Could I Be a Better Person?

Written by Debbie Ballard
Living 50 plus...

Before I retired I had a lot of plans for retirement. Things I would do and learn that I’d never had the time to do when I was working.

My list included (in no particular order) getting my lawn and garden in shape, planting more gardens – ok lots of gardening in general, volunteering more, writing more, organizing my house better and getting rid of “stuff”, stripping the bathroom wallpaper and painting the bathroom.

Oh and walk more, exercise more, learn to line dance, teach more workshops,volunteer more, use my time better . . .lots of plans.

I guess I felt that I could really be the person I’ve always wanted to be if I did all these things on my “when I retire” list. That whole “fulfill your potential” thing was drilled into me and my sisters by our mother. She expected us to be good.

Years ago I brought that up, why she never ever said anything about any of our accomplishments. She just shrugged her shoulders and told me she expected her girls to do well, she would accept nothing else. So . . .  I’m thinking my math mark in grade 12 must have been a little disappointing – in spite of the fact that I’d skipped grade 11 so I was really, really lost for the first semester of THAT class. 

I guess it was inevitable that I would have the retirement list. I think we all have things we want to do once we retire.

Being a better person isn’t solely about tackling the retirement list. I’ve told myself many times over the years that I have to stop being so judgemental. I have to stop viewing others through my own personal lens. I need more empathy, not judgement. I’m trying but I will admit that sometimes I blurt something out and I get that “tell us how you really feel” look from others. Not good. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I need to try harder I think. Sometimes honesty is called for but when it’s merely your own bias talking, maybe not so honest Deb.

I vowed I would take better care of myself. I would exercise more, eat healthy meals, spend time on my hobbies (the happy place), get proper sleep and try not to put myself in stressful situations. Yeah, so that stressful situations thing didn’t really work out so well and I’m pretty sure the three mini chocolate bars I ate after lunch are not part of a healthy diet.

One thing I have found is that having a friend or a partner to do things with makes a huge different in your commitment level. If you have someone to walk with every day, you will walk. I’m pretty good with coming up with excuses if I’m left to my own devices. Same with hobbies. Being in a group makes it more fun. There’s nothing better than a bunch of creative minds in a room throwing around possibilities. It’s exciting and fun.

Another thing I’ve realized as I’ve aged is that relationships matter. Not only do they matter but they take a bit of work or attention. It’s sometimes easier to say you just don’t feel like doing something or to sit evening after evening with your head in a book, not interacting with your spouse. Oh yes, I get jabs on that. Of course, if he wasn’t so deaf it would be easier to have a conversation but like I said, it takes work sometimes. (That was a joke Jim)

My sisters and their families all live on the east coast. After our mom died (high expectations mom) I didn’t go home for about 10 years. I just couldn’t be bothered. It is, after all, a trek. When I finally did go I realized that if I wanted to have truly close relationships with my sisters I was going to have to make the effort to head east every couple of years. And yes, they can come here too but if I go there I can see everyone. No way everyone would want to make the trip here.

I wasn’t really worried about my relationship with my sisters. I knew we were good, we would always be good. Years ago (pre-cell phones and internet) my husband told me I was not close to my family at all. I protested, that just wasn’t true! He stated flat out that I wouldn’t be able to have a ten minute conversation with any of my sisters. “Go ahead, I dare you. Call one of them. I’ll pay for the call.”

Okey dokey. So, I called my sister Donna. He left the house shortly after I placed the call. When he got home two hours later, I was still on the phone. The next night I called my sister Beth, talked for an hour. So in spite of the distance separating us, we were still close. Now, I make the effort to travel east. Phone calls and face time are great but it’s much better in person. So I make the effort. Part of my “be a better person” plan or at least be a better sister. Plus I’m teaching them to make the chocolates.

After this winter and summer I have come to realize that my sisters care deeply for me and would do anything for me. I am so grateful for that.

Being a better person is a subjective thing. It might mean one thing to me and something entirely different to you. If you are a person who is always shouldering responsibility and taking on other’s burdens, perhaps “self care” or “me time” should be on your Be a Better Person list. It’s not on my list because I’m totally good with the generous amount of time I have for my own stuff.

Maybe it means doing more volunteer work. I think volunteer work is good for the soul and I do give of my time and whatever small abilities I have. Of course I could do more – but you know, “me time”. Somewhere there is the right balance for all of us.

Trying to be a better person is very personal. A friend tells me that by learning to handle stressful or confrontational situations in a calmer, more positive manner she feels she is a better person. She admits she really had to work at it but the more she does it, the easier it is. Honestly, the world would be a better place if we could all learn to do this.

She also incorporates exercise into her daily life, even if it is just a short walk or a few extra stairs. There is a lot to be learned from that. We don’t have to move mountains to exercise, every little bit counts. She tells me that this conscious effort to exercise has allowed her to relax, not overthink the little things and has reduced her anxiety. Small changes can make you a better person, no matter what the changes are.

So working on the retirement list is not the only thing that can help you to become the person you want to be. Maybe you don’t care about your potential or getting better at something. That’s ok too. Each of us will decide what we’d like to do or be better at, retired or not.