Saturday, December 01, 2012

The view from this far

This week I enter my 59th year. So what does it feel like to be approaching my 60s? The real answer is a little complex, but I'll give it a try.

The first answer is that I feel this is an ideal age. I wish I could stay here for a while. I wake up feeling pretty good every morning, with someone I am still madly in love with, but with the advantage of a lot more experience, wisdom, and resources versus when I was younger.

In some ways this age is liberating. Take career issues, for example. I remember all too well how painful it was to be struggling with making a living in my 30s and 40s. When you are that age, career problems loom extremely large, because you have to worry about supporting yourself for another quarter-century or more. Nowadays I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Aging also liberates you from people's expectations. In my 20s and 30s, with an engineering degree and a hot technical career, any suggestion of trying another path was met with alarm by my friends, my relatives, and my mortgage. Now no one cares anymore, so I get to do whatever I want. And ironically I am busier and more successful than ever - although if you ask me what I do for a living, allow enough time for a lengthy answer.

At the same time, there is a twinge of sadness that time marches on. You notice it when you scan your iTunes playlist and see how many of the artists you grew up with have passed on. You look through your Facebook friends list and see that a lot of your colleagues are retired. Or you call your mother and she doesn't remember your wife's name anymore. I had a bit of a shock last month when we got tickets to see Chicago and the Doobie Brothers - groups that formed the soundtrack to our dating years - and realized that their original members are all roughly 70 years old now. So as much fun as it is to be here now, I still have to wrap my head around the fact that it doesn't end there.

Which leads to another conundrum. I am still very much in the arena these days. I write, I speak, I travel, and I have a new book coming out next year from a major publisher. Thankfully I am busy enough to be working far too many hours, and have been for a long time. Do I plan to shut all this down and start playing shuffleboard in a few years? No. So what does retirement look like for someone like me?

I frankly haven't figured that one out yet. To be as busy as I am now into, say, my 70s sounds kind of stupid, especially when I could be sharing a lot more sunsets with Colleen. But when you are a go-getter like I am, simply watching the sun set every night would be a recipe for boredom and depression. I never intend to retire in the traditional sense of the word, but the challenge will be striking a balance with the many things I truly enjoy.

Perhaps my latest venture is a good metaphor for where my life seems to be heading. Years ago I quietly went back to graduate school to pursue a longstanding pipe dream: becoming a psychotherapist as I transitioned into retirement. Nowadays I am in practice a couple of days a week, on top of all the other crazy things I do, and Colleen gets to chuckle at me when my schedule is full or I have to rush out for a crisis intervention. (One of my brothers put it even more succinctly, saying you couldn't force him to do this at gunpoint.) But I enjoy it, and did this intentionally to stay relevant as I age and the phone stops ringing in my consulting practice. Except that it hasn't stopped ringing yet. So that may be what my retirement looks like after all: reasonably well planned, focused on things I love, and perhaps busier than I expected. Stay tuned!

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