I spent many years creating a plan for retirement. Without thinking much about what retirement meant, I followed the counsel of financial advisors like a mouse running in their maze. I was conviced I was being prudent following their directions. Society around me seconded their retirement advice.
As the years passed, I dutifully did as told, saved money in a 401(k), paid off the mortgage, bought a place in Florida to snowbird. When the time came, I was ready to play all day, travel the world, sleep in and dress in Tommy Bahamas shirts so that the world would know I was a man of leisure. There were some things that didn’t pan out the way I had planned by the time I reached retirement age, but I was able to retire financially secure and move to Florida away from the Colorado winters. All the decades I had spent in charge of snow removal operations had wrestled away from me any fondness I had ever possessed for the damn white stuff.
In October of 2014, I began living the American Dream of retirement with a vengeance. I was healthy (still am), sharp of mind and spirit (some might say this is somewhat dubious) and eager to experience the excitement of exotic travel and adventures.
Although I remained as fit as always, I was realizing that my body could no longer take the rigors of my beloved game of basketball. I gave up the sport cold turkey when I came to Florida, but I was more than ready to replace it with something new. I bought a new set of golf clubs, bag and cart (my friend Larry frowned on this last purchase because he believes carts are for weenies). With these new “weapons” in hand, surely I would become a scratch golfer in no time.
I didn’t stop with golf, I also took aim at my tennis game. If I were to improve my play, I needed some new equipment as well. I bought two new shiny racquets and paid full price for the latest tennis shoes available.
My ass had landed on Vero Beach and I now lived close to the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Intercostal Lagoon. Living near so much water was wonderful. It was as though I had been given a second chance to relive the Cuban youth I had left back in 1961 when I was ten years old. I knew I didn’t want a boat for I had heard long ago that the happiest two days in a boat owner’s life was when they bought their boat, and then when they sold it. I bought a paddle-board instead, named her Lucille, after B.B. King’s guitar (not after the evil Negan’s barb-wired bat from The Walking Dead). Lucille has given me the pleasure of watching sunsets while on the water.
They say God moves in mysterious ways and that, perhaps, should be the epitaph for my fun filled days grazing in retirement. The thing the commercials don’t warn you about is what happens when you retire. I thought I would live happily ever after playing in the warm water and sun. Nobody told me that a steady diet of golf, tennis, paddle boarding and traveling would lead to…….boredom, entropy, mental decay. I was flabbergasted by this unexpected experience. Surely I had done all of the right things, right? No! Now what?
To a great measure, I was finally living a life that most people desire. I had certainty and financial stability along with plenty of time to exercise. Last but not least, I had the means to add mystery and adventure to my life. But, I was missing something.
Then it occurred to me that I had stopped growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I had stopped helping anybody or contributing to anything of value anymore.
During the days of my formal career, finding purpose was easy. Ry roles and responsibilities were defined every step of the way. With every job change or promotion, I was fortunate enough to have a defined mission I could believe in. I shared these adventures with many wonderful colleagues. My days were full with great challenges, creativity and the reaching for meaningful goals. I loved every minute of it.
But, as time wore on and my years ticked off to my late fifties, I began to buy into the societal pressure to move on. I remember reading about the American Bison and how the oldest in the herd took the outside positions to protect the youngest. This gave predators an easy target to hunt rather than the more difficult task of chasing after the youngest and fastest in the herd.
I don’t know if anyone ever saw me as part of the herd that needed to be thinned, but I voluntarily took the bison’s way to heart. I remember thinking in the waning years of my career that I needed to move on and make room for the younger leaders to move up. During my early (5:30 am) workouts, I fantasized about having the time some day to do all of the things I wanted to do.
I simply did not stop to think then that the vision presented of an American retirement is a fairy tale told to get us to invest in a life of leisure. I must admit, it was fun to live out my Florida fantasy at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize that going out to pasture or riding of into the sunset goes against human nature. We were created to grow and evolve until the day we die. Perhaps this explains why so many healthy, intelligent people die just a few years after their retirement. Retiring into this American fable makes about as much sense as taking a road trip without knowing where you are going.
By the time several months had passed, I became dazed and confused. What was I going to do now that I didn’t have a job and a title to open doors for my contribution?
Nothing makes you reassess your life more than the confusion created by the disruption and displacement of a life change. And make no mistake; retirement is such a disruption. For me, my first steps towards retirement recovery involved my spiritual reawakening. I entered retirement as an agnostic but now I know there is a Higher Intelligence urging us to evolve and grow into the purpose and meaning of our lives. I see now how all my experiences—good and bad—helped me evolve into the person I am today. I believe I have become the best human I have ever been and, therefore, it makes no sense to thin that I arrived at this point just so I could play, travel and wither away.
My challenge now is to find a new avenue to contribute. I know it involves sharing my wisdom, but it means I will not do so in a high profile job with a big title. By the world standards, I am too old for that, but I can write and speak about my experiences and mentor all who are experiencing life transitions of any kind. That is my calling today.
I no longer view my contribution in terms of how many people I affect, or how many millions my project cost. I view contribution as much simpler than that, If my blog or my sage advice helps one person, then I did my job.
My recommendation to you is that, regardless of your age, make that bucket list of the things you want to do before you die. But don’t wait, do it now, you may not have the health or the means to do it later. If you have the means, help your kids or family members now, don’t make them wait for their inheritance. If you are tired of cold winters and want to move to where is sunny, or you no longer cherish four seasons and want to live near the ocean, give yourself a time table and then do it.
If you have become stale in your job, then update your resume and start researching to find a job and purpose that would bring meaning to your life. There is nothing worse than being a living cadaver among your colleagues, you deserve better. Get after one you love.
If you are reaching your golden years but still feeling motivated and useful in your job, don’t quit just because society says you should, take advantage of what having passion for what you do gives you.
Last but not least, if you are reaching that point in life where you want more flexibility, go for it, but make sure you define and then follow your next purpose so you can continue to make a difference in this world. And, don’t forget, find a spiritual practice that enriches your soul. Remember, condemning yourself to a life of no growth and contribution is a premature death.
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We are all immigrants! Whether we left a country for a fresh start in another, or whether an unforeseen life change has sent us on an unexpected path, this cycle of death and rebirth is at the center of our human evolution and. If you are going through such a period, I can help. If your organization is going through a challenging phase or serves people whose lives are in flux, like immigrants, seniors, or communities that are unappreciated, I can help as well. The combination of years and experiences have molded me into a messenger uniquely qualified to write, speak and mentor on the subject of discovering the inner resource that will convert difficult transitions into positive triumphs. Check out my website for the services I offer and to subscribe to personally receive my weekly blog.