Maintaining Relevance

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“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” ~ Satchel Paige

At a recent professional conference a keynote invited those present to publicly share what they feared. A colleague in her late 60’s responded “losing relevance.”

What would your response have been?

As a trailing-edge boomer, I cross paths with many people who are thinking about “retirement.” Note I said thinking about, not necessarily planning for it. What I find fascinating is that, more and more, those giving intentional thought to active lifestyle change are open to doing something besides playing board games or painting (not to disparage either). They seek increased engagement.

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I have yet to hear anyone at this life stage say they want to be bored. Or to become insignificant. Most people want to create and strengthen meaningful connections and to broaden their community. They have the energy and drive to explore and effect change; they’re just unsure what to do next.

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For those interested in doing something entirely new, the possibilities are boundless – often limited only by their own beliefs and stories. For those open to discovering and experiencing something unfamiliar, here are five popular gigs that “retirees” are stepping into and enjoying:

  • Tour Guide Operator – allows a coupling of personal travel interests with social interaction and exercise
  • Virtual Assistant – as the title implies, the work can be done virtually and you get to determine what assistance you provide
  • Uber Driver – an opportunity to meet new people, see new vistas, and you define your personal workload
  • Peace Corp Volunteer – seven percent of volunteers are aged 50+. A new adventure with a humanitarian focus where you can share accumulated wisdom and experience, often benefiting the less fortunate
  • Tutor – anyone, of any age. People love to learn. Sometimes they simply need another caring individual to help them navigate new subject matter.

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What you choose to do next could easily keep you pertinent. It need not be a complex undertaking. A willingness to play in some initial uncertainty might be the very stimulation you seek… maybe it could become vastly rewarding.

There are numerous ways in which to maintain one’s relevance. And not just as “retirement” approaches.  Here are three to consider:

  1. Stay curious. Welcome learning and acquire knowledge any way you can. Share your discoveries with others. In doing so, you show you are willing to try new things, even (gasp!) methods considered outside the box.
  2. Meet new people. Negative friends drain us. Positive friends propel us forward. Our possibilities can be limited by our current ‘network.’ Rejuvenating your network is an important part of staying relevant.
  3. Get your hearing checked. Seriously. Not being able to hear potentially puts you out of touch with people. As we age we tend to deny natural loss of hearing. Eventually younger people shut out the hearing challenged and move conversations elsewhere. One must hear to remain relevant.

Nosey or Curious

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“Curiosity is not an only child; it is part of a family of terms used by writers, scientists, and everyday people making conversation to capture the essence of recognizing, seeking out, and showing a preference for the new.” ~ Todd Kashdan

Yours truly is a curious guy. Always have been. And it has raised eyebrows at times. Some people who are unaccustomed to or uncomfortable with my staying interested and engaged in life have likened my desire to learn more about people, places, things and concepts – to being nosey.

Nosey is being unduly curious about the affairs of others; prying or being meddlesome. Think: Gladys Kravitz, who I am not. 🙂 Cue the proverb, “Curiosity killed the cat” which basically translates: beware of poking your nose into others’ business as it may get you into trouble.

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Some say a healthy curiosity serves us in many ways: It nurtures intelligence, contributes to good health and it often increases happiness. Curiosity is a state of arousal so it needs to be prompted. A spark simply launches the interest. Stimulating curiosity is like lighting a fire; once lit it keeps going and can become all-consuming. It can also be doused, if necessary.

An important facet in developing curiosity is to be open-minded whether in questioning anything in life or a task at hand. Some of us do this naturally and some of us drive people crazy with our open-mindedness. Rarely do we know, for sure, what a willingness to investigate something new and/or investing time in discovering a new interest might yield. Until we do.

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If you don’t consider yourself a curious person (maybe you prefer nosey), perhaps the thought of becoming so is now piqued. It doesn’t matter what you decide to become curious about as long as you have a willingness to explore. It could well make you a smarter and more interesting person. Any qualms with that?

I’m about adding spice to life. Maybe you enjoy bland over spicy. And sticking with your preference is fine. But if recognizing and seeking out the new appeals to you, here are three ways in which to develop curiosity:

  1. Ask questions constantly. One way to dig deeper beneath the surface is by asking questions. What, why, when, who, where and how are great sentence starters when engaging another individual. People love to share their knowledge and opinions so why not inquire? Relentlessly. 🙂
  2. Acknowledge your surroundings as dynamic and interesting. We easily become accustomed to what we see, smell, see and feel every day. Stop, think, and wonder about your surroundings as refreshing in their own way.
  3. Model curiosity. You can do this by exploring others’ passions, expanding on their ideas and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about what matters most, to them.

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Asking More Questions

14367876694_13f49979ab_m“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” ~ Oscar Wilde

I was blessed recently to share five days with one of my sisters and a nephew. She drove from Connecticut to Colorado Springs where she picked-up her son at school and then continued on to New Mexico for the Thanksgiving holiday. She would have flown but her son asked if she would mind driving his car to school for his use. Being the mother she is, she didn’t hesitate. 🙂

We spent time on three different days hiking in glorious Indian Summer weather, coupled with plenty of intriguing conversations. During one hike along the Sandia Crest (10,600 ft. elevation) trails I got to thinking, out loud, about why many adults spend less time being curious (we were discussing lichen). After all, curiosity is a key value of highly creative and innovative people.

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Curiosity fuels the acquisition of new information. Our brain takes in data and sorts, categorizes, relates, leverages and combines what is already present to create novel connections. And novel neural connections are the source of all that is new. So curiosity is an important learning tool.

Developing a new habit of asking more questions than you do at this point in your life is essential to energize your curiosity. Questioning is a cognitive pattern that can be habituated in our brain. Curiosity is questioning and by training your brain to question more, you become more curious. Why is it then, that children do this frequently and adults do so less?

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We have challenges at work, at home, and in the world that require creative solutions. It’s quite possible that those solutions will emerge from novel connections that we create in our minds. Consider asking yourself: What might be all of the things that I could do to enhance curiosity in myself and those around me? And you don’t even need to be at 10,600 feet altitudes to reflect on this.

If you are interested in exploring newness, here are three ways in which to feed your curiosity:

  1. Post a reminder on your bathroom mirror: “What am I curious about today?” or “What am I interested in learning about today?”
  2. When you hear someone say “It can’t be”, ask, “Why not?” Researcher Andy Aleinikov likes to say “Why not” every not.
  3. Pick up a publication that you wouldn’t typically read. Make yourself read at least one article or abstract that does not look interesting. Seriously. It’ll only take ten minutes and you might discover a new curiosity.

Or you can simply hang out on hiking trails with inquisitive minds. 🙂

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Bridging a Significant Gap

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.” ~ Pema Chodron

There is a wealth of difference between knowing and doing. It’s what separates performance and success from wishful thinking. Generations have been surrounded with amazing knowledge and possibilities for personal growth. Whether it is time, focus, or not understanding, the application and use of knowledge and learning is one of the hardest parts of change. We read, listen (though often, not enough), and learn, but it doesn’t seem to make it into our reality. So all the knowledge and possibilities in the world are useless if we don’t cross the bridge from knowing to living.

To grow from where we are to where we want to be, we need to bridge these gaps. To do this and expand the possibilities of living better begins with awareness of what brings us satisfaction now and what would bring us more. Clarifying what is creating the gap between where we are and where we want to begins with crossing the bridge. And honest awareness makes this possible.

From expanded awareness we have to spend time and energy to explore the concepts, ideas, and strategies that can help us cross the bridge and close the gap. We need to reflect, consider, and imagine how new ideas or actions could change us. This is the new knowledge and if we can’t see the knowledge expressed in our reality, we’re likely to remain in the gap.

A personal experience: Over time I realized that I had accumulated considerable knowledge. I knew a lot. I was able to enlighten others to possibilities that could change their lives. But I wasn’t feeling that much better about my own life. I knew how I wanted to live, yet I wasn’t living it. Thus began a long process of attempting to integrate what I had come to know about how I wanted to live my life into actually ‘being’ that on a regular basis. There were changes I needed to make; tough decisions I had to face and; tension between who I was and who I knew I could and wanted to be. This process continues to this day as I try to live as my most authentic self.

With clarity and new knowledge, followed by exploring our possibilities, we can make choices. We only have to choose an action, a pattern, or an opportunity to make change. Keep repeating the new choice and the change gets easier. It won’t be long before the new knowledge is the old knowledge and more possibilities for growth are recognized and, voila, a new gap appears. Every day becomes a new adventure in expanding and discovering as bridges get crossed.

Here are three possible ways in which to cross from wanting and knowing something to living it:

  1. Plan for tomorrow but live for today. All positive actions are undertaken in the present moment. Little steps each day give us a slight edge and before you know it your goals are in sight, the achieved, then surpassed. Before you realize, people will say you’ve changed and you’ll know how you did and why.
  2. Develop an endless curiosity about our world. Become an explorer and view the world as your jungle. Stop and observe all the little things as unique events. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and experience as many different environments and sensations as possible. Why not?
  3. Rise. Sometimes you don’t achieve. Sometimes things don’t turn out as planned. Sometimes you just don’t feel like continuing on anymore. So what do you do? Rise. There’s a lesson to be learned in everything and sometimes that lesson is to cross another bridge and engage in a beautiful comeback.

Pinholes or Caverns?

“At the end of the day the questions we ask ourselves determine the type of people that we will become.” ~ Leo Babauta

In my profession, every time you ask a question you create an opening. In the space of an opening can come inspiration, insight and illumination about what is possible, or an echo of what has already been. How you think and feel about the question determines the size of the opening and what can enter through it.

If the opening comes from doubt, fear, and disappointment the opening is small and little can enter, except what is already there. This is why we have the same thoughts, make the same choices and get the same results over and over again. What has happened or has been felt is not relevant to what is wanted to happen or feel now. The beauty and power of openings is that they are in every moment and how big they are is totally our choice.

To create a bigger opening, you have to ask a bigger question. A question coming from wonder, anticipation, and trusting of the unknown creates the biggest opening. This takes courage and curiosity about what is wanted next. You have to be willing to want what you don’t know or especially don’t know how to get. All that is necessary is to ask the questions of “what” and “how.” These are big questions that invite the full field of possibilities to enter about a current situation or interaction.

Change can’t occur and especially permanent change, without a large opening. The changed behavior, experience of activity has to be thought about, felt, and chosen. To change we have to ask what can be done differently to get a different result and imagine ourselves doing it.

To change we have to be willing to leave behind previous choices and previous ways of doing. Leaving the familiar behind and opening to what is newly possible and choosing it is the only way change can occur because it is the only way to have an opening big enough for the amazing to enter!

In every moment you create openings through your thoughts, feelings, and choices. If you want something different, then you must have a larger opening. In an instant an opening can set the path for something bigger, better, and more fulfilling. You can create the openings. How big are they today?

Delight in Discovery

“I do not seek. I find” ~ Pablo Picasso

There is something magical about discovery. Receiving or naming a precious find; that gush of sensory glee – these are part of what makes discovery exciting.

Yet if I were to ask you what your passion is, could you name it? If you are like many people you would answer, “I’m not sure.” So many of us are busy with our day-to-day responsibilities that we have become strangers to our passion. We may catch brief moments of joy and inspiration, but rarely do we benefit from prolonged periods of passion. Our lives simply do not consistently reflect what’s at our core.

Then, you have a life-changing experience that creates a sudden epiphany of an underlying passion. The experience is unexpected and its effect is powerful. With abrupt clarity, you are left with awareness of who you must be. It can come anytime, anywhere – while on a quiet walk, reading a book, taking a shower or performing daily tasks. Whatever its context, it’s an explicit wake-up call from your heart.

So how do you discover what lights your fire and will keep it burning for a long time? How do you know if something is truly your passion? Well, for starters, you get that constant yearning; you’re willing to take risks for it; and even when people tell you you’ve lost your mind, your pursuits remain unwavering.

Most of us uncover our passion gradually as a result of daily experiences. There are sneak previews, courtesy of your intuition but few understand the significance. Yet the messages are there. And unless you heed them, you are likely to dispel them. The challenge is learning to listen to and interpret the signals…the whispers, and translate them into action.

But what if you don’t know what your passion(s) is (are)? What if you’re still searching? Here are four (of many) ways to help find your passion:

  1. Play – If the process confuses or bothers you, just play with it. Don’t force a purpose until you can define one. Amuse yourself with the process.
  2. Become Curious – Curiosity is the basis for passion. Let go of your current understandings and begin from a point where you are almost completely ignorant on the subject. Then look for creative, unusual ways to boost your interest.
  3. Encourage Enthusiasm – Energy is contagious. Spend time with someone who exudes passion about something. Seek out people who have the energy you want. Ask them to describe their motivation. These may yield information you had no idea could be so intriguing.
  4. Be Humble – This is necessary for passion but arrogance can destroy it. Grow this confidence where you believe in your abilities to handle the unknown while retaining respect for it.

And listen. Really listen. Shut out the daily noise, stress and confusion. Seek perspective on your life. Answer these questions: Where am I today? Where do I want to be tomorrow? What do I want to do with my life?

If you still cannot identify your passions, try a different discovery path. Seek out new experiences, people and activities. Look for fresh in the stale, the new in the old. If you sense a bolder move is necessary, step out of your comfort zone and take some risks. If you usually stand on the sidelines as an observer, jump in as an active participant. The point is to side step what could be preventing you from finding things you are exceptional at and that you enjoy.

Discovering your passion takes a fair amount of soul-searching. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t discover it right away – you will find it. And it will probably come to you when you least expect it.