Abigail Trafford - Author, Journalist and Public Speaker


Ten Tips for Building a My Time Friendly Nation

By Abigail Trafford

1. Look Forward

Fight the stereotypes that getting older as a time of gloom. A thirty-something lawyer tells the story of her parents: how shocked she was when they announced they were selling the family house, putting furniture in storage and driving around the country for the next six months. “You don’t know how weird it is for your parents not to have a permanent address,” she says. “And my parents fight a lot—we thought: if they are in a car together for six months they are going to kill each other.” But her parents set out on their trip. They had both been diagnosed with different cancers, their prognoses were good. When they returned, they started a new chapter. “It was awesome,” she says. “I hope I can do that when I’m their age.” She is looking forward to My Time.

2. Plan beyond Money

When people plan for retirement, it’s mainly financial planning and a search for the magic number. Economic security is critical but the first question in any planning should be: what do I want to do in these years? Where do I want to live? Who with? And then you can figure out: how do I get just enough. The answer may include working in addition to drawing social security or other sources of retirement income.

3. Change the Language

Retire—retire the word. You may officially retire, but chances are you will continue to work. The majority of boomers say they want to work, at least part-time, in these years. Senior—who wants to be called senior (except those in high school). In Arizona, state officials found that people who retired to the state wouldn’t go to senior centers because they didn’t think of themselves as senior. So the state created life-option cyber cafes in public libraries to help older men and women re-do resumes and find jobs, choose education and travel programs, engage in exercise classes and select services from home-health agencies to plumbers. Elderly—a newspaper reported that an elderly woman, 62, had been robbed, prompting an angry reader to write: “Who are you calling elderly?” Watch out for the adverb, still—as in: He’s 70 and still goes to the office. Or they’ve been married 60 years and they still hold hands. Isn’t that cute. . . . and condescending.

4. Start “Dreaming”

How do you envision your life over the next decade or two? Dreaming is hard because we’ve been successful in our adult lives by sticking to a to-do list. But now it’s time to loosen up. Take a course in water colors or graphic design, maybe you’ll become an artist. Go on Elderhostel to Mexico. Maybe you’ll get involved in international programs. Get training for a next career in health care. What did you enjoy doing in the past—that you put aside to make a living and raise a family? A housing inspector in Trenton who played the drums in high school took early retirement and joined a rock band.

5. Reframe the Workplace

What’s so sacred about the 40-hour work week? Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota suggests breaking down the work week into ten hour units—some will work 8 units, some 2 units. My Timers want flexibility: part-time jobs or projects that last for several months at a time. But where are the jobs for older Americans? It is tough for people over 50 to get a job because of underlying age discrimination and a rigid full-time work structure. You may have to start your own company or nonprofit organization to get a good job.

6. Give Back

Your ambitions shift at this stage: instead of getting ahead, you want to get whole. Instead of a promotion, you seek significance. Psychologists talk about “generativity”—the desire as you get older to give back to the community and make a difference to others. For many people, that involves community service in schools, hospitals, libraries, churches and the like. Experience Corps, for example, trains retirees from police and fire departments to mentor students in schools. They receive a stipend, giving rise to the concept of the paid volunteer and raising the status of community service.

7. Redefine the Family

Don’t bemoan the American family. Longevity is strengthening the family, causing it to grow vertically rather than horizontally. The new norm consists of four generations: children, young adults, My Timers and frail adults. There are now two healthy adult generations to look after the two needy generations. Grandparents, who are healthier than grandparents in previous generations, can play a much larger role in children’s lives.

8. Remember Love is all

Relationships take priority in My Time. (Research shows that as we age we shift from focusing on gaining knowledge and being successful to showing feelings and being connected.) Couples must re-engage now that it’s just the two of you. Many couples experience a renaissance. Others get into trouble. Fissures that could be plastered over during the busy years crack open. People who are single due to death or divorce find each other and romances bloom. Friendships become central whether you are married or single.

9. Watch out for Depression

You know about diet and exercise. Vitality and function are the elements of good health. But it’s not all physical. Well-being also includes psychological development and a spiritual agenda. A major risk in these years is depression. Many people experience a clinical depression for the first time after age 50. The highest suicide rates are in white men over 65. Depression may be associated with another illness or triggered by the death of a spouse or close friend. Grieving is normal, depression is not. But too often when an older person is sad, the response is: well you’re old—of course, you are sad. That is ageism. In recent years the National Institute on Mental Health has launched a campaign to make people aware of depression in older men and women.

10. Put My Time on the Political Agenda

Political leaders focus only on the problems of a graying population. They don’t see the talents of an unprecedented generation of healthy, experienced men and women who could be the solution to many problems in the country. What if the President announced a domestic Peace Corps type initiative for people over 50? A legislative agenda that encouraged employers to retain and hire older workers? And education program to train older people in such fields as health care and engineering, where there is a shortage? To be sure, problems in Medicare and Social Security need to be addressed to preserve these programs for future generations. Many older people cannot take care of themselves and depend on these programs. But the frail are a minority among those over 65. To ignore the healthy majority is another form of ageism.

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other speeches

What is My Time

Ten Tips for Making the Most of My Time

Community Needs for Aging Well

To Be a Woman in the 21st Century.

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