If you’re looking for an object lesson on the value of getting expert guidance when tackling a new adventure, look no further than the annual middle/high school holiday band concert.

Excited sixth graders with shiny new instruments take the stage and, with shuffles and squeaks, tune up for their first concert. Toes tapping deliberately, they methodically plod through a few holiday tunes in unison. With just a few months of instruction, they’ve gone from learning to read music to performing in front of a packed house. It’s fun to watch their pride mixed with relief at getting through the big event.

Next, seventh-graders play harmony but with a similar straightforward rhythm. The eighth-grade band plays more detailed harmonies and fewer sour notes. Finally, the high school band performs more complex holiday arrangements with relative ease. With each sequential group, their years of instruction and level of preparation show.

Mastery takes effort. It’s a lesson I hope they carry with them throughout their education, work life and even into retirement. Preparation is needed and instruction is valuable at each new stage of life.

Sadly, many people stride into their retirement adventure with little instruction or preparation. Some find their way through the unknown landmarks of Medicare, changing health and finances and more through trial and error, but most hit some proverbial ‘sour notes’ unnecessarily.

Most of us will live several decades past the traditional retirement age of 65.  This gift of longevity presents enormous opportunities but also presents several critical challenges. Longevity alone does not guarantee ‘aging well’ and circumstances can change from year to year.

Without intentional planning for how they will live their lives as they age, people often find themselves searching for a new purpose and passion while grappling with changing health, finance and relationship or social circumstances.

Fortunately, a road map for mastering the elements of aging well is available.

Area Agency on Aging offers an Aging Mastery Program (AMP), a nationally recognized curriculum for aging well. The course has a special emphasis on the new realities of aging, making the most of the gift of longevity and taking small steps to improve health, financial well-being, social connectedness and overall quality of life.

During the ten-week course, expert guest speakers lead interactive sessions on ten core areas for aging well. Participants are encouraged to set goals and/or create actions plans to master each facet of aging well.

Twelve people took the inaugural AMP class this fall and gave it excellent reviews. The group found the sessions so beneficial they began a scholarship fund for those who cannot afford the course fee.

Terry and Liz Allen of St. Joseph attended the AMP sessions. While the Allen’s have been retired for several years, they found the course very helpful. 

“Even when you think you are perfectly prepared for your later years, AMP teaches you about ten very important areas in your life that will prepare you to get through it all with gratitude… We have found the benefits to be huge! The sooner you take it the better,” Liz says.

“I wish we could have taken the Aging Mastery Class while we were in our 50s or early 60s,” Terry says. “It would have helped connect the dots for more burden-free senior years.”

For those nearing retirement, newly retired or even those who have been retired for decades, AMP can help you navigate unfamiliar landmarks as you tackle your retirement adventure.

The next AMP class begins on January 9th from 10:00 am to 11:30 am, at the Area Agency on Aging, 2900 Lakeview Avenue, in St. Joseph. The ten-week course fee is $99 and includes the Aging Mastery Program Handbook. Limited scholarships are available for those in need.

For more information or to register for the class, call Tara Gillette at (269) 408-4369. For future AMP class dates and locations throughout Berrien, Cass and Van Buren County, visit www.areaagencyonaging.org.