This week we came across a recent New York Times column by author Jane Brody that we found helpful, even inspiring. It’s not that she offers advice that is particularly new – much of the ideas in her column sound pretty familiar. But for some reason, the message seems to resonate, especially as we ourselves or people we love are traveling on the road of major illness or even simply learning to cope with the effects of growing older. As Brody explains, the key to a happier, more contented life lies in learning to recognize and adapt to circumstances we can’t control – or in other words, to learn to embrace the “new normal.”
Embrace the New Normal by Seeking the Blessings in Current Circumstances
Brody begins her insightful column by quoting an author named Lynda Wolters, author of a recent book called Voices of Cancer. Wolters herself was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer right after turning 49. “Everything changes with cancer — everything,” she wrote. “Life will never be the same again, even on the smallest of levels, something will be forever different. There is no going back to who you once were, so embrace it and grow from it and with it. Find the new you in your new space and make it wonderful.”
Brody, who is 78, is not facing cancer, but she does have arthritis and is dealing with the impact of growing older on her active life in New York. She describes herself as “stubbornly independent,” someone who “rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities.” But as she writes in her New York Times column, reading the Wolters book is helping her understand “the importance of accepting and adjusting to a ‘new normal’ now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease” – activities of everyday life, like gardening, entertaining, walking, “even visiting a museum for more than an hour.”
Embrace the New Normal by Redefining a “Successful” Life
Brody challenges our cultural definition of a life we might consider “successful.” Success in life is not some imaginary sort of perfection, she writes. “Rather, it’s a life that rolls with the punches, adapts to changing circumstances, and makes the best of the here and now. It’s a lesson I should have learned decades ago. I should not be measuring myself against some ideal or what might have been.” She suggests that this kind of contentment involves accepting our limitations, asking others for help, and “pursuing only those activities [we] can handle with little or no pain.” If our pride and stubbornness get in the way, we only have ourselves to blame.
In her New York Times column, Brody quotes another author who learned this lesson firsthand. Dr. Wendy S. Harpham wrote a book in 2003 called Diagnosis: Cancer that chronicled her journey through illness starting when she was just 36. Now 65, Harpham told Brody that she “had to learn to accept my limits. But first I had to grieve what I lost — my practice, my stamina, my ability to multitask — before I could move on and embrace what remained.” She also used the phrase “the new normal” to suggest that people need to learn to deal with “unwanted changes in healthy and hopeful ways” by establishing new routines and adjusting their expectations.
Embrace the New Normal by Celebrating What’s Possible Now
This lesson applies to all stages of life, but especially to aging. “Truth to tell,” Brody writes, “with or without cancer or some other life-changing ailment, we would all be happier if we focused more on what is physically, emotionally and socially possible now instead of lamenting what once was and may never be again. As we grow older or, at any age, develop life-limiting ailments or disabilities or lose loved ones, our routines and relationships may never be the same.” But, she emphasizes, we can still make life better. This ability to roll with life’s punches helps explain why so many seniors can express great contentment in life despite coping with seriously declining health.
Whether we’re dealing with illness or aging, or both, Brody reminds us to be honest with ourselves. This doesn’t imply some sort of fatalistic resignation. Instead, when we ask ourselves what we want our lives to look like, we “base our answers on realistic possibilities, not wishful thinking.” The goal, said one of the authors Brody quotes, is to find “the best ways to deal with unwanted changes.” Otherwise, when we focus solely on “current limitations and might-have-beens,” we can miss out on some of the blessings that the new normal holds.
It’s Easier to Embrace the New Normal When You Have the Right Plan in Place
It’s true that we can’t plan for every possible eventuality that life may throw our way. But here at AgingOptions, based on nearly two decades of experience with thousands of people, we’re convinced that you can prepare a comprehensive retirement plan that will allow you to preserve your assets in retirement while keeping you from becoming a burden to those you love – and preventing you from being forced into institutional care. The answer lies in an AgingOptions LifePlan. As we work with you to create this powerful tool, we consider all the essential elements of retirement living: your finances, your family, your health, your legal protection, and your housing wishes. Your individualized LifePlan becomes the blueprint you can use to build the retirement you’ve always dreamed about. What’s more, your LifePlan will help you be better prepared for life’s contingencies.
We invite you to find out more, without cost, by joining Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar. Rajiv will explain the practical philosophy behind LifePlanning and will answer many of your most perplexing retirement questions. These popular events take place at locations all throughout the Puget Sound area – so for a current seminar calendar, visit our Live Events page and register for the seminar of your choice.
Remember, it’s important to learn to roll with life’s punches – but it’s also essential to do your best to plan for your future. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)