Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Don’t We Plan

I just finished A Long Bright Future, An Action Plan for a Lifetime of Happiness, Health, and Financial Security by Laura L. Carstensen, PhD. The book offers a comprehensive overview of the current realities, possibilities and challenges presented by our changing demographics.

Each chapter is rich in suggestions to individuals, employers, agencies, policy makers, etc. The basic message: the tsunami of aging baby boomers is upon us. How are we going to cope? What does coping look like?

Much of my work the past 15 years has been trying to get people to plan for their end-of-life---with very little success. I was curious to see how Dr. Carstensen handled the issues of planning for the future.

First she warns us: “retirement could revert to what it once was before the prosperity, leisure time, and health gains of the mid-twentieth century…a brief, unenjoyable period of sickness and infirmity that buffers the time between work and death.” Then she encourages us: “Thinking about what might go wrong helps us to prepare, so that we can avoid calamities…”

In Chapter 7: What Might Go Wrong, she describes obstacles to planning. I now understand much better how difficult it is for humans to imagine and then intentionally create different kinds of futures. She got me thinking---how many of us are children and grandchildren of people who came here reactively---fleeing misery---focused on survival? Many of us are recent descendants of peasants---where almost everything is out of the individual’s control: weather, war, sickness. Perhaps a one-generation veneer of middle-class security isn’t enough to rewire brains. I think of my grandmother intoning “Don’t borrow trouble.” Or the King James Version of Matthew 6:34: Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Depending on Your View

Last week I was walking through a city near where I live---strolling along, enjoying the beginning of Fall, fending off the normal amount of requests for money. I had taken the afternoon off to wander around and visit some used bookstores.

Gradually it dawned on me that there was something different about the requests for money. For one, there were a lot more people sitting with signs and cups. For another, there was a lot less of the usual banter and funny signs (lwill work for beer). But the stunner was the number of elderly men and women sitting on the sidewalk with cups and signs. These were men and women in their sixties (my age) and seventies. What made them look elderly?

Ironically the book I had with me to read on the train was A Long Bright Future, An Action Plan for a Lifetime of Happiness, Health, and Financial Security by Laura L. Carstensen, PhD. Dr. Carstensen is the founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. She encourages the reader to “envision the possibilities of a longer life; design your future with smart choices you make today; diversity your social, civic, and leisure pursuits; and, invest in yourself, your family and your community.

The contrast could not have been more ironic, more bitter. How many of these people had been proactive?---envisioning, designing, diversifying, investing---only to find that events over which they had no control (like an economic meltdown or critical illness) had made a shambles of their plans for a long, bright future.

Dr. Carstensen makes some very good points from her 50,000 foot view. But what about the person on the ground whose best-laid plans have blown up in his/her face?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting Back in the Game

I was shocked when I realized how long it had been since I did a blog entry. I have been doing so much at the computer: designing the brochure for my practice; learning LinkedIn; answering e-mails; writing reports; doing research etc. Surely in all that computer time I had written a blog entry?

It seems that my resistance to writing my own thoughts had used my Internet industriousness (and reading and thinking) to accomplish its end---no creative writing. Clever! What woke me up?

I have to give credit to the late Joan Erikson. I have been reading Erikson on Development in Adulthood by Carol Hren Hoare. Professor Hoare explored Erikson's published and unpublished works to discover his theories on adult development and how these evolved. She had also been conducting many interviews including some with Joan Erikson, then in her 90's. Joan Erikson, looking at her progress, said: “If you don't stop going around talking to people about Erik...this book is going to come out of your ears instead of your pen!”

I confess to the same tendency. One more article. One more book. One more exciting conversation. It doesn't look like procrastination... Still what people are writing and talking about today is so interesting and important.

People are starting to talk seriously about the realities of illness, aging, dying---the challenges and the costs. More people are questioning some of our basic assumptions like “do everything.” In my opinion even the “death panel” folks are providing a service. They are wrong, of course, but their extreme position is challenging those of us in the middle and those of us at the other extreme to state our positions/values/concerns.

Just what we need to have a healthy debate.