Is retirement cancer of the soul?
by Dr. Lin Weeks Wilder —
Is retirement the American Dream or nowadays is it a dream that those under the age of 40 will never see fulfilled? Just what do we mean when we talk about the dream of retirement? Actually, retirement may mean one thing to you and something entirely different to your neighbor.
Although some baby boomers over the age of 60 are content with a life of leisure — sleeping as late as they please and with lots of free time — most of us are happiest when we are working, studying, learning, taking risks, making a difference and using our gifts, regardless of age.
Several careers ago during the early nineties, I came across the book “The Age of Unreason”, by a British organizational theorist named Charles Handy, and was fascinated by some predictions he made about the 21st century work force and about the imminent economic, global and technological advances that would change the face of the traditional corporate worker.
Among his many prescient forecasts were that much of the work would change place: from office to a home setting. Moreover, the concept of retirement itself would change. The average Westerner would change careers three to four times during their working life, and many would choose to work far beyond the average age of 65, rendering their concept of retirement obsolete.
I recall many laughter-filled conversations with my colleagues in their 30s and 40s when I explained my belief that retirement was dangerous because of the consequential boredom and the reality of having too much time on one’s hands. I opined, all those years ago, that boredom was a cancer of the soul and that retirement as my colleagues defined it sounded ghastly.
Thirty years later, my predictions of the inimical consequences of boredom are reflected back to me from too many friends and neighbors whose interests seem bound by their dwindling investment portfolios and the increasing number of maladies discovered with each doctor’s visit. They are consumed by what they watch each evening on the nightly news and feel depressed, anxious and sad about the country, government, economy and their overall lives. This is tragic, unnecessary and such a waste of skills and gifts.
In the 21st century, the potential for multiple careers seems unparalleled. Cyberspace has leveled the playing field for the young, old, educated and the not so educated. Sure, we can argue endlessly about the socially redeeming value of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and hundreds of other mega-billion dollar businesses created by the under-40 group, but some of us (such as my partner and I) were able to build a million dollar business because we agreed early in our relationship that work — some kind of work — was essential for our happiness.
Further, we agreed that the notion of quitting work completely was anathema to us both. Over the years others have called, visited and some even worked for us, but they all quit after realizing that this was real work. Although we worked from our home, we were not playing around.
Here are the 10 essential elements for anyone — old or young — to succeed in a new venture or career. The list will not surprise anyone who was successful in previous careers. It involves a love of learning, passion for the work, tolerance of failure, persistence, the financial ability to lose money in the first few years, a deep desire to help others, humility, plenty of sleep, a healthy diet and a consistent exercise regime.
Love of learning goes with the territory of being human. We are placed here — some believe purposely, others believe randomly — but each of us is here to learn.
Although I dislike the word passion because it has become so cliché, I can think of no other word to describe the feeling we need in order to endure — we must love it. Persistence and tolerance of failure go hand in hand. Perhaps the order should be reversed, because it is possible to persist only if we are able to push through the failures, which will be many and are often crushing.
The data tell us that only 85 percent of businesses will survive past five years. Hundreds of people I have spoken with have told me that if they did not make money by the end of the month in their new business, they would be on the street. The fact is inescapable: Any new business will cost money in the first few years.
By the time we have been in this life for 35, 40 or 60 years, most of us have accumulated some wisdom, and the desire to pass it on to others is natural. Humility is something that confuses most of us. While many see the word as meaning to let others step all over you, others see the humble person as someone who lacks wealth or material things — a way of sentimentalizing poverty. Both are wrong. The word derives from truth, the innate desire to know and to understand our world around us in truth.
The last three on my list may seem peculiar, but as I age, I understand the critical need for uninterrupted sleep, exercise and a healthy way of eating. Without these three components, my energy level drops and my creativity wanes.
Perhaps while reading this article, idle thoughts have been drifting across your brain, thoughts like: “Could I really write a book?” or “I am 65 years old; I am way too old to start learning a, b or c,” or “I always wanted to …”
Please know that this voice has a name — Stephen Pressfield calls it “resistance” in his awesome book The War of Art. It could be the voice of your first husband’s long-dead mother who always said you were stupid. The source of the voice does not matter. What matters is only this: That unfulfilled dream or hope may be the reason you are here.
Dr. Lin Weeks Wilder holds a doctorate in Public Health and has more than 30 years’ administrative experience in academic health centers. Now a full-time writer, she has published over 38 articles and six books and is currently writing the sequel to The Fragrance Shed by a Violet. linwilder.com.
Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 6, December 2014/January 2015.