News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Aging successfully

Recently, while purging notes and flip charts from earlier teaching days, I came across the notes from a class entitled “Stay Away from the Rocker.”

It was a class for an adult education program, and I was much too young to teach it. Now, being older, and, knowing the median age in Sisters is hovering just under 50, I thought it would be interesting to revisit its premise and see what guidelines it might have.

The main idea was that to age successfully you had to minimize the negative physical aspects of your life while optimizing your areas of potential. That sounded pretty obvious, but I began to wonder how well I had done or was now doing.

As life moves us forward, we often just go in the direction it takes us, sometimes without much thought. Granted, things like moving to a new location, buying a house, or starting a family are usually accompanied with lots of forethought and planning; but what about the daily ins and outs and routines that don’t change year after year? Had I been mindful of them, optimizing my talents? I had been an educator, and loved teaching, gone back to college for a master’s degree. Now, as a grandmother, I look back on my years as a mother with great satisfaction. But had I really optimized my potential? Do any of us actually do that?

Needing to wear hearing aids has made me aware that my years of standing in front of adult classes sharing “wisdom” are probably over — or at least far and few between. Less stamina keeps hikes in the mountains shorter and not as frequent, and a nap in the afternoon reminds me that the years are creeping by. But what about my “potential”? Is it also declining? I certainly hope not.

I do a mental checkup and ask, am I functioning at my maximum ability? If not, I’d better recognize it, and get busy. As we’ve all heard, the way you get better at something is to practice; a truism as correct today as when we were younger.

I ask the same question about my friends. How are they faring?

My notes give a few clues of what we all need to do: take precautions to prevent disease (wear our masks and pay attention to what we eat); avoid pitfalls (stop stumbling over curbs or stepping on my dog’s toys); stay in control of our choices as long as we can (which may be different from those prescribed by my kids); and exercise my mind and body (I read each night but why does my smartphone tell me my exercise ring is so small?).

Much of what I found, I’ve known for years. Maintain independence, moderate my habits, stay active and enthusiastic, be proud of who I am, and enjoy the individual I’ve become. I figure today’s as good a day as any to take stock and feel comfortable with my conclusion. However, being retired and now alone, am I lonely or do I compensate by being too busy and get stressed out? If I’m honest, I would answer yes to both of those questions.

One of the most impactful quotes I came across said, “Don’t compare today with other days.” How much easier that is to say than to do.

Retirement is described as “commencement,” a new beginning, similar to what our graduating seniors will soon be experiencing. Remember that an era has two ends and it’s up to us as to which one we focus on. We’re encouraged to have pleasurable expectations and anticipatory delights. What are mine? What are yours? What are we looking forward to — today — tomorrow — next week — next year?

How valuable it has been to take a look at those notes. They stress the importance of finding your niche, even if it’s a little peculiar, and to be open to new ideas. Avoid thinking, “We’ve always done it like this,” as it may no longer work and there could be a better way to approach the problem. Have a youthful outlook.

Adjusting to change is possibly our most valued skill, one that we must continually practice. How well do I do that? I smile and recognize how I, perpetually a late person, now wear a watch, and, more often than not, am now on time. Yes, finding ways to change is a good thing.

I read that we are cautioned to not say, “I use to be.” To say instead, “I am.”

Thinking about that, and even with an occasional regret that life can’t go on as it always had, it’s nice to know that I can keep optimizing my potential and enjoy becoming who I am.


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