Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Interview with Author Susan Lieberman

Today I'm interviewing Susan Lieberman, author of Getting Old is a Full Time Job.

I've known Susan for several years and admire her very much. She's one of the founders of the Houston chapter of The Transition Network. She leads most of our monthly "conversations", makes us think with her provocative questions, and also leads our subgroup, Death, Dying and Dessert. So when Susan's latest book came out, I bought one immediately (after all, I'm getting older every minute). Here is my interview with Susan:

In Getting Old is a Full Time Job, you broke retirement into 12 jobs. What inspired you to do that (and by the way, I loved it) Would you list the jobs so readers will get an idea of how the book is structured.

You are right...I talk about 12 "jobs" in this book, but, in fact, they are all part of the same JOB or challenge, which is using this stage of our lives to grow into our still-better-selves. I use the language of work for a couple reasons. First, Freud suggested that love and work are the two central tenants of our adult lives, And I wanted this book to appeal to both men and women. As Dick Goldberg, National Director of Coming of Age, noted, "We men like jobs."

Many of us worry about what will replace our work when we retire. The point of the book is that there is plenty of "work" waiting for us when we have the time to take it on. However, it is different from most of the work we do in our mainstream years. This time, we are working just for us, on our own time frame. Here are the 12 jobs I discuss, each in a chapter of the book:

Script Writer/Editor
Director of Physical Planning
Training and Development Manager
Residential Relocation Expert
Office Manager
Money Manager
Relationship Coach
Demolition Expert
Purveyor of Pleasure
Soul Searcher
By the way, I am not suggesting we do all twelve of these jobs, certainly not at once. Pick and choose as you wish.

What was the hardest job for you personally to take on? The easiest?

The hardest job for me is Purveyor of Pleasure. I know how to work. I'm really good at it and before I retired, I did it 50 or 60 hours a week for money and another bunch of hours running the enterprise called Lieberman. I wasn't so good at playing. I'm better now, but I'm still learning.

Director of Physical Planning is also hard. I do go to the gym and work out with a trainer three times a week and walk with a walking buddy...but I don't like it, and it is still a struggle to make myself show up consistently. I give myself stars for doing it even if I don't want to.

My easiest job will, I suspect, sound strange to many. It is Demolition Expert. I started a business, Y Collaborative, to talk with healthy people about end-of-life issues as a result of my mother's failing health and then death. I have been immersed in learning about death and dying for over three years. There is so much to learn and none of it strikes me as morbid . It seems to me much more morbid to live in denial and find myself suddenly in circumstances I don't understand and don't have a clue how to manage or to leave my family without guidance and support. Another Freud quote: If you want peace, prepare for war. If you want life, prepare for death. I know many of us know we will die but hope it doesn't happen in our lifetime. A diet of delusion is not so healthy, I think.

I feel these "jobs"apply to everyone at this stage in life, retired or not. Do you agree?

I do agree. It doesn't matter if we are retired or not. What we need is time in our lives to focus on these issues, many of them more internal than external. If our external work so absorbs us all the time, then it is hard to take on this challenge. If we keep working but find that we have shifted the importance of that work in our lives, which does not mean doing shoddy work, then we can take on some of these jobs.

In our Transition Network group we talked about attachments and detaching from things, activities, etc. that are no longer meaningful. I'd like to hear your comments on that.

Really, retirement is about detaching from work as we generally knew it. If we detach, either wholly or partially, it leaves a gap. Sometimes, leaving a job means we also detach from people--or they detach from us--, from habits, from patterns. So many of the jobs in this book are about deciding how/when/where and to whom we might want new attachments. This also raises for us the question of whether our old attachments are still working and providing satisfaction. For example. we may live in a house we loved when our kids were young but now, if we look closely, we find it more burden than pleasure. Our brains are a bit like tracks. We slip into behavior tracks and just keep driving in those familiar synaptic tracks.

I had to learn to engage in conscious reflection about what old tracks I really liked and where I wanted to lay down some new tracks. I also found it challenging to think about the tracks others told me I should put down, but in fact, in truth, I really had no interest in.

Work as we know it in our middle years can be hard, but there is a kind of comfort in having others decide how we should spend our time and energy. It is a different kind of work when we get decide anew for ourselves...every day.

Would you share your writing process with readers?

I love writing. It is my therapy. This is how I clarify my own thinking and figure out what I really think. I am not a scheduled person so sometimes, I can work ten hours a day for several days and then get distracted by other things in my life and not work on the book for days. When I try to work, and I don't make any progress, it is usually because my thinking is not clear. I believe good writing grows out of good thinking. Sometimes, even if I don't want it to be this way, I have to germinate, gestate, muddle around until I get clear. That may involve lots of pages that get deleted and lots of grumbling, but I have learned that, in time I find my way to a place that makes sense for me. If it doesn't make sense for me, I don't expect it to make sense for anyone else.

I am an extrovert so talking helps my thinking. I love to interview people. Every book I have written, and this is the seventh, has involved interviewing. I am always smarter as a team than alone. And over the years, I have found that I have become a better writer because I have become a better editor. After I wrote dozens of drafts of this book and thought I was finished, I went through it and removed 9,000 words. I am interesting, perhaps, but I am not endlessly interesting.

One thought: it doesn't matter how, when, where you write. There is no RIGHT way. But if you want to be a writer, you do have to write!

Where is the book available?

Ah, great question. It's on Amazon, in print and on kindle. And it can be bought on the www.Ycollaborative.com website. I doubt it can be found in a bookstore.


Diligent Writer said... [Reply to comment]

Great interview! I am ready for retirement! LOL!


Jewels said... [Reply to comment]

I think this would be a great book for my parents. Since their retirement, they haven't done much of anything. I can see how unhappy they are without any focus in their lives.

Eliza Wynn said... [Reply to comment]

Fantastic interview! This sounds like an interesting book.



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