Saturday, January 19, 2013

Random Mutations Are For the Birds.

You aren’t who you were. Nor who you will be. So why not be intentional about the changes?

In the New York Times on January 3, John Tierney summarized some research about our changing selves. Bottom line? We are well aware that in many respects we aren’t who we were as teenagers and young adults, but we underestimate the changes that will take place in the next years. Changes that impact tastes in foods, friends, music, interests, energy levels, vision….

Usually the changes are subtle, so that we are only aware of them when we look back. Yeah, I’m not so into bell bottom pants anymore, nor hard candy, nor pulling all nighters.

So if I'm going to be different, I’m thinking that future changes could benefit from some planning. Why should my 70’s be nothing more than the accumulation of random mutations in my 60’s? Given my increasing insight into me, why not use that insight to capitalize on me in the best ways possible?

Intentional changes can be in any form:
Physical: Embracing new styles of exercise and stretching, experimenting with new food themes, taking up new sports like bicycling or kayaking or climbing.

Mental: Reading books by authors you don’t agree with, working a new genre of puzzles, joining a book group, taking a class at the local college.

Spiritual: Discussing aspects of your faith with people who aren’t of your faith, reading books about other religions, pushing yourself to do something you claim to believe in but haven’t ever actually done, meditating.

Social: Asking more questions during conversations, inviting new acquaintances out for lunch, greeting more people genuinely in passing, learning the names of familiar strangers around town.

So maybe you pick one small thing that’s uncomfortable and that’s what you focus on for a while. Or maybe you are more ambitious than that and pick one small thing from each category. Whichever, don’t pick too much. Usually, we are the accumulation of  small, incremental,  changes rather than earth shaking ones. 

But if you haven’t recently taken steps toward an intentional change, start today. It’s the only time you can. If you wait, you'll end up looking back and wondering, "How did that happen?"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Kayak Water Polo at 58

The first time I played kayak water polo, I was 58.

Jacki, an active, innovative friend, had just purchased a fleet of kayaks for a teen club. So since she had them anyway, why not invite one and all to play once a week at an indoor pool? Having been a paddler of one sort or another all my life--I mean since I was, like, two years old--I bit.

The thing that caught my eye my first time was a woman about sixty years old who was ferocious. I decided on the spot that "if she could do it...." She only played a couple games more before she left town, but I was hooked. It was also encouraging that there were as many women playing as men, and the women were mostly better at it. I like sports that are inclusive.

I may have been hooked, but I wasn't all that good. Sure, I could paddle fast. And yes, I knew how to maneuver and outmaneuver. But polo is as much about the ball as the boat. I had a lousy arm, bad aim, and no sense of strategy. In a game where the second greatest joy, besides scoring a goal, is to push someone out of their boat, I had to adjust my pacifist tendencies.

I'm a lefty, and about the time I started getting better at all this, my right elbow and my left shoulder began to hurt so badly that I could barely paddle or throw the ball ten feet without deep pain, but for some reason I didn't think either of those were relevant. Still, I finally went to an orthopedist. My wife would probably point out that I waited until the polo season was over before I went to the doctor, but I prefer to see that as coincidence.

I have now been playing three years. Exercises at home cured the pains, and practice has made me a formidable competitor. That's not the word others would use, but I'm the one writing this blog. I can smile broadly while dumping the smallest child out of his boat. I can adapt to rules as they are made up or broken. I can score sometimes. I can ram and scram with the dexterity of a teenager. That's not the word a teenager would use, but I'm the one writing this blog.

Yesterday I played my last game before leaving town. It was raucous and anarchistic, which are words any observer would have used. In a fit of brand new 2013 delirium we tackled players who didn't have the ball, refused to give up the ball even when we were out of our boats, held on to each others' boats and refused to let go. I scored the last goal of the game standing in the water about half a pool away from my boat, which normally wouldn't have counted, but it did this time. At the end, we said goodbye to each other, and cried. Who would ever have guessed that I would have forged such special friendships with so wide a variety of people playing a sport that I only started at 58 years of age.

We are not too old to start something new. At fifty plus, we have the tools and components to invent our next self in ways that will surprise us. The process may be slower than it used to, but things we have done before will suddenly pop up and speed our learning curve.

The first thing I ever want to say when someone invites me to try something new is, "Sure, I'll give it a whirl." If they think I can do it, who am I to say I can't?

Here's the best part: the older I get, the more likely it is that someone will say, "He's pretty good for his age." The lower the expectations, the easier it becomes to exceed them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

1/1/2013. Happy New Year. It is my 61st.

I rang in the new year running a 5K with 200 friends at 12:13 AM. 18 degrees. Snow glow for atmosphere. I cannot think of a better way to embrace my 61st New Year.

In 10 days my wife and I will move to Dominical Costa Rica, not to retire but to begin building Selva Pacifica Revitalodge, a gathering place in the jungle overlooking the Pacific, for active, inquisitive, thoughtful, adventuresome travelers. A place where all ages will find inspirational companionship.

Numerous friends have remarked that this is an unusual undertaking for someone my age. I reply that I don't want to get 10 years further down the road and wish I had pursued my dream "10 years ago" when I was younger and stronger.

In this space we will explore, you and I, the vast opportunities that await those who are over 50. We will affirm the documented reality that our lives count now more than ever, that we are role models still, and that the world is both ours to embrace and ours to lead.

Some things are harder now. If we don't keep up physically, it takes longer to catch up. If we don't force our minds to stay open, they close and rust. If we default, we talk more than we listen. If we bow to stereotypes, we cede the high ground to the "cool" kids.

Other things are easier now. We know that human worth is more than human appearance. We more easily shun "things" in favor of "values." We don't panic in the face of endless gloomy prophecies. We have stamina. We know what we're capable of when we commit. We have seen the consequences of decisions played out over time.

Harder or easier, here we are and I believe we should make the most of it. But I am merely one jotting scribe. As readership grows, so does perspective. You are as likely to inspire me as I am you. You will show me where I am wrong and where I am more right than I know. We are better when there are more of us. Engage!

This site will take shape as I learn how to take advantage of the features that are offered. Until then, good enough is good enough for a start. I do not want to look back a year from now and say, "I wish I'd started back when...."

Today's To-Do's? First, comment on this post with a brief description including your first name, your age, and one new thing you'd like to do this year. Second, subscribe to the feed from this blog. You won't have to read every one. But you will at least know when there is a new one.