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Karen Telleen-Lawton: New Tricks for Anyone of Any Age

By | Published on 04/07/2014

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They say that learning new things is an essential anti-aging technique. Not only does knowledge acquisition chase cranial-equivalent cobwebs from encasing the gray matter, but it exposes you to new and often conflicting ideas that force you to challenge old assumptions.

Every adult age group faces the discomfort of learning from challenging situations. Thirty-something parents quickly realize that their parents weren’t wrong on every occasion. They may not yet be willing to admit it.

Forty-somethings discover, sometimes with a shock, that their childhood lecture on saving part of their allowance was a lesson preparing them for now. Saving for retirement is suddenly in the top tier of importance, on par with paying the mortgage and putting food on the table. (A financial planning rule of thumb is that you should have saved the equivalent of double your salary by age 40, and 4.5 times your salary by the end of that decade.)

My parents are still learning new tricks in their 80s. The current challenge — they’re doing remarkably well — is to learn how not to offer child-rearing advice to their granddaughter. Suggestions based on practices and assumptions that are over a half-century old are rarely welcome.

I know they’ll be successful, since they were able to face and conquer new technology while in their 70s. At that time their grandchildren were far-flung on college foreign exchange programs. Realizing that the only way to stay in the communication loop was to learn to use email, they figured it out. Mom and Dad are regular emailers and Googlers, logging in once a day as if the mail carrier were delivering it. I only hope I can face the new technology of the 2030s!

I recently taught a 60-something to standup paddleboard. For years my kinesiology professor friend has preached balance exercises to me as an important anti-aging technique. So when I borrowed a board and invited her out on the water, she could hardly refuse. Not surprisingly, she achieved a standing position on her first trip out.

My own new trick has been earning my Certified Financial Planner certification in my 50s. Besides cranial-cramming a lot of facts and performing accurate financial calculations quickly, the 10-hour exam challenged my ability to work without restroom breaks. (There were three test sessions, but with check-in and instructions we were break-less for almost five hours.)

After passing the exam and accumulating the requisite three years of experience, I recently earned the right to use the CFP® mark. That presented an additional challenge: finding the ® symbol in Word.

The diploma I just received is quadruple the size of my big-name undergraduate and graduate ones. At first I thought that was overkill, not to mention really expensive to frame. But now that it hangs smartly on my wall, I’m beginning to appreciate it. I am gratified to be able to help young and old alike breathe easier in the knowledge of where they stand. Even if the truth of their financial position is not what they had hoped, the stress level is reduced with a solid plan.

That the truth sets you free (John 8:32) — that’s worth learning at any age.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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