How to age well is quite the topic these days. One thing that’s often debated is whether one should live in a retirement community or not. This is so much a matter of personal preference. You can be happy and have good experiences anywhere (or not). The main thing is that you keep going and growing. In my coaching practice, I have many people over the age of 60. Let me share some of the things I’ve learned. Who you socialize with matters a lot at any time in life. A retirement community can give you commiseration for things – someone to talk with about Vietnam, and what’s wrong with the government, and what helps arthritis. More importantly, people who can share your frustration. Like going shopping and having to wade through 50 cheese choices instead of 3. People who, when the discussion turns to the fact that there may be social security in 20 years, remember the time before there was social security and know that life goes on – which is irritating for youngsters to hear. That sort of thing, and you should always keep people around who share your history.
However, this can be too much of a good thing. It is healthy at any time in life to associate with people who are very different from you–in age and in every other way. I coach emotional intelligence, I should add, and we’re talking here about things that research has shown help us age better. There’s the famous “new toys, new playmates” study with the mice. The ones who were given a steady supply of new and stimulating toys in their cages, and got to meet new little mice did a lot better. So if you live in a retirement community, be sure you get out of it quite often. You see, we cannot form new brain cells as we age, but we can form new neuronal connections, and to do this, we need new experiences. Take the analogy of marriage. It’s great to be in love and have a great spouse. However, to keep the relationship alive and interesting, you both need to go out and meet new people and do new things, and bring that back to the relationship. So wherever you choose to live, make sure you keep going – mentally, physically and emotionally. Learning something new is one of the best things you can do. I mean SO new that you’re totally lost. Where you can feel the brain working to try and get around it, and not really having anything to hang it on. I mean learning to play the violin when you are (or were) a physics professor. Or getting a job if you never worked outside the home. Or moving to a new place where you have to learn how to get around on the highways. If you’re reading this with a parent in mind, encourage this as well. Keep asking, “What’s new?”
One reason people grow through crises is because it’s something you can’t get your mind around. Some people, of course, do not GROW through a crisis, they just GET through it and then, sometimes, harden and grow brittle. Things are not going to adjust to YOU, you must adjust to THEM. You can learn resilience, By the way, it’s an emotional intelligence competency, as is the sort of frustration tolerance it takes to sit in the back of the classroom and know nothing at all. Now there’s a new experience for a senior! Best thing in the world. Also pay close attention to where you go for counsel. Whether it’s a coach, therapist, or clergy, don’t ever stick with someone who seems to have no ideas or enthusiasm for you and your life, or who doesn’t keep pushing you to your growing edge. You always have a growing edge, no matter how old you are. Unless you decide you don’t, in which case you are right! Check out Yvonne Dowlen, figure skating at the age of 80+: “If you don’t move,” she says, “you can’t move.” This applies to the mental and the emotional as well as the physical. This woman has real spirit. She had a car accident and her doctor told her to give up skating and she took that as a challenge. Good role models? Oh, there are the obvious ones, like Art Linkletter, James Brown, Jack Lalanne, Luciano Pavarotti and Colonel Sanders, but that’s like looking at movie stars. There are things we know about their lives, and things we don’t and they sort of live on another plane anyway.
Let me share with you some real life examples, some real life heroes. They’re the best kind. Names and a few details changed for confidentiality. Julie is 63. She tore a core muscle last year and had some bad months where she could hardly walk, but she was determined to get back to her – yes – rollerblading, and she is. She also became fluent in Russian and German in the past 5 years. Maureen lost her adult son when she was 60. This might crater a person, and who would blame them. Instead Maureen moved to a big city and got a job downtown, with a 4 hour commute in some of this nation’s worst traffic and in a new field. She says it’s keeping her young. Raymond, a retired math professor is 70 and his wife died last year. He is enthusiastically looking on the Internet sites and dating. He travels to one of his kids’ homes every month, and just got back from an Alaskan cruise – his 10th. Annie, 55, lost her husband 5 years ago and went into a shell. Well not with good coaching you don’t! With encouragement, she’s over her fibromyalgia, started playing tennis again and got back into her size 6s. She’s dating on the Internet and just bought a new home.
On my last river cruise to Russia was Amanda, 87 years old, on her own. She said she hadn’t had time to before then. She fell in Moscow, and got some bandages but she refused to even talk about it, just kept smiling. She said she was there to have a good time, and wanted the rest of us to. What a woman! After the 2-week cruise, she was staying over in St. Petersburg for 2 weeks at a hotel. Nancy is over 60 and speaks on cruises. Like many people of an age, she knows a lot and always has topics of interest. She stays current on the Internet. She pays a small per diem, and her companion travels free. This makes her very popular! No, she’s not a retired college professor, she’s just a dynamic and great speaker with the wealth of information one can have at this age. Edward, 85, was someone I trained to be a coach. Coaching is a great late-in-life profession because clients come to you and want your advice and listen to you, good clients that is. Edward said he felt wanted and needed and that his own kids wouldn’t listen to him, so this was fun! And BTW, he had to learn how to do a website. Not a problem to this guy! One last one, Peter the successful attorney, 60. He signed up for a film course and just made his first movie. It’s very artsy. “I needed that,” he said. 60 is the new 40, so 80 must be the new 60. Wherever you decide to live, keep yourself surrounded by the good old things, but be sure and give yourself a nice supply of new playmates, new experiences, and new toys.