Approach later years with beginner’s mind
Now that we have the prospect of living at least 20 – 30 more years than previous generations, how can we prepare for and use those years? Our choices are no longer limited to work, then retirement; good health, then quick decline and death; expanding horizons, then sunset and darkness. Whether we are in our forties, sixties or eighties, we can discover and choose to grow, contribute and thrive within ourselves, socially and in a world hungry for what we can offer.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but people of any age can take a fresh look at their bag of tricks and add a few for the opportunities and challenges on the road ahead. Retirement no longer is either/or regarding work or involvement in the community. Health is not solely a function of our genes. The world’s problems are not only for the next generations to solve.
Older as well as younger people have untapped potential for their own growth and for social, civic and environmental engagement. Professionals like psychiatrist Gene Cohen suggest such tools as a social portfolio, analogous to a financial portfolio, to build up and diversify activities and involvements for active aging and for a prospective rainy day when it may be harder to get around and do things on our own.
Not everyone is turned onto continuing to work when they reach a financially viable retiring point. Many people come from a lifetime of avoiding change, and anything new and different continues to make them uncomfortable. Some are skeptical toward people who are excited and energetic about new paths and involvements in their later years, and they assume that such joie de vivre is only possible for people who have been lucky to live “the good life” without much suffering. Security and familiarity remain the top values for some, even if they are bored, bitter and bereft of purpose and people in their lives.
What a shame it would be if we failed to respond to the gift of prospective longer lives with wide-eyed anticipation. Whatever our personal history, we can choose to enrich and deepen our own and others’ lives today and throughout our time to come. Today truly is the first day of the rest of our lives, a good day to revisit our life ahead with a beginner’s mind.
Sandy Cohen and Roger Cormier (email: [email protected]; free blog: starguide4growingolder.wordpress.com)