serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

We’ve Moved….

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/15/07

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Jim Selman

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Posted in Culture of Aging | 1 Comment »

Intergenerational Dialogue

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/12/07

If we had the means to promote an intergenerational dialogue, what would we talk about?

I think we’d first have to acknowledge that:

• Neither generation has a lock on truth AND
• Neither of us knows more than the other.

While we may have a bit more experience in some areas, younger people know a lot more in others. I learned from my son that he knows a lot more than I do about modern philosophy, about dealing with uncertainty and about participating in online communities of interest. He has even had more experience than I have had with extremely stressful situations. I never had to deal with multiple friends dying of drugs or suicide, fear of Columbine-type shootings, or a pace of technology and social change that made everything obsolete before I even learned it.

I think an intergenerational dialogue would include conversations about life and our concerns. I think we could share our mutual experience and worldviews, perhaps even come to understand that age is not a divide so much as a perspective on life and that we have much to contribute to each other. I need to learn what my children already know, what they take for granted, for me to stay connected and involved in a relevant way. They need to learn from me how to keep participating and not get sucked into resignation should some of their dreams fail to materialize.

Together, we might even find a way for all of us to make a difference and participate in creating a world in which we all vote and take pride in what we are doing together….

Posted in Culture of Aging | Leave a Comment »

Generations

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/11/07

We speak of ‘generations’ as if they are homogenous groupings of like-minded people who see the world in more or less the same way. I don’t know about this. I think there are as many intra-generational differences as there are inter-generational differences. I think that what may be distinct is how the young and the old differ in respect to time. The young have a lot more of it to look forward to than we do. The patterns of youthful enthusiasm, idealism and energy seem to be pretty much the same from one generation to the next. Whether their ideals are liberal or conservative doesn’t seem to matter. On the other hand, my generation is busy planning for retirement, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives and taking stock of what we’ve accomplished or neglected over the past four decades or so. As a body politic, I’d say we’ve got a fairly even distribution of interests and views across the generational divide.

I am in favor, however, of building ways to facilitate and promote what I would call an ‘intergenerational dialogue’…conversations that might open new possibilities for society as a whole and empower people, regardless of their age, to participate more fully in the political process. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, only 78.5% of the voting age population went to the polls (down from 78.9% in 2000)1. In Canada, only 64.9% voted in the 2006 federal election (a modest improvement over the 60.9% witnessed two years earlier)2.

Do we just not care?

Judging from the amount of political noise on the internet, a lot of people care a lot. And yet, I wonder if these people voted on election day or if they were sitting in front of their computers at home complaining to whoever would listen online about the state of the world?


1 The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2003-2004. June 30th 2005. Report to Congress from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (PDF, 1.4Mb)2 Voter Turnout Up. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News. January 24, 2006.

Posted in Culture of Aging | Leave a Comment »

Being a grandparent

Posted by Vincent on 01/10/07

When I was a little kid, my picture of “grandpop” was of a little old guy with spectacles, stooped posture, a little paunch, a distinctive limp and false teeth. My grandfather often brought a smile and a wink with him, but he wasn’t particularly able to relate to me. I recall we sometimes played checkers or cards; however, I don’t remember doing anything special with him. We never went off exploring together (except for an occasional movie). He seemed more interested in assigning me chores (and imposing discipline) than teaching me values and how to think. Grandpa was a part of my life, but he was actually more of a babysitter than anything else.

Too proud to be vulnerable, he wasn’t really “accessible”. He never really knew me or dialogued with me to any extent. He didn’t serve as a confidant, guide or mentor. We never had a heart-to-heart conversation, and I never felt particularly safe or connected with him. Maybe this was just our family. Maybe it was the times. Or perhaps it was both.

I can tell you that being a granddad in 2007 for me is a very different experience. Okay, so I wear glasses and fight having a paunch. Yet, while my granddad in his 60s looked like he was 70, I’m 60 and look like I’m in my 50’s (well, okay 591/2 — just wait ’til I’m done my liposuction!). More importantly, I relate to my grandchildren powerfully: I am full of life and have unconditional love for them, and they with me. We are very physically active together and extraordinarily involved. We have taken several journeys together—in fact, we take some sort of adventure every time we’re together. We’ve mastered Charades. We visit frequently. We talk often. I listen a lot. We laugh even more. They teach me and I them. We play and play at the game of life together. In fact, they’ve given me new meaning to exploring and playing (even though we live 3,000 miles away from each other.)

We are deeply connected.

I am committed to building an exceptional relationship with my grandkids—filled with joy, adventure, intimacy and safety. My children support (and appreciate) this. In fact, my commitment to my grandchildren has built an even stronger bond with my children and their spouses. We all act according to this commitment. We will not let miles limit or separate us. I hop on a coast-to-coast plane every 6 weeks. We talk frequently on the phone. They’re too young to use email yet, but I email them photos and stuff through their mom and dad. I make audio and videotapes for them. I bought webcams for my computer and their computer—so we can join our faces with our voices.

Frankly, I’m thrilled and amazed at how I’ve taken to grandparenting and how both my kids and grandchildren have taken to me being a grandparent. Of course, I have technology and financial means that my grandparents didn’t have in the 1950s. But, I have much, much more than that. I know what was missing for me and that has informed my awareness of what’s possible being a granddad. I’ve developed a fairly high level of consciousness about my responsibility. I rarely experience more joy and self-expression than I do with these little ones. I have a profound awareness of the vulnerability of life on this planet. I’ve worked hard on myself and have transformed my fears into august actions.

Maybe this is just our family, maybe it is the times. Or perhaps it’s both.

What do you think?

Posted in Personal Empowerment | Leave a Comment »

Age Management?

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/9/07

I recently saw a CBS 60 Minutes segment about aging. It revealed, once again, how we view age as a physical state that we can control with “anti-aging medicine”—as if various ‘fixes’ such as growth hormones, plastic surgery, erection drugs and myriad vitamin therapies will somehow put off the inevitable. I am not saying any of these medical remedies are bad. In some cases, it is neat to be able to do things at 80 that most 80-year-olds aren’t doing or haven’t ever been able to do before. Whether medical or other external ‘props’ are needed is not the real issue.

What troubles me is that we view age through the same lens that we view disease…as something bad that needs to be treated. The show also talked about ‘age management’ as a rapidly evolving field that, in one way or another, will help ‘control’ the process of aging in the interest of ‘staying young’ as long as possible or at least making the most of what can only be interpreted as a ‘less than desirable stage of life’. Some folks were even smug in their denial of old age and had consciously decided to risk shortening their lives for a few extra years of looking and feeling ‘young’.

Since the concern for age begins for most of us in our late 40s or 50s, this means that our commonly shared view as a culture and as society is that we will live roughly a third to a half of our lives in a state of decline that should be put off for as long as possible—that we need some external intervention to stay happy and healthy. This is nuts. Why don’t we look forward to getting older? If we can’t look forward to the future—at any age—then we will inevitably, in one way or another, be forced to cope with circumstances as best we can. Winning will be about comfort (rather than accomplishment), and eventually we will (if we haven’t already) become resigned that there isn’t much possibility beyond the short-term and whatever we’ve learned in the past.

I reject the whole “anti-aging” view… I say let’s create a context of “pro-aging” in which we can:

  • Take Viagra because we like sex (not because we want to stay young)…
  • Still be healthy by staying engaged in life and doing all the things we should have been doing all along having to do with exercise and diet…
  • Manage our lives like we always have and not need to worry or give a second thought to our age
  • Have ‘who we are’ become our central concern (not how old we are).

Happiness would then be a natural consequence of living life to the fullest, not some circumstantial hype based on living life in a certain way or on taking some specific medication or supplement.

Most importantly, life would be a constant dance with possibilities, a tantalizing tango of living full out everyday that ends with the last day being as rich, full and filled with potential as the first.

Let us go out the way we came in—with a slap on the ass and a celebratory scream to let everyone know we are ALIVE!

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Fearless Aging | Leave a Comment »

Rearview Mirrors

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/8/07

We’ve all experienced the wisdom that comes with hindsight. It’s easy to have 20-20 vision after the fact, to achieve clarity and perspective on our lives and choices in retrospect. What is sometimes less obvious to us is how much of our day-to-day actions, behavior, moods and feelings are a function of the past.

As I grow older, I find myself appreciating how much of the way I see the world is shaped by my past. When you think about it, this implies that the older I get, the more past I have to draw on to shape my worldview and the easier it becomes to just do whatever it is I automatically do based on the way I see things. I begin to lose touch with the fact that my point-of-view is not the truth—it’s just a composite of my individual and cultural history.

I see this in organizations all the time. After all, what is budgeting if not projecting the past into the future, calling it a ‘forecast’ and then organizing plans and allocating resources based on the forecast? Most of the time, the results are pretty close to the forecast or we have a big excuse or explanation of why it doesn’t happen. We rarely say that the forecast was wrong, and we never question the value and relevance of forecasting itself. The reason for this is that we believe we need to “know” what will happen in order to control what happens. I wrote an article called Managers Anonymous that suggested the whole culture of management is addicted to control and prediction, which, in effect, turns planning into a practice of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am suggesting here that most of us live our lives in the same way. We make commitments and take actions based on the past. We are driving our lives by looking in the rearview mirror! Now this would not be a problem if nothing changed or if things changed very slowly, because what we’ve learned from past experience would apply in the present and theoretically lead to better decisions and outcomes. The problem occurs when the world is changing faster and faster, making the past a less reliable basis for making decisions. We are more and more likely to have collisions and unpredictable surprises that, at best, are sources of tremendous stress and anxiety and, at worst, are disasters.

I think older people have always had some difficulty understanding and relating to the young, but I think the differences have been more along the lines of attitudes and behaviors rather than the kinds of profound differences we observe today. One of my friends mentioned the other day that, in her experience, what the Boomers want is to be cool, to be on top of what is happening in all sorts of areas. I think what she was saying is that we all want to feel like we are current, relevant and engaged in the world.

When we become disconnected (for whatever reasons) or can’t relate to or understand contemporary culture, we begin to withdraw into what we do understand and what we can and do relate to—the past. We become increasingly fixated on the rearview mirror, increasingly blind to the world around us and all the possibilities that are available if we can observe and create them for ourselves.

The answer isn’t to ignore or try to forget the past. That would be nonsense and we can’t really do it anyway.

We need to distinguish between our commitments to creating the future and the past. We need to ask the question, “Do our commitments create the future or does our past-based view (rearview mirror) of the future determine or limit what we commit to?” George Bernard Shaw summed up this idea when he said:

Reasonable people adapt themselves to the circumstances. Unreasonable people adapt the circumstances to themselves. Real progress depends upon unreasonable people.

If we only commit to what is reasonable, then by definition we will get more of the same.

So are we going to live reasonably for the next 20 to 30 years of our lives—driving by our rearview mirrors? If so, then we will predictably inherit the culture of aging and the realities that go with it.

If not, then we have a possibility of inventing a new reality, giving new meaning and purpose to what growing older can be. We could drive our lives using the steering wheel and truly be able to explore different possibilities.

The choice is ours.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Culture of Aging | Leave a Comment »

Navigating Retirement

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/5/07

I think it’s wiser to forget about whether we can retire or not based on what our working status or financial situation may be. If you think you have to work, then there is a natural tendency to moods of resignation, disappointment and, sometimes, resentment. People get depressed whenever they are trapped in a story that limits their self-expression and turns them into victims of the circumstances. This could be important to consider if you will continue to work past the time when you thought you could retire.

If you want money for some purpose (whether to meet your basic needs, sustain a particular lifestyle or to have enough to give away to others), then do what you always do when you want money. Make an offer to an existing organization or, if you’re an entrepreneur, find someone who needs what you have to offer and then deliver. The exchange is money.

From this point of view, we are always engaged in work until the day we die. How much time we spend earning money is a choice — not a fait accompli based on an arbitrary event called retirement. I know that retirement doesn’t seem arbitrary when organizations and countries have rules about the age one ‘must’ retire. But I prefer to think that the individual chooses to retire the organization (rather than ‘from’ the organization) and that our choices don’t end when we leave one source of income.

Like actors, musicians, filmmakers and consultants whose whole careers involve moving from one project, client or organization to another, we can realize that there are no ‘endings’—just another ‘what’s next’. When people ask me what I am doing, I say I am working on a new project. More often than not, they are a lot more interested than when I used to give them my title and job description.

At the end of the day, retirement is a state of mind. It is whatever we choose to make it. The word ‘retirement’ isn’t going to go away. But perhaps if enough of us make it less significant and don’t give our power to it, then we can create retirement as a time worth celebrating, an opportunity to complete a chapter in our lives, and a time to reflect on who we are and what we really value and love—and then commit ourselves to that.

Retirement is analogous to navigating in a sailboat: the water and the weather don’t care which direction we’re going, and the choice is 100% ours.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Fearless Aging, Retirement | 1 Comment »

Retirement Mythology

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/4/07

We generally think of ‘retirement’ as the line dividing our ‘working years’ from our ‘not working years’ (or at least, a time when we don’t have to work for a living). I think retirement is a false distinction, one that has taken on enormous importance in people’s lives and that can be a fulcrum for either new possibilities and positive changes or profound resignation and negative changes.

I think ‘retirement’ is a false distinction because ‘work’ is itself a false distinction. It’s easy to see that for some people ‘work’ is ‘play’ (because it is what they love to do), while for others it’s a strategy for something else. ‘Work’ is just a word. We, as individuals, define what is and is not work, and our interpretations are based on the assessments we make about what they’re doing. Of course, when we don’t like what we’re doing or when we don’t think we have a choice about it, then work becomes a kind of indentured labor. In this case, retirement is seen as a welcome escape.

If we think about life in terms of circumstances, then work is about having the circumstances in our lives be what we want—whether that’s providing for our family, having lots of toys, or achieving power, prestige and all the attendant positive and negative factors that come with success in our society.

Retirement is the time when we imagine having the time and space to reap the rewards of our careers and experience the ‘good life’. Unfortunately for many, the ‘good life’ in retirement becomes a conversation all about the ‘good old days’, a reliving of the past filled with sadness and tinged with regret that the future will not be as fulfilling, exciting or enlivening.

But retirement really has little to do with our status as employees and everything to do with our relationship with ourselves and with the world. On that basis, we could choose to redefine ‘work’ as simply the means to realize our dreams.

So what would it be like if you saw work as the process of realizing your dreams, a process which never ends as long as you have a vision and a commitment to creating a future you want?

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Personal Empowerment, Retirement | 1 Comment »

Not Old Enough

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/3/07

I was speaking with a woman today, probably in her late 20s, who is an officer in the military. She is a graduate of one of the military academies and presumably someone the government doesn’t want to lose. She has a both a big vision for change and a seriously self-limiting conversation about what she is and is not able to accomplish in a big bureaucracy at her age (and rank, which amounts to pretty much the same thing in the military). In the absence of a change in her internal conversation about her future, she will probably leave the service early and we’ll lose a potentially very strong leader.

I was struck by how the absence of possibility in her situation looks very much like the same lack of conversation I hear from people my age because we are too old! This phrase is a kind of self-imposed ageism and can occur at any age. It is part of our cultural blindness regarding age and the belief that age is somehow a determining criteria for what we can and cannot accomplish and what is and is not possible.

My view is that a big part of what keeps us stuck in these beliefs is due to the fact that few of us distinguish between the state of our body (at any age) and who we are. Our “mindset” is deeply programmed with the thought-belief that we are our age, even if we intellectually reject this notion. This is the source of ageism—a lack of distinction between the fact of our biological age and the possibility we are as human beings. This perspective is consistent with our culture’s larger worldview (technically known as the Cartesian paradigm) that defines human beings as objects. Once we buy into this notion, we then organize all of our theories and practices to be consistent with this belief. We create ‘human resources’ departments, we create schools of psychology to explain how the person/thing works, and we assess the value of the person/thing in pretty much the way we assess the value of our automobile—most are looking for new and shiny and a few prefer a classic antique.

Ageism (whether of the young or the old) is a cultural ‘reality’ in which our possibilities and practices are organized on assumptions of value based on age.

This interpretation occurs for us both as individuals, as in the example above, and also as a society. For example, to the extent that ‘older’ people in an organization are not open to contributions by the young reveals a kind of cultural or institutional ‘blindness’ that perpetuates and limits possibilities based on age.

My argument against ageism isn’t so much because of its impact on the mood or dignity of the individual (although it can often be significant) as it is based on the extraordinary waste of creativity, talent and human energy that is lost to the organization or society. Between the old and the young, we are squandering roughly half of humanity’s potential contribution.

Obviously there are no simple answers to the fact of ageism any more than there are simple answers to any cultural phenomenon. I do believe, however, in the ‘critical mass’ theory which suggests that when enough people adopt an alternative worldview to conventional wisdom (or a prevailing paradigm), then the whole culture transforms … and what was previously a ‘far out’ idea becomes the mainstream understanding of ‘the way it is’.

Today at the beginning of 2007 we might take a moment to think about where each of us individually stands on the matter of age and its relevance for us personally and in our relationship with others.

My stand is to constantly remind ourselves that ‘who we are is more important than how old we are’.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Culture of Aging | Leave a Comment »

Staying Young

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/2/07

There was a show on public TV today about 20 tips to staying young. It is the theme in a zillion magazine articles at the grocery checkout that are, not surprisingly, targetted to the graying celebrities and Baby Boomers. The problem I have is I don’t like the phrase ‘staying young’. It reveals the context in which we all live—a context in which growing older is a negative part of our lives, a phase to be accepted but put off as long as possible. This is the culture of decline I have spoken about in other postings.

I think most of us ‘feel’ younger than we think we are supposed to feel at whatever age we are now. But this fact makes my point. How old is it supposed to feel when you are 60 or 70 or 80? Maybe we’re supposed to feel this way as we age. In their book Younger Next Year, Crowley and Lodge give a pretty convincing argument and lots of evidence that, with exercise and a reasonable diet, none of us have to deteriorate at all and we can feel better and better as we age.

My theory is that the ego doesn’t get older and spends the last half of its life in denial or resistance to changes in the body that occur naturally. This is a major source for the negative aspects of aging—we get what we resist.

What if we just let our bodies grow older and committed ourselves to being the age we feel without concern for what we should be feeling or how we should be acting? What if by simply living life to the fullest and continuing to create possibilities we could have all that we would hope to have by ‘staying young’—not as a function of resistance or denial, but as a choice?

I am fine with however people choose to live, including how they may choose to grow older. I only get interested when I realize that I am living in a cultural interpretation that is sufficiently powerful and transparent as to rob me of choice—a culture that defines me by my age rather than my commitments and actions. This is the same gripe that people who have been marginalized or discriminated against for any reason have always had. I guess it’s my turn now.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

Posted in Culture of Aging | Leave a Comment »