Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pleasure, Purpose and a Reason for Living

The New York Times had a sobering article on Nov. 27 about the incidence of suicide among older Americans. Although people 65 and older make up only 12 percent of the population, they represent 16 to 25 percent of the suicides. Four out of five suicides in older adults are men.

The article, by Jane E. Brody, noted that while depression is the main precipitant of suicide at all ages, social isolation is an important risk factor for suicide among the elderly. "And older men, more so than older women, often become socially isolated," Brody wrote.

Dr. Gregory K. Brown, a suicide specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, recommended that older people make every effort to prevent depression in the first place by maintaining a regular cycle and planning activities that "give them pleasure, purpose and a reason for living." He suggested "social activities of any type -- joining a book club or bowling league, going to a senior center or gym, taking courses at a local college, hanging out at the coffee shop."

Dr. Brown said any activity a person is capable of doing can help ward off depression. Rebooting yourself into a new career or pursuit is certainly one way to stay active in the later years and maintain good mental health.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two Amazing Stories of Reinvention

Are you hesitating to reboot yourself because you’re afraid you might have lost your edge, let your skills go stale, or become unable to do what you used to do?

This happens sometimes. Self doubt creeps in like an unwelcome visitor, displacing self confidence. You’d go out and really do something new and exciting, but … you are worried that you don’t have what it takes any more.

If this description fits you, then consider two amazing people whose stories have just come to my attention. They are Izumi Tateno, 71, and Leon Fleisher, 80. Both were concert pianists who lost the use of their right hands – Tateno through a stroke and Fleisher through a neurological disorder called focal dystonia. Both have become inspirations to millions by learning to play pieces composed for the left hand only. Fleisher has undergone an almost miraculous recovery and can once again play with both hands.

Tateno’s reinvention as a one-handed artist was reported in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12. During a concert in 2002, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. He became discouraged and frustrated that he could not quickly recover the use of his right hand, and for a while refused to play music for the left hand.

His son Janne visited him in 2003 and left on his piano some scores for the left hand that he had found in a Chicago music store. One day Tateno began to play one, and soon became so engrossed in the music that he forgot he was playing with just one hand. “That’s when I realized that music was music, whether you play it with one hand, or two hands or three,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “That realization changed me completely.”

“Many people have told me I should just take it easy,” Tateno said. “But I am not interested in taking it easy. I don’t even know how to. I want to perform as I have done in the past 30 years, so I can share my music with others.”

Fleisher’s story was recounted in the New York Times on June 10. He first experienced problems with his right hand in 1964. Within a year his condition had worsened and he could not open the fingers of his right hand. He began to focus his talents on performing the left-hand repertory. Now, after more than 30 years of trying everything from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism, and finally Botox, he has regained almost full use of his right hand. He says he never doubted that he would someday be able to play again with both hands.

“I just couldn’t accept it,” he said in a New York Times article on June 10. “And I guess my fantasy was that with the same mystery with which it had appeared, it would disappear.”

With all the remedies he has tried, including Botox, the malady has at least become manageable. “I would like to make it clearly understood that I have not been cured of focal dystonia,” he said. “A way has been found to ameliorate the symptoms enough to enable me to play this literature to an extent that is not only enjoyable but also presentable in public.”

If given the chance to rewrite the story of his life, Fleisher said he’s not sure he would change it. “There are forces out there,” he said, “and if you keep yourself open to them, if you go along with them, there are wondrous surprises.”

So let me ask the question again that I asked at the start of this post: Are you hesitating to restart, or start something new, because you think you’ve lost your touch, lost your confidence?

Tell that to Izumi Tateno or Leon Fleisher. They might convince you otherwise.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Are Rebooters a "Community?"

I have this idea that rebooters -- people who reinvent themselves after one career and go into another (at any age) constitute a "community." Wikipedia defines a virtual community this way:

A virtual community is a social network with a common interest, idea, task or goal that interacts in a virtual society across time, geographical and organizational boundaries and is able to develop personal relationships.

I'm hoping to jump start such a virtual community of rebooters with my website, I realize that a network doesn't just spring full blown into existence, but has to grow over time. And growth is really slow when the numbers are small. So I need to figure out how to get more people involved.

Any and all ideas would be welcome!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

American Association of Rebooting Persons?

AARP is really getting into the rebooting game.

The feature article in the November/December issue of AARP The Magazine is titled "Retire? Heck No!" It features stories about five 70-plus folks who are going full steam ahead with no intention of "retiring" in the conventional sense of the word.

The article by Bill Gray describes the five as "supersuccessful doers and thinkers who, at 70 plus, continue to work at peak performance. All could easily have slipped into the retirement night years ago but they forged on -- happily. Their secret? In a word, passion."

[Lee's aside: AARP magazine talking about "the retirement night?" Wow!]

The five are:
  • Shu Chien, M.D., Ph.D., 76, professor of bioengineering and medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He attributes his energy to his constant effort to develop "brain muscle." "My mind is constantly working," he says, "and that lets me accomplish tasks with twice the efficiency of the ordinary person. I can do more now than I could at 50."
  • Elliott Carter, 99, classical music composer, who still composes daily at his home in Greenwich Village, New York City. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for Music and a Grammy. His 100th birthday "comes with a bit of anxiety," he acknowledges, but declares, "it's wonderful."
  • Dayton Hyde, 82, cowboy novelist and owner of a private wild-horse sanctuary near Hot Springs, South Dakota, home to 500 mustangs. "I wanted to pay them (the horses) back for the joys they gave me, by taking care of them in their old age," he says. "Actually, we're taking care of each other -- they're bringing me back memories and giving me a way of life that very few Americans are lucky enough to lead."
  • Barbara Bowman, 79, teacher, co-founder of the Erickson Institute for specialized teacher training, and chief of the Chicago Public Schools' Office of Early Education. One thing that keeps her going is the delight of learning. "It's so wonderful when there's a breakthrough in your field and you're back to being a student again," she says.
  • Irma Elder, 77, head of the Elder Automotive Group and owner of 10 automobile dealerships in suburban Detroit, who took over the business after her husband died of a heart attack 24 years ago. "If you ask me when I'll retire, I'll tell you it's when I stop having fun," she says. For her, running the business "makes me come alive."

Maybe AARP should go back to words for their name -- "American Association of Rebooting Persons!"