Sometimes living in denial is easier than accepting reality. It took me a while to realize I wasn’t going to be “forever young.” I suspect that being in a state of denial is why research suggests a whole lot of people don’t adequately prepare financially, physically, or emotionally for the realities of getting older. But the truth is, all of us are getting older. Thankfully, I was initially pushed a bit to prepare. However, as I started educating myself about the realities of not only retirement but of aging, I became pretty motivated to start taking steps towards my best life now and in the future.
Initial Financial Preparation
Luckily for me, my son, a financial advisor, had one of those “Sit down, mom, we need to talk” conversations with me when I was about fifty. I realized that I needed to take a hard look at what kind of money I’d need to have for even a modest retirement someday. Social Security alone wasn’t going to cut it. I did start tracking my finances and made sure I had some money set aside through a workplace program as well as through a small IRA account. I also ended up delaying retirement for a few additional years, which I realize isn’t necessarily an option for everyone.
I learned from another expert that Medicare isn’t free and doesn’t cover a lot of basic health care needs. I had to budget for not only Medicare but supplemental insurance coverage as I prepared for life after work.
Knowledge is Empowering
Before I retired, I completed coursework and became a certified professional retirement coach. I also started reading everything I could about retirement and age-related issues. I’ve now read at least 42 books by aging or retirement experts and have read over 1100 related studies, research reports, and articles. I’ve also talked to different experts about nonfinancial course corrections that are important to make as we get older.
I cannot afford to be in denial about getting older. In fact, after a lot of reading and talking to others, I’m pretty darned excited about the new phase of life I’m embracing. I have a better idea of what to expect and what I need to be doing right now to increase the odds that I’ll continue living my best life in the future.
Why Certain Changes are Important
A few years ago, I was advised to work on my balance. I thought, “Yeah, that’s for old people, not for me.” I continued to think that way until I had my first fall. Now I work on my balance every day and I’ve improved a great deal. I’ve also done enough reading to know why we start losing our balance as we age (hearing, muscles, and vision are all involved). I have also learned that the likelihood of breaking bones increases when we fall as older adults. And some of those broken bones can result in permanent disability or even death.
A few years ago, a doctor told me I shouldn’t have more than one, 5 oz glass of wine in the evenings—if at all. I nodded my head but continued to have two glasses when I felt especially stressed after work (which was often). Like so many overworked doctors, the one I was seeing at the time had very little time to explain much to me. It wasn’t until I started doing my own reading and research that I realized that my frequent extra glass of wine could put me at risk for various health problems including weight gain and cognitive decline as I aged. Because I understand how my choices will affect me now and, in the future, I am more motivated to take my health more seriously and to work on making the right choices each day.
Attitude and Aging
Preparing emotionally for getting older is something I suspect we don’t consider as much as we should. Getting older in a youth-centric culture means that almost all of us will experience some degree of ageism—prejudice or discrimination because of our age. Because I knew what to expect, I was also at least somewhat prepared to deal with ageist comments and treatment. It has helped me navigate my new status as an older person.
I have read several articles about how embracing a positive attitude toward aging can not only increase our lifespan and healthspan. I have been intentional about focusing on the positive aspects of getting older. I talk to other people about why I enjoy being an older woman, and I don’t hesitate to tell people that I’m sixty-eight and enjoying my age the fullest. I think attitude has a lot to do with how we age and how we feel about our age.
Change of any kind is never easy. Preparing for an unknown future can also be difficult. However, I believe that if we educate ourselves and get a better picture of age-related possibilities and pitfalls, then we are going to be more motivated. We’ll be motivated to make needed changes, and we’ll be motivated to adequately prepare for the years ahead.