This is the initial entry in my pocket journal from this morning. Believe me, it was not for the purpose of having an interesting illustration for this post.
I retired last week. I’ve been working, full- or part-time, more or less constantly since I was about eleven — more than 60 years. So I took a week off to just fool around and rest. But now it’s time to look at the road ahead, the one I’ll be following for the next stage of my life. Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m about as far from a workaholic as one can get and remain a productive member of the human race. Taking it easy — and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it — is a skill I mastered a long time ago, and that’s the real danger now.
It’s easy to adopt the refrain, “Hey, I don’t have to do that right now; it can wait, I’m retired!” as an anthem. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen people younger than me retire and seem to think it means stop giving, stop producing, stop thinking, stop whatever and become a human quitting instead of remaining a human being, doing, evolving. They don’t seem to last long, and they often seem terribly unhappy. I don’t want the last decade or so of my life to be like that. I’ve worked too hard to get here.
So, it’s time to make some plans: not hard and fast plans, but a rough map of Where Do I Go From Here.
There is a theme that runs through most of the world’s belief systems, that our lives proceed (or ought to proceed) in roughly defined stages. The concept goes back to at least the 5th Century B.C.E., and likely much farther. These stages are, (and this is only my interpretation):
Childhood and education, where we learn the basic skills of life, play, building relationships and so forth, and of living in a world full of other peoples, groups and values. In other words, we build the foundations that will guide us and allow us to become healthy, productive members of society.
Then we reach a period of application, of exploration and self-discovery, where we move away from our nuclear family and familiar things and learn to function as individuals. This is a time of adventure, of applying our previously learned skills and learning new ones. We may work away from home, in the military, on a pipeline in Alaska, as a teacher of our native language in a foreign land. We are reaching out, developing our ability to function as individuals, and learning about ourselves and the world at large. We become adults.
As adults, we move into the realms of marriage, kids, family, steady work and responsibilities. We mature, become stronger and wiser. As time goes on, we become aware of its passage and become contemplative, considering the things we have accomplished, the things left to do before we move into our “senior years.”
As elders, we enter into a role of wisdom and benevolence. We become mentors, volunteers, and sources of wisdom. As time passes, we consider more actively our mortality, the legacies — skilled or less skillful — that we are leaving behind, and what we can do to prepare for whatever may come when we pass out of this world.
It’s this last role that I’m facing, along with the questions of how best to fulfill it. I’ve no doubt that the answers are out there if I look for them. However, I need to avoid the trap that so many seniors fall into: the idea that my responsibilities to myself and others are over. It ain’t over until the fat lady croaks.
In writing the above, I was struck by how the stages of life also describe, with slight modifications, the stages of recovery: sponsees, then sponsorship, then old-timers who gently guide but do not decide the directions that our fellowships take. In a sense, recovery is an opportunity to learn and get right some of the things that we realize we may have handled less skillfully in our lives.
Where do you fall into the recovery continuum, using the criteria above as a general guide? I’m going to think about that too.