Wednesday, July 26, 2017

You're Over 40...

Tuesdays and Fridays are when we work out on gymnast’s rings – my favorite workouts because they work about every muscle in the body and because they are just plain fun. These are also the days were the most folks notice what we are doing – everything from young, built guys trying to watch out of the corner of their eyes without being obvious to folks just stopping what they are doing and staring.

So, yesterday – two young guys were doing some neat martial-arts stuff – flying kicks, advanced yoga moves, clearly very fit.  At one point, when they were walking by I commented to them that they were doing some pretty impressive stuff.  One of them said they liked what we were doing – I had them try the move we were doing –

Since my group was in the middle of our routine I took the two young men over to the TRX setup and showed them a number of other moves we use as part of our ring-day workout.  At one point one of the young men asked “You’re over 40 – how is it you can do all these things we can’t”? 

My canned answer is that I’m older and had more of a chance to get fit.

Imagine how surprised they were when they found out I was 63.

This kind of interaction occurs more frequently than perhaps is believable.  I spent an hour working out with these two, while also taking my turn with my group on the rings.  Then, while getting ready to shower, another young man, a soccer player, wanted some tips on how to build his obliques.  Then we got into a discussion about indoor soccer shoes, since that is what I wear when working out. 

So, you over 40 types – how long has it been since a kid complimented you on your athletic capabilities? 

I find it very frustrating, seeing folks I care about getting fat, losing physical capabilities, becoming just plain decrepit – long before they should.  Reality – people are just plain not willing to put out the effort to start down a path that will make their lives unbelievably better. Twice recently I was told “I can’t imagine myself ever going to a gym”.  Funny – they don’t have any problem accepting getting weaker, gaining weight and slowing down.

As I said – I find this very frustrating.  America is a country in a fiscal crisis due to our overfat population – and folks just can’t understand that their senior years could be the best years of their lives – in every way – if they would just get started growing instead of accepting the slow decline path they are on.

Baby steps.  For the rest of your life.  Don’t accept becoming decrepit – turn it around. 

Life begins at 40, and 50, and 60, and 70. Every decade from 40 on you can get stronger and more fit!

Or you can rave about the various beers you find to drink, and the videos you see on You-Tube.

I can only pray that you choose to get started reversing the negative aspects of aging.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

I Could Never Do That

A couple of nights ago I found Kelly surfing the internet looking for more exercises we could perform on gymnasts rings.  She was viewing a video of a young man learning to do the iron cross - a classic gymnast-rings position.  The video showed the young man as he spent years working up to being able to do a clean iron cross.  By focusing on his form, and developing his strength, he got there. 

I compare this with one gent at the gym - he saw us working on doing the flag (holding onto a vertical pole and holding your body perpendicular to the pole.  Right - it’s a tough exercise.  Anyway, this gent asks if I think I will ever be able to do it.   

Time for some background - I’ve introduced him to several exercises to help him develop the muscles and ligaments that protect his joints.  He comes back with ways to make the exercises easier so he won’t have to work so hard.  And complains that he hurts himself doing things around his house and yard. 

Another gentleman – met him years ago – he talked about how he would do 20 chin-ups each day, along with lots of sit-ups and push-ups.  As the years went by he mentioned his exercises less and less, until, a couple of years ago, he admitted he didn’t do them anymore.

I could have also entitled this post “When Do We Get Old?” 


When is it we start putting limits on what we can do?  I suppose it is when we quit pushing ourselves – or we quit doing what we have been doing.  Then, in 4 or 5 years it’s not so much that we choose not to continue to exercise, it becomes we really can’t do what we used to do.  Or, I suppose, we decide we could never do that. 

We decide to become old. 

Lou Holtz is credited with saying “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow”.  I can’t imagine a world where I would acknowledge that I will not get any stronger.  OK, maybe when I am 80 – at which point I will do all I can to hold onto what strength I have developed to that point.

Interesting quote from the Economist (7/8/17):  “In a survey of Americans conducted by researchers at Stanford University, 77% of respondents said they wanted to live to 100, but only 42% claimed to be making a real effort to get there.”

 Neither the desire to live a long time, nor the fact that only half suggested they were doing something to live longer comes as a surprise.  Reality?  Aging and becoming decrepit sort of go together unless one does all one can to slow down the decrepit part.  Aging, we all will age, unless of course we die.  It’s the decrepit part that we can fight.

I wish that I could lay out a plan to take someone who is 30 pounds overweight to being fit in the next 6 months.  Sure, if someone goes vegan, cuts out excess sugar doesn’t ladle on the salad dressing and rich sauces – they can lose a pound a week or so.  That is really the best one can realistically hope for.  Now for the fitness part. 

 Two words – Baby Steps.  Sure, you could go out and start doing lots of weight lifting.  And, likely trash your shoulder, back, elbow and/or knee.  This is where you need to be the master of your own destiny.  Yes, there is a place for weight-lifting, and cables, and all those fancy machines that make health-clubs so equipment rich.  And, each piece of equipment allows you to focus on a muscle/muscle group or two.  If this is your thing – get started!

I prefer body-weight exercises – all the “UP’s”, like push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups.  Throw in the plank, burpee, dips, calf raises, lunges and squats – hey, this is quite an exercise routine!

 As you get to where you can do a few of each, think about variations.  I can assure you there are more than enough variations to allow you to become extremely fit, though, face it, this is probably months down the road.

The thing you need to do is get started.  Determine how many push-ups you can do.  OK, none?  That’s ok.  Even knowing that is progress!  If none, try doing them with your knees on the ground instead of your toes.  No matter how many or what kind – the critical element is that you work at doing more in two weeks.  And just keep that up.

 In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow. 

 Same thing with chin-ups.  Most gyms have an assisted chin-up machine – or rubber exercise bands. Again, all that matters is that you can do more a month from now.

Sit-ups – try doing them on an inflated exercise ball.

 Trainers are your friends.  Just realize, it’s up to you to make progress.  The internet is an even better friend – there is so much excellent information for those getting started. 

 Over 40?  Definitely need to include stretching in your routine.  Again, go online – search “stretching for _____” and fill in the blank.  You over 60 – likely “seniors” will work well.  Fighting arthritis – fill in the blank.  “Couch Potato”  Yup, sure enough. 

 Thing is, you are trying to grow – which means you will likely be using muscles and joints in ways they haven’t seen for years, if ever.  You need to protect them as much as you can – which means stretching.

 Lastly – joints:  Search “Joint Exercises”:  Lots of options – let’s see – weak shoulder rotator cuff muscles – coupled to a trip and fall?  Darned good chance you will have a torn-up shoulder.  Start strengthening joints to give your body a chance to handle more of life’s little challenges.

 Bottom line – get started.  Start losing weight and becoming stronger! – turn your reality around!

 Every couple of months someone will tell me that they listened to what I said some time ago and got started.  Recent example – guy in his late 60’s – started walking more and cut out most meat.  Now down 40 pounds and actually exercising most days.  The change in his reality is awesome! 

 Bottom line – You don’t have to watch your health and fitness decline – you can turn it around.  Starting today – eat better, and start doing something about your fitness!

 And, a year from now, I look forward to hearing from you – about your weight loss and increase in strength!!!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Yesterday one of the young guys I work out with wanted to know when men start to see declining strength. An interesting question that. When pressed he decided that he wanted to know when men were old enough to not want to jump off a 10 foot high board into the water.

Hmmm - was he asking when men got smart enough to check how deep the water was before jumping, or was he asking when men became frightened they would break something if they jumped into deep water from 10 feet high. If the former, well, I’m not sure I’ve seen any evidence that men ever get smarter when it comes to responding to challenges. If he was asking about the latter - fear of breaking something - well, I guess it depends.

I decided to blog on this because of a couple of things I have seen and read over the last week. One was a discussion of blood pressure and its impact on our longevity. In case you don’t know it, high blood pressure (hypertension) kills. If interested, check out

 High Blood Pressure: Normal but Not Natural

But what got my attention was a question the author asked: "If it (high blood pressure) affects most of us when we get older, maybe it’s less a disease and more just a natural, inevitable consequence of getting older?"

Hmm, like getting fat and decrepit.  And being afraid to jump into a pool because we are in such bad shape we will likely hurt ourselves. 

The author goes on to point out: "We’ve known for nearly a century that high blood pressure need never occur." Again, just like getting fat and decrepit.

The other thing that made me want to write a bit on this was the comments of a couple of old men at the gym. Both are in their 60's, both look like they are hiding a basket ball (or a watermelon) under their shirts, both look like they are in their 70's, and both claimed they were going to live to be 100. Oh, and one of them claimed he was diabetic but he did nothing about it - hated doctors and tests.

Really? Seriously? Are you kidding me??? Live to be 100 even though your obesity opens you up to so many serious medical conditions???

Funny, both thought I was in my 40's.

Fitness, keepings ones weight and blood pressure down - these are things we work for - and things that allow us to age gracefully and avoid being decrepit. It’s each of our choices to stay fit, to work out, and to eat a healthy diet. I’m going to throw in stretching to the mix - without it, well, one spends way too much time with backs that are "out" and joints that get damaged.

One more observation and I will finish this posting. Another older gent at the gym, very heavy, loves to do "manly" workouts, like bench pressing and squats. It is truly sad to watch, in as much as he is just not healthy, but hates the idea of cardio workouts - like tread mills or stair steppers or bicycles. He is not alone - I watch a couple of other older gents, again, very over weight, but all they do is bench press, curl, all the classic exercises to build those upper arms. Even though they are easily 150 pounds over weight.

Sure, cardio alone is not enough, but it is what is required to loose weight. Well, that and not over eating.

My bottom line - as I explained to the lad who wanted to know when men get decrepit - I plan to continue to kick his butt on the gymnast rings for the next 10 years. After that, I can only plan to kick his butt on the rings for another 10 years. The alternative is to accept becoming decrepit. I will not accept that I will be weaker next year than I am now. And I am going to do what I can to keep that from happening.

I have to finish with a word of thanks to my wife, who is right there beside me (or in front of me all too often) in keeping fit and aging gracefully. Thank you Kelly for supporting me in this whole aging gracefully thing!




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Retirement - Living A Dream

As time goes by I realize that what I do at the gym is not the norm.  I look at folks over 50 and see lots and lots of guts.  No, not like the guts it takes to work out hard - the guts that stick out in front of folks and create medical issues. 

 Our country does not have a health-care crisis - it has a fat crisis.

I do my best to follow the current topics in the medical world – recently read about tests that can now identify 79 genetic reasons folks tend to put on weight.  Reminds me of comments that I hear pretty regularly, about how so many folks are overweight because of their genetics. 

Hmmm – given that our genetics don’t change in mere years, decades, or even centuries, perhaps it would be informative to look at the incidence of folks that were overweight and/or obese in the 1800’s. 

What I found was that, back in the 1800’s, around 70% of the population in America was in the “normal” weight range.  Specifically, they referenced folks with a BMI of 18.5 to less than 25.  Today?  Well, instead of 70% of the population being normal, we now find 70% are overweight, with roughly half of those being obese. 

WOW.  And Hmmmm.  If being overweight is the result of genetics – what’s happened in the last couple of hundred years?  Have the genetics of the American public mutated to increase our fat genes?  Highly unlikely that.  As in no, that is not what has happened.  Folks today simply eat too much, eat too little fiber, and don’t exercise enough. 

So, what the heck does this have to do with living a dream in retirement?  I suspect it can best be summarized by a couple of things that happened at the gym over the last two weeks.

One day I was showing a very fit young man how to do novel chin-ups.  When done a lady in her 50’s who was doing lat pull-downs commented that she was amazed I could do something that someone much younger couldn’t do.  I said it was because I was older.  The look on her face was, to say the least, surprised, incredulous perhaps? 

To her age and decline go together.  She, like most folks, expect to be decrepit when they get old.  So, getting weaker by the time they are 50, maybe manage to hold out to 60?  But, gads, but 70 – suddenly golf is considered exercise! 

Then, yesterday, I invited a very fit young man to join us in our ring workout.  This young man was able to do a muscle-up on the rings on his second try.  He is truly very strong.  After about 30 minutes with me he said:  “I have to ask – just how old are you?”  He guessed I was in my 40’s, and was sort of disbelieving when I told him I am about to turn 63. 

Aging, like being overweight, is something that most of us don’t do nearly enough to prevent.

Back to the 1800’s.  At that time being overweight was viewed as a sign of being very prosperous.  As in, one had enough money to over-indulge.  Interestingly, from my research on the web about 1% of the population was obese.  Versus what, around 35% today?  

The diseases that plague America are often referred to as “Diseases of Affluence”.  Wikipedia does a good job of defining this term:  “chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and other physical health conditions for which personal lifestyles and societal conditions associated with economic development are believed to be an important risk factor — such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, hypertension, cancer, alcoholism, gout, and some types of allergy”. 

Yup, today we too can be just as fat as the wealthiest folks in the 1800’s, and pay the same price!

There is no question that our genetics impacts our aging.  But, in most cases, the primary culprit is not the genetics we inherited from our parents – I am talking about the changes that occur in our genetic code that are related to life-style.  Specifically, I am talking about epigenetics and about the telomeres (a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes) which protects our genes from the deterioration that occurs naturally when we age.

Rather than try to explain epigenetics and telomeres, I will simply say that eating a whole-foods diet, lite on any kind of animal product and heavy on foods that contain soluble fiber (did you know that animal products contain no soluble fiber?) will both help one keep their weight in check and minimize damage to ones genes.  Exercise is the critical second element.  And no, I am not talking 30 minutes, 3 days a week, all that  will do is help you live longer (cardio benefit) but you will not be losing weight – which is critical for becoming younger.  You will not be getting younger – just continuing to get old and likely fatter.

 Nope – I am talking 5 times a week, and, if you are retired – you need to be talking at least an hour a day.  With plans to build up to longer workouts. 

How would you feel if you knew you were going to be weaker next year?  Is that an exciting thought?  I suspect easily 95% of America over the age of 40 falls in this category. 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  Just think about how much better it would feel to know you are becoming stronger, both physically and metabolically?  Exercise, and diet – you truly can turn back the biological clock and look, and feel, younger next year. 

Retirement – being told over and over I look 20 years younger than I am.  That is truly living a dream.

OK – I apologize if the above is pushy, obnoxious, presumptive, un-caring, and refuses to accept your lame excuses for getting weaker each year (be real glad I don’t go into a discussion of the idea that riding a golf cart and swinging a club is exercise).  We have become an overweight nation, heading for the time when over 50% of America will be both obese and diabetic. 

It’s up to each of us to find our retirement dream.  Mine?  Yesterday I worked out with a hyperactive 10 year old who had previous gymnast training, 3 kids in their teens – each of which are very fit, a 30 year old who is phenomenally fit, and my lovely wife - who folks figure is around 40.  I also took a moment to show a couple of other folks some exercises that will benefit them.

Is this your picture of a 60 year old man?  It is my living dream.





Thursday, June 23, 2016

Feeling Good about Retirement

When I retired 8 years ago Kelly and I knew I would need to replace the daily interactions I had with coworkers. Social interactions are important for our mental health and play a role in reducing the risk of conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.  In fact, I just read an interesting article that talked about how good it can make you feel when you help someone else. 

OK – I hear you thinking “What does this all have to do with retirement?”

Retirement afforded me the chance to “scratch” the fitness itch that had persisted through many years of lunch-hour workouts.  Rather than 30 or 45 minutes, I could work out as long as I wanted!  This allowed me to ramp up my time at the gym to over 3 hours each weekday while giving me the “people” time I lost when I retired.  Social interaction and fitness – what better recipe for retirement? 

Gyms are a challenge for many people.  Way too many folks think working out is just not fun, a drag, or not something they will ever try.  As part of my gym “social reality”, I think it is important to do what I can to make others feel welcome.  Saying “Hey”, “Wow – well done”, or heck, any simple compliment helps people feel better about being there, and hopefully encourage them to show up tomorrow. 

Back to what I read – the best way to feel better is to make someone else feel better.  What better place than at the gym, where most folks are uncomfortable and feeling out of place?

I start my workouts with 30 minutes on an exercise cycle.  Great opportunity to say hello to folks as they walk by and catch up on the news, in that we don’t have a TV.  Once warmed up I spend 45 minutes stretching and doing simple balance and core exercises - my “Wellness” session.  These sessions keep me flexible enough to do the workouts that I enjoy while incorporating both core and balance exercises. 

I would say they are easy exercises, but that totally depends on a person’s fitness level.  My Wellness sessions proved immensely popular at 24 Hour Fitness and are growing at the Cascade Athletic Club where I now workout.  Participants range from teen-age to gentlefolks in their 80’s.  These sessions are another way for people to connect with others – one of the truly heart-warming paybacks is when I see a teenager helping someone old enough to be their great grandparent.  WOW.

Having stretched I move into my workout routine.  Each day has a different focus, but all emphasize core, balance and flexibility.  Strength comes right along, but not strength focused on individual muscles, more strength developed while doing things in tune with the moves we make every day.  Specifically those moves that can pop our backs out and leave us hunched over for days.  The goal is to get the bodies’ core strong enough to defend our backs!

Being a Certified Personal Trainer with a focus on biomechanics, my goal is to strengthen joints and musculature while avoiding injury.  For me, and for the folks who choose to work out with me.  A typical day will see teenagers working out with folks in 50’s – all focused on building strength while avoiding injury.  As with the stretch sessions, there is nothing like seeing a 17 year old assist a 40 or 50 year old in a challenging move. 

OK – my workouts are not what you normally think of when picturing working out.  Heck, people have asked me if I do anything at all that is normal!  Problem is, even with the 15 to 20 hours a week I spend at the gym, there are so many muscles to develop.  One cannot work even a fraction of our musculature if focused on individual muscle groups.  And, to make things more interesting, my exercises usually entail both balance and strength – with a goodly dose of core thrown in.  A great example is what I call my “Old Man Pushup”.

Then, once a week, we break out the gymnast’s rings and spend a session focused on moves more appropriate for a member of Cirque du Soleil.  None of us are ready for the big-time, but we all enjoy the challenge.



Best of all – Cascade’s management wants to develop a sense of community at their gyms and accepts my guiding others whilst helping them achieve their fitness goals. 

While giving me the social interaction and camaraderie that is so much a part of a great workout.

As an aside, with my wife’s work in Legacy’s joint replacement group, I am very mindful of the challenges we all face when aging.  Past 60, a simple fall is, at best, painful.  At worst they are life changing or even threatening.  Balance, core, aging gracefully – these all go hand in hand.

Retirement is truly a time to achieve our life-long goals.  For me, fitness goes hand in hand with ageing gracefully.  And time at the gym gives me a chance to make others feel a bit better about themselves, which just makes me feel that much better about myself.

See you at the gym!

Steve is a retired engineer who spends each weekday afternoon from around 2 to 5 at the Cascade Athletic Club in Vancouver.  He welcomes you to come check out his Wellness sessions!
This article was published in Lacamas Living!



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tilting with Windmills

Wow - been a long time since I posted anything. Like 2 years. All I can say is - sometimes life just gets too busy. 

For those of you that know me, it will come as no shock to find out I value my workouts more than about anything other than time with Kelly. When I retired from my day job, eight years ago (but whose counting), Kelly and I discussed how I would maintain my social involvement with others. The first thought for both of us was my time at the gym. Sure, I spend time (some days a lot of time) communicating with clock and car folks. But most of this is on the phone or via email, not face to face.

The thing about gyms is you make them what you want them to be. I see a lot of people who just want to work out and get out of there. They don’t like the gym, they don’t look like they like the gym, or that they are enjoying themselves.

OK - there are also folks who go to the gym to socialize - not much working out gets done, but they do get to talk to folks. If you want to work out - well, you might want to avoid these folks.

Then there are people who just plain enjoy working out with others. I am clearly in that category. There were a couple of other people at my previous gym who were in this camp - folks who end up with people working out with them because they want to share what they are doing, and enjoy helping others work out.

Those of you who are awake might have noticed my reference to a "previous" gym. Perhaps the biggest change in the past 2 years was my switching from 24 Hour Fitness (24) to Cascade.

Funny that (in sort of a very sad and pathetic way). I spent 4 years at 24, watched managers come and go, and enjoyed helping folks. I had a group of 5 to 10 who spent 45 minutes each weekday stretching with me. And 2 to 6 who then worked out with me for about 2 hours. In as much as the routines I have developed are not your normal curl/bench/squat type of exercises, I tended to do a lot of coaching - helping people develop their strength while focusing on protecting their backs (building their core) and improving their balance.

Three of the managers had no problem with this. Then there was number 4. Let’s call her "Prunella". Ol Pru did not like it. At all. As in Pru threatened repeatedly to have me thrown out if I worked out with others, or if I led the stretch group. Heck, at one point Pru told me the only person I could work out or stretch with was Kelly. Make no mistake, I love working out and stretching with Kels. But she was only there one or two days a week. And all these other folks wanted to join me...

Long story, Pru had me kicked out. Forever. Period.

About 20 folks sent e-mails and letters to the president of 24, lots of phone calls, even a petition. Some of the folks used Twitter and Facebook to try to get the word out...

Kelly and I moved on.

We switched to a locally-owned club - Cascade Athletic Club. Before joining up I talked to the club manager and the corporate training manager. Both were open about their desire to build a sense of community in their clubs and in their welcoming me to work out with others. OH MY! A complete reversal of the focus at 24 where they say they want community but tell folks like me to not work out with others.

We love it at Cascade. Where the trainers at 24 were loath to admit that my stretching and workout routines had any benefit - the trainers at Cascade join us. And hey, Cascade actually cleans things, like bathrooms, the exercise mats... Can you imagine how disgusting it is to use an exercise mat that has a distinctive odor? Or dumbbells that make you hold your breath when you pick them up from the rack? I could go on, but heck, one might think I was making things up. Reminds me of a comment one of the folks at Cascade made when I started working out there: "That 24 Hour is the filthiest gym in this area". So be it.

At the end of the day Kels and I are very happy where we ended up.

It seems like every other week someone walks up and asks if I used to work out at 24 - they remembered seeing me helping folks. I explain the situation and do my best to make them, and others at our new gym feel welcome. A part of a group. Make them want to smile when they see us, make them feel like someone is glad to see them at the gym.

So, why post this? I suppose, on one level, I wanted to share the fact that one does not always win when going up against a company. They are there to make a profit and don’t appreciate it, at all, when someone provides for free what they charge for.

I fear that, over these two years I haven’t been blogging, I ran up against two such defeats - I’ll write about the other in the future.

Flip side, Kels and I are very happy where we are. We accepted the inevitability of change and made the best of it.

Sometimes that is for the best.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Instant Gratification

I was just watching a video of the Piano Guys - one of their typical, which is to say, absolutely phenomenal performances. And fantasizing about achieving that level of talent.

Today many people crave the instant success offered by a successful YouTube video - world renown, recognition - all it takes is that one video. Talking to one young man, he had taken up the violin and was pretty sure that in a couple of years he would be ready to play with the best symphonic maestros. But life got in the way and he didn't practice.

My mind wanders in a dozen directions on this subject - my clock-making skills. How many hours have I put into this effort? Let’s approximate. Say 20 years, perhaps 300 days per year, and OK, 2 hours per day. So, perhaps 10,000 hours. It blows me away how I can sit down today and do something, first try, that would have taken me a dozen hours 15 years ago. Thing just work now, first try. But, flip side, I also know there are no short cuts - you start out and plan to take every step, in the appropriate order, and the rest just works. Or, my clock-case restoration work. When matching the color, texture, patina, you just can’t skip steps. While it may seem, when looking at a project, that there are an unbelievable number of steps to take, at the end, it is all worth it.

In the clock world I have perhaps made it to a masters level. In one genre of clocks. Or maybe two.

Music? Let’s try the math again. I have been playing the hammered dulcimer since May of 2007. Being fair, lets go for 45 minutes per day, and say again 300 days per year. So, perhaps 1,500 hours. Get that? 1,500 hours. My music gives me a massive sense of satisfaction, of being able to create something special, and being able to totally focus, letting the current worries drift off while I practice. But, a master? Nope.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Outliers”, posits that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a field. In my mind, it may well. But I have to point out that 10,000 hours of practicing the same, simple things, will result in the mastery of simple things. 10,000 hours of constantly challenging oneself, of taking on tasks that are progressively harder, will give one a chance at true mastery. I see this in the hammered dulcimer world. There are folks who have been playing 20 years, but who have never progressed past simple tunes. And there are players who have focused on making stunning music. And they have succeeded.

So, where is this going? Part of me wants to share the satisfaction that comes from learning to do something truly well. And, more importantly, that such satisfaction doesn't come from just sitting down and doing something a few times. It comes from truly learning, in all its varied aspect. Finding what is most challenging and going for it. Not being satisfied with where one is, but striving to learn what perfection is, and then spending the time to achieve it. I’m talking life-long fascinations.

What keeps one going? Again, to my mind, it has to be satisfaction. Each step of the way, each skill attained, and then improved, each challenge overcome. I suppose baby steps is not a bad analogy. But equally important - vision of where you want to be - what you want to achieve. Critically, I believe you have to find your fascination years before you retire. You have to have this well begun so you can step into retirement and not suddenly find yourself set adrift with nothing to give purpose to your life.

There is another aspect to gratification. That is the concept of self actualization. Are you trying to achieve something to impress others, or are you doing it for yourself? Hey, the world is a fickle place. It might not notice that you can now play that difficult passage. But, if your focus is on being satisfied, well, there are few things quite so wonderful as success in something you have been working on.

Flip side, if your focus is impressing others there are wonderful outlets - Facebook comes to mind. But, well, you really need to have something to share tomorrow, and the next day to keep your friends aware of how great you are. Keep those positive vibes flowing - keep up with your friends and their postings.

I don’t believe that Facebook can give life-long satisfaction. I suppose a parallel, for me, would be working out. I get a massive dose of positive feedback when I am at the gym. But what about those days that I don’t have 6 people following me around (one of my gym buds has given me the nick-name “Pied Piper”). Working out by oneself is a completely different reality. One where we have to self-actualize, where we need something more than others accolades to keep going.

What keeps me going back is what I see in the morning when I am getting ready for the day. A fit body, one that doesn't look anywhere near 60 (which is where I will be in 3 months). It’s the way I can do things and not feel worn out. The way I can do things no sane 60 year old would even think about attempting.

Take-home message from all of this. Every one of us needs the satisfaction of doing something exceptionally well. Such an accomplishment takes time, and devotion. I believe this satisfaction is the key to long-term happiness.

Why god made hammered dulcimer covers