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Wisdom for families on divorce and growing your nonprofit

What's your Boomer EQ? Part 1

by Claire Barnes on 07/24/14

Those of us Boomers who have reached the post-50 phase of life have done so anticipating a gentle transition to a reduced work schedule, retirement, travel, hobbies and quality relationships with family and friends.  However, as a dear friend and colleague once counseled me, our own expectations can be the cause of our biggest disappointments, it can come as a big surprise if any our anticipated dreams do not materialize.

As Executive Director of Kids’ Turn (San Francisco), I developed a curriculum based on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) designed to help separating parents and the children navigate the conflict when a  family reorganizes.  I left that position in 2013 to focus on a major life transition (see Retirement Relocation Is Not for Sissies here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-n-barnes-ma/retirement-relocation-is-not-for-sissies_b_5381146.html ).  As my husband and I work together to craft a new life in a new community, I am encountering more Boomers.  I’ve come to realize the Emotional Intelligence skills we taught Bay Area families have a solid application for those of us traversing life changes for which we have no roadmap.

Our retirement is not that of our parents. We are living longer and are healthier than our parents; many of us contribute resources to adult children, grandchildren and even to our aged parents.  Our vitality and intellectual curiosity stimulates new ideas for avocations or even employment.  All of these experiences broaden our opportunities for new situations and relationships with the people who are in them.

The expression, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ predicts our newer relationships will develop the same way all our others did – that we will repeatedly seek out familiar settings and personality types -- even the toxic ones.  I am suggesting that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be a useful guide to finding fresh ways to navigate new friendships and circumstances.  The results can be validating, empowering and even life changing.  To that point, I am providing an EQ roadmap for Boomers in a series of five blogs. 

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was developed in the 1990’s, and simply articulates the value of people understanding themselves and how they react in situations, then using that understanding to improve their relationships with others. Simple, right? Not always. 

Step #1:  Know Yourself  The first step in EQ is to ‘know yourself’.  Boomers might have an advantage here as we have lived long enough to develop consistency in the way we react to situations.  Our children are hurting…….we jump into fix things.  A partner/friend is angry with us……we become argumentative or withdraw until the storm blows over.  Someone cuts in front of us in the grocery check-out……we become angry and create a scene.  A loved one criticizes…….we are hurt and retreat to lick invisible wounds.  For most life episodes, you can predict how you might react based on your own life history and the memory imprint in your brain.

This would be powerful knowledge if all our reactions were favorable. Unfortunately, negative life episodes are part of the equation and may have left us wounded and anxious.  It is the unfavorable feelings that create anxious energy and can inhibit our spontaneous willingness to move forward with a new adventure.  Rather than embracing a new possibility, we become stuck in old habits.

Here’s an example:  A friend of mine, long divorced, gets upset whenever there is a family gathering and she has to encounter her ex-husband.  She divorced her husband over twenty years ago and they both moved on with their lives.  Unencumbered by an unhappy marriage, her career soared and she is now comfortably retired.  Her ex-husband married a younger woman and started a second family.  There are still family events where she is expected to attend (wants to attend), but sadness and tearful episodes in anticipation of seeing her ex impede her enjoyment of celebrations. 

What to do?  We will examine solutions for my friend in the next blog:  Manage Yourself.

In the meantime, the next time you anticipate or are having a Boomer life experience and negative feelings return for a visit, record the feelings.  Write them down somewhere using your own words (ex:  sad, worried, frustrated, gloomy, rejected, angry, miserable ).  Naming strong feelings often diminishes their impact.  Don’t spend energy on extensive self-examination to figure out WHY you feel that way. The fact is, you are having the feeling and it is part of who you are.  The trick will be how to effectively manage the feeling so it doesn’t manage you.

Retirement Relocation Is Not for Sissies

by Claire Barnes on 05/23/14

In the late 1980’s, I made a significant life change which included remarriage, relocation and a career change.  When I landed in the new community, I expected I would ease into my professional field with ease.  As an accomplished educator, I was sure the new school district would welcome me with open arms.

To my surprise I could not get a job.  I was depressed and I questioned the wisdom of the life change.  So I did what most daughters do, I called my mother who I anticipated would empathize with my dilemma.

My mother (who was a very wise woman) said to me: ‘did you think other people would just move aside to let you in?’ The sound of one hand clapping echoed in my head and motivated me to roll up my sleeves and work hard in order to establish myself in an environment where I was virtually unknown.

That episode was a lifetime ago, and I have been fortunate over the past 30+ years to continue my professional trajectory in ways which have been both gratifying and fully recognized.

And then, in 2013, my husband and I made strategic decisions to retire, sell our home, and move BACK to a community we left twenty years ago.  Finances were a major motivator as we were living in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.  We knew we could not live where we resided on a fixed income.

After months of planning and action steps we have just completed this huge transition.

Interestingly enough, those old demons of uncertainty and insecurity came back for a visit.  I am now the age my mother was in the 1980’s when she offered her dose of reality.  And it pleases me to be able to add my own thoughts to hers:

  1. Retirement relocation is NOT for sissies.  We see many articles on the ‘best…..cheapest…..charming places to retire.’   Whatever motivates a retiree to change communities, it is important to be aware it is a HUGE undertaking.  It requires research, financial planning and PHYSICAL stamina. You must be willing to familiarize yourself with new technology systems.  You will:  lose sleep because of anxiety; have to pack and unpack; need to be able to follow a GPS system once you get to your new home; create and save new passwords.

  2. You may experience culture shock.  We have moved from one of the recognized culture centers of the country to a much smaller community.  There is culture here and it is my responsibility to seek it out to find like-minded people with whom I can communicate.  It is up to me to find them; not vice versa.  Translation – don’t sit at home and wait for your doorbell to ring.

  3. Volunteer……volunteer……volunteer.  No matter where you are, there are social service agencies, faith-based communities and arts organizations that are always looking for volunteers who will commit their time and energy.  Most nonprofits are struggling with financial viability and support of volunteers is absolutely necessary for them to fulfill their missions.  And who knows?  Your volunteer efforts might lead to a part-time job!

  4. Be patient.  Now that you are retired, you do not have to be in a hurry to accomplish anything. (At this phase of life, who needs accomplishments?)  Explore your new community; sleep late; join a fitness club or exercise group.  Your own well-being can now be (must be!) your priority.

  5. Remember to stay connected to people.  In 2011, I gave the commencement address for Argosy University and advised the graduates to ‘find your tribe.’  We are a social species that thrives in the company of others.  We need other people to encourage and support us.  Lucky are those of us who have a partner with whom we can share this phase of life.  But even without a significant other, staying connected is better for our mental and physical health and combats loneliness. 

  6. Explore Lifelong Learning and stay curious.  I have blogged before about the commitment made by the San Francisco-based Osher Foundation to Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes (OLLI) throughout the country.  Most colleges and universities have special interest, non-credit courses for ‘mature’ learners.  As an educator, I am drawn to these environments and am stimulated by the fact I now have the time and energy to explore topics based on a lifetime of experience.

I’m sure as this first year of our new adventure evolves, there will be more lessons.  I am full of hope and optimism to learn them.


by Claire Barnes on 10/11/13



Since easing out of my position as Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, I have been extremely reluctant to apply the term ‘retirement’ to my new life status.  I am one of those people who found the end of my full-time work life rushing toward me, rather than me rushing to embrace it.  If you are one of those very lucky people who has the financial capacity and life experience to plan and ease into a retirement, you might want to stop reading here.  But if you are one of the majority of us who thought we would work until we dropped, perhaps my experience over the last five months will resonate with you.


First, I have been terribly reluctant to use the term ‘retirement’ to describe my new life phase.  I thought retirement was for old people.  I am not old – in fact, the newly nominated head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellin, is older than I am.  (Well done Janet!)  I pondered this dilemma with a friend, External Affairs Director for the San Francisco Symphony, Nan Keeton.  After our chat, Nan sent me a friendly email suggesting a new name for this life experience is ‘inspirement’.  I thank and credit Nan for the idea, and henceforth, I now refer to myself as living my inspirement.  As such, I am taking all the energy I historically committed to helping others and now directing it to improve circumstances for my family and myself.


It was apparent early on my husband and I were becoming out of sync with one another. He works in civil service and is slightly younger than I.  He would charge out the door each morning to tackle civic challenges, while I lounged around looking for something to do (more about that later).  It was apparent we needed to set a mutually agreeable retirement goal for him so he didn’t resent my newfound leisure and I didn’t resent his ongoing ability to earn a six-figure salary.


In August, we celebrated our anniversary by taking a day trip to the beach overlook where we were married in 1996, and spent that day planning, figuring, budgeting and projecting when he can step aside from his current position.  The goal we set is twelve to fifteen months away, and making that decision together has really helped us enthusiastically embrace a future to which we can mutually commit.  We now both know there is an end game and can focus our energy on the short-term projects to get us there.  Skills I previously applied to the benefit of a nonprofit agency, are now part of my new J.O.B. -- planning budgets and activities for our future.  This includes learning how to live with a budget where my income is reduced by 60%.


Importantly, the plans for the future include downsizing and relocating in order to manage on a fixed income.  Preparing for a move and emotionally saying good-bye to a community we love (San Francisco), is now part of inspirement.  A close friend is experiencing something similar.  She will soon move out of a beautiful condominium with an expansive view of the San Francisco Bay.  When I asked how she’s managing (emotionally), she said:  ‘I’ve had this view for seventeen years; now it will be someone else’s turn to enjoy it.’  I am impressed by her healthy attitude.


While sitting in front of a computer five days per week for the last twenty years, it will come as no surprise I didn’t make time for an active exercise regime.  I had all the excuses – too busy, too tired, low energy, too distracted, too much stress and so on.  That has now changed.  Thanks to an inspirement mentor, I have joined the local YMCA and am attending water aerobics at least three times each week.  No one is more surprised than I at this commitment of time and energy, but the effort is long overdue.  And it is interesting I have returned to a setting (a swimming pool) that was a significant part of the first twenty years of my life.  Redirecting energy which was expended for others to improve my own well-being is an important part of this transition process.


As important as the physical well-being is the brain activity.  Previously, the application of my intellect was singularly focused to address a huge societal problem affecting children in our country.  I am now stimulating my intellect by seeking out Lifelong Learning environments where there are affordable classes for people to study, discuss, question, express and challenge ideas outside of former professional settings.  I love being a student again especially where there is NO PRESSURE!  All I have to do is show up and participate as much or as little as I want. 


And finally, getting used to a flexible schedule with limited commitments has been challenging.  After leaving a job which was beyond full-time (including middle-of-the-night wakefulness and obsessive attention to email and texts during off hours), creating new habits has been challenging.  I do hope to eventually find part-time work because I know my skills can still contribute to my community.  In the meantime, un-obligated time does occasionally weigh heavily. As a dear friend – also in inspirement – told me:  ‘I just sit with the empty space and experience it.  I let it pass through me. I know something will come along eventually to help me fill it.’  My friend is a wise woman.


So there you have it – affordable, accessible ways to transition to a new phase of life.  Most of us Booomers will face realities of time on our hands, reduced incomes and a vacuum for where to apply our fully developed skills. I hope others will comment on this blog and share how you are handling your inspirement. 

Grandma, What Big Eyes You Have

by Claire Barnes on 09/12/13

Grandma, What Big Eyes You Have


As part of my transition into my new phase of life (now called ‘inspirement’), I signed up for a class at San Francisco State University  -- one of their offerings through their Osher Lifelong Learning Center (OLLI).  If you are fortunate enough to live in a community with an OLLI, you know the coursework is designed to inspire, stimulate and inform students over the age of fifty.


I enrolled in a class called ‘Transformations:  Revisiting Fairytales’.  I anticipated course content that would explore the human condition as characterized over the centuries through Fairytales.  I wasn’t disappointed by the first session with the entire focus on Little Red Riding Hood.  Most stimulating to me was the role of the Grandmother, which led to further, independent exploration of how grandmothers and grandfathers across cultures are presented in folk tales.


Little Red Riding Hood is obviously close to her Grandma.  She is willing to navigate the dangerous woods and face down a wolf to take food to Granny when she is sick in bed.  Similarly, in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the lead source of comfort and adult supervision for Peter is his Grandpapa.  Even when Peter disobeys Grandpapa and steps outside the gate and into the woods (watch out for those wolves again), Grandpapa is gentle, kind and tolerant of Peter’s youthful curiosity.


Similarly, in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the aging Sorcerer (similar to a Grandparent), has to tolerate the Apprentice’s energetic inquisitiveness even at the risk of flooding the castle.  What Grandparent hasn’t had to watch a grandchild make a mistake and learn the lessons from it? 


And finally, our favorite American holiday, Thanksgiving, is paired with a visit to Grandmother’s House.  Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go .. evokes a warm, welcoming and safe atmosphere with plenty of food when we get there.


I am encouraging my fellow grandparents to consider the importance of their role in their families as characterized across cultures and through multiple, artistic representations:


1)      Grandparents are a source of family continuity – the tribal elders.  When parents don’t have the time to share family histories, traditions and habits, it is the grandparent’s privilege to do so.

2)      Grandparents have the patience to let children make mistakes and learn from those experiences.  Because most grandparents are not with their grandchildren every day, they can be tolerant of youthful questioning (Why?) and missteps that are part of learning.

3)      Grandparents often act in loco parentis (in place of parents).  When parents are not physically or emotionally available, grandparents can nurture, cuddle, supervise and discipline.  Importantly, with grandparents involved, childrearing is still a family matter.


We lived in my grandmother’s home when I was 2-4 years of age.  My grandmother had very long, straight gray hair, which she taught me to braid into two braids, then wrap the braids around her head so she could tuck them under her Sunday Church hat.  I always loved doing that for her. 

She also let me eat oatmeal cookies for breakfast because they had oatmeal in them.  I loved her very much, and like Little Red Riding Hood, I would have navigated a dangerous woods to go see her.  So for all you Grannys, Grandpas, Nanas, Abuelas, Papas, and Babooshkas, always remember how important you are to your grandchildren.  By doing so, you will live forever in their memories.

Feeling Schizophrenic? An Open Letter to Boomers

by Claire Barnes on 09/05/13

Dear Fellow Boomers:

I am feeling schizophrenic this morning after reading two online posts:

1)  On nbc.com -- a report on how hard it is for workers age 55+ to find new employment if they are laid off;

2) A report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy confirming what I know to be true -- retiring nonprofit administrators still wish to continue to contribute in a meaningful way to their communities but in nonmanagement positions with fewer responsibilities and less stress.

I can relate to both realities.  As I transitioned out of my thirteen year role as ED of Kids' Turn, I have fully intended to find part-time work where I can continue to apply my proven skills to the benefit of Bay Area families.  It's been a real challenge.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not complaining.  I fully anticipated the difficulty when I self-initiated the change last summer.  I am fortunate to have a supportive, patient husband who encourages my creative approach to finding a professional meaningful role for my life's 'second act.'  I know the work is out there, and I will find something eventually.  (Or....I go sell popcorn at the Balboa Theatre up the street.)

But others are not as fortunate as I am.  We Boomers have much to offer in the way of life experience, mentoring and skills.  We can hit the ground running in our chosen fields.  We are not high maintenance and we aren't addicted to checking Facebook in the workplace.  We may have a learning curve when it comes to newer technology innovations, but most of us took typing in high school so we have the basic skill needed to work a keyboard.

In the mid-1990's, I was the founding Executive Director of Disability Resources, Inc. in Reno, Nevada.  We operated one of the most successful supported employment programs in Northern Nevada, helping people with barriers to work find meaningful jobs.  A valuable lesson for me in that setting was this:  It's easy to find job candidates who can put the round pegs in the round holes.  It's harder to find candidates who have the personal aptitude and emotional intelligence skills to get along in the workplace.

I never forgot that lesson in all the years I did hiring.  When reviewing applications for positions, I always tried to find the backstory in resumes that disclosed the human story of the candidate.  I would say this approach worked well in most cases.

So I'm not giving up.  I have a very interesting and accomplished backstory.  An online computer program cannot extrapolate my story from my resume.  (I don't even apply for positions where I know a computer is doing the preliminary resume review.)  I know human-to-human interface is critical to employment success, and I'll find a setting that shares and practices the same value.

Stay tuned!