About Bev Bachel

I'm a freelance writer and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It.

Growing Older: It’s Better than the Alternative

Aging. I’ve been doing it my whole life, but it’s only since turning 60 that I’ve become mindful of it. I wish I’d started earlier.

If I had paid attention, I’d have stayed out of the sun, stuck with yoga, journaled more consistently, spent more time in therapy and consumed less alcohol. I’d also have spent more time with family and friends and worked more diligently at developing resilience.

For most of my adult life, I planned, in as much as one can, that I would live to at least 90 and die peacefully in my sleep, just the way the grandmother I adored did. (She’s pictured here just months shy of her 91st birthday.)

But then, my parents died: my dad in 1997 after a year-long battle with lung cancer, and my mom in 2000 in an instant due to a stroke. They were both only 70. I was in my early 40s.

That’s when I began to realize that I, too, could die at 70. Ever since, I’ve been reminding myself that if I do, I only have 25 … 20 … 15 … 10 … 9 … 8 … 7 … years left. And if that wasn’t bad enough, along comes the pandemic, making my thoughts of death even more omnipresent.

Even if I live longer than my parents, and I sure hope I do, life expectancy isn’t what it used to be. According to an article in the April AARP Bulletin, U.S. life expectancy “plunged” in the first half of 2020, primarily due to COVID-19. As a result, we Americans can expect to live a full year less now than we could have expected in 2019.[1]

The numbers are worse for African Americans and expected to worsen for all Americans as the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to rise.

But just because death is inevitable doesn’t mean that I (or any of us) should go gently into it.

That’s why I started reading about aging, including a book a found both enlightening and engaging: Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.

Via it, I learned that a woman’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease now exceed her chances of getting breast cancer.[2] Also that two-thirds of overall risk of getting the disease is based on one’s genes, with the remaining one-third associated with environmental factors such as a history of depression or head injuries.

While Alzheimer’s doesn’t run in my family and my only head injury was when I was knocked out by a football in my early 20s, I have already undergone a Mini-Cog test during which I was I asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects, name the president of the US and draw a clock face showing the correct time as specified by the doctor who examined me. (This was harder than I thought it would be as it’s been years since I’ve used an analog clock.)

Thankfully, my doctor had no concerns. But I do. Every time I can’t remember a person’s name or forget my coffee cup in the microwave, I wonder if it’s a sign of cognitive impairment.

I hope not. But I also realize that I might be the last to know.

Either way, the timeline of my life is getting shorter: today’s average life expectancy is 77.8 years.[3] And with the pandemic front and center, the possibility of an earlier-than-hoped-for death looms large. While I could let that depress me, instead, it’s motivating me to pay more attention to both my physical and mental health and to put family and friends ahead of work.

How about you? What, if any, changes are you making in order to enjoy the years that lie ahead and increase your own chances of aging successfully?


[1] AARP Bulletin, April 2021.

[2] Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power of and Potential of Our Lives by Daniel Levitin.

[3] AARP Bulletin, April 2021.

My New Goal: To Be Insanely Happy

When we are five, we laugh 113 times a day. By the age of 44, that number shrinks to 11 times a day.

Those statistics, which I came across in Voice of the Innovator, made me feel sad for my adult self who, now in her early 60s and pretty much isolated due to the pandemic, often laughs even less than that.

A few days after reading that statistic, I emailed a long-time friend I haven’t seen in years, ending my message with these words: “I hope you are doing well…healthy and happy.”

He responded immediately with one sentence: “Yes, insanely busy and insanely happy!”

That simple reply gave me pause.

Despite having read at least a dozen books on happiness and taken several happiness classes, including Berkeley’s the Science of Happiness and Yale’s The Science of Well-Being, the idea of being insanely happy had never even crossed my mind.

In fact, happiness, even at a basic level, often felt elusive. And the busier I was, the harder it was to be happy. Instead, I was stressed and anxious, and often heard myself saying, “I don’t have time to be happy now. I just need to get this done.”

Then my friend Laurie sent me a video clip of an orangutan’s reaction—one might say insanely happy reaction—to a simple magic trick in which a man makes a chestnut disappear. Watching the video made me laugh and provided me with a jolt of jolly. The first time I watched it, the 13th time and even the 21st time.

And while I’m still not laughing as often as a five-year-old, I’m definitely ha-ha-ing more often in pursuit of my new “insanely happy” goal.

Just thinking about the video makes me laugh. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Aspirational Clutter: Not Yet Time to Let Go

Two years ago a friend introduced me to Clutter Chronicles, a podcast that features a woman named Mary and her “unusual relationship with stuff.” Ever since, I’ve been working hard to rid myself of my clutter, as well as all sorts of other stuff I no longer need or use.

I’ve made good progress. I’ve tossed reams and reams of client files from a four-drawer, 48-inch-wide file cabinet. I’ve donated hundreds of books, a dozen bags of clothes, several sets of linens and my favorite china.

Parting with most of that stuff turned out to be easier than I thought thanks to another friend who encouraged me to stop dragging my anchor behind me and instead toss it out in front of me.

But I’ve since come to realize that there’s a category of clutter I’m still having trouble letting go of: aspirational clutter.

I’d never even heard of aspirational clutter until a third friend introduced me to Apartment Therapy, a home and décor site that defines aspirational clutter as “anything you’re keeping for a future version of yourself.”

As a lifelong goal-setter with all sorts of imagined future selves and plenty of storage space, I’ve accumulated a great deal of aspirational clutter, most of which revolves around hopes and dreams related to creative pursuits such as writing, drawing, painting, sewing and knitting, all things I used to love doing as a kid but gave up decades ago.

Some of my aspirational clutter is electronic, like the list of words I keep on my computer, words I aspire to one day not only remember the meaning of but also use in a short story. The list includes noctilucent, opsimath, sere and wheedle.

There’s also a list of clever headlines, as well as lists of books to read, movies to watch and podcasts to listen to, all in line with my aspirations to develop compelling creative content in a variety of forms.  

But what about the things that do take up physical space? A shoebox filled with recipes. A plastic bin of yarn. An untouched set of oil paints I received for my 40th birthday. A six-inch high pile of pages I’ve torn out of magazines in preparation for making collages.

Despite the fact that some of these things have sat dormant for decades, tossing or giving them away is harder than I would have imagined. And that’s exactly how my more creative future self would want it to be.

The Best Books I Read in 2020

I’m no Oprah or Bill Gates, but like them, I create a yearend list of books that have impacted me. Most years, doing so is easy. Not this year.

Thanks to the pandemic, instead of reading a book a week, I read more than twice that. These are a few that I found particularly absorbing, entertaining, thought-provoking or behavior-changing.

Nonfiction

The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbins. Despite the fact that she has a huge social media following and regularly appears on CNN, I’d never heard of Robbins until one of my friends sent me this book. The premise is simple: You need a get-started ritual to overcome your inertia. For Robbins, that ritual is simple: just count 5-4-3-2-1 and then act … get out of bed, send that email, clean the dirty sink. I’m amazed at how often the ritual has transformed my to-dos into ta-dones.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg. I was familiar with Fogg because I write a lot about behavior change, but I had no idea how powerful his approach could be. Essentially it’s a simple recipe: After I _________, I will __________. After I brush my teeth, I will do five pushups. After I get into bed, I will name three things I’m grateful for.

Die with Zero: Getting All You Can From Your Money and Your Life by Bill Perkins. As a lifelong saver who has often put my future self ahead of my present self, this book opened my eyes to maximizing the value of my life experiences now, not at some distant point in the future when I may no longer have my health. And while I used to think that running out of money would be awful, I now think that having piles of it that I never got to enjoy would be even worse.

Fiction

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. A fast-paced romp that made me slightly uncomfortable yet kept me laughing, this debut novel brought me face to face with inequities I, as a white woman in my 60s, barely have reason to notice. I enjoyed the flashbacks to high school and could relate to both the anger and embarrassment main character Alix experiences after having sex for the first time, and I walked away with newfound appreciation for all the nuances of discrimination.

Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven.The first in a series of three, this book, which I listened to rather than read, captured my heart as Velva Jean follows her mother’s dying wish that she “live out there in the great wide world.” In doing so, Velva Jean travels from an abusive marriage in Appalachia (the audiobook narrator does a great job of bringing the area’s accents to life) to the Grand Ole Opry. Along the way, she teaches herself to drive the bright yellow truck gifted to her by her brother Johnny Clay, who is also featured in the two subsequent books in which Velva Jean learns to fly and becomes a World War II spy.

Stars Over Clear Lake by Loretta Ellsworth. Another historical novel, this book is set in the 1940s in Clear Lake, Iowa, where I used to gather with girlfriends each summer for an annual “no guys, no kids, no dogs” weekend that included a Saturday night dinner at the Surf Ballroom where much of the book takes place. The book—half love story, half mystery—explores the impact of buried secrets and the courage it takes to follow one’s heart.

What books are on your best of 2020 list? I and my fellow Word Sisters would love to hear. Please share.

Money Matters

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I listen to a lot of podcasts. A few weeks ago, I discovered a new one: small change—Money Stories from the Neighborhood.

Hosted by entrepreneur Twila Dang and Minnesota Public Radio economics reporter Chris Farrell, the podcast disrupts the notion that people with low or unstable incomes don’t know how to manage money. To the contrary, they are often the most creative and collaborative when it comes to doing so.

I’ve listened to all seven episodes that have been released so far, but one in particular got me thinking about the smart money lessons I learned from my parents, both of whom were born into the Great Depression and grew up on modest family farms, my dad in western Minnesota and my mom near St. Cloud.

My parents, Vi and Jim Bachel

Their philosophy was “live off what you have.” This, combined with the fact that my dad supported our family of seven on not much more than $20,000 a year, led me to learn important money lessons that have made a huge difference in my financial wellbeing. Here are a few:

Lesson No. 1: If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. I never saw my parents use a credit card. Other than the utility bills my dad paid by check every month, my parents paid cash for everything from groceries to Catholic school tuition to an occasional new car. They kept meticulous track of how much money they had via their Midwest Federal Savings Passbook.

Lesson No. 2: If you want more money, ask for it. I learned and was reminded of this lesson just about every week when my stay-at-home mom asked my dad for money for groceries. No matter how much he gave her, she always asked—and often lobbied vigorously—for more. Sometimes she got it, sometimes she didn’t. So, midcareer, when I was offered a job with a consulting firm, I took a deep breath and asked for—and eventually received—a pay increase, a signing bonus and an additional week of vacation.

Lesson No. 3: Don’t be afraid to haggle. I can’t recall the exact amount the seller of my house was asking, but I was do know I was prepared to pay that amount. That is, until I talked to my dad. He advised me to offer considerably less, so I did. The realtor told me the buyer would be insulted by such a low offer. He was. But he eventually agreed to sell me the house for considerably less than his original asking price and only $3,000 more than my original offer.  

Lesson No. 4: Always get three estimates. Now that the pandemic has me hunkered down at home, I’ve been getting estimates for long overdue home chores, including painting the exterior of my home as well as the upstairs. In soliciting the estimates, I’m doing just what my parents taught me to do: calling three contractors. Their estimates range from roughly $5,000 to $20,000+, reminding me once again of the value of my parents’ advice.

Lesson No. 5: Save for retirement. Thanks to my parents’ urging, I started saving for retirement in my early 20s, when I got my first full-time job. It was at Honeywell. While I’m unsure how much I saved in the two years I worked there, I still have a 1984 Retirement Savings Plan statement showing that I contributed $55.94 in the fourth quarter of that year and had a yearend balance of $233.48. While that doesn’t seem like much to me now, I’m certain it did at the time.

I’m also certain that these and other money lessons I learned—from my parents, as well as friends, colleagues and podcasts such as small change—have made a huge difference in my financial wellbeing.

How about you? What money lessons did you learn…and from whom? And how have those lessons impacted your own financial wellbeing?