Observer article

Though I say it myself, I’ve always been good at having ideas, but following them through to completion, absolute rubbish, but yes, having them, great. I say this by way of preamble to a brilliant (well, we’ll see) idea about a topic for this blog. Like so many of my ideas I’ve no idea where it came from or how it came about, after all the idea has been staring me in the face for the last couple of years, maybe longer, for as long as there has been a section at the end of The Observer colour supplement called Inner Life (see image right). This is a regular column about what might broadly be called self-improvement. Any person who reads the media / magazines / books etc. in either digital form or print will inevitably have come to the conclusion that this area is big business. Every day, from my very limited observation, there is something written by somebody about how to make one’s life a better place to be in. Except, maybe, if you’re a retired person.

I know I’m being a bit harsh when I say this. It’s not to say that we retired people don’t get articles about how to make us more fulfilled, but there’s less stuff for us, which is surprising when we read so much about our demographics’ spending power – the silver pound / dollar or whatever.  But there’s no regular piece of the media that caters for us by producing articles of interest to the over 65s. You may well say I’m not reading the right sources and you may well be right. But it was this belief over three years ago that started me writing about retirement, psychology and our life experiences. For one reason or another I’ve lost this thread in my blogs and, although I post a couple of blogs every week, their content has been more of a mish mash of my own experiences rather than anything very learned (if that is the correct description), the psychological bit seems to have disappeared. But maybe that’s about to change…

My ‘brilliant’ idea was to take an Inner Life article every few weeks (not sure about frequency) and adapt / translate / rehash the article for the retired person like myself. I decided I couldn’t just wait until a wholly suitable article came along, if the idea was any good then it should be possible to work my magic on the topic of self-improvement, whatever the specific focus happened to be. Hmm, even as I’m writing this I’m starting to panic a bit. The idea is great as an idea but, when it comes to the reality of the adaptation, it might prove quite a challenge at best, impossible at worst.

Only one way to find out, take this week’s article (although it will be last week’s by the time this gets posted) and make it happen. So here goes. The topic of the particular article paradoxically was a recommendation by Svend Brinkmann who has written a book, probably cleverly, against the over-whelming tide of self-improvement books / articles / videos / blogs etc. entitled Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Curse. Good title, it appeals to my sense of the contrary but I swear I didn’t cherry-pick this as the first idea, it was just there. I don’t have the book so I’m not sure if it’s any good. The article itself, which I have read, carefully (see my highlighting of the article above), isn’t brilliant to be honest. In my humble opinion when you actually read it rather than skim it which is probably what most people do, myself included, it’s pretty shallow, full of flimsy reasoning, flawed argument and non-sequiturs, that doesn’t sound good, does it?  If you wanted to you could enlarge it and read it and judge for yourself. But put that to one side and consider what it does say and most important in the context of this blog, what relevance does the message have for us retired people?

This is my brief and possibly unfair summary of the article. The heading of the article is Stop Looking for Yourself and harks back to the era, maybe the 60s, when it was, it was argued, essential to find your true / ‘authentic’ self (as an antidote to the repressive conformity of those years) but now ‘developing yourself as a person is no longer a radical idea’. Acceptance of who you are and feeling at ease with being like everybody else rather than your ‘unique self’ as a person is to be recommended. ‘Those who reject the find-and-develop-yourself have more chance of putting down roots and living a life of integrity – with joined-up and enduring identities – and sticking to what is important in their lives’. So habits and routines have greater human potential than ‘endless invocations of innovation and change’. Not finding yourself or not trying to find your ‘true’ self may give you a more stable sense of yourself and, in the conclusions of the writer, make you a better human-being. All of which, incidentally, found great favour with Mrs Summerhouse and her ‘live in the moment’ philosophy. As I say in my view there are a few bits of faulty thinking in all that but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or even thought-provoking.

So there we have it, my idea laid bare so to speak. There’s probably two questions – was the article any good in the first place (not strictly the remit of this blog) and, if it was, have I successful adapted it for the retired person’s market? I’ve already said I didn’t rate the article not because of the conclusions it draws but rather because of the way it arrived at them, but that’s the way of things in this process, I can’t just sit around until something fabulous comes along. As to the second question – is my ‘brilliant’ idea actually brilliant or simply rather dull? I think I’ve done the best I can with the source material and hence the message is if you’re retired, value what you have in your retirement and stop hankering after what you don’t have. Accept yourself for what you are and help your self-esteem by doing so. Be pleased with what health you have rather than focusing on your elderly ailments. Be thankful for whatever amount of money (unless you’re living in genuine poverty) you’ve accumulated and don’t envy the financial status of others. Be kind to those you love if you have such a person/s and take as much enjoyment as possible from the activities you have, mostly, chosen to engage in, oh, and at the risk of going all floral, live in the moment. And finally habits and routines are not necessarily the kiss of death for the retired person.

Enough I think, you get the idea. I didn’t intend this blog to be a happy clappy guide to a fulfilling retirement, but it is dangerously close to that. I think, as to the value of the original idea – adapting an existing article for the old gimmers rather than the message in the article itself, – I would have to say, on the basis of this effort, case unproven. I’ll try again in a later blog about retirement.

4 Comments

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  1. Still the Lucky Few 8 months ago

    “if you’re retired, value what you have in your retirement and stop hankering after what you don’t have. Accept yourself for what you are and help your self-esteem by doing so.”…I like this! Speaking as someone who has been on the ‘self help’ bandwagon since the 70s, it is refreshing! Sort of, be content, rather than be inspired. I’ll take that. It’s less tiring!

    • Author
      summerhouse 8 months ago

      I agree I just wish I could make this attitude ‘stick’, I know it’s right but…

  2. Maddy at Home 8 months ago

    It’s not so much the over-emphasis on self-improvement that is annoying, it is the over-emphasis on self which is (so I’ve read) producing a greater proportion of narcissists than we have had in our population in the past. All those inspiring memes that we see on our social media have made shallow many quotes from great writers. It’s the unacceptable face of Social Media . . .
    I definitely think your idea to follow these articles is a good one. It has certainly given me food for thought.

    • Author
      summerhouse 8 months ago

      Thanks Maddy, this week’s article wasn’t good but I shall keep on with the idea

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