Refire! Don't Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life

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Refire! Don't Retire asks readers the all-important question: as you look at the years ahead, what can you do to make them satisfying and meaningful?

Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz point out that some people see their later years as a time to endure rather than as an exciting opportunity. Both research and common sense confirm that people who embrace these years with energy and gusto—rather than withdrawing and waiting for things to happen—consistently make the rest of their lives the best of their lives.

In the trademark Ken Blanchard style, the authors tell the compelling story of Larry and Janice Sparks, who discover how to see each day as an opportunity to enhance their relationships, stimulate their minds, revitalize their bodies, and grow spiritually. As they learn to be open to new experiences, Larry and Janice rekindle passion in every area of their lives.

Readers will find humor, practical information, and profound wisdom in Refire! Don't Retire. Best of all, they will be inspired to make all the years ahead truly worth living.

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12 Slices

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1 A Wake-up Call

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Larry Sparks took his wife’s hand as they headed to the entrance of the hotel ballroom. He did so partly for moral support, but mostly because after nearly forty years of marriage, he was prouder than ever of Janice, his still beautiful bride.

“The registration table’s got to be up here somewhere,” he said.

Around them a crowd of people—nearly all of them approximately their age—moved with Larry and Janice toward the ballroom doors.

Larry leaned over and whispered into Janice’s ear. “Who are all these old geezers?” he joked.

She looked over at him and smiled. “I’m sure they’re thinking the exact same thing about us.”

“Nah,” said Larry. At that moment the registration table came into view beneath a sign that read:

LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL

45TH REUNION — GO EAGLES!

Janice ducked into the ladies’ room and Larry was busy filling out a name tag when he heard a vaguely familiar voice behind him.

“Larry Sparks! Is that you?”

 

2 A Visit with Dr. Jeffrey

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Over the next several months, Kevin’s death had a major impact on Larry. While he’d loved his brother with all his heart, he had always been concerned that Kevin was missing out on life because he was working all the time. Kevin’s career had taken its toll not only on his health but also on his relationships—Angie was his third wife. Kevin had three kids from prior marriages. Reconnecting with them at the funeral, Larry realized they hadn’t known their father very well. Kevin had always talked about the great things he planned to do someday, when things slowed down. Now that day would never come.

“I’m seriously thinking about stepping back from the business, Janice.”

Janice looked up from packing her briefcase. “That’s ironic. Here I am getting ready to interview to be the director of Learning Is for Everyone and you’re planning on cutting back.”

For the past five years, Janice had been a committed volunteer at Learning Is for Everyone, an organization that brought college students together with underprivileged kids for tutoring.

 

3 Love Is the Key

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The sun was breaking through the morning clouds when Janice and Larry arrived at the Tongs’ house. Wendy and Harold greeted them at the door and welcomed them inside.

“Dr. Jeffrey told us you’re interested in talking about refiring,” Wendy said as she showed them to the living room. “That term took us aback, because we’ve been through a major refiring—literally.”

“What do you mean?” asked Janice.

“Our original home was burned down in the wildfires that devastated this area a few years ago,” said Harold. “Talk about refiring. We had to refire from the ground up.”

“That must have been awful. What did you do?” asked Larry.

“We rented a home nearby and were planning to rebuild,” Harold replied. “But our daughter-in-law was walking her dog in the neighborhood one morning and discovered that this house—which we’d always admired—had a for-sale sign on the lawn. We were able to buy it—and save the time and expense of rebuilding—so our house ‘refiring’ has a happy ending.”

 

4 Building Relationships

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It didn’t take long for Larry and Janice to begin applying what they had learned from Wendy and Harold. In fact, it started happening the next day.

“Who was that on the phone?” asked Janice.

“Oh, it was Rob.”

Janice frowned. “Again? Seems like we’ve been seeing an awful lot of him since the reunion. What did he want?”

“Come on, Janice. I know Rob’s not the best listener, but remember what Wendy and Harold told us about looking for the pearl of good in everyone.”

“Yeah, but anytime I say anything to Rob, he hijacks the conversation and makes it about him.”

Larry smiled. “Yeah, but do you know a more generous guy than Rob?”

“You’re right—we’ve had some wonderful times with him. So what did he want?”

He asked if we wanted to go see a movie with him tonight.”

“Tonight?” Janice questioned.

“Yeah, tonight, and he wants to go in about a half hour. But the movie’s playing at the Cinema Guild, and we’d have to meet him in twenty minutes,” Larry explained. “I really hate the Cinema Guild.”

 

5 Nothing Ordinary

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A few weeks later, Larry and Janice met with the Tongs to give them a progress report.

“So how is your refiring journey going?” Harold asked, handing Larry and Janice glasses of iced tea.

“We think we’ve taken some real strides toward refiring emotionally,” said Larry.

“Tell us about it,” said Wendy.

“Ever since our meeting with you, Larry and I have made a concerted effort to make our important relationships—with each other, our friends, and our family—even better,” said Janice. “We’ve become more spontaneous. We’re reaching out, opening ourselves up to new opportunities, and looking for ways to break the patterns we’ve developed with so many people—including ourselves—of doing the same things in the same way, in the same places.”

“We’ve even begun to develop a refiring code of conduct,” said Larry. He handed them a piece of paper that read:

REFIRING CODE OF CONDUCT

Refiring Emotionally

 

6 Mental Stimulation and Challenge

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Driving home from the Tongs’, Larry said, “I’m really feeling good about the progress I’ve made on this emotional thing.”

“We’ve made,” Janice corrected with a smile.

“Right, we. I’m also feeling good about us,” he said.

“Me, too,” said Janice.

“But,” said Larry, “I’m also feeling kind of empty. Since stepping back from running the company, I feel adrift, like I don’t really have a purpose or a place anymore.”

“It’s funny you mention that, because believe it or not, even though I’ve taken on this new job, I’m feeling much the same. One of the things about being the executive director is that I’m spending a lot of time doing paperwork. Frankly, the job is not as challenging or stimulating as I thought it would be.”

“It sounds like we’re both feeling unfulfilled,” said Larry. “Are we missing something?”

“Maybe we can ask Dr. Jeffrey about that,” said Janice.

“Good idea,” said Larry.

“So how is your refiring journey going?” Dr. Jeffrey asked.

 

7 A Moment of Truth

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Janice was fixing dinner when Larry walked through the door. “Hey,” was all he could manage.

“What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Is everything okay?”

“Not really,” Larry replied. “I just got a call from my doctor’s office. I have diabetes.”

“You have what?” she asked.

“Diabetes. This is serious, Janice. The doctor said that left untreated, a diabetes patient can go blind or lose a limb—or a kidney, even.”

Now Janice was the one looking shell-shocked. “Just like that, out of the blue, you have diabetes?”

Larry shook his head. “I knew I’d been more tired than usual, and I’d been hitting the men’s room more often, but I had no idea it was this serious.”

“What’s the doctor’s prognosis? Does he think you’ll be okay?”

“The doctor said it’s up to me. He can give me meds, but that’s only a temporary solution. If I want to keep this from getting worse, I have to make changes—diet, exercise, all the things I know I should be doing.”

 

8 Dealing with Setbacks

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Larry and Janice had just loaded the last of the dinner plates into the dishwasher when the doorbell rang.

“That’s Phil and Kelly,” said Larry, “right on time for dessert and decaf.”

Their good friends had been missing in action from the last few meetings of the Last-Minute Gang. When Janice called to follow up, Kelly explained they would be out of commission for a while because Phil was having some medical problems. Kelly hadn’t been specific, and Janice hadn’t pried.

“Welcome!” Janice said as she opened the door. Her smile turned to a look of surprise when she saw Phil. The man who had been one of the most vigorous people they knew was leaning on a walker. Kelly stood beside him, holding his arm protectively.

“Oh, my goodness, Phil. Are you okay? Is there anything we need to do for you?”

“No,” said Phil with a laugh. “Just watch me gimp over to a chair, and as soon as I’m settled, everything will be fine.”

Janice saw them into the living room, where a beverage and fruit tray had been set up. “How about some decaf and a fruit plate?” asked Janice.

 

9 The Big Picture

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Dr. Jeffrey sat back in his chair, a thoughtful look on his face. “When I think about when you first came to see me nine months ago, I’m amazed by all the changes you’ve made. Talk about approaching life with enthusiasm and adding zest! You’re living examples of what it means to refire. You not only think about these things—you’ve actually changed your behavior. Documenting your experiences has added tremendously to my research. In the emotional, intellectual, and physical areas, you’re doing great.”

“So we’ve arrived!” said Larry.

“Not quite yet,” Dr. Jeffrey said. “In many ways, the most interesting and perhaps most challenging part of the journey is ahead.”

“You mean the spiritual stuff,” said Janice.

“Yes,” said Dr. Jeffrey. “Refiring spiritually adds another level of excitement and joy to your journey. But spirituality is often the toughest conversation to have. Even tougher than talking about sex.”

“I guess if we can talk about sex, we can talk about spirituality,” said Janice. “But why do you think it’s so difficult?”

 

10 Another Perspective

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Rounding a curve on the winding mountain road, Larry and Janice saw the pale gray dome of the observatory come into view.

“Wow, what a great place to work,” Janice said. “It’s beautiful up here.”

“I must say, I’ve never met an astronomer before,” said Larry. “This ought to be interesting.”

Cynthia Strohmeyer was certainly not what either Janice or Larry had been expecting. The red-headed woman who greeted them was in her early forties at most. Wearing comfortable clothes, she met them at the entrance to the spacious room that housed the massive telescope.

“Welcome,” she said after they’d made introductions. “My uncle has told me so many good things about you guys.”

“Your uncle?” said Larry, puzzled. “Oh!” he said, the light going on. “You must be Dr. Jeffrey’s niece.”

“He didn’t tell you?” she said with a laugh.

“No,” said Janice. “He just said you’d give us a fresh perspective on what it means to refire spiritually.”

Cynthia led them to some seats at the edge of the gallery, where they had a clear view of the telescope. “I’ve been interested in math and science since grade school,” she said. “By the time I reached grad school in my twenties, I identified myself as an agnostic. I just didn’t find religion and spirituality compelling. Making assumptions without empirical evidence seemed so irrational to me. People who talked about God’s love and miracles sounded naïve and sentimental, if not downright delusional.”

 

11 The Refiring Gang

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In time, the Last-Minute Gang evolved into a Refiring Gang—a group devoted to supporting each other in approaching life with gusto, energy, and zest.

Instead of getting together at their house for the midsummer meeting of the gang, Larry and Janice encouraged their friends to participate in a walk-run 5K to stop diabetes in its tracks, followed by a potluck in the park. To their delight, everyone cleared their calendars for the event.

“Seen any good animated films lately?” Larry asked as he caught up with his friend Rob, who was moving along at a brisk pace.

Rob and Larry were in the lead, Janice and Alice were following at a good clip, Kelly was taking up the rear, and Phil—who was no longer using a cane—would be joining them for the last mile.

“I’m watching a lot fewer movies and doing a lot more walking,” said Rob, slightly out of breath. “The more I do this, the stronger I feel.”

“I see the finish line and the park up ahead,” said Larry. “I have to admit, I’m really ready for that potluck.”

 

12 Sharing the Experience

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Dr. Jeffrey stood on the stage at the performing arts center, where he had just presented the results of his research on new models of aging to several hundred people. Near the front row, a camera captured his talk, which would be broadcast to a local television network and a wide Internet audience.

“To summarize,” Dr. Jeffrey said, “what I call refire is not simply to stop or start working, or take a class, or to finally lose that twenty pounds. It’s an ongoing process of approaching things with gusto, taking risks, and bringing enthusiasm and zest to every area of your life.”

The video screen behind him went dark and Dr. Jeffrey stepped to the edge of the stage.

“Now, for those of you who’ve heard the statistics from my research, watched my PowerPoint, and haven’t yet fallen asleep, I have a real treat for you. I’m going to bring out a couple who have lived all the things I’ve just talked about. We’re going to hear now from Larry and Janice Sparks, who are in the midst of their own refiring journey.”

 



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