FIND NEW HOBBIES (or take old ones out of the discarded socks drawer). I’ve always said that I should write a book. I got so tired of hearing that, I decided to actually WRITE THE BOOK! It took me six years to write it, but with every book I sign and sell, this reaffirms another life purpose as an author. My husband and I also renewed our passion for playing music, dusted off our old guitars and keyboards, and reformed a rock band we had in the early ’70s. After playing some live shows at a few musical venues, we were invited to entertain at a famous festival in Austin, Texas, called South by Southwest. The fans we played for across the country were young enough to be our grandchildren, yet were appreciative beyond our wildest dreams!
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 Donna F. Brown. Donna F. Brown is an author, musician, certified yoga teacher and yoga therapist, and former RN with over 35 years of nursing experience. She is also an avid runner, hiker, cross country skier, and has climbed Mount Rainier in Washington, Mount Hood in Oregon, and 22 of 54 14,000 ft. peaks in Colorado.
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?
In my childhood I had severe asthma, and in those days the general consensus was that exercise, in any form, would be detrimental to any person with this health problem. My mother was fearful that if I exerted myself I would surely pass on to the next world, and she had me believing the same. Ironically, she passed away shortly thereafter, when I was just 19. Sometime after her untimely death at the age of 49, my dad gave me a brochure about a running club that met near where we lived at the time in Chicago. Dad ran track in his younger years and assured me that I could also run if I “put my best foot forward” and give it a try. His suggestion gave me my start in pursuing fitness and wellness. After giving running a try, I loved it and ran weekly with the running club. I have been running ever since! Running improved my fitness, self-esteem and wellbeing, and combined with breathing exercises, strengthened my respiratory capacity. Running also instilled a renewed self-confidence and passion to pursue even more challenging athletic events such as marathons, triathlons, and climbing mountains.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
This story is about struggling with and overcoming adversity, and finding hope amidst despair. I am dealing with a very challenging health problem, tinnitus, (aka: ringing in the ears) and here is my story:
A few months after undergoing surgery in the mid-nineties, I noticed a whooshing noise in my ears. At first, I thought it was due to the effects of anesthesia and that it would subside after the anesthesia wore off. It unfortunately turned into a shrill, high pitch ringing that has persisted. Distraught and depressed, I sought help from several ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors, yet they were not very helpful and told me to “learn to live with it.” They didn’t tell me how! In the nineties, even less was known about tinnitus than today, and there weren’t many treatment options, other than something called TRT, (aka: Tinnitus Retraining Therapy) that was created by a scientist in Baltimore, MD. This treatment involved wearing white noise generators similar to hearing aids in my ears. After two years of wearing them 8–10 hours a day, I started noticing the tinnitus was reduced to a more tolerable level.
In the lengthy research I did to gather more information on this life-changing health problem, I discovered some interesting facts:
- Over 50 million people in the USA alone have tinnitus (including military servicemen and women)
- Some 10 million are severely disabled by tinnitus (unable to work or have normal relationships with friends and family, unable to sleep or concentrate)
- Only 4% of funding available from the US government goes toward research for a cure for tinnitus
Finally finding relief from the TRT, I was able to resume my active lifestyle that had fallen by the wayside. After reading an amazing story about a group of women who climbed a 22,000 ft. mountain in Argentina for continued cancer research, I was inspired to do my own climb. (More about this book later in this interview.) I contacted American Tinnitus Association in Portland, OR, who offered to support me in my endeavor to do two fundraising climbs on Mount Rainier and the third on Mount Hood. Thanks to the efforts of ATA and thousands of members, I was able to raise close to $500,000 in total donations to support ATA in their continued research for an eventual cure.
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?
Pursuing nursing as a career was a real learning experience from day one! While still a student, I was trying to transfer a rather obese patient from her wheelchair to her bed. I was so intent on the transfer that I forgot to lock the wheelchair and as I lifted her from the chair, her legs suddenly gave out and she pitched forward, knocking me backwards to the floor with her falling right on top of me. Luckily, neither one of us was injured in the process. Of course, my nursing instructor entered the room at that exact point in time, and after ensuring that the patient was safely tucked into her bed with side rails in place, she escorted me outside into the hall. She asked me about what influenced my decision to ever become a nurse? Since that “mistake,” I became quite obsessive/compulsive about locking wheelchairs during transfers for the rest of my nursing career. Ironically, my instructor’s question influenced me to eventually pursue a teaching career.
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?
There are so many people who helped me along the way, including, yet not limited to, my dear husband Gary, my parents, numerous friends, therapists, teachers, students, and clients. So, I would have to say all of the above deserve honorable mention.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Any person who provides a service to the general public is a prime target for burnout. As a nurse, I speak from personal experience. I worked as a nurse for over 35 years and a good part of those years were spent working in ICU’s in various hospitals. Dealing with life and death situations on a daily basis, I made time in my busy day to go for daily runs before work. This helped me deal with the stress I encountered at work. In our chaotic technology driven society, it becomes mandatory to take breaks from our computers! Many people feel they need to work straight through their breaks and working overtime is the rule. I suggest getting up from your desk to do some stretching to give the body some movement, and walking away from your work for a short 10–15 minutes to clear your mind are great stress relievers.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Leaders, managers, supervisors, and CEO’s need to keep lines of communication open with their employees! Leaders run the company/ organization, yet the employees make the company thrive. Imagine if you will, the image of the organization of a beehive. The queen bee looms larger than life over the hive, and the “lowly” worker bees attend to her every need. This is team work at its finest! Also, another key factor in optimal business ethics is MUTUAL RESPECT. If leaders cultivate an environment in which employees respect their co-workers, this respect will flow upwards in reciprocal waves toward management. Respect for work culture also involves monetary incentives in the form of cost of living raises for employees. Where else does the incentive to do a good job come from?
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?
When someone retires from the workforce, they are faced with some interesting dilemmas.
From a psychosocial perspective, (Erickson’s Theory), older adults will either look back on their lives with a sense of dignity and integrity that their lives were filled with purpose and will focus on their accomplishments and achievements. On the other side of the coin, some will question their accomplishments and instead focus on feelings of hopelessness and despair. If you go into retirement with an optimistic attitude and an openness to new experiences, you will be more receptive to those experiences. There is the tendency for some to focus on failures, and become inert or inactive. These people are more prone to depression and anxiety. They may suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, among other chronic health problems.
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.
- FIND NEW HOBBIES (or take old ones out of the discarded socks drawer). I’ve always said that I should write a book. I got so tired of hearing that, I decided to actually WRITE THE BOOK! It took me six years to write it, but with every book I sign and sell, this reaffirms another life purpose as an author. My husband and I also renewed our passion for playing music, dusted off our old guitars and keyboards, and reformed a rock band we had in the early ’70s. After playing some live shows at a few musical venues, we were invited to entertain at a famous festival in Austin, Texas, called South by Southwest. The fans we played for across the country were young enough to be our grandchildren, yet were appreciative beyond our wildest dreams!
- FIND NEW FRIENDS –When our reformed band split, my husband and I felt like we lacked purpose in our lives and quickly fell into a deep depression. We decided to buy a travel trailer and travel across the country, and we experienced new adventures and found new friends in the most unlikely places. We have since moved into a new house in a small rural community in Arizona and continue to play music with our new musician friends.
- RE-ENERGIZE YOUR RETIREMENT — When you retire from your job or career, it doesn’t mean that you retire from life. Re-energizing means keeping active, both mentally and physically. Reading and writing are great ways to keep your mind active, as are reading and writing music. Keeping active in your community (i.e. volunteering) is another great way to optimize your mental wellbeing and to help others. When we moved to our community, I had to adjust from being constantly on the road to settling into a new neighborhood. What helped me feel more connected was to volunteer at our library, and start teaching a mat yoga class.
- RECONNECT WITH YOUR AUTHENTICITY — At the retirement stage of life, it’s easy to feel a lack of purpose when you disconnect from your working identity. For men especially, work becomes their identity and are more prone to feel the most alienated during retirement. For women, who have played many roles in their lives (i.e. wife, mother and/or career woman), retirement presents another opportunity to DO LESS AND BE MORE. It wasn’t until I wrote my autobiography that I saw all the detours I took in my life that led me away from music, and eventually, helped me reconnect with my musical roots.
- REDISCOVER YOUR DIVINITY- Make peace with whatever feels incomplete in your life and realize your divine nature in whatever fashion. Growing up in a Jewish family, I never had a consistent religious role model. My dad went solo to synagogue and my mom was an atheist. I recall watching people going in and out of the church across the street. With a healthy sense of curiosity and fearfulness, I wondered what went on in places like that. One day, unable to contain my curiosity, I entered the church and observed people reading from the Bible. I secretly attended the weekly Bible reading classes there until Mom found my Bible, and my church going days were over. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered my religious quest was really more of spiritual yearning. I discovered yoga and meditation, and after practicing for several years, I discovered my spirituality. I decided to become a yoga teacher, and I love teaching weekly yoga classes, imparting yogic wisdom to my students, and honoring my authentic spiritual self.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
- It’s OK to start saving your money for retirement at an earlier age than in your forties.
- Life is pretty crazy, yet not as chaotic as hefting heavy PA systems, amps, guitars and Hammond organs on and offstage while in your sixties.
- If you think that living in a travel trailer and camping in RV Parks is less expensive than living in a house, think again!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There are several books that really made an impact, including The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Earlier in this interview, I mentioned reading a book that inspired me to do three fundraising climbs for the American Tinnitus Association to raise awareness of, and continued research for, a cure for tinnitus. This incredible book, No Mountain Too High, by Andrea Gabbard, recounts the story of 17 courageous women, all breast cancer survivors, who despite having undergone mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, climbed Aconcagua, a 22,000 ft. mountain in Argentina. As a person who has struggled with tinnitus since 1996, I was truly inspired by this story, and thought if these brave women with cancer could climb Aconcagua, I could surely do my own climbs! What I learned from this endeavor, was that I was stronger than I ever thought possible, raised a tidy sum of money that was donated to ATA, had incredible adventures, made new friends and contacts, and best of all, came away from the experience with a tremendous sense of accomplishment!
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. 🙂
The movement would be twofold: SHARING SMILES WITH EVERYONE YOU MEET, AND PAYING IT FORWARD WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS OF BEING PAID IN RETURN!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” — John Muir
I love hiking and climbing mountains, and just being in the mountains makes me feel truly ALIVE AND AT PEACE WITH THE WORLD! My mother always sent my sister and I to Day Camp. I’ve loved being outside and participating in outdoor sports ever since.
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 🙂
I have always been a HUGE BEATLES FAN! Paul is my favorite and of course, if he could take time out of his busy touring schedule, I would LOVE some private time with him to tell him how much his music CHANGED MY LIFE and INSPIRED me to become a musician (guitarist and keyboards), and write and play music! At least, I can dream…
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I have two pages on FB, one is an author page, and the other is a book reviews page that I also host. Here are the links:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
THANK YOU FOR THIS WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE MY WELLNESS TIPS WITH OTHERS!
About the author:
Beau Henderson, editor of Rich Retirement Letter and CEO of RichLife Advisors LLC, is a best-selling author, national tv/radio resource, and retirement coach/advisor, with over 17 years’ experience. Beau is a pioneer in the strategy based new model of holistic retirement planning. He can be followed on Facebook here or on Instagram here