Creative Aging Expert

January 2008

In This Issue

A Woodstock for Positive Aging

My mind is still spinning from the first ever Positive Aging Conference held in St. Petersburg, Florida, in December 2007. I followed the Life Planning Track, which held a full day pre-conference along with a series of sessions during the next two days. I have never met so many life coaches focused on older adults, or so many retired women actively involved in setting up transition groups for new retirees. It was awe-inspiring. There is a revolution happening. Retirees are not sitting around waiting to be served; they are starting new programs on their own and gathering other souls into the movement to get involved in life in myriad ways. Professionals in the field are coming together to share expertise and maximize the opportunity for a vital, fulfilling, and contributing third age. The next three items go into more detail about some of my learnings at this exciting and forward-looking conference.

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The Life Planning Network

The purpose of the Life Planning Network pre-conference was to stimulate cross fertilization, communication, and collaboration among professionals from around the country within the emerging field of third age life planning. The Network is on the leading edge of this burgeoning field. Over and gone is the old retirement planning that only addressed finances... The time is right for a national conversation that explores a holistic model, one that recognizes all aspects of people's lives and involves partnerships with professionals from diverse fields such as health care, financial and estate planning, housing, community social service, business, and the arts. The Network envisions a model that encompasses a broad spectrum of life planning services and resources that will best serve the pre-Boomer and leading-edge Boomer population. Their web site,, contains valuable information for professionals in the field as well as third-agers.

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Transition Network (TNN)

According to their annual report, "TNN was founded in 2000 by two women - Christine Millen, President, and Charlotte Frank, Vice President - who had held high-level positions in business and government. Even before retiring, the two had long been dismayed by the stereotypes of retirement. For Christine, the initial question was 'What will I do all day?' followed by, 'What will we all do with the rest of our lives?' Those questions touched a nerve. A whole generation of women - healthier, better educated, and more ambitious than any that had come before - was advancing toward retirement age. Like Christine, these women had always led active, productive, and satisfying lives.

"Charlotte was one of the leaders of that generation. For her, the post-50 years represented a new opportunity for women to put their energy and skills to good use. In so doing, they would remain productive, benefit society, and prove that age can be a period of regeneration rather than decline. The two women joined forces. Together, they set out to create a movement that would re-imagine retirement. Envisioning retirement as a series of transitions - a bridge from one career to another or from employment to volunteerism, acceptance to advocacy, or isolation to community - they called the new organization The Transition Network. Today the TNN concept of renewal and growth is embraced by 2,500 women, from 50 into their 80s, and has chapters in several American cities.

"Peer groups who meet once a month are the heart of the TNN experience. Run by and for members, these groups offer women the chance to connect on a whole new level. Although most peer groups focus on issues surrounding retirement, some are aimed at specific interests - such as books, health, starting a business, or volunteer projects." Find out more at

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Redefining Work

I attended a session by Jan Hively, Ph.D., who founded the Minnesota Vital Aging Network and is the co-founder of a new organization, SHIFT, "empowering midlife moves to meaning in life and work." In her presentation titled "The Role of Meaningful Work in Third Age Planning," she offered a fascinating and inspiring definition of work: "paid or unpaid productivity that benefits you and/or your family, and/or your employer, and/or your community."

She divided us into small groups to discuss a "work" experience we'd had recently that matched our passions and skills and expressed our values. Somewhat sheepishly, I choose to describe a recent Florida bike trip riding from Key Largo to Key West and back. It matched my passion for the outdoors with my bike touring skills. I was happily involved with the other 100 riders while swimming, bird watching, and sharing meals. At the end of each day, I felt physically tired but mentally satisfied. The trip gave me a great sense of freedom and renewed my spirit.

Filling a little guilty about my "work" example, I later shared it with Jan and inquired whether it would fit under her definition of work. She enthusiastically replied, "Yes!"

What I like about this definition is that it includes care giving, volunteering, parenting, learning, creative expression, and leisure activities that relax us and help us cope better with our world. Yes, all the many hours we put in for non-paid employment can be included. Jan put together an issue of Itineraries, an online journal published quarterly by Second Journey, focusing on meaningful work.

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Bike Trip Challenges Seniors

The oldest bike rider on the 250 mile bike ride in the Florida Keys was an 80-year-old man. The oldest female rider, at 76, was me! We got a standing ovation at the final banquet. Several retired people, many new to bicycle touring, were among the 100 cyclists pedaling from Key Largo to Key West and back. I particularly enjoyed speaking with two retired college teachers in their late 60s, new to biking. So what if they had to be take advantage of the sag wagon in order to get over the highest bridges, they were trying something different and enjoying the challenge.

An amusing aside: While snorkeling in Florida during the bike trip, I had trouble holding the mouthpiece tightly enough between my teeth (which aren't mine!). An older gentlemen snorkeling next to me informed me that they make special mouth pieces for people with false teeth. What next?

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Are You Radically Alive?

As I mentioned in my November newsletter, I was taken by the motto of Marian Van Eck McCain's Elderwoman's newsletter: "An e-zine for 21st century elderwomen committed to radical aliveness." I wrote her about wanting to use those words on my postcard and asked about their origin. Marian said the phrase came from a spiritual teacher, Richard Moss, who says, "When your mind is resting in the present you awaken to your fullest self - energetic, authentic, clear, spontaneous, and loving." She continues, "It is difficult to do, of course, and if I manage to achieve that state for five minutes in any one day I am lucky, but it has provided me with a life long spiritual practice." Now I know why those words drew me to them.

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Wondering What to Do with Ourselves

Second Journey sponsored a one-day seminar, Spirit, Service, and Community in the Second Half of Life as part of the Positive Aging Conference. I found this introduction, written by director Bolton Anthony, so interesting that I asked his permission to include it here.

"Retirement" is a relatively recent phenomenon. So, for that matter, is old age. In Barbara Kingsolver's best-selling novel, Prodigal Summer, Nannie Rawley - a feisty septuagenarian - bristles at criticism that she doesn't act "normal" for her age:

"There isn't any normal way to act 75 years old...people are supposed to be dead and buried at our age. That's normal. Up till just lately, the Civil War or something, they didn't even know about germs. If you got sick, they slapped leeches on you and measured you for a coffin."

Medical advances are the culprit according to Nannie. Along comes somebody inventing six thousand ways to cure everything, and here we are, old, wondering what to do with ourselves - not for the next 5 or 10 years - but for another 30 or 40, a veritable second half of life!"

The siren song of a "second childhood" is one response: immerse yourself in leisure and consumption. Live here, one "active adult community" promises and you'll feel like you are on vacation 365 days a year!" What an exhausting prospect!

If this response represents a regression to an earlier life stage, another response - what researchers John Rowe and Robert Kahn dub "successful Aging" - simply prolongs mid-life by maintaining its frenetic level of activity and engagement. It is as if you found yourself in a falling elevator and took poet Chuck Sullivan's advice to "jump up and down like crazy (hoping) with luck when it lands you'll be caught up in the air, alive and well."

But what if rather than maintaining or intensifying our engagement, we are actually called first to the kind of discernment that allows for deep reflection and soul-searching. Who am I NOW - after the children have left and the first half of work is winding down? Then after we have done that inner work - after we have, as Sue Monk Kidd writes, confronted "the lost and counterfeit places within us" and "come home to ourselves" - we will find ourselves opening again to a call to work in the world.

If these "six thousand ways to cure everything" have added years to our lives; the challenge now is to add life to those years. How?
  • by exploring new avenues for individual growth and spiritual deepening
  • by opening ourselves to new opportunities for an "Encore" career and meaningful work that speaks to our hearts desire and
  • by gathering about us companions for the journey and creating new celebratory models of community

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Make It Happen! PR Postcard

I have just mailed 600 colorful postcards with a picture showing the finish of my Appalachian Trail hike on Mt. Katahdin in Maine. It refers potential customers to my web site to view a six minute video filmed by Retirement Living TV. If you would like a postcard or know of people who might be hiring speakers who might like one, please e-mail with the addresses.

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