Published in the Nov. 5, 2014 edition of the Ventura County Star
Apparently, this particular phobia has begun to afflict the 78 million Americans, largely now in their fifties and sixties, who are also known as "baby boomers." Their fear comes from being forced to face a brand new stage of life that may well extend over three decades before they will shuffle off this mortal coil.
Yet, we boomers aren't really without an instruction manual when it comes to retirement. All we have to do is follow the courageous examples provided by our Greatest Generation parents or grandparents. These highly adaptive folks, who saw the average life span vault from 54 to 79 years, were the first to be confronted with the question, "Now what will I do with all this (leisure) time on my hands?"
In his 1976 book, "Master Class: Living Longer, Stronger and Happier," author Peter Spiers attributes the success of Greatest Generation retirees to "the particular combination of all the things they do — interacting with and helping other people in pleasurable and purposeful ways; getting their bodies moving in ways that keep their hearts strong, keep their muscles toned, and — this is important — keep oxygen flowing to their brains; exercising those brains with complex games and projects; and creating new things ranging from family trees and memoirs to furniture and oil paintings."
In other words, our parents or grandparents role-modeled what turned out to be a happy and satisfying retirement. They adopted a lifestyle that included physical exercise, regular involvement with family/friends and a commitment to some form of lifelong learning.
One of the ways they were able to combine all three was a trailblazing continuing education program called Elderhostel. The brainchild of world traveler Marty Knowlton and university administrator David Bianco, Elderhostel took the affordable travel and instant camaraderie inherent in European youth hostels and applied it to the typical not-for-credit college offerings geared toward the senior citizen wishing to maintain mental acuity.
Since its founding in 1975, Elderhostel (rebranded to Road Scholar in 2010 when the geezer image implied by the name caused boomers to balk at joining) has enrolled more than 5 million participants.
Road Scholar is certainly a far cry from the initial effort that signed up 220 pioneers on a handful of New Hampshire college campuses nearly 40 years ago. The number of educational adventure choices has swelled to a staggering 5,500 — not only available in every state, but in 150 countries as well.
For cash-strapped retirees, the affordable cost is a big draw. The average charge for a domestic program ($173 a day) includes accommodations, meals, lectures, activities, transportation, taxes, gratuities and insurance. Furthermore, each year, Road Scholar awards nearly $150,000 in scholarships to adults who might otherwise not be able to attend.
While the national headquarters is located in Boston, the city of Ventura, which serves as a regional hub for Road Scholar, offers a number of stimulating instructive opportunities close to home — from an expert-led watercolor workshop to a tasting tour of Ventura County farmlands to an exploration of Channel Islands National Park (the American version of the Galapagos).
Since 1985, when the first intergenerational program paired grandparents and grandchildren, oldsters and youngsters have been creating enduring memories together. Today, participants can choose from more than 100 tours/activities that take place on five different continents.
I've got my eye on three possibilities situated right here in California.
The first, which is more suitable for younger (7-11 years) grandchildren, is a photographic safari on a 400-acre private wildlife preserve that looks remarkably like Africa, yet is located just outside Santa Rosa.
The second is a comic book camp for teens (13-16 years) in Hollywood that includes the collaborative creation of an original 25-panel superhero comic and the production of a short film.
The third, also for teens (13-15), is a behind-the-scenes look at forensic science with experienced police officers, crime scene investigators, a forensic entomologist and a ballistics specialist.
According to the 2010 census, 70 million Americans are grandparents. Sixty percent of them are also baby boomers, afflicted or about to be with the dreaded "fear of retirement."
The American Grandparent Association reports that grandparents already spend $77 billion a year on travel.
Sharing our passion for seeing new places and learning new things with the younger generation has to be a no-brainer for most of us.
In Japan, ikagai is not only a commonly used but also a singularly powerful expression. Loosely translated, ikagai means "purpose," "meaning" or "joy in life."
According to the AGA, 72 percent of those surveyed believe that "being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in my life." Ikagai.
So, you say you suffer from metus secretus? Road Scholar just might have a remedy for you.
Beverly Kelley writes a biweekly column for The Star. Email her at email@example.com.
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