“What do you want to do when you grow up?” The question is one we often ask children, but how often do we hear an equally important question asked of those facing retirement? “What do you want to do as you grow old?” The question never occurred to my father at the age of 62. Then he got a pink slip from his employer. The company was sold. That’s when he discovered ageism in America. No one would hire him, despite his experience, and he fell into a depression.
One day, I put a gardening book in his hands and we walked through his back yard, a carpet of healthy green but boring grass. I spoke of “other” possibilities, then left him, having no idea whether or not my suggestions would take root. Yet by the middle of summer, I came home from work to find a vegetable basket on my doorstep. I learned the names of exotic delicacies like kohlrabi and fiddlehead. My dad was a kid again, and every seed catalog was a magical mystery tour.
On the day he died, he wasn’t thinking about the grim reaper. He was planting an apple tree in a sunny corner of his garden. Unable to get his attention, Death had to take him unaware.
Retirement has its shock value even when it’s planned. Old relationships change or drop off the vine as new ones flower. For a start, a person needs a reason to get up in the morning. Absent the badgering alarm clock, retirees struggle to redefine themselves. Calendar pages may change with the flick of a wrist, but not habits of a lifetime. No, retirement isn’t easy. A year, possibly two, must pass to settle on a purpose. That’s what writer Nancy Schlossberg says in her new book, Too Young to be Old. (Excerpted in Money, May, 2017, pgs. 28-29.)
Her advice is the same I’d give to the newly retired. Take time to get reacquainted with yourself. Who are you now that you are no longer a tinker, tailor, cowboy or sailor? If days weigh too heavily upon you, become a volunteer. Someone in the neighborhood always needs help. Or, contact a non-profit agency to let them know you’re available. Part-time work is possible, of course, though I don’t recommend it at the start. Why not become an expert in a field of interest? Share that new knowledge with others. Schools, churches, service clubs are usually open to an interesting speaker. How about starting a business? If you succeed, great. If you fail, you’ll have learned something new, come across fresh ideas, or met new friends in your attempt.
“What do you want to be when you grow old?” The question is worth considering before retirement. Inventing a new life without the parental guidance of our youth is tricky. Never mind. Jiminy Cricket shared his wisdom as far back as our childhood. We’re never too old to wish upon a star.
(First published 4/27/17)