Lessons learned by baby boomers to cultivate new interests.

Wayne Clark PhD

As seen in the long running British Comedy drama New Tricks (available on Amazon), those of us baby boomers might not be as agile as we once were, but we certainly can come up with ways to thrive and be resilient. For those unfamiliar with New Tricks, it is a British detective series about a female chief inspector who has been assigned the job of solving cold cases. To assist her is a team of retired British detectives but they are not active police officers. The rules for of investigation and what are allowed for active officers, is not out of bounds for a retired officer. So, to solve a cold case the retirees might think such things as: tampering with evidence, employing unusual methods to get a perpetrator to confess, and others they had witnessed during their career. The point of the new tricks is that tricks are lessons learned and it is the opportunity to use knowledge and experience that allows them to successfully solve crimes all with a humorous display of ingenuity. Today’s blog is not about clever ways to solve crimes, it is about the ways that baby boomers are using their lessons learned to try new activities.

Baby boomer activities are wide and far, indoors and outdoors, extremely complicated and quite simple, all in all they show a diversity of things to do while retired and in our senior years. I am sure that boomers who read this will ask why I did not mention a favorite pastime of theirs. That is just the point, the more opportunities we open to other baby boomers, the more we will benefit from the vast array of experiences that are out there. Although we might be beginners now, we can apply some of our lessons learned to these new activities.

I will start by tooting the horn of baby boomers that have found activities that help their emotional and physical health. Certainly, the pandemic has stifled social interaction and outdoor activities, but many have tried some “new activities” while following public health guidelines, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, or keeping within a bubble of family and close associates. Boomers have taken up or renewed interest in activities of everyday life that are physically and emotionally improving their wellbeing.

Here are a few colleagues and friends’ activities that provide examples of getting outdoors or staying healthy indoors. My premise is quite simple, we baby boomers can pursue some of these alternatives for our own enjoyment and emotional wellbeing. Not one of us has all the answers nor do the answers for some, fit the answers for others. By putting out some examples, we will have additional ways to make our golden years exciting, valuable, and worth living.

Bombarded with catastrophes, fires, heat waves, widespread unemployment, closed business, plagues, insurrections, Boomers are resilient. We can find some of us who find time to play a round of golf, go for a hike, walk their dogs, binge watch a streamed series, take up painting, learn how to play an instrument, try acting, play board games, convene zoom gatherings, you name it. We are taking the lessons learned a bit further, those of us that have had active lives whether in our careers, our families, or our communities, we still have interests that have not been cultivated. But now we have the opportunity to develop those interests, learn something new while using our well-honed skills of persistence, patience, and perseverance for new ways to thrive. For reference a recent book by Tom Vanderbilt (“Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of lifelong learning”) is an excellent treatise on how and why it is important to learn new things even though you might never do them as well as the pros!

Birding, one old friend and college roommate has recently been bird watching. This activity is well beyond being interested in the birds in his bird feeder, he and a few friends go to where the birds migrate. His enthusiasm sounds like Steve Martin in the film (The big year) about birding where the objective is to watch the greatest number of different birds in a year. All out in the great out of doors, lots of social distancing, and if you have a small group to share the experience, then there ya go, something to plan and look forward to.

Before I retired, I played golf once a week, but now I play three or four times a week. Even with the pandemic, social distancing, masks, no indoor contact with others, minimal handling of bags, carts etc. allows me to stay relatively healthy, enjoy a social interacting activity, and be outdoors four to five hours a day. Has my game improved, not at first, but then I took some lessons from a local pro, also checked out you tube golf videos, and eventually started modeling my swing after a young golfer (Bryson DeChambeau)that recently won the US open. He had a whole new approach, called flat plane golf swing. I looked it up, thought I might try it and found numerous instructional material that has improved my golf game. You do not improve dramatically overnight, and I personally am not going through the extensive weight training, exercise, and diet approach that the young champion promotes. Instead, I took a more senior approach, of finding what he was doing differently, applying it to what I do and see if I can improve an outdoor sport that I can still play. I definitely will not make the senior tour. I think duffer is more descriptive of my game, but golf is one of the few sports that you get to play on the same fields as the pros, albeit with a lot more strokes.

Another good friend goes on hikes at least once a week to places in our region where he and a group of boomers walk for 10-20 miles on trails. These hiking trails that one can barely see from the road often have spectacular views, interesting plants, animals, birds, as well as fascinating stories about who made the trails, occupied these lands and even who might have first walked the trails.

Another old-time college friend was always interested in music. He even played in a local jug band while in college, but he was never able to fully devote himself to music until he retired. Now, almost on a daily basis he sends out music from artists of all ages that are available on you tube or some other media. The range is mostly in the folk, country, rock, rhythm and blues genres, yet the way he finds the recordings from obscure places is only marched by the remarkable variety he finds.

Another example that I find really rewarding is my friend who is an avid explorer of personal ancestry. He contacted me one day, asked me for my birthdate and then got on the internet, to find information about my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, other relatives. He found who they were, what they did, where they lived, and shared articles he found about them. A treasure trove worthy of a PBS special. He loved doing it, he said he just always liked history, did some investigative work while in the military and now retired found joy in looking up people’s ancestry.

Another friend, always interested in the arts theater, sports and media has taken up acting in a local theater group. Though this activity has been constrained due to the pandemic, he intends to get back on stage when his local group can rehearse again. He spent many years as a director of tv sports and now is on the stage side of the entertainment experience.

As you can tell, I have just scratched the surface of baby boomer activities, there is no mention of grandchildren, no discussion of favorite travel destinations, no winter sports like skiing, no games like bridge, chess, scrabble, backgammon, poker, etc. For some of us there are a host of indoor activities, from book clubs to jigsaw puzzles, to virtual tours of museums, virtual lectures on history, the sciences, psychology, and other disciplines. I have one friend that from her home, is virtually touring all types of museums around the world including museums about art, natural history, gangsters, as well as different industries from agriculture to automobile. Again, the list of virtual touring can go on and on. Virtual exploration due to the pandemic sheltered in place there has blossomed, even though for those not able to travel it has been a trove of opportunities.

Virtually and sometime in person there are classes and websites where a boomer can find for instance the: history of teacups, recipes for baking donuts, ways to build a deck or a wooden cabinet. etc.  Again there are a seemingly infinite number of interests that can be virtually viewed, learned, and tried. These classes and other do it your self-activities, all can be accessed by just opening up social media apps such as You tube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Whether it is bird watching in Lake Erie; blues or down-home country Music; acting in local theater; learning to play the piano or paint; golfing; skiing; or surfing. Old retirees can learn new things, share what they know with others, and be beginners again! We have only dipped our toe into the vast pool of retirement activities, only to find how much there is left to learn, and how discovering new activities can be part of the best years of our life!

Wayne Clark PhD; <[email protected]>