So, what is “Retirement?”
I just completed another trip around the sun. I am “of that age” (now defined by Medicare and Social Security}. I am also experiencing all the maladies of old age: bad knees, bad shoulder, and on occasion a painful back. All of this has me thinking about what the next chapter of my life will look like.
I have been an entrepreneur for over thirty years. Some of my companies were (inadvertently) “not for profit;” others have been successful. I have largely exited from my primary businesses. This has left me with an odd feeling. What has “defined” me for decades is now largely in the rearview mirror. “So, who am I now?” I have been trying to come to terms with that, but now as my business life winds down, what winds up?
Despite some limitations, I still believe that there is much more for me to contribute. My father told me that my biggest challenge would be “to put to best use the gifts that God gave me.” I have amassed some useful knowledge along my life’s (often torturous) journey. What should I do with it?
I have received all manner of advice in my conundrum, much of it along the lines of. You’ve done a lot. Why don’t you just “retire.” Honestly, I’m not even sure I know what that means, partially because there are multiple definitions of “retirement.” In this context, one seems most applicable, “to leave one’s job and cease to work.”
Actually, I sorta did that when I began drawing my benefits from the military at age 60. But that is not the whole story. I still manage several companies of my own and work for another The strain of unwinding ongoing concerns can be significantly greater than running them. This all may sound like a “Woe is me” moment!” (which I suppose it is). I do need to generate some income, but I am unwilling to continue the pace and corresponding stress that have been the hallmark of my adult life.
There is another definition of retire (one that had specific meaning from the military), “to withdraw from…” which is more in line with my view of “Retirement.” It is a discontinuation of “work,” but isn’t it also a “retreat” from the world I have known? This is antithetical to my nature. I can’t yet seem to wrap my head around the distinction between abandoning life and starting a new one. I understand that I should embrace it. However, this entails leaving the “known” (regardless its hassles) for something “unknown (regardless of its potential benefits).” Managing this transition has been much more difficult than I imagined.
I have numerous friends and acquaintances that have embraced some form of (work) retirement. It spans the gamut of possibilities. Some don’t seem much like retirement, to leave one form of work only to tackle another. However, I am wary of remaining truly entrepreneurial. I have become far too risk averse. If I start a new venture that falters, there simply is not enough time to recover before my likely expiration date.
Others have embraced a more laid-back lifestyle. They may volunteer or work part-time but this seems to lack the fundamental existential drive that has so clearly defined my life On the positive side, this has allowed them time: to travel (one couple bought a cabin cruiser and sailed the “Great Circle Route” – up the Atlantic Coast, thru the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi and return to Florida); to take up leisure activities (often golf-which might be fun if I didn’t entail the frustration of play so badly); to pursue passions (painting or crafting). One has simply become “Mister Mom” (It is easy to make fun this at our age, but is there really anything more important to do?).
I may be making a “hash” of things. In trying to put “my gifts” to use, perhaps I have tried to force the issue. I have attempted to put my entrepreneurial and real estate knowledge to work. My partnerships have not always gone well. Honestly, I don’t play well with others (the downside of having worked for myself for so long). I have also dabbled in things I thought were truly meaningful. Perhaps unrealistic expectations were to blame, but I ultimately found that my views and reality seemed to diverge. Once you stop “believing” in a cause, it is difficult to maintain the illusion that you are doing “good” (or at least doing “as much good” as you feel necessary).
Recently, things have changed. A confluence of the actual “end” of my previous businesses and the deterioration of new initiatives has left me wondering if I have been “trying to play God.” Perhaps, I am struggling to hard to use my talents. Maybe I have been attempting to tell God what I am supposed to do rather than letting the path open up. “I have these skills, so this must be what I am supposed to do.” How does that work? I have other talents, maybe those are the ones. How is one to know?
So, the real challenge is, “How do we ‘calm’ our inner selves, to become receptive to the influences we need to find our direction?” If God has a plan (which He surely does for each of us), who am I to tell Him what it is? I can’t and I shouldn’t try.
So, I am left with the Serenity Prayer: “Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as He did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that He will make all things right, If I surrender to His will, That I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”
And I think that may just be enough (for now).