I finally did it—started strength training. In 2009 my doctor said that my worsening T-scores (bone density results marking the progression of osteoporosis) indicated that I either had to take action or go on medication, but I only got as far as checking out, and rejecting, membership in a local gym—if I didn’t enjoy being there for the five minutes it took for the receptionist to show me around, it was highly unlikely I would have gone three times a week.
For five years I discarded one idea after another—a treadmill in the basement, exercise videos, a personal trainer who thought that anyone over 40 had entered old age. I did take longer walks and tried to follow the exercise program, albeit haphazardly, in a book on how to build strong bones, but I knew I wasn’t challenging myself enough and felt like I was copping out.
What was missing was the right resource.
Every few years or so, I engage in some form of creative exercise to refresh and renew my business (and myself in it).
I knew it was time to redo my website when I didn't feel comfortable sending potential clients to it because it looked out-of-date and cluttered.
The idea of getting started on a new site was exciting to me, so I was surprised that it led to a sleepless night of thrashing and telling myself I was crazy to be reshaping my business identity at an age when most people have already retired.
This sudden attack of self-inflicted ageism was particularly disconcerting because most of the time I like my age (I'll be 70 in November). I rarely hear myself saying, "I'm too old for ..." (except in-line skating, which I ruled out after I was diagnosed with osteoporosis).
The first half dozen pages of the November issue of Real Simple were just the kind of thing you’d expect from a glossy magazine—double page ads for makeup, cashmere sweaters, and a sonic foot care system.
It was the next couple of pages that brought me up short.
On the left, beneath the word “Thoughts” there was a striking photograph of an island with a grove of birch trees whose russet leaves covered the ground and a boardwalk inviting the reader to stroll over a patch of slate blue water lined with the afternoon shadows of the trees to the solitude and peace of the island.
Near the bottom of the page there was a quote from Henry David Thoreau: "I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite—only a sense of existence.
On the right there was a full page ad dominated by an enormous image of a bottle of facial lotion floating inside a water balloon (presumably to highlight its moisturizing qualities).
It was such a strange juxtaposition. I couldn’t help but wonder what Thoreau would have to say about it.
I like words, discovering new ones and looking up their meanings, yet I’ve always had an aversion to any piece of writing that starts off with something like, “The word x is defined as....” It’s always felt like a weak beginning and I’ve vowed never to do it.
But sooner or later we end up breaking our hard and fast rules, so I’m going to start this column with a definition for the word "responsible" which you won’t find in any dictionary: being responsible means changing the toilet paper roll when the old one is empty.
It’s a simple practice but it’s not as easy as you might think, especially for someone as mechanically challenged as I am. I’ve often had to collect the two sections and center spring of the spindle from the floor multiple times before finally getting it back on the holder, or have spent an extra ten minutes in a public stall trying to figure out how to reload one of those multi-roll contraptions.
What's important about this exercise is that I took the time to attend to the task in front of me, without an audience, or accountability, or the expectation of any reward beyond the boost it gave to my own self-esteem.
What if every time I de-cluttered, picking up shoes, books, dishes, etc., instead of grumbling about it I paused to remember the recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma and reminded myself that if I lived there I might have nothing left to put away?
What if, after listening to a discussion about nuclear proliferation in unstable countries halfway across the world, I closed my eyes and allowed the realization of the potential we have to destroy one another to inform how I create peace in the relationships in my life?
What if I looked at the opportunity I have to do the work I know how to do as a great gift, like Mike Leahy, the only person to get a job in the PBS New Hours story about the increasing despair of over-55 job seekers unable to find employment I talked about last month.
Last month I talked about the chronic nature of long-term unemployment. But there’s another elephant in the living room—systemic ageism.
In a recent segment on the PBS News Hour Paul Solman reported, “For those 55 and older, it takes at least a year on average to find work, longer than any other age group.”
He then sat down to talk with a group of bright, skilled, articulate older men and women who been unsuccessful at finding work.
Although each of them had tried to appear younger using such tactics as truncating the work history on their resumes, their attempts had ultimately backfired.
“I was coming in for a face-to-face interview,” one person said, “and the HR recruiter saw me, assumed who I was, and his face—I could just see his face almost fall when he saw me and how old I was. After that, I pretty much got pushed through two of the people I was supposed to talk to. The other three got busy and I couldn't see them.”
The others nodded and related their own experiences of losing an interviewer’s attention or being given a perfunctory half hour before being shown the door.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that the signs of spring—green grass, purple crocuses, yellow forsythia—can’t always be counted on to appear on schedule where I live on Cape Cod. More often than not, the dominant color of April is brown and you have to bundle up to take a walk just as you did in February.
But I’m a daily walker and the other day I donned my wool coat and hat to go out right after reading an article in the Boston Globe that said nearly four million people have been out of work for a year or more. Before the recession, 10% of the total unemployment number represented the long-term unemployed. Now it’s almost 30%. There’s no spring for these work-seekers either.
According to the article, long-term unemployment is the “most intractable” consequence of the last recession and because of a lack of political will, despite all the talk about creating jobs in the last election, few resources are being directed toward it. The problem, the Globe said, is “chronic.” They make it sound like an illness.
Shortly after arriving at my retreat destination on Skaneateles Lake, I took a walk on Glen Haven Road, a narrow lane cut into the steep hill above the western shoreline.
Just beyond the bend in the road where crimson Virginia Creeper had wrapped itself like a shawl around the arms of a golden maples, I saw a woman jogging up the hill toward me, and then a car approaching from behind her. A moment later I heard I car coming up behind me as well.
Suddenly my walking route, which was normally deserted on an off-season weekday, had turned into a crowded thoroughfare. There was no shoulder, and I thought I might have to leap down a ladder to a boathouse to get out of the way, but both cars stopped, and the driver coming toward me pulled over as far as he could to let the driver coming from behind me pass, and then he carefully proceeded. We all waved at each other and went on our way.
These acts of courtesy felt very special to me. Why? Because they were in sharp contrast to the stories of rudeness I routinely hear about from my clients who are looking for work.