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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Building a Bridge to retirement

         It has taken me several years to decide when I want to retire. First it was the mandatory retirement fight then it was some insecurity about my financial preparedness for leaving teaching and my role attachment to the work.  I didn’t actually make the decision to retire until late last year.
         Building a bridge to cross while leaving work seems to me to be a good way of making such an extreme step.  Looking at my life history many changes have occurred first my parents moving around then going to different schools as I climbed the education ladder to getting my PhD.  Then moving to North Eastern Ontario in order to teach at Lakehead University.  Then to West Coast where I practiced as Clinical Industrial Psychologist for several years until I finally returned to teaching at Kwantlen.
          After teaching for 28 years at Kwantlen as it moved from being a Community College to a Polytechnic University and because retirement is different from just moving to another job I have been considering this move for the last couple of years.  Doing as I usually do when preparing for a new blog entry a searched the literature and found a qualitative study about bridge employment conducted by Lorene Ulrich and Pamela Brott[i] There are several places where I will make direct reference to their work.  First, “…retirement may be redefined by the options available to the older adult.” 
         Many persons since the mid 90’s are choosing bridge jobs that “…may be part-time work, self-employment, or temporary work often involving a combination of fewer hours, less stress or responsibility, greater flexibility and fewer physical demands.”
         In my case I have decided to use this blog and the retirement workshop as a bridge from part time teaching which I have been doing since I turned 65 until two years ago when mandatory retirement was abolished.
         I was tempted to return to counseling with a focus on retirement but while it might be more financially rewarding, there is a lot more regulation and requirements that I do not wish to undertake.
a)   Ulrich and Brottt’s paper was developed using a qualitative approach with a small sample of older adults.  Therefore we must be cautious of jumping to conclusions. Still they make some interesting points that those of you in a position like me might consider. Their respondents came from management, professional, office admin to those working in transportation and construction.  Each person was asked the following questions:
a)   Why did you retire?
b)   What role did the long-term career play in your life?
c)   What role does the bridge job play in your life?
d)   How do you describe the transition from long-term career or         retirement to bridge employment?

         I’m tempted to put my answers on this blog entry but no; I think I’ll leave     that up to you.
         First, participants in the research project reported that there lives were changing and they, they wanted to have control in what they did next and concluded it was time to retire. The changes were in their physical selves and life priorities.  In addition they wanted to work on there own terms.  The bridge jobs they wanted must include a meaningful use of time, gave them a say in what they were doing, kept them connected with their career, met financial needs and doing creative things without the burdens of bureaucracy. “Not just a job but something I really love.”
         They understood that there would be both challenges and opportunities. Listed next are categories of challenges:
a)   Financial challenges (i.e., lack of financial information or planning, pension restrictions, lower salary.
b)   Problems with switching jobs (i.e., no plans, limited skills
          or experience, retraining demands, outside forces, different          environments, or changes in status).
     c) The age factor (i.e., subtle age discrimination, direct age                             discrimination)
     d) Personal Challenges (i.e. self-limitations, relationships, time          management, emotional aspects, physical problems

      In the end, we all need to be able to understand  both ourselves and the situations we encounter. Hopefully this material will help.

[i] Ulrich, L.B. & Brott, P.E. (2005). Older workers and bridge employment: Redefining    retirement, Vol.42, 159-164.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Some Advantages of being older

          Dr. Erdman Palmore a Psychologist in the United States is considered one of the world’s specialists in understanding ageism.  A number of the postings on this blog are based on his research including the findings reported in Ageism in Canada. Along with Yongie Yon[i] I conducted the research using Palmore’s Ageism Questionnaire.
         In addition, my entry entitled Positive Ageism is based on material in his book AGEISM Negative and Positive. It was published by SPRINGER PUBLISHING CO in New York.  If you plan to develop competency in this area, this book is essential.  The data was gathered among older people in the United States so some of the findings may not be the same in other countries.
         My purpose here however is not to advertise for Dr. Palmore or Springer Publishing. My goal is to provide you with more information about age prejudice. Toward the end of the book Dr. Palmore introduces material describing some advantages of being old to both the person and society.  Examine them and see if you or a member of your family could be included in these findings.
         First: Advantages to society: (1) No matter how measured, older persons are more law abiding. (2) Are more active in political issues, (3) Volunteer more frequently, (4) Perform better at work and (5) Tend to be wiser than younger people (based on years of experience).
         Second:  There are Advantages … specifically focused on older people. Some of them are due to positive ageism.  (1) More law abiding and “less often victims of crime.” (2) Less likely to be in accidents whether it’s motor vehicle, work, home or other accidents.
Also tend to have better driving records. (3) Freedom from taking care of children. (4) Freedom from Pregnancy (5) Freedom from work. (5) Less mental illness and, (6) Less alcohol and drug abuse
         This section of the book ends with the advice that we should keep in mind that these advantages don’t outweigh the disadvantages of ageism.  But Palmore tells us that “…more emphasis on these advantages through education, exhortation, and propaganda can help to reduce unwanted fears of aging and negative images of elders.”

[i] Policy Analyst, Senior and Pensions Policy Secretariat, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stress, Aging & Meditation

        Last Friday afternoon, Elizabeth and I were driving over to the Kwantlen Surrey Campus, so that she could pick up one of her paintings.  The traffic was pretty heavy.  At an intersection about half way there someone in the opposite lane either didn’t see us or decided to turn in front of us instead of waiting till we were through.  In any case, he came very close to crashing into the side of our car. Fortunately, Elizabeth was paying close attention, accelerated the car and we escaped.  For the next several minutes our hearts were beating very strongly.
         When things happen like that near accident, we have to adapt, and our bodies have to react. It’s a matter of survival!  Seeing and feeling a threat triggers automatic responses. “Our pupils dilate, sweat glands accelerate, heartbeat accelerates, breathing becomes rapid, and adrenalin is released to give us energy. This reaction is referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ or stress response.   Stressful situations can be interpreted in both positive and negative situations. For example, “…buying a new house or taking a holiday trip can be just as stressful as an argument with your boss or having a flat tire.”
         Under extreme circumstances stress responses help us handle situations by sharpening our senses, enhancing our concentration, (or quickening our reaction time when we swerve our car sideways to avoid a careless driver.)  On the negative side it has also been found that “…stress, especially prolonged stress symptoms become associated with chronic diseases of the nervous system, eye, and ear.”   And researchers also agree that too much stress can cause our bodies to age more rapidly.  So, how can we deal with this problem?   In a stressful situation one of the best stress reducers is deep breathing. “Take a deep slow breathe, hold it for 2 seconds and exhale slowly. Repeat 5 to 10 times, until you begin to relax.”
            “Being tired of working” can be stressful and has been associated with retirement.  It was the end of the fall term 2010 that I decided to retire in August 2011. I love my work but I’m getting tired.  Last Fall my retirement thoughts led not only to my retirement decision but also to the development of the Retirement Workshops as a “bridge” into my retirement journey. This blog is also helping me prepare for retirement.
         Being aware of the stress related to this major change in my life, I have also been spending an increasing amount of time meditating. For me meditation means staying in the “here and now”, watching my subconscious untangle and living each day of my life to it’s fullest. At 72 years old I realize that I have more time behind me the in front and until the end I would like to experience each moment. 
         In order to do that I need to deal effectively with stressful situations like the current “economic downturn” and the governments’ desire to cut back health benefits.  Meditation can help me maintain healthy aging during this period.
Eva Selhub, MD, Medical Director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute says,” If we can affect the stress response, we can affect the aging process.” She also says, "There’s a reason why experienced mediators live so long and look so young."(The Anti-Aging Effects of Meditation)                                                                                                        I recently discovered an article that is the source of much of the following material. [i]  The authors describe the meditation procedure as “…allowing attention effortlessly to turn ‘inwards towards subtler levels of thought until the mind transcends the subtlest state of thought and arrives at the source of thought.”                                                                   
       In the discussion section of the research paper it is reported that “After three months, TM and mindfulness groups, on the average, reported feeling better able to cope, less old, and less impatient, whereas the relaxation and no-treatment groups felt “…less able to cope, and older.” In addition stress responses are major contributors to hypertension, which is a major cause of death among seniors.                                       
      While my procedure of meditation is somewhat different I am feeling similar responses. It is in no way tied to religious thinking but it is easy to see how it emerged from intelligent, creative thinkers prior to the development of science. As I type this blog entry, I can hear my heart beating what a lovely sound!
         Coppola and Spector[ii] take the process of meditation a step further. In their opening paragraph they say that “…studies indicate that…these forms of deep meditation hold therapeutic promise not only as techniques for dissolving stress but also for increasing many characteristics associated with self-actualization, including autonomy, creativity, inner satisfaction, focus, alertness and productivity.”  In their experiment they found “…a remarkable reduction in the mean trait anxiety score after four weeks of regular practice.”  And they concluded that “Regular practice of Natural Stress Relief Meditation appears to correlate with the development of self-actualization, both self-reported and measured.”  This might be a way to resist various forms of dementia
         If you want take the first step with the recommendation described above:  “Take a deep slow breathe, hold it for 2 seconds and exhale slowly. Repeat 5 to 10 times, until you begin to relax.”
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step

[i] Alexander, C.N., et al. (1989).  Transcendental meditation, mindfulness, and l            longevity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 950-964.
[ii] Coppola, F. & Spector, D. (2009)  Natural stress relief meditation as a tool for             reducing anxiety and increasing self-actualization, Social Behaviour and             Personality, 37(3), 307-312.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ageism and Politics

         The following ideas are connected to a very interesting book.[i]  The authors’ assumption is that we are now in a “consumer society”. And that upon retirement “The individual’s role within the productive process is no longer central.” Most of us lose our work incomes and have to pay more attention to how we spend limited amounts of money provided by the state and our private pensions.
      The book also suggests that in the wider society boundaries between the working class and middle class are becoming less clear. “Rather than class coming to serve as a cornerstone in people’s sense of self, that role increasingly is performed through consumption.” 
      In a consumer society it may be more accurate to perceive retirement as a “…structurally imposed identity that is thrust upon older people by a society dominated by the business interests…”  Once we have retired, it is then assumed that we have become just another burden to the rest of society.
      If that is the case no wonder, in the recent Canadian Election Debates, aside from the NDP (and that was minimal) the major party leaders had nothing to say about the difficulties faced by older people as the society attempts to plow it’s way through the current “economic downturn”
      While many people including retirees are trying to make ends meet, financial difficulties are getting worse and governments like those in Canada and the USA are discussing financial deficits in terms of billions and trillions of dollars.
       The Book’s authors also state “… the gap between the well off and the (relatively) poor older adult population will continue to widen unless there is a massive expansion of state provision—a scenario that seems extremely unlikely.”  Most of us spend our whole lives working and paying taxes.  After retirement all we will have to do is continue to pay taxes.

[i] Gilleard, C. & Higgs, P. (2000). Cultures of aging: Self. Citizen, and the Body,Pearson Education Limited

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Internalizing Ageism

Tom says: “Retirement was wonderful until I lost my wife, and then that’s when you really feel, you know, that you’re old.  It’s so very easy, if you’re not strong enough to really let it get to you, you know. I nearly did.  So loneliness is terrible, especially when you are old and I got in that terrible state and you no, I said to myself ‘you’ve got to to get out there and get amongst people.’ Then of course, I moved into the retirement village, and this is it, this is what made me, this lifted me up again.   But, you know, society as a whole hasn’t got time for people aging, they haven’t.  Maybe people’s families do but the not the whole society.  It not geared to us.”

[1]  Material from Perceptions and consequences of ageism: views of older people presented in the Journal Aging and Society

Sunday, April 10, 2011


      There has been a good deal of interest in the material I have posted regarding Ageism. Most of the findings have not been directly connected with work.  I recently came upon a research paper that focused directly on the study of ageist experiences prior to retirement.[i]  The authors introduce their topic by describing workplace ageism as being “…manifested as prejudice (based on attitudes), discriminatory practice and institutional habits.”
      They then go on the hypothesize that “…age discrimination seems to take place in at least six different human resource areas in the workplace.” The authors investigated workplace ageism in three European countries; Norway, Sweden, & Finland.
Those six items are listed below. Those answering the items were ask to respond by checking 1 of 5 alternatives ranging from “totally disagree” to “totally agree.” 
      See how many of them relate to your current work situations or if you are retired, things that happened prior to your retirement.

1. I was passed over/left out in cases of promotion or internal recruitment.
2. I do, or did not, have equal opportunities for training during work time.
3. Younger workers were(are) preferred when new equipment, activities or working methods were(are)introduced.
4. Elderly workers less often took(take) part in development        appraisals with their superior than younger workers.
5. Elderly workers have less wage increase than younger        workers.
6. Elderly workers are not expected to take part in change processes and working methods to the same degree as their younger peers.

[i] Furunes, T. & Mykletun, R.J. (2010). Age discrimination in the workplace: Validation of the Nordic Age Discrimination Scale (NADS). Scandinavian Journal of Psychology: 51, 23-30.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Retirement and Feelings of Self Worth

           This morning I taught my last Introductory Psychology 1100 Class. This coming Monday I will be teaching my last class at the University.
       The exams for both classes have been finished for a week and we have been spending the last three sessions on some relevant discussion topics (1100) and doing class presentations (1200). 
       The class today was about applying for work and creating responses during employment interviews. I had prepared material including job descriptions and some Common Job Interview Questions that I found listed online.
       We had a good time and I think my students not only enjoyed themselves, they learned some things about the job interview process,
This afternoon I checked my email and received the following comment:

“I’d just like to say thank you for being an awesome professor! I really enjoyed being in your Psych 1100 class this semester, and I probably wouldn't have had much more fun and entertainment than being in your class. So again I'd like to say thanks a bunch! and have a wonderful retirement!”

I don’t think anyone could deny that having students express their satisfaction with our teaching process, is very rewarding and I Think it might be difficult to get that kind of feedback in the outside world especially when we are not socially involved.  Some time ago I came upon the following questions that it might be useful to explore to see how well we are involved with others both prior to and during our retirement. Read them through and see how you can relate to them.

1. I try to pass along the knowledge I have gained                                                 through my experiences.

2. I do not feel that other people need me.

3. I feel as though I have made a difference to many people.

4. I do not volunteer to work for charity.

5. I think that I will be remembered for a long time after I die.

6. I believe that society cannot be responsible for                                providing food and shelter for all homeless people.

7. Others would say that I have made unique                                      contributions to society.

8. I have important skills that I try to teach others.

9. I feel that I have done nothing that will survive after I die.

10.In general, my actions do not have a positive effect on others.

11. I feel as though I have done nothing of worth to contribute to others.

12. I have made many commitments to many different kinds of people, groups, and activities in my life.

13. I have a responsibility to improve the neighborhood in which I live.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Directions In The Sense of Self

         The ideas and structure of this post are connected with a very interesting research article I recently discovered.[i]  It explores the relationship between our selves staying basically the same and also making changes following retirement.  Galit and Douglas first suggest that new challenges not only help us grow in new directions but also help us maintain a sense of “who” we are. They explore ways that both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can help explain our behavior.
         Maintaining continuity both inside within our selves and outside with our identities can help us stay healthy and also maintain “perceptions of competence, control, and freedom” which help “..moderate the impact of stress on one’s well-being.”
         I have been teaching at Kwantlen since 1983 when it was still just a community college. That’s a long time to identify with a work role. I will be retiring in four months, at the end of August 2011. If my retirement is to be successful I must understand both the changes and continuity of my retirement style.
         My motivation for continuing to “teach” through the use of workshops is based on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I really like teaching and I can use the money. Over the past 10 years, since I designed and began teaching the aging class at Kwantlen I have developed a fascination with the lives of older people. For several years I have concentrated on the study of Ageism (a number of blog posts are related to that topic). This fall I will be 73 years old and have recently noticed that I am an older person. I refuse to fall into the pit of self-stereotyping connected with Ageism.
         Now I am concentrating on the psychology of retirement and what the authors cited in this blog entry describe as Self-preservation Innovation, which are activities consistent with former interests. “These activities suggest a new path for an old activity, a close substitution for activity that is no longer available and development of new skills in order to pursue old interests.”  My motivation is also extrinsic because my pension is not sufficient to meet all of my financial obligations. The money raised through workshops can help maintain a comfortable life. But it’s definitely not just about the money.
         At the core of it all is my desire to continue to find meaning in life, which to me means engaging in meaningful activities. I will canvass my neighborhood for the Canadian Cancer Society this month. I have also created Wisdom and Memory workshops.
In  summary the authors the research cited below report that  they have found the following:
      1.“ most cases motivation for innovation is intrinsic or a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic.”(e.g. my workshops)
         2.  “While in some cases, innovation represents an opportunity for renewal, refreshment and growth that is continuous in some respects from earlier interests and capacities,. in others it presents opportunity for reinvention of self.”
         3.  “There is a consistency within individuals with regard  to type of innovation to which they are attracted: while some seek different ways to reinvent themselves, others find ways to preserve their existing sense of self.”and last but not least
         4. Innovation seems to have a positive impact on elders’ well being.
       It is my hope that those of you who read this blog entry will  ask yourselves whether or not the above material can be related to your own lives.

[i] Nimrod, G. & Kleiber, D.A., (2007).  Reconsidering change and continuity in later life: Toward an innovation theory of successful aging, Int’l J. Aging and Human Development, 65(1), 1-22.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Wisdom of Slowing Down

       For the past several years, when someone has told me that I should slow down, I have thought they were making an ageist comment.  Within the last seven or eight months I have begun to refine my thinking on this topic. For one thing, I am coming to a better understanding that stereotyping comments are not just what one says but also how they say it.  And rather than just dismissing what they say, I realize that I need to examine my behavior in order to better understand the meaning of “slow down”.
         In the past I have tended to think about wisdom as only being related to social relationships. Paul Baltes, an expert on the concept of wisdom, is quoted as saying that “Wisdom-related knowledge deals with matters of utmost personal and social significance.”  This definition is a more specific form of “intelligence” which can be defined as “the ability to comprehend; to understand and profit from experience”. The two obviously overlap. Perhaps one could say that wisdom is a particular form of intelligence.
         Until recently, I have tended to focus on Wisdom as an aspect to social relationships only.  Slowing down and being more careful in reading Baltes’ explanation of wisdom opens a door to a more complete understanding of the term. The idea of personal significance requires a deeper understanding of my own “selves “ that I continue to discover and am becoming more familiar with. 
         Much, of my growth in personal understanding is related to my examination of habits, which seem to occur unconsciously.  For instance when I meet other people many of them start their part of the conversation by saying my name. I very seldom use other people’s names at all while I am talking with them.
         Not using other people’s names is a deep habit and like other long-term habits hard to even notice until it’s too late.  I think this is related to the idea of being absent minded. According to Wikipedia the phrase ‘absent-minded professor’ is commonly used more generally in English to describe people who are so engrossed in their' own world' that they fail to keep track of the details in their surroundings”. Often when I am engaging in activities that I am very familiar with including cooking or putting dishes away I get into a rhythm and start thinking about something else. Frequently, I make some kind of mistake because I am not paying attention to what I’m doing. 
         I used to be that way when driving my car but several months ago when I was driving out of my driveway I bumped into a car parked across the street from my house. I was on automatic pilot and in a hurry. I now pay strong attention to staying in the “here and now” while I am driving; in other words, paying attention to what I am doing.  For example, I really like music but I don’t listen to the car radio while I am driving. I do not want to be distracted again.
         While I am not a religious person one message of wisdom that was taught by religious founders centuries ago is “know thy self.”  This is one of the key ideas connected with meditation developed before the onset of civilization. I plan to continue practicing meditation and hope to develop wisdom that will benefit both others and myself.  
         It is interesting that one key ingredient of all forms of wisdom exercise is paying attention to our breathing.   Often when someone is really stressed another person suggests that they “take a deep breath.”