Have a sense of purpose in your life. Having a sense of purpose gives your life meaning. Feeling that your life is meaningful is right up there with food and water as one of the most important things human beings need to exist. Purpose is about doing things that benefit others in some way. It can be little things or big things. The size of your efforts has nothing to do with the impact you are having.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Should Do to Optimize Your Wellness After Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marianne Oehser. Marianne is a retirement coach and consultant, author, speaker, and educator. She is a seasoned expert who focuses on assisting people to build happy, fulfilling lives in the “post-career” phase of their lives through her workshops, seminars, public speaking, and individual coaching. Her recently released book, Your Happiness Portfolio® for Retirement; It’s Not About the Money is about how to flourish in retirement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ihave retired twice. The first time was when I was 40 and my husband was 58. Our marriage did not survive my first retirement.
A few years after returning to the corporate world, I met my wonderful husband, Bill. I have to admit that I was a bit gun-shy. So, before we decided to get married, we spent a weekend at a couple’s retreat. It was one of the best experiences I had ever had and it convinced me that Bill was the right man for me.
Later as my corporate career was about to end for the second time, I knew I wanted to retire to something. Because Bill and I have such an amazing relationship, I decided I wanted to do something to help other people have what we have. That lead me to relationship coaching.
I launched my coaching business in 2012 on my 65th birthday. After a few years, I noticed an increasing pattern among my clients. More and more of the couples who came to work with me were saying the same thing — “We used to have a great relationship, but now all we do is bicker and fight.”
Naples, where I lived at the time, has a large population of people who are retired or are about to be. One day a couple was sitting in my office — we’ll call them Sam and Sue. As Sam was telling me what was going on from his perspective, Sue’s body language got angrier and angrier. Her arms were crossed, her jaw was locked, and her lips were getting more and more pursed.
Suddenly she just exploded! “Why do I always have to do the laundry?”
Sam looked at her in total confusion. He had no idea what she was talking about.
She almost spat…”I’m retired too.”
That is when the light bulb went off….retirement was challenging the relationships of many of my clients. So I earned a certification in retirement coaching and folded relationship coaching under that umbrella.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Rich was running a very important airborne EMS unit in a large county. He was very experienced, highly knowledgeable, and well respected. He had made significant contributions to improving the success of the department and its effectiveness.
Then he learned the unit was unexpectedly being shut down… It was devastating for him.
When we started working together it became clear that he was very depressed. He had a lot of trouble getting up in the morning. When he did get up, he had a hard time doing anything productive before mid-afternoon. He was miserable — and so was his wife!
It was very clear that Rich had lost all sense of purpose in his life. Even though he was happily married, he no longer felt like he mattered. One of the most fundamental needs all of us have is to feel like our life matters.
As we worked through my program, Rich began unpacking the emotional baggage he was still carrying around. As he released his anger and resentment about being forced into retirement before he was ready and about some of the other things in his life that were holding him back, his whole perspective shifted. He started seeing new possibilities. As he continued to reflect on what was important to him and what he loved to do, he started to see that his life could be different. He began to get excited about what was emerging for him.
He talked about his old interest in writing which led him to take a creative writing class at a local college. His old desire started to burn again.
Buried in his files he found a short story he had written long ago about his days in Vietnam. It was fictional but based on what he had seen and experienced. The professor teaching the creative writing class thought it had a lot of potential so Rich polished it up.
Thanks to a connection he had, that short story is being seriously considered for a Hollywood movie. Rich has already turned it into a screenplay and he is nearly finished making the short story into a book that he plans to publish.
Rich started his memoirs years ago but put them aside. He began to realize that his life lessons would not only be interesting to his children and grandchildren but that he had a real story to tell that others would benefit from hearing. He finished his book and it will be published later this year.
Today Rich doesn’t have any trouble getting up in the morning and he no longer wonders how he will fill up his day. He is flourishing!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Nancy Schlossberg, EdD, is a professor emerita at the University of Maryland and an expert in adult transitions. She is a fascinating lady in many ways and a role model for me.
I had the pleasure of meeting her when I was trying to understand the impact of transitions on relationships. In our conversation over lunch, Dr. Schlossberg told me that when she retired, she believed that it would be a smooth transition — after all she deeply understood how transitions work. It was a shock to her when her transition was not smooth at all.
Being the researcher that she is, she initiated an in-depth study to understand the complexities of the transition into retirement — this new and uncharted water for her. In the process, she uncovered some very enlightening insights. That led to two excellent books about adjusting to retirement.
Dr. Schlossberg and I have stayed in touch over the years. She continues to inspire me.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take time to smell the roses.
Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Manage your mindset.
The way you look at things shapes your experience. At this time there are two important mindsets to focus on: how you look at retirement and how you look at aging.
If you look at life after your career as a time of decline and loss, that is what it will be like. On the other hand, when you see it as an opportunity to build a life that is fun and fulfilling, that is the life you will have.
A great example of this is the story I told above about Rich’s experience. When he was stuck in the picture of retirement being the end of so many of the things he had enjoyed, his life was empty and unhappy. He simply could not see anything positive ahead for himself. He was even distancing himself from his wife whom he loved very much.
But, once he let go of the anger about how his career ended and allowed himself to begin to see that it was not the end of the road for him, his life turned around dramatically.
The other mindset to focus on is how we look at aging. Our culture has a view of life after 65 as being a slippery downward slope to infirmity. Well, that is not how it has to be.
An extensive landmark study by the MacArthur Foundation and the research it spawned found that 70% of physical aging and about 50% of mental aging is determined by lifestyle…the choices we make every day. In other words, science has proven that we have a lot of control over how well we age.
In his excellent book, Live Long, Die Short, Dr. Roger Landry explains that study and how we can choose to live vibrant lives until the very end.
Of course, our bodies don’t work quite as well as now as they did when we were younger. But, if you look at aging as a litany of aches, pains, and the things you can’t do anymore, you will see more of just that. On the other hand, if you believe that you are in control of your life and choose to see possibilities for growth and enjoyment ahead, you will create a life that thrives in spite of the inconveniences of aging.
You can look at aging as a burden to focus on or you can choose to live a vibrant life in spite of the inconveniences of aging.
2. Have a sense of purpose in your life
Having a sense of purpose gives your life meaning. Feeling that your life is meaningful is right up there with food and water as one of the most important things human beings need to exist.
Purpose is about doing things that benefit others in some way. It can be little things or big things. The size of your efforts has nothing to do with the impact you are having.
Hundreds of studies have shown the positive influence that having a purpose has on both your mental and physical well-being. These findings are based on 35 years of research by diverse and prestigious organizations.
Here are just a few of the findings. Feeling like you have a sense of purpose gives you:
· A vigorous, healthy and long life.
You are likely to live up to 7 years longer
· A strong mind.
It doubles the likelihood of learning something new each day.
Decreases onset of Alzheimer’s Disease by 240% and fights depression
· A healthy heart.
It reduces death by coronary heart disease by 23% and reduces the death rate from stroke by 72%
3. Live a physically active mentally stimulating lifestyle.
Being engaged with life has a profound impact on our mental wellness after retirement.
We all know that regular exercise and a healthy diet are important. But there is more to it. You can’t exercise for 30 minutes and spend the rest of the day being a couch potato. You have to fill your day with activities that you enjoy and that keep both your body and your mind moving.
Of course, you need and should enjoy downtime. But there has to be a balance between doing and being. That balance is different for each of us. You have to find your balance point.
4. Live in an environment that supports that lifestyle
One of the findings from the MacArthur study was that living in a place where you have opportunities to be physically and mentally active and engaged increases the likelihood that you will choose to stay engaged.
5. Build and nurture a strong social network
We are all social beings — even if you aren’t so sure you are. There is no question that some of us are more ‘social’ than others. Some people are miserable if they don’t have regular and frequent interaction with their friends. Others prefer spending time doing more solitary things. The amount of time you spend with your friends and family is not what is important — it is having a network of people that you regularly interact with and know you can count on for support that matters.
Several studies tell us that there is also a strong link between having social connections and our mental and physical well-being — and it appears to be even more important in this stage of our lives.
One of the studies is the Harvard Study of Adult Development” which has been conducted for 80 years. Over that time, researchers studied the participants’ health and their broader lives. They looked at participants’ triumphs and failures in careers and marriage, and the findings include some startling lessons.
According to Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, the surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. Dr. Waldinger says that is the revelation of the study.
Several other studies on the impact of having an active social component in your life have found these benefits:
· Having a sharper mind — People who have consistent interaction with others can reduce their chances of having depression or dementia.
· Being healthier — Having good friends is a better predictor of good health than your cholesterol level
· Feeling more connected to the world around you
· Being happier
· Enjoying a sense of belonging
We value our connections with others. In 2008 AgeWave and Charles Schwab did a study about retirement among people spanning four generations. When asked what came closest to their definition of success, 55% said, “having loving family and friends.”
Choosing not to be socially connected comes with a big price tag — loneliness and isolation which often leads to depression and poor health.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
1. Expect that you will go through a transition. It’s normal and not the end of living a happy and fulfilling life.
2. Strengthen your primary relationship before everything changes. When you leave your career, much of your world changes. These changes can rock your relationship if you let it.
3. You will have to figure out who you are without the mantel of your career. It’s scaring but very liberating too.
4. This can be the best part of your life if you want it to be.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose by Nancy Schlossberg, EdD. I have read a lot of very good books on retirement. This one has several key insights that have shaped how I do my work. It is the reason I reached out to Dr. Schlossberg which resulted in meeting my role model.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would make a meaningful contribution to a movement that started over the past few years — overcoming ageism and instilling in our culture respect for people over 60 for the contributions they have and continue to make to their families, friends, communities and the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer
We cannot control the things that happen in our lives but we can control how we choose to look at them. When you shift from seeing the bad in what happened to looking for the good, you will be surprised at what you might start seeing.
I was in my early 30’s running the marketing research department at United Airlines. The industry had recently emerged from a heavily regulated environment and was just beginning to understand how competition worked in the rapidly changing aviation world.
Armed with my newly minted MBA, I was full of recommendations about studies we needed to do to win this battle. I was fighting for funding for these projects.
Unbeknownst to me, behind the scenes, a political battle was brewing between Marketing and Corporate Planning. The head of Corporate Planning launched an audit of the Marketing department lead by two outside consultants. I saw this as an opportunity to promote the marketing research projects I thought the company needed to fund. So, I gave the consultants a paper with very detailed descriptions of my recommendations.
Imagine my shock when the consultants’ report said that the weakness in Marketing was the Marketing Research department because it was not providing the company with important information it needed to win in the new competitive environment. Their report even recommended the exact projects I gave them in my paper. Their final recommendation was to replace me with a seasoned market researcher from an industry that understood competition. I was replaced. And, it certainly felt like a big failure to me.
When that happened the head of Marketing created a temporary job for me with no staff and no real assignment. I was devastated and humiliated. It took all of my courage to just show up at work. It was one of the lowest points in my entire life.
They needed something for me to do until they could figure out what to do with me. The President had been wrestling with a big question. It didn’t really fit into anyone’s domain and no one knew quite how to look at it in our new competitive environment. So, it became my assignment to study the situation.
What looked at first like make-work was a huge blessing in disguise. It turned out to be a very strategic question for the industry. That temporary job turned into one of the best jobs I had in my entire career. I even won a significant corporate award and big promotion as a result of what started out as an apparent failure.
That experience taught me the value of being open to the possibilities in front of you that you might not be able to see yet.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oprah Winfrey. She has a unique and effective way of opening people’s minds to important new concepts. Seeing the wonderful possibilities that lay ahead for us in our Third Act is a gift she could give to her followers. She turned 65 this year and could be a wonderful spokesperson for the ideas about how to live a happy and fulfilling life after 65 — regardless of how you choose to design it.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!