According to most of the people that I hang around with, at age 60, going on 61, I’m not old. I’m a mere youngling. Either I need to get new friends, or they are right. I’m not sure which way to fall on this.
However, I’ve certainly had some time since I retired in September of 2014 to give some thought to what remains of the rest of my life. Most of it is positive. I look forward to new adventures, I look forward to new friends, and I’m really beginning to learn to just be me.
One of the problems with being young is that you have not yet learned quite who you are and what your place is in the world. You get all wrapped up in whatever the latest trend might be, whether it be clothes, or hobbies or a certain slang or a certain kind of cell phone that you absolutely have to have, and you never really get around to turning yourself inward, examining your own navel, and figuring out that it’s OK to be whoever it is you turned out to be after you finally got around to leaving home.
Trust me, there is a good part of me that is annoyed with myself. Why is it you have to wait until you get old before you finally figure things out, before you finally become confident in who you are, before you finally stop trying to be whatever it is you think other people want you to be?
If I could reach out and grab my 3 young grandsons who are now in their very early twenties or late teens, the first thing I would want them to know is that they need to stop trying so hard to make everyone around them pleased. Seriously. It doesn’t even matter if your parents like you or agree with what you think. They will be long gone before you know it, you’ll be on your own, and all that work to make them happy will be gone like a fart in the breeze.
By the time you get to be “old”, it’s just you and whoever you have decided is important to you. Your maker? Some old people still believe there is a God, but truly most of us just go through the motions so that we don’t get tarred and feathered and run out of town. There is no God – or if there is, he made us during a brief period of boredom and is long gone, and gives not a single hoot what we do with our lives.
By the time you are my age, you have hopefully stopped trying to impress people. It doesn’t matter that you like those old faded jeans with the spaghetti stain on the crotch. It doesn’t matter that the only time you make the bed is when you change the sheets. It doesn’t matter if you obsess over having the sink shine or all the dishes done before you go to bed. You are who you are and hopefully you’ve either found people who like that, or that you have learned to live a fulfilling life alone. It’s too late to start over and it’s time to settle in for the downhill ride and enjoy what time you have left.
In fact, I’m learning to do that just now. I like who I am. I’ve made some royal screw-ups in my life, trust me. Some doozies. On a slightly different tack I could be rotting in a jail, or living my life out as a homeless person under a bridge. Would I still like myself had my life taken either of those dotted line pathways that I once could have taken very easily? I hope so – in the end, you only have yourself, and if you don’t like who you are, it’s going to be a really rough ride.
I think I’m lucky. I’m not alone. I have someone in my life who lets me be who I am and doesn’t get jealous and often encourages me to just be. I have begun to develop some friends, although most of them are still friends only because I met them through who I live with. I have never made friends easily, but will take what I can get.
I’m not homeless, which for some reason never ceases to amaze me. I always imagined my old age to be one of stark loneliness and poverty. Where I skulked from one shelter to another, or perhaps lived alone in the woods, or wandered lonely beaches, eating raw fish. Not sure where that came from, but I think it’s a part of my lifelong inability to understand that I’m worthy of anything.
Yet, part of me still longs to reach out to my younger self and smack some sense into that strange person I was during my teens and twenties and thirties and even into my 40’s. How could I have been so dumb? How could I have missed so many opportunities?
Another thing about being retired and not getting up to slave for someone else for forty or more hours a week is that you finally realize that your time is your own, there is no one to make happy but yourself, and that whatever you choose to do is OK. There is no wrong choice. Read a book. Go to the pool. Sit and watch the birds. Cook an elaborate meal for no one. Stay in bed and nap the day away. None of it is a wrong choice.
I suppose I regret not being able to learn these things when I was young. I’ve always felt inferior to others, and I have no idea what made me feel that way. I have had people in my life who recognized this, and told me to stop being silly. I never believed them. I was never fully capable of recognizing my own worth. Even when it came to employment, I always felt someone was doing me a favor when they offered me a job, and I was always ever so grateful for whatever came my way. I never realized that I earned it all, was worth it all, and could in fact have probably had more, if only I’d had the confidence in myself to reach for it.
That’s what young people need to know today. It’s OK to reach for it.