You’ve heard the saying about aging athletes – he’s lost a step but he more than makes up for it with experience. It’s true in life as well. At about the time the first Social Security check arrives most of us have recognized the transition from the person we used to be to the person we have become.
I’m not talking about the wrinkles. Senior citizen is not a synonym for old person! Being old is a function of age; being senior is a subtext of attitude. It depends on how you look at the term; seniors in high school or college for example, are student leaders, the respected upperclassmen called upon to pass on their experience to the younger undergraduates.
It behooves us to ignore society’s perception of “old people” as obsolete and irrelevant. You do not lose the beauty of who you are no matter what your age. As the poet Martin Buxbaum wrote, “You merely move it from your face into your heart.”
When you embrace the person you are and become comfortable in your own skin, the possibilities are endless. How rewarding it is after years of working nine-to-five to finally put less emphasis on “doing” and more on the pleasures of “being.” That doesn’t mean to shut down the plant and put your abilities in mothballs. It means take a good honest look at paths to fulfillment that are not relentlessly tied to dubious achievement, driving yourself to outdo the other guy and feeling elated or depressed dependent on the applause from others.
Too many retirees move from the corner office to a corner of the den and feel diminished by the loss of the props that shored up their self-esteem, the big time job, a top spot in the pecking order, the external “stuff” you accumulate as perks of the endless grind. For these men and women retirement is more of a punishment than reward for years of hard work.
The secret is to have something to retire to, rather than be left adrift when your timecard is called from the rack. I’m not talking about a “bucket list” of stuff to do before you die. It’s reviving the dreams that necessity and circumstance and timidity and naivety forced you to store away in the “What If” file, sealed shut so many years ago you can barely remember where the key is.
Your eyesight may dim as you grow older, but you can see things infinitely more clearly as you acquire the capacity to look inside yourself. My inquiry meant an honest appraisal of my career in advertising, an evaluation of what I enjoyed most and what I liked least, not only about the job and the work it entailed, but a consideration of redemptive values and how I felt about myself in relation to my moral principles. Growing doubt about the field’s unrestrained goal of creating consumption – often from faux desires more concerned with vanity and ego than genuine need – made it clear that phase of my life was over.
Still, I had thoroughly enjoyed the creative side of the work. I decided that writing commercials for literally hundreds of advertised brands was foundation for transferring my creative chops to a more rewarding endeavor. Plus I wanted to dispute the societal assumption that older people are like sofa cushions with the fluff flattened.
What came out of that lengthy introspection was this blog, innumerable workshops and four books later, a rewarding way to feel useful and productive.
It would be presumptuous to pose as the voice of the country’s senior citizens. But as we make the transition to elderhood, it would be a rarity not to benefit from some help to re-assess and re-focus, and there aren’t many authors my age writing candidly about what waits in the path ahead as we age.
2020, of course, presented a challenge in itself. After ten months of sheltering in place and social distancing I feel marooned, the lead character in the script for a B-movie, lost on a desert island with a dead battery in the short wave radio. “Can anybody hear me? Come in, world.”
Now my task, our task, is not to mistake short term circumstance with our long term intention. The pandemic is a once in a lifetime event that will fade in significance; it should not define our lives. The lessons of a lifetime have given us the inner wisdom and power to separate from circumstance. The pandemic is a bump in the road, not a detour; we are going forward, using this past year to add clarity and reinforce our intention for the long view.