7 things we’ve learned about ourselves during the pandemic lockdown


It’s been ten years since we first met.


No, this is not a love story, but a story about mid-to later-life men and women dedicated to optimizing transition and change, coming together once a year to discuss a topic of interest. It’s a story of mutual respect, understanding, learning and care shared among two gender-based groups.


First, a little background.


The men in the group are members of the Life Transition Group. Several years ago, Ron Dresher and Brian Harris, both long-time successful marketing professionals, went for a bike ride along the beach and began to talk about their next chapter in life – commonly referred to as retirement. Both were passionate about their work. They questioned what they would do with their energy and commitment when no longer working. They felt motivated to become more knowledgeable and were ready to share experiences with others. Subsequently, they formed a group of like-minded men and have been meeting for 12 years with scheduled monthly speakers. There are three such groups in Southern California. 


The women are from Renewment®, a forum and movement started by my co-founder Bernice Bratter and me in 1999. Renewment women are like-minded with successful careers, wanting to create the next chapter of life to be equal to or even more satisfying than the previous ones. We also meet monthly and proceed to discuss subjects relevant to not only the retirement transition but also to changes throughout a lifetime. We have about 40 Renewment conversation groups across the country that have grown virally. 


This year’s question was what have we learned about ourselves during the pandemic and how are we managing? Several themes emerged.


Introversion: A few women were surprised they actually were an introvert, particularly when their long-term successful careers involved engagement with people. They said, “I love being home and have learned the art of being still.” Both men and women who had jobs that involved global travel did not miss the traveling, airports or large conferences. Another was happy to quarantine with her dog.


Connection: In contrast, others mentioned the importance of not being alone and the role of initiating social contact. To counteract social isolation, one woman went on a mission to meet her neighbors. She placed notes in neighbors’ mailboxes and wrote chalk messages on the sidewalk to communicate with them. She was amazed at the outpouring of appreciation and connection. 


Happiness: Another woman created a happiness box. Each time something made her happy, she wrote it on a piece of paper and placed it in a special box. Examples included sunlight streaming through her kitchen window, seeing a beautiful flower or a tree spreading its arms. Another attended the free Yale class on happiness called The Science of Well-Being. We were reminded of the Abraham Lincoln quote, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” 


Inspiration: One person looked towards history to find inspiration and the art of living simply while studying life during World War II. A happy husband was inspired by the “wonderfulness” of his wife. 


Worn down: Feeling worn down, the lack of structure and even despair were discussed. A semi-retired chemical engineer found structure in creating time to play Mr. Science with his grandchildren. Another countered despair through finding beauty and being with friends. Getting back to religion with prayer was an antidote to feeling low, noted another participant. 


Reflection: All agreed that this is a time for reflection with an emphasis on what is most important in life. Almost all participants indicated they were reorganizing priorities, wanting to spend more time with family and friends. Most important was the appreciation of the fragility of life and value of time. This became poignant as one member just lost her sister-in-law.


Purpose: Having a sense of purpose was an ongoing theme. One member realized that it was important for him to find purpose beyond himself, even if it was helping his children with home renovation.

 

Towards the end of our conversation, we realized there were no gender differences in our reaction to the pandemic and how fortunate we were to have choices and a sense of security. Then the conversation changed; it was no longer about us. Our stories evolved to those suffering from the pandemic while at the same time, recognizing the binding power of humanity, the profound importance of kindness, caring and generosity and what each of us can do to create a better community and world. Indeed, we are in this together.


Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulagingCommunity

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