Strength comes from struggle

The idea of extended leisure time after working for decades is a relatively new concept in the United States. Before World War II, people worked until they died or until they were physically incapacitated and unable to continue working.

Retirement brings new and sometimes unexpected challenges. This is tremendously disappointing for many retirees. After all, the picture painted by advertisers of the third phase of life often shows blissfully happy people relaxing in idyllic setting. But strength, for our bodies, minds, and our spirits, comes from struggle not from ease.

“My brain is turning to mush,” is a common sentiment expressed by many of my coaching clients who have recently retired. There’s a good reason for this. The brain is not being challenged the way it was when one is working. If you want to keep your brain sharp, you need to exercise it just as you would exercise a muscle to keep it strong.

Yet finding ways to challenge your brain is not as easy as one might think. Sure there are websites like and online word games like Words with FriendsTM and Wordbrain and old school brain teasers like crossword puzzles, but even those workouts may not be enough to keep your cerebral skills well honed.

The routine, structure, and cognitive challenges work provided are now missing. Uncertain where to go or what to do with eight or more hours a day previously occupied by their job, many new retirees discover that binge watching television is a one way to pass the time. In addition to dulling our cognitive abilities, watching television provides a welcome, yet false, sense of engagement and community. After all, you’re surrounded by the people on TV, right?

This sedentary, unengaged, lifestyle can create a host of other problems like weight gain and teaching us to live life vicariously. Reality TV creates an illusion that we somehow are part of what we are watching. Rather than travel and create our own Amazing Race we watch others jet off to exotic locations, try local customs, solve problems and complete challenges to get the next clue, and experience unfamiliar sensory sensations.

Only time will tell if boomers will go one step further and embrace artificial intelligence and video gaming experiences and mistakenly believe they have actually been to a foreign locale. But those experiences are someone else’s experiences – a guided tour rather than one made of your own choices and preferences.

Our emotional fortitude will be determined by our reactions to challenging events we face as we plan for and transition to this final phase of life. Illness, disability, lack of purpose, and isolation will cause us to dig deep and develop inner strength to see us through. What we do now to increase our love, compassion, patience, and gratitude will determine whether we are victims or victors as we age.

This is the time to step boldly into our own lives and to find and fulfill our life purpose. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now. The first step is to make a decision to live a full and fulfilling life. Be open to what life has to offer and know that you have what it takes to make your life a masterpiece.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.