Ashland Authors: Sara Brown
Midlife changes raise myriad questions: where to live, what to do with leisure, how to peacefully coexist when one partner's ambitions diverge from the other's. Local author Sara Brown and co-author Joan S. Malling have written a guide to help find the answers.

With children leaving home and retirement on the horizon, 50-somethings face life changes that may challenge their assumptions about who they are and how they really want to spend the rest of their life. Midlife changes raise myriad questions: where to live, what to do with leisure, how to peacefully coexist when one partner's ambitions diverge from the other's.

Local author Sara Brown and co-author Joan S. Malling have written a guide to help find the answers. Brown spoke recently with the Daily Tidings.

DT: You co-authored "How to Create the Life You Want After 50" with your business associate in Savvy Choices LLC. How did you and Joan meet and what made you decide to go into business and write a book?

SB: Joan and I met 30 years ago at Marylhurst College in Portland. We stayed friends even though I moved to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Miami, Connecticut and then to Ashland. In the late '90s we observed that few of our friends and colleagues were retiring in a traditional way. We spent a year thinking about a better name than retirement for the ways we saw people approaching their lives at 50-plus. We decided to do some research to determine how people make decisions about their lives. Interviews with Elderhostel and SOLIR (now OLLI) program participants led us to develop some common issues. We realized that we had information that wasn't readily available then — strategies for midlife planning. We developed a workshop and began to write a book.

DT: Since you and Joan started Savvy Choices in 2002, what have you noted as the most challenging issue for those seeking to restructure their lives after 50?

SB: Joan and I see that somewhat differently. She might say it is, "How do I spend my time when I'm no longer working?" I think it is re-evaluating one's values at midlife. What is important at 20 is quite different at 50. Our values shift, but people may not take that into consideration when planning for life after 50. Re-evaluating and prioritizing one's current values is particularly important in a town like Ashland, where we have an extraordinary range of volunteer and personal development opportunities. It's easy to get swept up in these opportunities without asking ourselves which ones satisfy our most important needs.

DT: What counsel can you offer to those whose nest-eggs have taken a hit in the current economic downturn?

SB: Financial planning is not our area of expertise. We focus on planning for all other aspects of one's life. But from working with people in our workshops, we can offer this advice: Reassess your values (we provide a values inventory in "How to Create the Life You Want After 50"). When time and money are scarce, it's even more important to be sure you're spending both wisely. For example, people often want to travel when they retire. Consider a home exchange, which significantly reduces the cost of lodging. My husband and I are swapping homes next summer with a couple in Holland. People also want more time for creative expression when they retire, but if retirement is delayed, start experimenting. Take a class, join an interest group, seek out friends who have expertise in what you want to explore. If family life and physical fitness are important, find ways to combine them. For example, plan a multi-family hiking trip. Elderhostel offers family programs that combine outdoor activity with learning and volunteering.

DT: You advise people who are caregivers of elderly parents to check their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act when they need to take time off from work. Generally how much leave is allowed for elder care?

SB: In general, according to the Department of Labor, "An eligible employee's FMLA leave entitlement is limited to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period"¦" The Act is complicated. More details are available through one's employer and www.dol.gov.

DT: Besides having good communication skills, when it comes to negotiating with family members and friends about changes you may want to make in life after 50, what would you cite as the most important asset to a successful transition?

SB: Self-reflection, research and experimentation.

Sara Brown and her husband, Paul Steinle, moved to Ashland in 2001. She teaches through a distance-learning program at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and is active in the Ashland chapter of Soroptimist International.