If you could change anything about yourself or your situation what would it be? The key is playing the long game and staying open to the opportunities in every new day
Words Sarah Heeringa. Hero photo Jane Ussher
Plan to live (and work) for a long time
Statistically speaking, New Zealanders are progressively living longer. Women live longer than men and currently have a life expectancy of around 83 years – a reasonable stretch of time in anyone’s book.
New Zealand doesn’t have an official retirement age, but for many people 65 years old is the target as it’s the age when most superannuation plans begin to pay out your savings, including Government-funded NZ Superannuation (Super). New Zealand ranks above many other countries in the proportion of older people, especially 65 plus, who are still in the workforce.
One thing on which economists and business commentators tend to agree is that people who are currently in their 20s and 30s are not just likely to live longer, they’ll likely be working longer as well. The longer we can maintain good heath and a reasonable level of fitness and mental agility the longer we’ll be able to enjoy both our work and play.
Be open to change
Change is a given. Technology is constantly evolving and it isn’t waiting around for you to keep up. Tertiary qualifications don’t guarantee a smooth career path as they once might have done, and many employees have had to readjust their career expectations due to impacts of the GFC on the economy or job market.
New life stages, such as becoming a parent or seeing your children leave home, can change your daily role dramatically and challenge your identity in ways you may not anticipate. Given the disruption occurring in industries such as media and health you might also reasonably expect to be made redundant at least once in your life.
Success in life involves the ability to accept life as it is at the moment, while staying open to positive change. “There is no perfect career for each of us, we can all do many things and make many different choices, it’s our perspective on the choices we make, or have made, that is important,” says Wellington-based life coach Jaki Marston.
The more curious we are about a subject, the easier it is to learn information about that topic, suggests a new study into the role of curiosity in the brain. Researchers discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the brain’s reward circuit. The findings, published in the Cell Press journal Neuron suggest people who were highly curious to find answers to a question, were better at learning and remembering that information.
Seperate goals from desires
Is my career on track? Have I accomplished enough by now? How can I ever save enough to buy a house? When is the right time to have a baby?
Before we can start resolving our long-term career and life goals (or our anxieties about them) we first have to identify them. It helps to understand the fundamental difference between goals and desires. Goals are the things that are reasonably within our power to achieve, desires are things we might hope for but can’t necessarily make happen. For instance, it may be your desire to own a home, but you identify immediate goals of reducing debt, saving a certain amount as a deposit, or keeping tabs on the property market.
Replace worry with action
Once you’ve decided what your achievable goals are, get organised and make a plan specific to each goal. We can’t be expert at everything, so enlist the help of professionals you trust to give you sound advice at key junctures. These might include a lawyer, accountant, minister, personal trainer, former teacher or university lecturer. Ask around for recommendations from others.
If it helps motivate you and stay on track, keep a success journal that records your many steps towards a goal. Set a priority list and go for it. As Antoine de Saint -Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Allow time for what is time sensitive
There is a season for everything. We enjoy many benefits of modern science, but ultimately we still live within the natural limitations of our bodies.
You can still travel the world in your 90s – albeit by coach and cruise ship – but you likely won’t be able to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Likewise, it’s an inescapable fact that fertility rates begin to decline gradually around age 32 and then rapidly after age 37. After 35, the risks of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities increase significantly. Having children is not for everyone, but if it’s very important to you, don’t let yourself run out of time.
Acquire one new skill for a year
One of the inspiring attributes of my late gran was that she kept learning, including starting to learn Maori in her 60s. Have you ever dreamed of teaching yourself to paddleboard, play the ukulele, or knit yourself a jumper? Sign up for a nightclass, buy a book or head online and get started.
Mend relationships with family
Sure, they can be annoying and we don’t always see eye to eye – especially once in-laws and other extras get added into the mix. Ask yourself: if something tragic was to happen to anyone in your family, would you have regrets? If so, resolve to get over yourself, pick up the phone or send that reconciliatory e-mail. Time is ticking and someone has to make the first move.
Stay connected with best friends
Choose friends who encourage you to be your best self, who challenge and inspire you by their example, and whose company you genuinely enjoy. Make time every fortnight to be in touch.
Avoid dumb debt and start saving – even if it’s just a little
It’s easy to spend on meals out or on stuff we don’t really need. Aim to collect memories instead of things. The sooner we can get into the habit of saving, the more we’ll be able to set aside for use later in life. The first step, suggests the New Zealand Commission for Financial Capability, is to avoid expensive debt such as credit cards and hire purchase.
The second step is to make a repayment plan for getting out of any debt we already have. Go to www.sorted.org.nz for handy interest rate calculators and other helpful tools for getting a handle on your finances.
Let go of regret
There’s only misery to be gained from endlessly reliving past mistakes.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Maya Angelou
With regards to career choices, you can only make a decision on the information you have today, Marston says. “If you are looking back and telling yourself you made a mistake because of where you are at today, that’s not helpful and is probably untrue. Life is a journey; if at some point in your future you decide to go down a different path that doesn’t mean the journey you have been on to date, or the past choices you’ve made were wrong, or that you made a mistake. Society (Western culture especially) sees life as a straight line when in fact it is often circular, or goes up and down or zigzags around, so why do we expect our career trajectory to be a straight line?”
Be honest with yourself on a personal level. Own your mistakes, learn from what has been, implement heart-felt changes and commit to moving forward. As author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is quoted as saying, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Our bodies are what we feed them. Don’t eat more than your body needs – excess weight does all kinds of bad things for your general wellbeing. Add more organic whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean, organic and free-range proteins to your diet. Steer clear of processed and highly refined food. Enjoy every meal; eat slowly, chew each mouthful and let yourself feel gratitude for having good food to eat. Make it easy on yourself by arranging a weekly delivery of seasonal fruit and veggies to you door.
Cultivate a style that suits you
Growing up and growing older offers you the chance to cast off the pressures and insecurities of youth. Enjoy learning to be comfortable in your own skin. Don’t be a fashion victim – steer clear of passing trends and cheap clothes and instead choose clothes and shoes that are well designed and made that will last the distance. Look for natural and organic fabrics and locally made clothes with attitude.
Care a bit less
One of the great things about growing older is silencing the negative voices in your head. Refuse to compare yourself to anyone else and one day you’ll realise you simply don’t care anywhere near as much as you once did about what most people think of you. It’s as liberating a thought as you choose to let it be.
Smoking is expensive, smells bad, and is 100 percent guaranteed to cause health problems. The good news is that support for stopping smoking has never been greater and more research is being done all the time. For instance, University of Auckland researchers recently found a low cost, plant -based product that’s even better than nicotine replacement therapy at helping smokers quit.
In a randomised trial, more than 1,300 quitters were given either the drug cystine, standard nicotine gum or lozenges. Participants who were given cystine were more likely to be smoke-free after six months.
Look after your teeth
According to Ministry of Health statistics, dental decay remains the most prevalent and irreversible disease in New Zealand. We have worse dental health than Australians. Good dental health is hugely important because problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body, reducing your ability to fight disease. Maintain daily habits of brushing and flossing and, expensive though they might be, don’t put off a visit to your dentist when you have a niggle.
Make activity part of your everyday
Not everyone feels comfortable in a gym setting or has the where-with-all to get up at the crack of dawn for boot camp. But we can all make incidental exercise part of our everyday. Walk to work – or your kids to school. Run up those stairs. Bend your knees when you pick something up rather than bending over. Go for a walk with a friend rather than meet them at a cafe.
Practice being a great listener
We can be so preoccupied that we fail to hear what others have to say. Good communication is an art that fosters understanding and deepens our relationships with others. Suspend your own thoughts and judgements and focus on the person you’re listening to.
Volunteering with a charitable organisation keeps you in touch with something greater than your own immediate wants or desires. Numerous studies have shown that people who donate their time feel happier and more socially connected. Research, such as a study published in Psychological Bulletin 2014, suggests that giving time to others can also contribute to better physical and mental health – including lower blood pressure, less dementia and even a longer lifespan.
Avoid wrinkles and thin skin from repeated sun damage by making the application of a quality sunblock part of your daily spring and summer morning regime.
Embrace the future with optimism
Life in New Zealand is not without its challenges, but relatively speaking, we have a lot to feel grateful for and plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about our future. In fact, New Zealand ranked among the top 10 best places to grow old, according to Global AgeWatch Index 2014: Insight Report. Research by HelpAge International and the University of Southampton ranked 96 countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of older people, representing over 90 percent of 60-plus people across the world – and New Zealand came out as one of the best countries, ranking above the UK and Australia.
Has there ever been a better time in history to be growing older? The Boomer Generation is out to prove it so. Medical know-how is increasing all the time and Boomers’ willful refusal to act their age is steadily redefining what it means to be 50, 60, 70 and so on, as they move through the decades.
We are the sum of our life experiences. Every time we get through a period in our lives when it’s all gone pear-shaped, it’s further proof that we know what we can survive. And every day we can choose to enrich rather than undermine the quality of relationships we enjoy with those we care about. Our awesome future starts now.