Continue to learn and find new challenges: Even if health issues keep you from engaging in the type of challenges you enjoyed in earlier years, studies show that the mental health thrives when we continue to learn and challenge ourselves throughout life. Rather than staying with the same activities or old routines, it’s important to carve out time to embrace new learning experiences and challenges.
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 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly. Dr. Manly is a practicing clinical psychologist and aging expert with a passion for helping others optimize their lives. As an author and speaker, Dr. Manly enjoys creating greater awareness and wellness throughout the world. Her latest book, Aging Joyfully, guides readers into finding vast fulfillment in the more mature years of life.
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?
A former investment manager, I returned to the field of psychology — my passion — in my 40s. Having spent the first few decades of my adult life raising children, managing a very successful business, and creating financial wellbeing, I wanted the second half of my life to be spent focusing on creating internal success — for myself and others!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most interesting stories is my new-found “fame” among older and younger populations. Those in their 20s are discovering me as a “guiding light” for their future, and those in their 40s, 50s, and beyond are also gravitating toward my work as a “light” for their more mature years. This “story” is stunning to me for many reasons — not the least of which is having youthful minds be “star-struck” as a result of my humble life learnings and offerings.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
During my first speaking engagements, the learning curve was rather large. Looking back, I realize that my greatest mistake was in over-preparing for my engagements. I quickly found — after a few humorous stumbles that were embraced with kindness by the audiences — that the events were more successful when I kept things simple. By showing up as “authentic me,” learning and growth were abundant for all.
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?
My parents have passed away, yet I now see — more than ever — that they were both truly bright lights in my life. As the ninth child in a family of ten children, my mom and dad (both children of immigrants) had their hands very full. And, although they were imperfect, they taught me the important of integrity, lifelong learning, and hard work. These skills — and so many more — have helped me achieve the success I have today.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Every person has unique needs when it comes to fulfillment and optimal wellness. Yet, we often consciously and unconsciously look to others we admire — their schedules, routines, and goals — when creating our own life goals and routines. Unfortunately, what might work beautifully for the man across the table or the woman in the magazine might be too much — or too little — for our own needs. Thus, I suggest that my colleagues take the time to focus on their own unique needs. It is certainly wise to embrace the wisdom of others, yet there is nothing more profoundly helpful than learning to notice what works right for YOU. And, when you determine what works well for your life — do more of it. As you determine what is harmful or not beneficial for you — do less of it. This concept is simple yet — for many of us — extraordinarily difficult to due given internal and external pressures. Yet, the price we pay by not listening to the inner self is high — when we get on a treadmill without taking note of what is appropriate for oneself in the here and now, chronic stress and burnout occur. Research shows that chronic stress and burnout take an enormous toll on our physical, mental, and emotional health.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Think outside the box when it comes to creating a fantastic work culture. Don’t be afraid to get out of the routine that may have molded your business environment for decades. If you want your work culture to be amazing, you may need to make some profoundly amazing changes. Employees love working in environments that are open, honest, and uplifting. When employees feel valued and honored, they’ll give extraordinary gifts through hard work, new ideas, and commitment. Sadly, I’ve seen so many employees mired in anger and resentment when employers don’t create a team-oriented, open work culture with clear, achievable goals. If in doubt about what to do to create a fantastic work culture, reach out for insights from a specialist who is able to view the issues with objectivity and keen awareness. Life tip: Reach out for insights from others. Give excellent training. Be present to support your employees on an ongoing basis. Your employees are part of your family; appreciate them. Give up micro-managing and give your employees the freedom to soar. Yes!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?
As a clinician and researcher, I have found that retirement can negatively impact one’s health if the retiree has not adequately prepared for the many changes that can come with retirement, such as loss of social connections, changes in daily routine, and a lack of activity and challenge in post-retirement life. All of these issues — and many more — can lead to depression and irritability. As well, if post-retirement life is sedentary, the decline in activity can contribute to a host of debilitating health conditions including cardiac concerns, diabetes, and stroke. In addition, primary relationships — such a marriage — can also be negatively impacted due to the changes and stress that often accompanies post-retirement. When a primary relationship is negatively affected, the individual’s general well-being is certainly impacted.
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.
- Create a new life role or roles that allow continued self-growth and expansion. For many people, building and maintaining a strong career became the chief focus in life. Let’s look at Harry, a just-retired CEO. Harry thrived on the power and gratification from his role at a well-known company. He was admired by friends and family alike, and he was proud that his income allowed him to dote on his wife (Mary) and children. Now 70, Harry had stepped out of the C-suite and into the world of the everyday guy. This shift sent him into a spiral of anger, bitterness, and resentment as he unconsciously told himself, “I’m no longer of any value.” He refused his wife’s pleas to engage in psychotherapy and, in time, Harry found himself stuck in depression. Travel and golf did little to soothe his dissatisfaction and ire. Behind the scenes, his wife arranged a volunteer position for Harry with a local youth organization. Before long, he was accompanying Mary to “her” volunteer gig. Harry became immersed in giving his wisdom and time to the organization, and he began to find a newfound sense of identity. As Harry utilized his CEO prowess and honest goodwill for the benefit of others, Harry found renewed — and wonderfully different — meaning and fulfilment in life.
- Continue to learn and find new challenges: Even if health issues keep you from engaging in the type of challenges you enjoyed in earlier years, studies show that the mental health thrives when we continue to learn and challenge ourselves throughout life. Rather than staying with the same activities or old routines, it’s important to carve out time to embrace new learning experiences and challenges. Sara, age 63, had always enjoyed crossword puzzles and movies in her off-work hours. After retirement, she felt sluggish due to the lack of variety in her life. Her work life had given her so much mental stimulation that she’d always felt challenged and fulfilled; now, for the first time in her life, she felt dull and lethargic. It didn’t take Sara long to realize that she needed to fill her life with new interests. She took up French — a language she’d always wanted to learn — and began planning the first of a series of vacations to France. She joined a dancing club (good for her mind and body), and signed up as the secretary for her favorite local charity. Sara’s lethargy disappeared as she embraced the joy and challenge of her new, revitalizing activities.
- Focus on friendships. Research continues to show that friendships are a vital aspect of good mental health. Given that many people naturally lose social and work connections as they age and retire, it’s vital to from and maintain friendships in post-retirement years. Jim, who worked a county job for 40 years, found himself facing retirement alone. The friendships he’d formed at work went by the wayside after he retired. Many of his friends were still working, and the ones who had retired were off traveling and spending time with their partners. Jim was stunned to realize he was alone. Fortunately, Jim was connected to his church, and he decided to do more than attend weekly services. He began joining committees and signing up for evening and weekend events. Over time, Jim built up a new circle of friends and found himself happier — and busier — than he was in pre-retirement years.
- Play and play! Many people spend the bulk of their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s in the work world. Given the intense focus on achievement in our culture, there is often too little time for play. As post-retirement years await, play becomes a vital part of vibrant mental health. In fact, research shows that play keeps the brain healthy and active. Barry had never had much time in life to play with his kids; he was exhausted after work each day and barely had energy to kiss his wife goodnight. Now, at 62, he had 8 grandchildren he barely knew and 4 adult children who loved him — but didn’t know him. Although more comfortable with books and swimming than with children, Barry decided to use his vast amount of free time to form new connections with his children and grandchildren. Although it was, at first, challenging to let go and relax, Barry learned to play. From low-key vacations to Saturday picnics and Sunday brunches, Barry discovered the joy of creating playful relationships with his children and grandchildren. Barry discovered Legos, video games, and badminton. He attended soccer games and Little League — happily enjoying the play and socializing. Barry’s attitude — and mental health — were better than ever. As his wife said, “I’d become so used to the worker-bee side of Barry that I forgot what a warm and loving soul he was. The children and grandkids just adore him. I — and we — are happier than ever.”
- Get creative. Mental wellness increases when we use our creative abilities to keep the brain alive and active. Ginger, a widow, was facing retirement with angst. As she prepared to leave her longtime job, she began to wonder what she would do with her spare time. In her garage, Ginger uncovered her husband’s half-finished oil paintings. She’d always wanted to take up a hobby, and now that her children were grown and her spouse was gone, she thought, perhaps, this might be the time for her to take up a creative hobby — the first hobby of her adult life. Ginger didn’t want to take a formal class, so she watched YouTube videos to learn techniques. And, as she moved into retirement, Ginger began to fill some of her free time with the joy of creative painting. The outlet was healing for her on many levels — she felt connected to her husband, she felt creative, and she knew — for the first time in a long time — lasting inner joy.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
- Retirement is not a death sentence; it is the beginning of another beautiful era of your life.
- You’ll thrive if you are prepared to let go of your pre-retirement identity; you are NOT your past. Don’t expect your post-retirement years to be like your pre-retirement years; allow a NEW, wonderful identity to unfold.
- Take excellent care of your physical and mental health; you don’t want to “grow old and miserable” — you want to “grow older healthfully.”
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
My most recent book, Aging Joyfully (Familius, 2019) made a huge impact on my own life. Although nowhere near retirement myself, the research and discovery involved in writing book has had a profound impact me. As the author, I found myself delving deeply into medical research, clients’ case studies, and the lives of friends to learn more about the upsides and downsides of aging and retirement. Through this intensive process, I learned a great deal about myself, about ageism, and need for us as a society to RE-ENVISION AGING.
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. 🙂
If I could start one movement, it would be a movement to TEACH OTHERS — children and adults — about the power of integrity and respect. By introducing basic concepts such as these to children AND adults — many of whom have no idea what real integrity and respect look like — we could change our world for the better. I so believe this — from my heart and soul.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (Invictus, Henley). This quote from “Invictus” reminds me that, no matter how challenging my life might be at times, I am responsible for the outcome of each moment. I am responsible for my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. This truth guides me.
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 🙂
Ariana Huffington — she shines and radiates vibrant, beautiful agelessness. Oprah Winfrey — she radiates intensity and commitment to good. Yitzi Weiner — because you strive to do good in the world; I truly honor that about you. Gavin Newsom — because he has the power in California to institute programs in our schools that could change the future of our state — -and the world.
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