher is not exactly a hardship situation. But, it was a reminder that change is constant and sneaky and disruptive. Even when change is good, it is still change and can cause anxiety and discomfort. My recent accompanying mini-funk, I realized, was tied to yet more life adjustments (don’t we ever just reach our comfort zone and stay there for God’s sake?!). Because of some recent health issues, I was rudely and unfairly reminded that I could no longer engage in some physical activities like a twenty- or thirty-something. At the same time, our son is post-college, entering a new stage and one step further along his path toward adulthood and independence. Now, this is a good thing and exactly what we hope for as parents; but the outlook of reduced time with him rendered me melancholy. It helped to acknowledge that I was grieving over life changes, including my loss of Diane.

Be open to new people. During my first yoga class with Lucy, I immediately disliked her, only because she wasn’t Diane. But I kept going to her classes, and gradually started to appreciate the qualities Lucy brought to her teaching. It was Lucy, in fact, who helped me recognize and understand my gloom. Another day, when I was feeling inexplicably detached and pissy, Lucy talked about challenging ourselves to “go toward that which you are afraid of” in her opening comments. That caused me to examine the root of my discomfort and to identify my underlying fears and needs, rather than to simply withdraw or avoid the situations.   Lucy is not necessarily saying anything I haven’t heard before, but being open to, and hearing new voices or perspectives can be powerful.

Be open to new practices. Diane did more breathing and meditative exercises. I usually left her classes feeling like I’d just returned from two weeks in the Caribbean. Lucy talks, then goes right to business, which at first seriously irritated me. Lucy proudly calls herself a “Yoga Geek” and loves to explain the mechanics behind poses. She also uses the wall extensively to strengthen our positions. As I let go of my annoyance and started really listening to and embracing her teaching, I found my understanding of yoga and the goals of our movement increasing. I became more of a partner, rather than simply a follower, in the practice. As much as I valued Diane’s gentle teaching style, through Lucy, I have gained an added dimension to my yoga practice. Outside of yoga, I was inspired to incorporate some self-care practices, like journaling and dance, to my everyday routine.

The Sun Will Come Out Again. When I get too deep in my Black Hole of Despair (as I affectionately call it), it can become a self-sustaining condition. I can begin to only see a bleak future that may never end, through my personal gray-colored glasses. One day Lucy started our class with a confession that she was feeling blue, and she wasn’t sure why. I found her transparency empowering. She then reminded herself and us, that it is normal and okay to be downcast at times, and the important thing to remember is that the sun will shine again. In yoga, we approach our practice as self-care for those times of darkness. In life, we put one foot in front of the other and trust that things will get better. And, in my case, that was true, and in part I can thank my new favorite yoga teacher Lucy.

 

 

Move over, Venus and Serena! (Two older ladies are passing on the right)

There’s a new tennis doubles team in town. We’re either the new (or old) Venus and Serena, or a state-of-the-art Lucy and Ethel. Too soon to tell. Last week I started tennis lessons with my friend Patti. But after a 10+ year layoff, it’s clear tennis at age 57 is a whole ‘nother game. And it sure ain’t yoga. One session in, I already have tennis elbow. And until yesterday, every muscle in my body hurt. I even discovered one on the bottom of my foot (I’ve never noticed before) that aches.

It all started a few weeks ago, when Patti called to ask if I would take tennis lessons with her. She was looking for an activity to add to her fitness regimen and decided tennis would be a good choice. She and I were both decent players (and good athletes) when we were younger, so we assumed it would be a fun and (relatively) easy sport to pick up again. We brashly began calling ourselves Serena and Venus, and discussed our future doubles championship career.

To start, we settled on a weekly drop-in hour-long group tennis clinic at the local tennis club with Martin, the dashing Argentine instructor my son had when he was younger. We were told that a maximum of eight people were allowed each session, with usually four or five “chill” women about our age showing up. (As I recalled, Martin attracted mostly women to his classes, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)

Our first day was exhausting. And that was just finding shoes. Patti and I set off around ten last Tuesday morning for DSW and almost immediately found the perfect shoes.   They were cute, super comfy and matching (hers in blue and mine in black). We giddily took photos together and were all set for our purchases when one of us thought to ask whether the shoes, besides looking good, were actually made for tennis. No, our perfect shoes were “cross-trainers” which (1) did not provide the right ankle support (important at our age), and (2) would make marks on the tennis court (possibly getting us thrown out at the club). OK, fine.

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren't made for tennis

Our perfect tennis shoes that unfortunately weren’t made for tennis

Thus began our grand search for the perfect tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoe. After multiple phone calls, Google searches, two trips to the tennis club and one to Sports Chalet, we each found a comfortable pair of tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoes that were not nearly as adorbs as our DSW shoes.

Our two trips to the club also reminded us of the need for chic tennis clothes (especially knowing the population likely to show up at Martin’s classes). Wanting to look good while not wanting to spend a fortune, we headed to Marshall’s and found some cute, low-cost, little tennis skirts and tops.   We finally stopped for lunch at two.

The day of our first lesson, Thursday at 10 AM, fourteen people showed up. Martin apologized, explaining that it was a freak occurrence and the eight-person maximum would henceforth be strictly enforced. Thank God, I thought, I don’t want to share court time with all these people.

Martin opened with drills. We lined up and returned balls (forehand and backhand) to Martin, who was furiously hitting them at us. We then ran through obstacles on the sidelines and back and forth between opposite sides of the court. I was irrationally ecstatic to be back on the court and I threw myself into the drills with reckless abandon. I hit! I ran! I dove! When I found myself noticeably pooped, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10. Dear Lord, I still had 50 minutes to go. I then said a silent prayer of gratitude for the twelve other people who showed up, giving me longer to rest between shots.

Our first group competition was “Around the World” which involved hitting the ball inbounds and then running as fast as possible to the other side of the court. I actually won that competition, beating an 8-year-old kid in the finals. But that only fueled my delusional self-perception of youthfulness and invincibility.

We ended with some doubles drills, where Patti and I were partners. There was a competitive element (which always spurs me to stupidity) whereby victorious teams were dubbed “queens” or “kings” until knocked off their throne by another team. Fresh off my earlier “Around the World” victory, I took it upon myself to return a shot extremely well hit down the line on my side of the court. My immediate mental calculation had me easily reaching and returning the ball, thereby keeping our royal hopes alive. I lunged for the ball, suddenly realizing my body was not moving in sync with my brain or my calculations, and next thing I knew, my legs buckled and I went down in a heap, the most spectacular wipe-out of the class.   Fortunately, my only injury was to my ego (although I suspect Martin was secretly impressed with my hustle).

The next morning, Patti (who is older than I am, I should add) called to chat about our tennis lesson and what a blast it was. She said she was tired after class, but was not particularly sore. We talked about our lesson next week, and potentially adding some additional practice sessions.

What I didn’t tell Patti was that I was still in bed when she called, and that I could barely move. My right elbow was throbbing, and the thought of playing tennis again made my brain hurt.

Luckily, a few days later, my body has recovered. I returned to Sports Chalet and bought an elbow brace for my arm. And I think I learned a few lessons (other than tennis) last week:

I’m not twenty anymore (or thirty or forty, for that matter). I need to take things a little slower. I don’t need to win all the competitions. Diving for balls and running all out, all the time, is no longer in my best interests. In fact, it’s pretty senseless.

Warm up first. We sat there on the bench waiting for the class before us and then dove right in before warming up. I have thirty sore muscles to prove it.

Watch my form. My dad was my first tennis instructor, and he was a stickler for good form. I’m sure he was turning over in his grave last Thursday watching me make weird awkward shots with no attention to proper form and motion. I’m sure that’s one reason my elbow is already hurting, as sound practice and motion not only enhances my game but puts less stress on my body.

Have fun. In spite of all the follow-up pain, it was a joy getting back on the court. I’m hoping that, with some age-related adjustments to my game (cough, cough), I can continue to play for years to come, (my dad played into his eighties) and that Patti and I will be more Venus and Serena than Lucy and Ethel.

The Best Trip Ever

Whenever someone asks me which was my favorite retirement trip so far, my answer is usually “The last one!” But, I have to say, with all due sincerity, this last trip may have really really truly been the Best. Trip. Ever.

Looking back, one of my stated goals, in my quest to be ‘Alive and Well’ in retirement, was to “discover rewarding activities that feed me physically, spiritually and emotionally.” In part, to pursue joy and beauty in my world.

In thinking about our last adventure, a road trip from the Pacific Northwest (Washington state) down the Pacific coast to California, there were so many elements that I’m recognizing are the building blocks (for me) of pure happiness:

Travel Bliss. Many urged me to find something my husband and I would enjoy doing together in retirement. We don’t have many common hobbies (other than our son, who technically shouldn’t be labeled a hobby) so we’ve experimented with a few of the obvious things, like hiking, biking, golf and tennis, with some success, but none of them a home run. Our “thing” seems to be travel, especially driving trips.  Some have marveled that we can be cooped up together in a car for weeks at a time, not only without killing each other, but actually enjoying ourselves. A very odd and magical thing happens on the road, and we actually seem more compatible. We have a sense of freedom when away from the responsibilities (and the unfinished projects) of home, we enjoy similar sights and activities, and we work well together as a team. With each trip, we fine-tune our processes (preparation, packing, etc.) so our travel has progressively become more fun and less stressful. On our last trip, I was particularly struck by a profound sense of joy and gratitude to have a partner, in my husband, with whom I can experience these great adventures.

Girl Time. An added bonus was that this trip started with girlfriends. I initially left home with two female friends on a two-day road trip (see my previous blog The Girls Road Trip), then spent the weekend in Sunriver, Oregon with four girlfriends. After the weekend, my husband drove up to join me. First of all, this set-up was brilliant in that I avoided the whole joint packing and departure step – by far The Most Stressful part of any trip with my husband. But more importantly, our girls weekend was pure joy and beauty in itself. Beyond the beautiful location, shopping, cupcakes, giggling, and super fun activities (like canoeing down a river á la Lewis and Clark), there was something restorative, which blessed me deeply, in being with close female friends for an extended time.

Connection with Friends. After the girls weekend, most left, one stayed, and my husband and her husband joined us for a few days. We had not previously spent extended time together as couples, but we had a delightful time getting acquainted and playing together as twosomes. We rode tandem bikes, frolicked in the pool and water slides, went for ice cream, and generally enjoyed an extended, enchanted old-fashioned double date. On our next stop, we had lunch in Portland with a college sorority sister I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years. In Seattle, we were treated to a lovely dinner with three of my favorite former work colleagues and spouses (at the charming Bainbridge Island home of one of them). The next day, we traveled via car and two ferries to a fairly remote location in Washington to visit a good friend who previously lived around the corner but moved a few years ago. We spent the afternoon touring her new town and savored a fresh salmon dinner together. Rekindling long-lost or neglected friendships or spending time and deepening bonds with current friends, has proven to be one of the best parts of retirement. I’ve met a few new friends, but I have mostly cherished the opportunity to spend more time with the people I already know and love. I generally only spend time now with the people that I want to. What a marvelously liberating realization that was!

Family Time. Our first stop after Sunriver was a 3-night visit with our niece and her family in southern Washington at their new house. Our two adorable little grandnephews had grown leaps and bounds since we last saw them in May. I played as much as I could with the boys (until they wore me out), and we had great unhurried conversations with our niece and her husband. Finally, our last stop before heading home was a night with my sister-in-law in the Bay Area. She and her husband are preparing to sell their house, which was the site of many family gatherings and weddings, and we enjoyed reminiscing. Time to visit with family across the country has been another unexpected blessing of retirement. Since we are essentially on our own (as far as family is concerned) where we live, the more frequent contact with family has been precious.

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

This was the view from our breakfast table at the Lake Crescent Lodge in Washington

Breathtaking Scenery. On top of everything else, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest was arguably the most beautiful of any of our trips. At times I was stunned by God’s creation so spectacularly laid before me. We took scenic ferry rides; saw rain forests, waterfalls and redwood forests. We stayed in historic national park service lodges. We saw a long list of wildlife – gray whales, seals, seal lions, sea otters, sea elephants, elk, deer, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, fox, bobcat, bear. We went for long hikes through forests and walks through picturesque small towns. A refinement that worked well was to plan shorter daily drives with plenty of time for active stops (walking, hiking and physical activity). On previous trips, we’ve found that long unbroken stretches in the car not only wreak havoc on us physically, but also inhibit us from truly experiencing the land we are touring.

To summarize:

Travel Bliss + Girl Time + Connection with Friends + Family Time + Breathtaking Scenery = Best.Trip.Ever.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THAT?   Just ask me after our next trip.

The Girls Road Trip

I love road trips. I’ve been on many with my husband and have become quite accustomed to the drill. I recently completed a two-day 800-mile road trip with a couple of female friends.  I knew almost immediately it was going to be a horse of a different color. We barely made it 80 miles when someone needed a bathroom break, we stopped at an outlet mall, and, three hours and untold dollars later, we were finally back on the road.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following on boarding and loading.

The start of our Girls Road Trip. All smiles following expedited  loading/onboarding process.

The dissimilarities between husband road trips and girls road trips were striking and amusing. If I were a sociologist, I might explain the cultural, biological and psychological reasons. But I’m not, so instead, I’ll present my, cheeky, light-hearted, and completely non-scientific compare-and-contrast observations.

 

Husband Road Trip Girls Road Trip
Preparation Required Extensive. I prepare detailed itinerary, with destinations, stops and activities; then submit to husband for navigational planning.  I must be ever ready to respond to random “where, when and how” questions (which means committing said itinerary to memory). Minimal. As long as we know where we are headed and what day we get there, we’re good.
Ease of Departure Low. Actual departure typically 2+ hours after estimated time; follows a stressful and complex on-boarding and loading process. Mood out of gate typically tense. High. Actual departure time same as estimate, onboarding process a snap, all in good spirits on embarkment.
Driver open to passenger instructions Minimal. Unless collision with incoming vehicle is imminent, better to keep suggestions to myself Maximum. Driving considered group activity with suggestions (“look a gas station!” “hey, there’s where we turn”) appreciated
Permissible stops Minimal. Mainly to eat or pee (but only if medically necessary) or other planned stops. Maximum. Mainly to eat, pee, Starbucks or shop, but really anything goes.
Sight-seeing stops Usually outdoor or museums (preferably military, not art); NO shopping Usually indoor, maybe museums (preferably art); shopping always
Likelihood of making planned stops Very high. If stops are programmed into itinerary, we will stop at each one, according to schedule.   Even if it kills us. One of the benefits of doing the planning is that we go where I want to go. Mixed. Depends on what “group” wants to do. High likelihood planned stops ditched in favor of shopping. Even if it kills us.
Activities enroute Listening (and singing to) loud music or “can’t miss” sporting events, talking when necessary Talking constantly, with occasional breaks for audiobooks or podcasts
Potential Conflicts A big game (e.g., Navy, 49ers, or Giants) may take precedent over planned activity. (Or I tour while husband listens to game.) Frequent calls from husbands, kids (usually daughters) given high priority and may cause stops or detours.
Syncing with time estimates Usually make up for late start with aggressive driving and total ban on stops. Somehow complete trip within 30 minutes of time estimate What time estimate?
Number of GPS devices used on board At least four – car GPS, Garmin and two iPhones. Oh, and a radar detector. Just one iPhone.   (We don’t know how the car GPS works and no one brought their Garmin)
Overall trip satisfaction High. I get to see lots of things and spend time with my husband. High. I may or may not see much, but I get to shop, talk, and spend time with my girlfriends.

 

Alive and Well Women: Our First Grant!

This week we were notified that our first grant proposal was approved! It was an exciting and encouraging day for Alive and Well Women (and me!). I called my friend and co-founder, Cissy, to squeal and celebrate together in joy on the phone. Another big step for us!

I was particularly thrilled that the grant was from The Sister Fund, a private foundation whose mission is to fund women’s social, economic, political and spiritual empowerment. The founder of The Sister Fund is Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., who authored Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, a book I recently read and which inspired me greatly.

In the preamble to her book (Gloria Steinem also wrote a lovely introduction), Helen writes, “The search for connection to our wholeness is the overarching theme of this book and of my life…To me there is no separation between faith and feminism. But many feminists have an ardent mistrust of religion, and many women of faith have a strong aversion to feminism…. I began to feel that we need a broader discussion of the vital connection between religious conviction and social action, the alliance between faith and feminism.”

Faith and Feminism explores the roots of the early feminist movement, led by abolitionist feminists of the nineteenth century, whose activism was fueled by their deep faith in God. The book profiles five women, from different centuries and different cultures, but whose “religious and spiritual lives were indivisible from their public achievements.” Through these women’s stories, Helen explores five stages of the “journey to wholeness” – pain, shadow, voice, action, and community. This is a useful framework to consider not only our individual journeys, but also for feminism as a social movement.

I look forward to exploring the issues raised in this book in more detail

I look forward to exploring the issues raised in this book in more detail

In my own life, I am two years into early retirement after a 25-year corporate career as a lawyer and partner with a national employee benefits consulting firm.  I was involved in the leadership of our firm’s Women’s Network, which was designed to help women steer through the pitfalls of a very traditional male-dominated work culture.  I am also a Christian, and in recent years have been involved in the leadership of our local church. Since I retired, I co-founded and was elected Chair of the Board of Alive and Well Women.  Our mission is to help women navigate toxic cultural messages about health, beauty and sexuality so they can thrive amongst the multiple stages of the female life cycle. We support women’s wholeness and empowerment through workshops, classes and programs.

Faith and Feminism gave words to my dual experience of feeling awkward sharing my religious self with many female friends from my corporate working career, while also feeling reticent around church friends due to (what I assumed to be) my too-liberal views on certain social issues.  I often felt straddled between two worlds. Then there is the issue of learning when and where to give voice to my beliefs and opinions – at work, at church, and even with my family (such as my husband who often has different political and social perspectives than I).  Too often, as women, we are taught to be polite, to compromise, to keep the peace, to work toward consensus, frequently to our own detriment or contrary to our true selves. When faced with the inevitable big, loud people who oppose or even threaten our beliefs, when is it appropriate to stay silent, to go quietly around, or to confront?  In the spirit of civility and servanthood, I too often keep my mouth shut and am not completely genuine with others.  In Faith and Feminism, I was above all inspired by the stories of Sojourner Truth and Lucretia Mott, who found their voices, and took action based on their core beliefs.

The book further opened my heart and mind to women’s empowerment, in general, and finding our true voices, in particular, as part of the journey toward wholeness.  I look forward to unpacking these topics in more depth through this blog and to potentially incorporating those themes into our Alive and Well programs. I do feel a passion for helping myself and other women explore ways to heal the rift between faith and feminism and to find our voices and take action. I am excited for the journey!

An Homage to Diane, or, Life Lessons I Learned from my Yoga Instructor

Diane is my favorite yoga instructor at the YMCA. She’s been teaching yoga there for over 20 years; I’ve had the good fortune of taking her classes the past two. Last week she announced she’s rolling up her mat and will no longer be teaching. I sniffled all the way home. At my final Gentle Yoga class with her last Wednesday, during savasana, she played “It’s a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and I bawled like a baby into my towel. Why the sadness?

Gentle Yoga classes with Diane have been my refuge, my Happy Place, these past two years. I have come to love yoga, but it was Diane who instilled that love. She taught me yoga, and so much more. For someone I barely know on a personal level, she became an immensely important part of my life.

As I consider my ‘Alive and Well’ journey, yoga has been a key. It has become an essential part of me. When I think about it, I find this somewhat laughable, almost shocking. I am tall, inflexible (I can’t even touch my toes without seriously bending my knees), fairly uncoordinated (a Pilates instructor at the Y once studied my back up-close, thinking I had a serious curvature of the spine, only to conclude that I “just have no sense of where my body is moving”), I don’t much care for pain, and it is almost impossible for me to be quiet and calm my thoughts for any significant period of time. I tried yoga once years ago and was so turned off that I never went back.

But after I retired, I decided to try Gentle Yoga, thinking maybe I could gradually work myself up to “Big Girl” Yoga. My first 90-minute class with Diane flew by (the worst part was when she turned on the lights at the end while I was blissfully laying in corpse pose and suggested we get up and leave) and I felt both energized and relaxed  –  like I’d just returned from a two-week beach paradise vacation somewhere. Two years later, I still don’t do the regular yoga class (the one day I tried, they were all doing headstands) and I’m not much more flexible, but I have experienced profound benefits.

Gentle Yoga, my "Happy Place"

Gentle Yoga, my “Happy Place”

So, what exactly are the life lessons I learned from yoga with Diane?

1) That I can do yoga! And more! This may sound silly, but for someone like me who sits frozen at a 90-degree angle, watching in horror as the limber ones effortlessly dip their “third eyes” (foreheads) to the ground, yoga can feel like it’s just not my thing. “Nonsense!” said Diane. She taught me that I could do my own practice, at my own speed and at my own level.   She showed me modifications, and use of props (blankets, blocks, weights, straps) to help me with the poses. The very first day I showed up at her class, Diane asked me my name, and from then on, I’d hear “Good, Betsy!” or “Don’t go so low, Betsy” or “Try it with the blocks, Betsy.” Her personal encouragement made me believe in myself and kept me coming back. And learning to do yoga on my own terms gave me tremendous confidence to try other things on my own terms. Just because I am not naturally gifted at something doesn’t mean I can’t learn to do it, and enjoy it, even though I may not do it like anyone else. I now look, unashamed,  for the “props” and “modifications” in life that will make tasks attainable to me. And I saw and learned the tremendous power of encouragement.

2) How to listen to my own body. Diane would model poses and suggest modifications, but she would also stress that I am the one who knows my own body best. It was always okay to come out of a pose early, stay in a pose longer, or not do the pose at all.   I began to listen to my body and know when I could push myself while also understanding my limits. After years of exercise regimens (jogging, aerobics, biking, hiking, tennis) where “powering through” was a central premise, learning to listen and be kind to myself was liberating. I am learning to apply this to other areas of my life – to stop and listen to signs of fatigue, unhappiness, stress, joy and contentment. I am finding that my body sends signals that I often ignore or overlook but which are important windows into my wellbeing. I find I now know earlier when something is not right with me. Listening is an important step in reaching a state of wholeness and unity between body and soul.

3) The connectedness of body, mind and soul. Diane started our classes with a good twenty minutes of breathing and meditation exercises (“pranayama”). She would dab eucalyptus oil on our wrists to help us follow our breath. At first, my mind would wander relentlessly, but over time, with Diane’s soothing voice and gentle urgings, I learned to focus on my breathing and clear my head. She explained the concept of the “chakras” which in yoga refers to wheels of energy throughout the body. There are seven main chakras, which align the spine, starting from the base of the spine through to the crown of the head. She described the energy coming from each. For example, our crown chakra is our ego, our third eye chakra is wisdom and our heart chakra is love. As we practiced pranayama we would focus on each chakra, seeking awareness of issues that arose. This was a helpful structure for me to experience the link between body, mind and soul. I have found my prayer life enriched, and I can more easily sit in contemplative silence, open to the stirrings that result. And when I am troubled, anxious or sleepless, I have my breathing and meditation exercises for relief.

4) The wisdom of Diane. During our yoga practice, Diane invariably threw out random bits of wisdom. It was uncanny how often those bits were like God’s truth to my ears. She talked about letting go of ego, about finding wisdom and creativity, about concentrating on the important and letting go of the rest. And then, during savasana (final relaxation) she would come around to each of us, dab fragrant oil on the neck and do a pectoral release, gently pushing the shoulders down and then releasing, ending with an outward sweeping motion (signifying the sweeping away of negative emotions). I left each class feeling like a re-filled water can, ready to go out and sprinkle the earth!

I am sorry to lose Diane, but I am grateful that she opened my heart and eyes to yoga and guided me these past two years. Even if I don’t find another teacher I like as much, her lasting gift is leaving me equipped to navigate a class with someone else, knowing I can do the class on my own terms. And who knows, someday you may find me doing headstands in Big Girl’s Yoga!

Finding your Rookie Groove….at any age!

Is it possible that we are at our best when we know the least? That is the question posed by Liz Wiseman in her book “Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.”

I recently had the privilege of hearing Liz speak at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. As she spoke, I couldn’t help thinking that my life this past month has been a case study in what she terms “Rookie Smarts” (how we tend to think and act when we are mindful that we are doing something for the first time). And apparently, I am never too old to be a “Rookie.”

On August 1, I officially began my new “job” as part-time grant-writer for Alive and Well Women. On paper, I am completely unqualified for the role. I helped write one grant proposal in July. Period. On my first day of “work” I went to a community college class to learn what a grant-writer does (which I thought might be helpful). It didn’t seem too hard….after all, I researched companies and wrote tons of responses to RFPs during my corporate career. How different can it be? And since the nonprofit world is presumably kinder and gentler, I figured raising, say, $400,000 by the end of the month seemed totally reasonable. Rookie mistake!

I quickly learned there is just as much research required in finding grant money as there is in finding corporate project money. The go-to database for searching foundation grants is a paid subscription service, but available for free at certain local libraries. No longer having the deep pockets of (or paychecks from) a Fortune 500 company, I trudged off to the closest library site, which is in a particularly rough neighborhood of Pasadena. After fumbling around for a couple hours on the computer terminal, I signed up for a free one-on-one with a librarian the following Friday.

My new "office" building in Pasadena.

My new office building in Pasadena, also known as the public library.

That Friday, I put on make-up and my best shorts and showed up for my appointment with Darrell at the library. He was a very kind, soft-spoken African-American gentleman who met me in the non-profit research center room, and who I was fairly certain would not care a whit about Alive and Well Women. I was itching to get started on the training, but instead of turning on the computer, he leaned back, looked at me, and asked, “What are you trying to do?” I explained I am co-founder of a nonprofit and need to learn how to use the Foundation database to find grant money. “OK, what is your nonprofit all about?” “What are your goals?” “Who is your target audience?” “How do you expect to accomplish your objectives?” “Do you have a functioning Board?” “Have you received 501(c)(3) status?” Before we ever looked at the computer, we had a 45-minute in-depth discussion about organizational planning, goals, resources, and mission. “The reason I’m asking you these questions is that I want to see how far along you are in your nonprofit, and how well you are able to articulate your vision.” To my utter astonishment, Darrell then shared his positive assessment and detailed thoughts about where he saw the need for Alive and Well Women, which was a stunning confirmation that he actually tracked with my rambling presentation.

It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I needed. By the time we finally turned on the computer, we were ready to effectively search for foundations that shared goals with Alive and Well Women. After we compiled a list of hundreds of foundations that were potential matches, Darrell gave me the homework assignment of going through each one of them to narrow the list. “Then I start calling them?” I asked. “Nope, then you do more research,” Darrell said, pointing to the volumes of resources in the shelves behind him.

Since then, I’ve spent countless hours poring over records of foundations, looking for grant limitations that would exclude them from my list, finding their stated mission and goals to see if they align with ours, and then reviewing their Form 990s for additional financial and grant information. The work is tedious and time-consuming, and I haven’t been as efficient as I’d like, and I already know I’d love to hire a intern to help someday, but I also know it is necessary for me to learn. It is almost the end of August, and I haven’t raised a dollar. But, I have become familiar with hundreds of foundations, whittled my list down to 10-15 strong matches, and assembled a good profile of each. In the process, I’ve gained a better sense of how to do research and where to find information. And in spite of my occasional frustration with the pace of progress (I must remind myself that I’ve only committed two afternoons a week – God continues to work with me on patience) I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

According to Liz Wiseman, it’s not what you know, but how fast you can learn. The Inexperienced benefit by being unencumbered by assumptions. We (I’m putting myself firmly in the Inexperienced column) solicit information by asking questions and seeking information. Rookies have a steep learning curve, and often don’t know how hard the work is at the outset. We move in baby steps at first. But rookies achieve quickly because we learn fast (we are desperate!) and are resourceful.   Liz says the learner’s advantage is that we tend to do our best thinking when our challenge level goes up. And, importantly, our satisfaction also goes up.

This past month took me back to various times in my life and career when I was new to jobs or projects or roles. It wasn’t always enjoyable, in fact often stressful, but there was also excitement and contentment in meeting the challenges. Although I don’t have the same level of risk or anxiety associated with being a “Rookie” in my current situation (I’m not worried about losing a job or salary) it is still a sharp learning curve. Liz Wiseman reminds us of the benefits of re-igniting our “Rookie Smarts,” even as leaders or at advanced stages of career or life.  She warns us that when we plateau – when things are smooth, we have all the answers, we get positive feedback, when we’re busy but bored – we start to die. On a learning curve we find the divine, the satisfaction, our greatest joy. We can and should strive to be Rookies…no matter our phase of life!

Notes to self:

  1. Look for opportunities to be a Rookie again.  Put yourself at the bottom of a learning curve. Volunteer for things you’ve never done before or look at things you’ve done before with Rookie eyes. Sometimes backward is the best way forward.
  2. Be open to unexpected mentors (like Darrell at the public library) and learn all you can from them.
  3. Be willing to mentor other Rookies when they need help.
  4. Be aware that Rookie Smart Mode can be stressful, but look at the anxiety as a sign of growth.
  5. Don’t be afraid to think like a Rookie in any situation!