I hope you have the time of your life
Having lived enough years now to be a man of a ‘certain age,’ I recently began to reflect on many of the ‘givens’ I believed-and lived- for well over half a century. Born in Oklahoma, I was raised with certain social expectations like getting a good high school education, going to college, and getting a job, marrying, raising a family, and, finally, entering my golden years of retirement.
I lived with my share of childhood trauma, emotional immaturity, and a big dose of anxiety during my entire professional career. My last day as an executive with the Walt Disney Company at 67 was a surprise retirement party in the way that Disney throws parties. As the party ended, I remember vividly walking to my car as the 40-year career-long anxiety I had carried, literally lifted from my shoulders. I was so giddy that I felt like I graduated from high school. Remember that crazy, ecstatic feeling? I was walking on air.
It’s been three years since that retirement party, and I have never looked back. I loved my career with Disney, experiencing things I could never have imagined in a lifetime, and I don’t miss one thing about it, or any career. I took some time to reflect on my new situation, breathing in my new-found freedom. Yes, I do feel fortunate that we saved enough money to retire, and I don’t take it for granted.
Younger Next Year
I read just one book about retirement: Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD. The book has burgeoned into its own cottage industry like so many of these blinding flashes of the obvious that somebody with a brain could develop into a growing business. I got one key message from the book: your ‘job’ is to stay in shape-period. The rest will follow.
This ‘job’ idea is that regardless of all activities planned for any day, your first ‘job’ is to work out physically; and you need to do this at least 1-2 hours daily. You can do anything you want after that. So that was the first thing I decided to do. It makes little difference what exercises you do. Just do something. I bike an hour, lift some weights, do some push-ups, abs work and swim 50 laps. I do this for two hours daily. It works.
I do not work in the traditional understanding of career, but I do consult from time to time in areas where I have enough experience to command a fee. I’m interested in a few subjects like meteorology, fire protection and foreign languages. I also write articles as I contemplate my first book. I live in Florida so I’m outside more than I’m inside, with no concerns about cold weather.
Weather is a big deal. Think about it. I have retired friends living in Wisconsin and Ohio, even in temperate, rainy (ugh) Seattle. They talk about the snow problems in winter or the grey, watery skies. They all have reasons they live there. That’s fine with me but nothing (my opinion only) beats floods of warm sunlight 250 days annually. I sleep about 5 hours a night and if I had my way I’d never sleep because I have so many things, I want to do but nothing I have to do.
The Age Bias of Marketing
Lately, I have noticed TV ads and other forms of marketing I interpret to be discriminatory toward older folks like me. Things like showing an obvious grandfather trying to figure out how to use some computer function as his grandchildren, along with his adult children, try to aid the poor helpless chump trying to figure out how it works. And, of course, the ad makes sure he looks the part as he sits bent over in a frumpy outfit with a grandfatherly, perplexed smile. One of my personal repugnant ones in real time is watching a man in his 60’s or 70’s walking down the block in my neighborhood, clad in faded Bermuda shorts with white socks pulled up to his knees in one of those stupid rounded sunhats as he shuffles down the street with his pasty white skin in a daze. Where is your sense of dignity, man?
It’s my experience that if you buy into this BS theme of how old people are supposed to think and act, sooner or later you will believe it, and act the part. Just like with Trump. If he says something long enough to enough people, many of them will believe his crap, eventually doing something like invading the Capitol Building.
Wiser Next Year
I can only speak from my own experience. At 70 years old I am certainly smarter and wiser than I was at 50, and at 50 I was smarter than I was at 30. I have had more time to learn from my mistakes, and to understand myself as well as the people I love, and my friends, with much more depth and empathy.
Some things I have not changed. I still wake up early. I have a daily schedule by the hour with goals and objectives I want to accomplish. I know about that old saw regarding a positive attitude, but it really does set the stage. After that it’s about action. Of course, my body is aging, but the exercises and weight training make me look simply fine, at least for now.
My mind is sharper except sometimes I forget about things. I was forgetful at 16 so that hasn’t changed at 70, nor has it degenerated. The famous self-help guru, Jim Rohn, said: “How tall can a tree grow? As tall as it can.” Wouldn’t the same precept of nature apply to us? Yes, I do understand that this nice situation will not last forever, just like our lives, right? Eventually, I will slow down with my share of aches and pains I suppose. It’s the way of things and I’ve seen this in my father who died at 96 and my mother- in- law who is still alive. The difference is my father lived enthusiastically until the day he died. I was with him in his final moments. My mother-in- law is 93, bitching and moaning like a three-year-old every hour, lamenting her lot in life. Funny thing is she was kind of ‘geared’ that way when she was 50.
In the end, it’s my opinion that life is exactly what we decide it will be with an unshakable faith in God’s guidance. I have found that this approach works for me. Having said that one of the most ‘scrumptious’ things I enjoy about retirement is the lack of desire to achieve anything. Yet, I have more things I want to do than the rest of my time on earth will ever allow. I’ve always been ambitious, but I don’t want the pressure of being forced to do anything.
The Wisdom of the Aged
I recently had a conversation with a former Senator from my home state of Oklahoma: Fred R. Harris. He ran for President in the 70’s, and I was on his team while I was in graduate school in DC, though we never met. While he failed in the presidential bid, he fell in love with New Mexico, and was offered full tenure to teach political science and law at the University of New Mexico. He ran the state Democratic Party while he was teaching and has written sixteen fiction and non-fiction books.
I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago for the first time since his run for President. He had to cut the conversation short because one of his students —Deb Haaland — was calling to let him know President-Elect Biden had just chosen her as Secretary of the Interior. She wanted to thank him. Sharp as a tack, Fred Harris is 90 years old!! He’s reinvented himself a few times. He calls it shedding an old skin. “I’ve always thought that people ought to be like snakes and shed their skin every now and then,” he wrote in his memoir: Does People Do it? As his father, Ralph told him: “ Does people do it? If people does it, I can do it.”
At any age, you can do it too!