Category Archives: 50+

What I Know For Sure About Writing

When I attended retirement planning seminars over the course of my career, the psychologists who provided guidance on how to mentally prepare for the transition always seemed to ask the same question: What do you want to do in retirement?

To me, the answer has always been a no-brainer: writing.

My first glimmers of self-awareness about writing came in high school and university. Of all of the assignments in a students’ life, I enjoyed writing essays and compositions the most – and the longer the better – despite the groans from my fellow classmates.

When I stepped into the career world, by some strange stroke of luck, I often ended up in work teams where my colleagues were more than happy to let me raise my hand and volunteer to write lengthy reports, business cases, user manuals and web content while others would probably rather raise their hand and volunteer for root canals.

Writing tasks made me so happy because they presented learning opportunities in an area for which I held a keen interest in becoming better and better.

I enjoyed writing for my managers and executives, as it presented a unique learning opportunity to learn and adapt to their respective writing styles. With the knowledge that I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for them, I never took personally any comments about what I produced. In fact, after working on a few memos, I truly relished getting to a point where I could receive a request, get a few key points about what is intended in the message, and go back to my desk to draft, edit and return a product that was exactly what they wanted and in their own voice. There was no greater compliment to me than when they said “André, this is like I wrote it myself!”

And then to be able to change on a dime and write something for one executive (in their voice) closely followed by another piece for another executive, I truly felt like I could become a “literary chameleon”.

There were also those times when some products were hard to write, like a message to deliver disappointing news or a message to take something complex and making it sound simple without missing a critical detail. Those were the times that I tapped into what I felt were fine architectural or engineering skills that were needed to build the right message. The successful completion of those products was the reward in itself.

The work days that consisted of mostly writing or editing, I’d finish more energetic than when I started. It was very much the same feeling after completing a long composition or an essay in school. Writing is that one thing that energizes me, the more that I do it.

But more than that, I think my 33 years working in the corporate world was truly the best training for what I hope will become a second career in the creative writing field. Some of what I learned in corporate writing does indeed translate to creative writing:

– I realize that even the best ideas need time to refine and develop, and I have the patience to ride it out until the story is just right.

– Working on a piece that doesn’t come to fruition immediately doesn’t bother me. I know when to keep working and when to take a break.

– The best of ideas come to fruition (i.e., publication) when they are meant to be. No amount of pushing can accelerate them or make a square peg fit in a round hole. I am comfortable with writing a story and leaving it on my hard drive until the timing is right.

– I can write quickly and effectively under tight timelines, but my preference leans toward planning out my work and writing steadily in consistent iterations.

And then the things I learned on my own along the way include:

– I found out that a blank page doesn’t scare me. Writing is that one thing I can do that doesn’t fall into a trap of analysis paralysis (anymore).

– I don’t write with the intent to become rich and famous, I write out of a yearning to tell stories not told before or in a voice not heard before.

– I accept that not every story will appeal to everyone.

– I accept that I still have a lot to learn.

– Over the course of seven years and almost 400 blog posts (which would be equivalent to four or five novels), my interest in writing doesn’t seem to be wavering. If anything, it keeps getting stronger.

– As I witnessed with this blog, making a connection with a total stranger who says “hey, something like that happened to me as well. I know what you mean” is a delight for me.

– I have more than one story within me, so if not story A, or story B, maybe stories C, D or E will get out of the gate first. For that reason, I don’t really fear rejection letters. To me, they just mean “not this one”, “not for me, thanks” or “not now”.

– In reading autobiographies of authors and playwrights, I have come to accept that change is inevitable between the first submitted draft and the final product. If an editor suggests cutting or changing some parts that don’t advance the story (if I hadn’t realized it myself by then) I wouldn’t take it personally. Even in movies, some material ends up on the cutting room floor and that is just a fact of life.

– I don’t know how to shut off the “ideas generating” module in the back of my mind, and thankfully I took notes along the way which is why I have so many journals, sketch pads and index cards of ideas.

I don’t think it was an accident that many of my work assignments over my career required me to write as much as I did and have me working with some outstanding mentors and coaches, for whom I will always be so very grateful.

When you take all of those factors into consideration, those were the moments which contributed to my knowing for sure that writing was my passion and my calling.

In a nutshell, I think it would be fair to say that I didn’t choose to write. It chose me. That is what I know for sure!

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, Writing

How Music Can Change One’s Mood in a Split Second

This past week, as I was out for the once-per-week, masked, sanitized, and respectfully socially-distanced grocery store run, I had one of those moments that have become all too familiar.

As I turned my king-sized grocery cart around a corner, I was disappointed to see someone going in the wrong direction, completely contrary to the arrows on the ground. I asked myself, after 13 months of Covid-19, have we not gotten the choreography down yet?

But before the cranky old man within me had a chance to fully surface and irritate me for the rest of the grocery run, the grocery store’s speaker system launched into the first notes of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.

As I started humming along (hey, if there’s only 25 people allowed in the store at one time, I can softly hum with a smile under my mask) my mood instantly changed and the non-compliant grocery shopper was already deleted from my consciousness.

When you review the lyrics, it’s not like “Soak Up the Sun” is one of the cheeriest songs ever written, but the chorus, the music and its associated music video convey to me a certain lightness and free-spiritedness that have often helped me let go of some of the little irritants in life.

Have you ever noticed how songs seem to have that power over us, to – please forgive the cliché – turn a frown upside down? And have you ever been in a situation where you are driving around, enjoying a string of one good song after another, and actually hoping for red lights to slow down your commute to enjoy the tunes?

Much like with “Soak Up the Sun”, it doesn’t always have to be about uplifting lyrics, sometimes it can be all about the music itself and a skillful arrangement that just strikes the right notes to raise ones spirits or even better, to energize. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Inspiring, Lists, music, pop culture

My Mixed Emotions Over a New iPad

You would think that I would have been over the moon with delight about purchasing a new iPad. I wasn’t. In fact, I was annoyed at having to accept defeat.

My previous iPad was purchased in 2012, and throughout its nine years with me, it has been the source of countless hours of information, education and entertainment. It has also been an indispensable work tool in the development and maintenance of the blog that you are reading now.

With my iPad, I’ve sent hundreds of emails, listened to hours of music and read several books. I’ve binge watched shows on it when I wasn’t feeling well. I’ve passed time with it in airports (long before Covid-19 came along).

To me, the iPad was probably one of the best inventions ever, combining so many devices in one, enabling me to travel lighter, especially when I commuted to work by bus. My bad back appreciated this device many times over.

You would think that I could accept that a nine year run with any technological tool is an amazing feat these days, but there is a bit of a stubborn streak within me that just couldn’t bring myself to make that admission. Continue reading

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From the “Look It Up” Generation

It never ceases to amaze me how people use social media, to the profound exasperation of others.

Let’s just use a hypothetical example for illustration purposes: Someone posts on Instagram a picture of a flower from their garden and in the caption they say, “These are the tulips from my garden! #tulips”. Shortly thereafter, someone posts a question “What kind of flower is that?”

While I can certainly forgive an occasional lack of observation, as I have certainly experienced moments in life when I missed a metaphoric flashing neon sign right in front of me. But I usually chalk that up to rare moments of being very rushed or very tired.

It’s when someone asks a question, when the answer is right in front of them (and sometimes even hashtagged) that the cranky old man in me surfaces.

Personally, in the never ending quest of not wanting to look like an idiot, before asking a question, I usually read the caption and previous posts to be sure that my question has not already been asked and answered.

To me, it is also a matter of being considerate to the person who posted it, not demanding time of them (when they could already be super busy) to answer a question that has already been answered.

However, the practice of posting questions that have been answered is not just an occasional thing. I see it ALL THE TIME all over social media.

Similarly, I find it odd that people go to Facebook to ask questions to a wide group like “Does anyone know if Restaurant ABC…?” (insert any number of questions relating to the food they serve, special dietary needs, delivery services, restaurant hours, etc).

Most restaurants offer a variety of communication vehicles like phone number, email address, Facebook page, Instagram page, web site, online menu, etc. If that is the case, why is the question going to a forum of third parties, and not to the restaurant itself through one of the many online resources the restaurant took the time, effort and expense to make available?

I would definitely cut someone some slack, when information is either not online, hard to find or requires clarification or elaboration. I have no issue there whatsoever. But I struggle to imagine a business that does not have an online presence (especially in the post Covid-19 world), or at the very minimum, a telephone number, for such questions.

To me, it makes absolutely no sense. But then again, I was raised in a “look it up!” household.

I learned early on that when asking out loud what a word meant would almost be like casting a spell on the TV show “Bewitched”, as a dictionary would magically appear next to me within a few seconds, accompanied by the advice “look it up”. Or if I had a more elaborate question about how something worked… poof!… a volume of the encyclopedia would appear, accompanied by the same advice.

Of course, there were some questions that my parents lovingly handled themselves that related more to the complexities of human nature that might not be well served by a single book, and for that I am so grateful.

But for everything else, the “look it up” advice seemed to be the gateway to a life skill that I think make me a pretty resourceful individual.

On top of that, in the house I grew up in, there was no shortage of books but yet, I still had library card and a library three blocks away for those times I had a question I couldn’t answer from our own resources. It didn’t take much encouragement to get me to satisfy my natural curiosity with that kind of research material a few blocks away.

But today, it is absolutely astounding what someone can find online at one’s fingertips, not just from encyclopedic knowledge on just about everything, but demonstration videos, historical pieces, and opinion pieces on what seems like every subject in the universe.

We truly are in a fortunate position for the amount of information available to us. Granted, there is sometimes too much information or (not-too-surprisingly) conflicting information, and it takes a bit of research, analysis and deduction to sort all that out.

I can appreciate how for some, this might feel like homework, I truly do. But if someone cannot do this for a simple question, how will they function in the world (in a job, leading a family, or maintaining a household) if their basic research skills suck.

A Google search does not require hopping in the shower, drying your hair, getting dressed, getting your bike out of the shed, hopping on the bike, riding to the library, locking your bike, consulting the “subject” card catalogue and then scavenging the shelves to find the right book to provide the answer you are looking for.

It is so easy, yet for some, it seems like a giant leap of effort.

My friends and readers can rest assured that I am always delighted to receive feedback and questions, and I have not been in a position of repeatedly answering what was already posted.

But it is when I am scrolling through social media and rolling my eyes to the point of feeling dizzy, when the answer to questions is right in front of the readers, that it makes me want to turn it off.

I think it is safe to assume that I am not alone, having seen an April Fools post this past week about the creation of a Facebook group for questions and answers of this nature, to which many fellow readers took great joy and sarcasm in providing examples of other frivolous group pages that should be offered.

It seems to me that in this day and age, with the Internet offering limitless resources of information like never before, accessible more easily than ever before, what happened to the wonderful art of looking it up to answer to one’s natural curiosity?

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under 50+, books, Humour, pop culture

Pre-Retirement Training: Learning to Relax

I’ll never forget the day when a psychologist came to speak at a pre-retirement seminar I attended and suggested “don’t wait until retirement to start on those big retirement plans”.

She then elaborated by offering examples like people who spend their whole lives talking about sailing around the world only to find out that they get sea sick, or people who talk about spending more time on a given hobby only to realize that they don’t really enjoy it that much.

Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen to me.

Most of my readers know that my #1 aspiration in retirement is to write. Thanks to the blog, I have been able to practice creative writing with (much to my own amazement) pretty consistent frequency over the years, which gave me the opportunity to write content so completely different from corporate briefing notes, issue sheets and instructional bulletins. Whether at home or at the office, I have proven to myself that writing is that one activity that for me, creates its own unmistakable energy and enthusiasm.

But surprisingly, what has actually been more challenging (in preparation for retirement) has been learning how to rest and relax. Who knew that I needed to train myself to do that?

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but have you ever had days thinking to yourself, “Am I ever tired?! … I better lie down” only to find yourself already in a horizontal position on a comfy couch, La-Z-Boy or bed in the comfort of your own home?… or worse yet, in a furniture store?

I’m not talking about tired in the sense of deep burnout, I am just referring to a sense of being pooped out from feeling like a perpetual motion machine.

I have come to learn that my own worst enemy in that regard is myself. I wouldn’t say I’m overly demanding, but after decades of living on my own, I had to develop a routine to stay on top of the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and the home maintenance, because it wasn’t like the magic toilet scrubbing fairy would descend from the heavens. Someone had to do it, and when living alone, I invariably drew the short straw every time. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, Humour, mental health

The Reluctant Admission that I Enjoy Large Print

Through the year of Covid-19 isolation and our move to the country, punctuated by a never ending to-do list of home improvements, time was in short supply and I felt bad that I hadn’t reached out more often to check in on friends and family.

Last Christmas, I decided to resume my usual habit of sending out Christmas cards, despite a couple of years of tapering, given that the popularity of sending cards seemed to be on the decline overall. I couldn’t think of a better year to send Christmas cards, at least to mitigate my guilt.

But in doing so came the realization of the less-than-organized state of my contacts list. Somehow, different devices had different lists and sometimes had different or outdated information. It was time for a clean-up.

As much as it might be considered prehistoric by today’s standards, I missed the days of having all that in a neat and tidy address book… a paper one.

This is not to say that I think that electronic contacts are bad, I just find them to be more work to keep up to date.

I don’t know why the software seems to want to create a contact every time I send a once-in-a-lifetime email to a company, and then I can never seem to get rid of it. But when I change a friend’s contact info, it doesn’t seem to sync automatically to the other devices. I don’t get it.

But try finding a paper address book today. Where we used to find them pretty much everywhere and at a variety of price points, today it seems to be something reserved for book, stationery and office supply stores. Continue reading

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The Dreaded Super-Sized Grocery Cart

For as long as I can remember, when it came to grocery shopping, I was almost always a handbasket kind of guy.

Back when I was driving to work every day, it made perfect sense to make a quick stop on the way home to buy just the items needed in the short term, and then to breeze through the express checkout.

For those rare times that a handbasket wasn’t enough, I might have opted for the smallest shopping cart possible and going through a regular check-out lane, but that was fine. All in all, it was a pretty efficient system for me for many years.

But why might I have an aversion to super-sized grocery carts? It might be due to trust issues resulting from being stuck with the cart with the annoyingly bad wheel, no matter how infrequently I may use them.

Or possibly, is it just a hyper sensitivity to spatial awareness that I fume when I am stuck behind someone with the big cart, parked in the middle of the aisle, and having to wait for them to make a life-or-death grocery decision before getting through. With a hand basket, I could just suck in my stomach and go around them before they even noticed that I was there.

When my partner and I moved in together, I understood that shopping for two might mean using the small shopping cart more often. Of course, I was happy to make that change.

But then Covid-19 happened.

With public health officials advising us to stay home, to only make essential trips, and recommending less frequent grocery runs, it took some adjusting. But because making lists is one of the things I do with great joy and enthusiasm, it seemed like the transition to a 7-day shopping trip for two people should be easy enough.

But it took some adjusting there as well. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, food, home, Humour

My Growing Disconnection from the Corporate Ladder

With retirement just a few months away, what has been interesting to me has been taking a moment to step back and to observe how my mindset has changed, without deliberately doing so.

Things that used to occupy a significant amount of thought, energy and a constant state of preparedness have slowly faded into the background.

I think it started around the time I made the decision that after five times accepting short assignments filling in for a manager, that I decided management really wasn’t for me and that climbing the corporate ladder was off the table.

After so many years of being groomed for management, and having so many people say that they believed in me, it was a difficult decision as I didn’t want to let my mentors down.

But the reality was that while I was indeed capable of managing a team, I felt more fulfilled when I was rolling my sleeves up and delving into the technical aspects of the work, more so than when I was leading others through the work.

It also made me appreciate that much more the job I really enjoyed the most over the span of my career to the point of jokingly asking my boss for a “no trade” clause, as I had made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do until it was time to say farewell.

Those two decisions alone brought me so much relief in not having to actively look at job postings anymore, or going through the lengthy processes of applying, testing and interviewing, which always seemed to feel like “homework” when there were other things to which I would prefer to devote time and energy. Continue reading

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The Changing Perception of Time

When I turned 55 last fall, I admit that I had a bit of a “life flashing before my eyes” experience. It wasn’t because I was having a near-death experience or anything like that, it was just the inevitable reminiscing that takes place around a major milestone, much like we do at New Year.

In that same train of thought, last month, I chose the date I will be retiring (in late spring), another pretty big life event. Since then, the subconscious walks down memory lane are hitting me faster than I can keep up with them which in turn, had me contemplating how we perceive time.

In chatting with family and friends (remotely, of course) over the holidays, I was reassured to hear that I am not alone in how my perception of time sometimes seems a little out of step with the clock and the calendar.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am indeed 55 years old and that I have offered up 33 years of my life to the public service, but in some ways it just doesn’t feel that way.

Deep down, I still feel like the same guy that I always was. But before I can allow myself to get too cocky about it, arthritis pops up to remind me that I am not as young as I think I am… that, and the fact that it takes an afternoon nap and copious amounts of caffeine to be able to watch Saturday Night Live (live) these days.

While my childhood seems like a distant place in time, sometimes feeling like it was hundreds of years ago, other life events seem significantly closer.

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I was nearing the end of my university years, completely sick of studying, exams and homework, and itching to get on with my life. I vividly remember the hope for that “big break” into the working world. These are the scenes that seem to be replaying a lot in my head at the moment. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Humour

Learning to Appreciate Snow Again

As I sit down to write this piece, all is calm, all is bright. Miss Ivy, the “guardian cat”, is snoring on the wing chair beside me while I sip my morning coffee. Just outside my window is the first major snowfall of this season.

What a great way to spend a weekend snow day. I am very fortunate indeed for this simple pleasure.

I look out my window and think to myself how pretty the winter wonderland is. Then I stop myself and say “Whoa! What happened to that guy who used to ‘hate’ winter?”

The answer is that things have changed quite a bit.

For so many years, I have equated snowfalls with stress, the fear of the unknown, and having to dig deeply for an extra dose patience.

I don’t know why in Ottawa the show must go on, even in inclement weather, but only in rare and very extreme weather conditions was work ever “cancelled”.

It always brings a smile to my face to see news reports from other cities that shut down when they had one or two inches of snow on the ground. “That would never happen here”, I always think to myself as one to two inches on the ground is just an average winter day in Ottawa. But it didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Back when I was taking the city bus to school or to work, a snowy day meant a longer commute time in an overheated bus, while wearing a winter coat, sweating like a pig, wishing I could take another shower by the time I got to my destination. It also meant the crap shoot of whether the bus will be late or if it will show up at all, meaning that extra layers of clothes were needed to stand outside waiting, to protect from the elements.

It also meant the risk of being late for an important commitment, which is excruciating for someone who prides himself on his punctuality. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, home, Humour