Sunday, August 31, 2014

Less Stuff/More Friends & On the Road Again - Gene Lambirth:

Following my retirement in 2008 my wife and I were determined to focus our time on those things that were really important to the quality of our life.  We moved from a large home in the hot, humid suburbs of Houston to an apartment in downtown Asheville.   We brought with us two folding chairs, one car, an inflatable mattress, our cat, a few hobby items, and some clothes. The rest of our possessions, gathered nearly for around 40 years, we sold, gave away, or consigned to the dumpster.  Parting with a lifelong accumulation of objects was difficult at first. Ultimately, however, it became a liberating experience.

My first stab at retirement happened in 2005.  However, soon after I retired I took up a second career as a consultant -- or as my wife, Gay, likes to say, I flunked retirement.  By the end of 2008 with the onset of the economic recession, most of the consulting work went away and so I decided to try retirement for a second time.  We moved to Asheville in early 2009 and for the next two years I was busy settling into a new environment, making new friends and enjoying all the good things that Asheville has to offer.

When I was asked if I might be interested in joining a men's group at OLLI I was not sure what I thought of the idea. What was this going to be?  A discussion group?  A therapy group?  Would we lie around a campfire singing Kumbaya?  I was not sure if I was interested in any of those things but I thought in the spirit of making some changes in my life I would give it a try.  If I had any expectation that it embodied any of those elements I would go to a few meetings, find out it was not my thing, and then find a way to back out gracefully.

I've been in Men's Wisdom Works Group I for over 5 years. While there have been changes in the makeup of the group, most of the other members have been part of the group for about the same period of time.  Our group is not a "discussion group", although we have many different discussions.  Our get-togethers are not therapy sessions, although they are often therapeutic.  We have not yet sat around a campfire and sung Kumbaya--although I am now open to that possibility.  This group has become an important part of my life and I am pleased to call this group of men my friends.

I've been thinking about walking across Spain since 2005, about the same time I first retired.  My thinking came to fruition two years ago when I walked El Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied Du Port in France to de Compostela in Spain, a distance of about 500 miles.  I did it for a number of reasons; I thought I would meet interesting people, I wanted to take time to reflect on where I was headed in the next stage of life, I wanted to do it out of gratitude for all the good things that have happened in my life, I wanted to practice "living in the moment" rather than focusing on the future or the past, and as a life-long "couch potato" I thought it would be a good chance to get some exercise.

In 2011 I went to see the movie, "The Way", about a group of four strangers who meet while walking The El Camino. At that time I was about to turn 64 and I realized that if I didn't walk El Camino soon, I would probably never walk it. I began training by walking around Asheville until I worked myself to the point where I could walk 20 miles with all my gear -- which I limited to 20 lbs.  It was not until well after I began training and purchased my plane tickets that I told my friends of my plans.  At that point I was committed to going!

I began walking on August 30, 2012 and arrived at my destination in Santiago on October 5, 2012, walking every day except 2 (rest stops in Burgos and Leon) and averaging about 14 miles a day.  I don't intend to relate the entire trip on the blog, but I can say that my reaction upon completing the journey was that it was a wonderful experience, but after more than a month away from home, I was glad to be finished.  At that time I did not think I would ever walk El Camino again since I had crossed it off my "bucket list". However like many people who make the walk, six months later I began to feel the urge to do it again, or something similar, again.

I decided that, rather than walk the exact same path, I would walk one of the pilgrimage trails that feeds into The Camino.  Specifically, the Chemin Le Puy, which starts in La Puy France and ends at St Jean Pied du Port where I began my walk two years ago.  I plan to take it a bit different by walking a day or two past St Jean, crossing over the Pyrenees into Spain and completing my journey in Roncesvalles, Spain.  Last summer I mentioned this to a group of friends and two friends from my Men's Wisdom Works group decided they would join me -- one for the entire distance and the other for the first week or so.

My friends Morris Letsinger, who will join me trekking the entire nearly 500 mile distance, and Ron Scheinman, who will walk with us for the first week will commence our journey August 31, 2014.  Last week a group took a practice hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We hiked for 30 miles over two days, and spent the intervening night in the Pisgah Inn. The picture above the previous paragraph shows us as we're about to head off on the second day.  Pictured are Morris Letsinger, Richard Kark--another man from my MWW group, another friend and veteran Camino walker, and me in the not-so-fashionable shorts.

Retirement is about growing, trying new things, and testing yourself.  At least that's the way it is for me. After all, retirement is a long trek.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Previously Important Person (P.I.P.) - Steve Pohl, Group Vi

                Inspired by the idea of contributing to the MWW blog but at a loss for a theme, I consulted a friend who suggested PIP – Previously Important Person.  The idea was that, as a physician, I must have suffered a loss of esteem as a consequence of retiring.  My first reaction to this idea was negative because a change in level of importance did not seem to be an issue for me.  Also, I thought, importance is often self-assigned.  Surely I had never done that.  A week later I learned that only two people had enrolled in my course at the OLLI College for Seniors and that the course was cancelled.  The course was a vehicle for me to share what I had learned during my career, a final shot at being important.  I decided to reconsider writing about importance.

                Looking back, being important was important to me.  I am an endocrinologist, a specialist in glandular disorders, and limited my practice to treatment of diabetes.  My early career was in basic research, a clear path to importance.  I had some success and attained tenure at the University of Virginia before I got fed up with the rat race and left academia.  In 1991, I opened a solo private practice with my wife, Linda, as practice manager.  Linda and I had never considered the possibility of working together, but someone had to attend to the practical aspects of making a medical practice work.  She had the skills and experience that I lacked.  We spent the next several years building an organization that was very successful and met our needs.  We became very important people in a very small world that we created for ourselves.  The time and focus required to make this work, however, meant that there was very little else in our lives.  After sixteen years, we were ready to put this phase of life behind us and try something new.

                In 2007, we retired and spent five years figuring out what we wanted to do, selecting a place to live, building a house, and moving to a new, strange place.  Thus, by the time I got to Asheville, I had already survived much of the transition to retirement, or so I thought.  Within a few weeks of moving here I attended a newcomers event at the Reuter Center.  I remember walking past all the special interest group tables.  There was one table labeled Men’s Wisdom Works with a youngish appearing man sitting behind it.  I carefully avoided making eye contact and moved on.  Suddenly, I felt an elbow in my ribs and heard Linda say, “You need that.”  I momentarily lost concentration and it happened.  I made eye contact with MWW founder Chuck Fink.  I was a goner.  The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a classroom at the Reuter Center with ten or so male strangers reciting a slightly fictionalized autobiography.  I figured I would stick it out for a while to keep Linda off my back, and then drift away.  That was over a year ago.   Since then I don’t think I have missed any of our bimonthly meetings or occasional breakfasts.  Our MWW group has become an important part of my life.

As I think about MWW, lots of ideas rattle around in my head.  Despite lasting forty-eight years, my marriage seems to require more or less constant work.  Our sons are long since grown but still give us worries.  I am still looking for meaning in life and trying to figure out what “meaning” means.  After many hours of discussion, several body parts still ache and the end of life still looms.  I spend time examining my beliefs but get stuck on my belief that all beliefs are untrue.  The list goes on and on.  MWW doesn’t seem to be about making life’s problems go away.  On the other hand, chatting with other men helps in coping with problems as well as taking advantage of opportunities.  Women apparently do this spontaneously, men not so much.

I guess I don’t know why I am hooked on MWW.  But then I don’t know why I am hooked on lots of things I enjoy.  I do know that there are specific things about MWW that I like a lot.  The men in our group are unpretentious.  As in any group of males, there was some huff-puffery and spreading of tail feathers at the first couple of meetings, but that died out almost immediately.  I am the only physician in our group.  A hint of distrust of doctors and resentment over all the medicines and procedures we prescribe balances any esteem of my profession.  My status in the group, therefore, seems to be neutral, as is that of all members of the group.  Our discussions are mostly about the present and future rather than a lot of bragging about what we did in the past.  I also like the fact that the men are unselected.  The only thing we have in common is some connection to OLLI.  The lack of rules appeals to me.  The founder assembled our group, gave us some suggestions based on what worked well for earlier groups, and turned us loose.  We decide where and when to meet and what to talk about.  Nearly all of our original twelve have stuck it out, and we have spent a year creating a group that works for us.  We have all stumbled from time to time, but the determination to make it work is palpable. 

So here I am at age 73 and seven years post retirement.  After some reflection, I have decided that successfully completing a transition to retirement is not the right goal.  Doing so would mean moving from one rut to another.  What comes to mind is that I could have opted to spend my days driving around a gated community in a golf cart reminiscing with PLM’s – People Like Me.  I prefer to think of retirement as a time of continual change, an ongoing transition, an opportunity to sample widely from what life has to offer.  I get to try lots of things that I always wanted to do and, even better, try some things that I didn’t know I wanted to do, MWW for example.  If one thing doesn’t work out, like the course I was planning to teach, I can move on to something else.  I may not be able to articulate exactly why, but MWW is important to my new outlook on life.  MWW is a few hours a month set aside to spend time with a group of men who have no other agenda than to help ourselves get more out of life.  I leave the meetings charged up and ready for more.  Being important is no longer important, but then it probably never was.