Time for another semi-serious blog. one about the on-going theme of self-esteem in retirement. The problem is, Jean Socrates has really thrown me for a loop. She’s the 70 year old woman who sailed single-handedly round the world in / on her yacht. Makes me feel my retirement life is very dull indeed. I wasn’t helped by the latest Land Rover mag which was all about exploration, nor Bear Grylls glowering at us from the hoardings, going on about taking risks or something similar (I forgot to write down the words and now I can’t remember them – not a great omen for going round the world – now where am I going?). What do we (Mrs Summerhouse and I) have to challenge us? Yes we worry about our children, my 93 year old ill mother, our own health, money, bringing up two lively collie puppies and the havoc they have wreaked in our lives. But where, oh where, are the challenges?
Clearly what we need in our retirement lives are more challenges. So that’s why I’ve signed up for jazz improvisation classes. You will know if you’ve read my blog that I felt I aimed too high with this challenge and hence my self-esteem took a dive. I’ve never played a note of jazz and I’ve no real idea how I’m going to improvise in an area of music that I know nothing of. For my first attempt, which, incidentally, was a disaster, read my blog. I banged my head on that one. Whatever, it all set me thinking about retirement challenges and their impact on self-esteem.
So once again I’m writing this from a self-esteem perspective, specifically what happens when you set yourself challenges and fail, which is not as straight forward as it might first appear. To make it as simple as I can, I’m going to say it’s about balance. Which at its simplest means setting challenges that you think you have a better than average chance of succeeding at whilst but which still remain a genuine challenge. Balance also means not obsessing about setting yourself challenges. Build in the odd one or two but don’t base your whole retirement on setting challenges and taking risks. There should be time for just chilling out and doing very little. Being a blob is fine every now and again.
So how do you judge a challenge? How do you decide if a challenge is the right one for you? A few words of humble advice, hard earned experience you might say. I think there are a number of criteria that you can apply.
- Have you done anything similar in the past and had success, is this an extension of an area in which you have some track record? Which also leads to asking the question – just how much do you know about your challenge? Ignorance may be bliss but it can also be the prelude to disastrous results.
- Is this one of a number of challenges you intend to tackle in retirement or is it ‘the big one’, the one you’ve always wanted to tackle? From a self-esteem point of view, on the whole it’s probably better to tackle a number of smaller challenges and get some success from each small achievement rather than make one challenge the all-important focus of your life. Setting little challenges can become a life style, a one-off big challenge if you fail might be incredibly damaging to your self-esteem and even if you succeed can leave you feeling a bit hollow – now what do I do now that I’ve achieved my lifetime goal? It’s more fun to make out your bucket list of smaller challenges, chat about them, kick them around a little, plan around them, rather than having one single personal Everest. A lot of people die trying to climb Everest.
- Another question that might be helpful in deciding what to attempt and what to leave alone challenge-wise is based on what you might call the big picture. Always good to have big picture thinking at your disposal. What do the uninvolved, the knowledgeable, the expert reckon are your chances of success? No point being stupid about it. If they say you’ve no chance, well you might be the type of person who says – I’ll show them or die in the attempt. More helpful is to ask them to look at your challenge and break the end goal down into smaller steps that are more likely to be achievable. Baby steps as Bill Murray had it.
- The big question is probably how well do you respond to success and failure? If you succeed do you attribute your success to your own efforts, your bravery, your commitment or do you shrug and say, I was just lucky or yes, I did Ok but X was better than me. How do you cope with failure? Phlegmatically, well at least I tried, or do you beat yourself up, I was crap, I should never have over-reached myself. I was asking for trouble and I got it, I felt like a complete fool.
- How important is this challenge to you – too important is likely to end in tears, not important enough, why bother. So on a sliding 10 point scale you probably want somewhere between a 4 and a 7 in terms of its importance. That kind of ‘score’ would suggest you have about the right level of ambition and that you are likely to get the most pleasure out of setting challenges for yourself in retirement. Just ask yourself to rate your task’s importance and take the first number that pops into your head, that’s usually the most ‘accurate’ view of your motivation.
- Finally, in setting your challenges, you might consider what kind of support can you call on either from people in the situation or friends and family outside of it? But beware the well-meaning person. Mrs SH is always keen for me to try new things in my retirement years. She likes to keep me occupied, keep me off the streets, but the well-meaning friend or relative can, I said can, send you down the path to self-destruction. Dramatic I know, but it can happen. I know what of I speak.
It’s true in life generally that if you set the bar too high you can just walk underneath it but you can also bang your head on the way through. All of which brings me back to my jazz improvisation class. If you read that blog you will know that my self-esteem took a knock on this one. I took a hit, I banged my head. For a while, concussed, I couldn’t pick up any of my thirteen guitars, two mandolins, one banjo or one violin (which I can’t play anyway so no great sacrifice), I was that upset. But, being quite resilient, I picked myself up, dusted myself down and started all over again. I’ve been to a different class to see if anything can be recovered from this enterprise. Look out for the blog and talking of resilience that reminds me I want to write a blog about the role of resilience in retirement. Quite important but, for now, that will do for this retirement blog.
So challenges, yes, setting challenges and being successful can be a huge boost to our self-esteem in retirement. Setting unrealistic challenges based on an ‘oh God, I’m wasting my life’ type thinking – what’s left of it – I must do something, I must achieve, take risks, try new things, you know the kind of thinking, can easily lead to frustration and misery and lowered self-esteem. Retirement can distort your thinking, It happens because you are unbalanced by your retirement, You lose your judgement. So, all I’m saying is be careful when setting yourself retirement challenges, They can be harmful to your mental health, and we don’t want that, we want to enjoy our retirement, don’t we?