All dressed up and no place to go. This is the dilemma of toddlers across the world. They exist in a perpetual state of readiness to go somewhere, anywhere, and not be invited to go along.
I am the youngest of four children, six years behind my three siblings who are all 18 months apart. The door was always shut in my face as everyone raced out to ride their bikes, play with their friends, and do all the things I was too little and too unwanted to do. It was my eternal and infinite holding pattern.
Driven to Succeed
My mantra as a toddler (and sometimes still) was “When I get older, I’m gonna ____________.” When I was in elementary school, my siblings made their final escape from home to go to their adult lives. As the lone child survivor, I met Dad at the kitchen table mornings before sunrise. He performed his Jack Lalane exercises on the back patio and then brewed Yuban coffee in the vacuum coffee pot. He filled his coffee cup and sat at the head of the table in his customary spot to address the Los Angeles Times spread before him.
Dad pitched high and lofty ideas for success in one’s life to his captive audience of one. He planted the seed for me to go to college and pursue a career in law or accounting. “Make $130 an hour or $13 an hour. It is the same lapse of time,” he preached. My early and formative years were consumed with getting to the next decade, the better iteration of myself. Mindfulness and be-here-now were concepts for navel-gazers and those who lacked the drive to become a person of success and accomplishment.
I did not have guidance and counseling to get from age 8 to 23, yet I emerged with a college diploma in my hand. In a quick minute, I married a great guy, had some kids, did so much accounting, buried my parents, and turned 63.
What Happens to Our Purpose After Retirement?
The drive that was instilled in me in the years I was teeny tiny is still alive and well. I am all dressed up and now the places to go, people to see, and things to do are seemingly endless. Sure, I have the luxury of doing what I want when I want, but in light of God’s mercy and generosity in my life, this is no time to take my foot off the gas and coast into the sunset watching the autumn leaves swirl behind me and settle to the sides of the road.
Is it just me, or do others feel caught off-guard being stripped of identity and purpose on retirement? If I am asked what I “do” now I am not really sure how to answer. I am not a CPA anymore. I still work for ice cream money, but it certainly is not the backbone of my schedule, supporting other activities I do to fill my time. I tripped on that thing in the road that no one saw called “retirement,” and am having a little time getting back to the race.
The Autumn Years May Feel Jarring
When the sun was shining, and I was busy making hay, I did not hear of any classes for the years after 8-to-5 career days. I never saw seminars to prepare for the next best evolution of life. AARP cards and cruise line advertisements flooded my mailbox when my 60th birthday approached. Like a diet of Frito chips and Diet Pepsi, these are not sustainable ingredients for a happy and fulfilled life.
The sunrise talks with Dad set my flight plan for college, and I dutifully employed all of my momentum towards that end. When I graduated from college I stepped right off a cliff. I had worked so hard towards that goal that I did not see the vacuum beyond it. I fumbled around and set my sights on getting a CPA license and went on to buy a business and have a career. My final destination—the place I wanted my luggage to go—was retirement.
Watch out because that next step is a doozy. As I waved farewell to my clients, I stepped right off the cliff again. Thank God nothing was broken. I approached retirement wobbly and off balance and negotiated the tide of offers to volunteer for 36 hours a day and sign up for classes to paint, write, and do tai chi. Purpose and substance were somewhere in between, and it is taking much longer than I think it should to find them.
I feel slightly ridiculous buying into the notion that I have earned the ability to rest on laurels, ride in golf carts, float in boats, and fly in planes. Those are all good things, but should they become the new object of my affection? No. I am entering the phase of doing what I have always wanted to do. It doesn’t feel as fine as I thought it would. I recognize my life needs a purpose, and I know from experience that if I do nothing, nothing will get done.
I have been meditating on the message of the book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman. My time is finite. I am dying and so are you and you and you. Some enjoy watching the Indy 500 car race. My race is the race of 4,000 weeks. I think of the weeks as laps—approximately 4,000 -according to Mr. Burkeman. I want my last lap to be as good as my first. At my present age, I have done roughly 3,287 laps with 713 to go.
I am entering the phase of doing what I have always wanted to do. It doesn’t feel as fine as I thought it would. I recognize my life needs a purpose, and I know from experience that if I do nothing, nothing will get done.
It is autumn here in Central Oregon. The ornamental trees around our house are in varying shades of pale green, yellow, and orange. In the next several weeks their colors will intensify. Leaves are dotting the ground. Most of the leaves will resist the wind and rain, and stay until they are in their full color. Eventually, they will gracefully die, drop, and become nourishment for the generations of trees and bushes to come.
Salmon are working their way up to their birthplaces in rivers all over the world. Sockeye salmon turn a brilliant red as they prepare to meet their end. The fish will produce the next generation and follow the way of the leaves. It is the cycle of life that God created.
Are You Making the Most of Your Autumn Years?
How can I color up for my autumn years? I have seen my elders make this transition to retirement, not realizing that it is every bit as significant of a life benchmark as puberty, leaving home, and finding a career. In my opinion, how you earned enough to retire is not relevant to who you are at this moment and what you are doing with your life.
How can I go out in a blaze of color? One day at a time. I might pursue some things. I like this pace and so far, I can keep up. I am slower than I used to be and not quite as flexible. I won’t try to win any speed races or jump the high hurdles. I will suit up, and show up and do what is put before me because I believe God answers my prayer for the knowledge of his will for my life and the power to carry it out whether I am 8 years old, 18 years old, or 80 years old.
PS: I’m not feeling the purple hat luncheons with other ladies who follow the one who thought that was a good suggestion. It was a cute idea, but no, thank you.
If you’re trying to get your footing again after a major life change, we believe this episode will help you get back to who you are—and who you want to be: As Life Changes We Ask, What Defines Me? – 156