In my professional life I witnessed an interesting phenomena, individuals stuck on a past identity. They lived their lives in past triumphs and seem to be locked into days gone by as they repeatedly recount their time spent on the high school football team or their years in the military. I believe it is fine to proudly remember such events, but I don’t think that it is productive to stagnate in days of yore and not move forward.
My personality is similar to what it was when I was a teen, but over the years I have grown in other ways. That process continues in my retirement years. You may ask, how do I know where I need to make a change? The answer is simple, I do nothing and the need presents itself. This is a process that happens to everyone, but you have to be cognizant of the offer and willing to act on it.
I mentioned that I have the same personality as I did as a teen, but I am a different person. I’m more self assured, more assertive, and generally a happier person. I have taken opportunities over the years to grow and to challenge false beliefs that seemed so true that they were law, but they were not.
One significant false belief that I held for many years is that no one would ever want to help me so I needed to figure out everything on my own. As a corollary, I also had to know how to do everything, even when no one taught me how to do something. Somehow, this knowledge was supposed to be embedded in me, and if I couldn’t retrieve it something was wrong with me.
I believed that these sets of beliefs developed when I was a young child, as asking my dad for help almost universally resulted in a “no” followed by a shaming statement. He often gave me tasks to do with no instructions, and would blame me if I did the job incorrectly. These experiences would certainly lead a person to believe that it was their responsibility to solve any problem.
Before you feel sorry for me, I would say that the above was actually a blessing in disguise as I became an excellent problem solver, independent, confident, and competent. If you have lemons, best to make lemonade.
I am a caregiver type, and it is easy to find folks who want to be cared for. That works when you are a physician giving care, but it doesn’t lead to balanced healthy personal relationships.
Many decades ago I decided to challenge the false belief that I’m not worthy of asking others for help, but I did so in a limited way. I have no problem asking Julie or my kids for help when I need it. I always knew that there were others in my life, like my sisters, who would offer assistance if I asked for it. However, I tended to reserve those requests for times of great need.
I have known my friend, Tom for 11 years and we became fast friends over 9 years ago. Early on I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect Tom. This made no sense as Tom is younger, and stronger than I am. In addition, he had lived a successful life well before he ever met me. Tom is a Polish immigrant. I am reluctant to state generalizations, but Eastern European men tend to emphasize their strengths and don’t present as weak or needy. Tom fits this category. So why did I have an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect him?
As our friendship strengthened it turned out that I did have some skills that I believe helped my friend and protected him from a very real, if covert, threat. However, that was only part of the story. Remember, I believe that if a person is open to growth, opportunities will present themselves that will allow this process to happen.
My connection with Tom wasn’t only about me helping him, it was also about him helping me change.
It takes a significant amount of energy and time to learn things that often have very limited utility. I love learning anything, even trivial things, but it is energy draining. Time spent in such pursuits could be used more efficiently, or the job could have been completed more professionally if I had asked for help. Additionally, there is no better way to learn something than to have a competent teacher instruct you on that process.
My friend, Tom has not only been willing to help me, at times he has been insistent. This process started with small things. Things that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about asking for his help. However, he has gone above and beyond on so many occasions that he has helped me to feel comfortable asking for help from someone who doesn’t have a “blood obligation” to me. Most recently, he spent weekends putting together a new kitchen set-up for Violet the camper van. I wanted a simple modification, but he gave me an entirely new kitchen. When asked why, he responded that he wanted to do it for me.
Beyond the joy of having someone help me, these interactions have taught me a valuable lesson. I always knew that I felt good when I helped someone, but now I know that people feel good when they help me. This may sound elementary to you readers. However, it was a revolutionary concept for me, a person who thought that they didn’t deserve to be helped. Naturally, that last statement comes from emotional Mike, not rational Mike.
My belief that I needed to protect Tom was the “hook” into the relationship, but he showed me that I also needed him to grow further.
I never want to become stagnant. I always want to move forward. I understand that as I age I may need to give up some aspects of my identity, but I have been shown time and time again that when a door closes a window opens. Overall, as I accept who I am, not only my strengths but also my limitations, I can challenge those limitations and sometimes conquer them. How does all of this make me feel? Happy.
I ended my private practice over five years ago. Four years ago, I left my part-time doctor job at Rosecrance and fully retired. I like to review my status annually to understand better where I have been and where I may be going.
This year’s review deals with concepts more than actions. I did not plan this post that way; it is just how it evolved.
As my retirement has progressed, I have been aware of a slow change in me as I grapple with more existential questions. Concepts of my significance have broadened to include the greater significance of humankind. I am not trying to determine why we exist; that question has been a philosophical problem for eons. Instead, my pondering has centered around several concepts that seem dissonant on the surface but are unified at a more intrinsic level. These thoughts are not meant to be a template for others to structure their lives. As I have written many times, you do you.
What is my significance? I have come up with two possibilities.
I am significant, and every action I make impacts my species, other organisms, the planet, and ultimately the entire universe. I consider this my George Bailey position. If I turn right instead of left, that impacts the world. Some of my actions will have a greater impact than others. At times, those actions will be deliberate; at other times, they will be random.
I exist because of prior generations. My children exist because of me (and, of course, my wife) and will impact our world in their own ways. Simple events, like typing this post while drinking a cup of coffee, change things in ways I’m incapable of knowing. In this view, everyone impacts the universe, regardless of their status.
I am insignificant. This is my existential nihilism position. Not only am I insignificant, but all humans are insignificant. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, but the first primitive hominids appeared only 2 million years ago. Homo Sapiens have only existed for several hundred thousand years. Five mass extinctions have decimated most living organisms on this planet, and it is thought that we are currently in the throws of the 6th mass extinction.
The universe has existed for almost 14 billion years. During that time, entire solar systems have formed and have been destroyed. An average galaxy contains 100 billion stars. We know that many of these stars have orbiting planets. There are approximately two trillion galaxies in the observable universe. Galaxies have collided, and entire galaxies may have been destroyed or altered in that process. Everything that we can measure in the universe consists of matter and energy. However, we can only observe 15% of the matter in the universe. Eighty-five percent of the universe’s matter consists of dark matter. We cannot see or detect dark matter; the only way we know it exists is by how it impacts observable objects. If some catastrophic event destroyed our planet, it would have little impact on the universe. As a species or as individuals, we are exponentially less significant than that. No one significantly impacts the universe in this second possibility, regardless of status.
As humans, our ability to think is limited by our small brains. We define events by what we can observe, which we then try to explain with limited understanding. At one point, humans thought that the earth was flat as it was impossible to think that the world was so large that small segments would appear flat. Before the microscope existed, scientists felt that infectious disease was caused by miasma. Even today, individuals disregard known information as they cannot reconcile facts with other beliefs they may hold. A recent survey asked over 2000 Americans if Arabic numbers should be taught in public schools. The majority surveyed said that they should not be. This result is tragic on two fronts. First, most Americans didn’t realize that Arabic numbers are our 0-9 number system. And second is that those surveyed used a combination of bias, prejudice, and ignorance to reach a ridiculous conclusion.
Humans think in absolute ways. However, this linear logic limits us. We use simplistic thinking to determine good vs. bad. Are police good or bad? Who is right, the Republicans or the Democrats? What is the one true religion? It is impossible to develop a definitive answer to these and many other questions. However, this leads me to a conclusion about the above conundrum. It is possible to have two opposing ideas that are both correct. Therefore, we are both significant and insignificant. Based on the above, it is impossible to determine an objective answer to my life’s purpose. Instead, it is better to explore how I impact the world. For me, that is on an interpersonal basis. My significance is based on my direct interactions with others. How important those interactions are, I can’t say. Yet, I need to accept this as it is where I should place my efforts and energy.
How are we joined to humankind and our planet? Most cultures have employed a third factor that provides ways to explain the unknown, gives rules of behavior, and creates a framework for community. Enter the concept of the supernatural. Different groups may understand this differently. Buddhists don’t believe in a supreme god but talk about spirits. Hindus refer to a universal soul or Brahman. Pagans focus on a connection with nature, while Christians, Muslims, and Jews hold a monotheistic understanding of the supernatural.
I believe that there is something greater than ourselves. I refer to that entity as God. My beliefs are partially cultural and partially experiential. I was raised Roman Catholic and migrated to a non-denominational Christian Church, so I am most comfortable with a Christian concept of a Higher Power. However, my concept of God and Christianity, in general, may be in opposition to more traditional views. Unfortunately, religious beliefs carry even more passion than other emotional flashpoints, such as politics. I do not need to offend anyone. I am sharing my thinking process, but I don’t need to convert anyone to my thinking.
There are thousands of Christian denominations worldwide and dozens of prominent ones in the US. These groups are sometimes similar to each other, and at other times they are radically different. Critical concepts, such as necessary actions needed for salvation, can differ radically from one group to another. Acceptable behaviors are also wildly different. Denomination A may think it is fine to have an alcoholic drink, while denomination B bans coffee. Denomination C may believe in the Rapture, while denomination D may believe such thinking is heresy. Demonination E may only allow celibate men as religious leaders, whereas denomination F may feel that married men and women should serve in that role. Denomination G rejects the use of automobiles and electricity, whereas denomination H embraces rock bands and live stream broadcasts of their services, and so it goes.
Who determines the rules? That varies. In most cases, at least with western Christianity, it is white men. However, the way that they command their authority can also vary. Many will convene a meeting or conference. Naturally, leaders with the most power will have the loudest voice. Power doesn’t always equate with correctness.
Beyond consensus, there is usually some other ultimate source of truth. Catholics believe that the Pope is infallible regarding questions of morals and faith. Mormons believe that their leader is a prophet. Some protestant religions will note that the Bible is inerrant. This opinion isn’t conclusively stated in the Bible; it was decided by a conference of Evangelicals held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel in 1978. Specifically, they cited the King James version of the Bible as the absolute inerrant source. Many non-Evangelical Biblical scholars would say that there are more accurate translations of the Bible that use better methodology and source materials closer to the original, but that is a discussion for another day.
Religious leaders throughout history have made decisions based on a variety of motivations. I do not doubt that some of their determinations have been based on their interpretation of God’s will from reading scripture, personal prayer, and other methods. Sometimes, bias can radically impact an individual’s or group’s thinking process. Both Copernicus and Galileo said that our solar system was heliocentric and were deemed heretics by religious leaders. The Inquisition tried Galileo because this finding contradicted the interpretation of scriptures that the Earth was the center of the universe. Beyond interpretation issues, some religious leaders have used their authority for personal profit or to push their agenda. Here some tele-evangelists who ascribe to prosperity theology come to mind.
I see no evidence that God has granted certain individuals the ability to be infallible. Likewise, I see the Bible as a highly significant work containing Christianity’s elements. However, I don’t see it as inerrant. I base this opinion on the many inconsistent histories given in the Bible that range from the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion and death. Various Gospels were written decades to almost 100 years after the death of Jesus. Before that time, his teachings were spread by oral traditions, which would be modified as time and situation commanded. You can see this effect by reading the first written Gospel (Mark) and comparing it to the last, the Gospel of John.
The Bible was written during a different time when enslaving others was acceptable and when women were expected to be completely subservient to men. These were the cultural norms 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, some have used these and other Biblical references in modern times as justification to oppress entire groups of humanity. Others have used incorrect translations of words or their personal interpretations of passages as rational to damn groups of humans.
The Catholic Bible includes books that the Protestant Bible omits. Are those books of lesser value? Other writings were considered and rejected for the Bible as they were inconsistent with the determining group’s ideology. Some of these books have resurfaced and offer a different view of early Christianity. Should they be included in our understanding of Jesus’s message?
At this point, you are likely asking, “So, what is your point?” My point is that I think spiritual life is vital for me as it not only gives my existence meaning but it also connects me with our greater humanity. It is the glue that makes sense out of the dichotomy that my life is both meaningful and meaningless. However, I cannot accept something just because some authority told me that was what I am supposed to believe. I find too many flaws in such an argument.
As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a Christian, which is the set of beliefs I resonate with. However, I have some issues with religion and religious leaders. This may seem heresy as many Christian religions emphasize that only their beliefs offer the golden ticket to heaven. Further, some threaten eternal damnation if you stray away from their dogma. There are benefits to belonging to a religious group, community being one of them. However, once any religion feels it has the right to damn and condemn others, it has moved from being a spiritual guide to a quasi-god.
I keep returning to the message that Jesus gave us based on his actions. It is very simple. Love all, forgive, include all, don’t judge, be kind, and be generous. Jesus went against the Pharisees by healing on the Sabbath. In doing so, he demonstrated that we should not let the self-proclaimed leaders of the day prevent us from having a relationship with God by overloading us with their rules and regulations. When religion moves against His tenets, they serve their needs rather than God’s will. I cannot continue with any religion when I see an organization professing inclusion but practicing exclusion. Professing forgiveness but practicing damnation. Professing charity but practicing greed. Professing equality but damning opposing opinions.
This last year of my retirement has focused on these issues. I accept the uncertainty of my existence. I exist, and no further rationale is necessary. My relationship with my Higher Power is stronger now than in the past. That connection feels truer as I have been able to release me from many of the things taught me, but that made little sense. As my connection to my Higher Power deepens, my acceptance of the duality of our existence strengthens. I will continue to move forward as I attempt to contribute to society and those around me, not for heaven points, but because it is the right thing to do.
Lastly, this year I have been thinking about life goals and legacy. I’m certain that some don’t give these concepts a second thought, while others may think about them all the time. For some, their life goal is to acquire. They may want to acquire experiences, the latest restaurant meal, or travel location. Others want to gain property, money, or power. For these folks, the more they have, the more they want. Still, others want to leave a tangible marker that they have been “here.” That could be anything from a recipe to a university building.
For me, a life well spent has moved humankind in a positive direction. Most of us won’t be able to make global changes. I don’t think that is important. However, what is important to me is if my overall efforts were more positive than negative. As a doctor, did I help more people than I harmed? As a friend, relative, husband, and father, were my interactions more beneficial than detrimental to those I love? Were my connections with acquaintances and strangers more positive than negative? If I can generally answer yes to the above questions, I feel that I have lived a worthwhile life.
In a few weeks, I’ll turn 70-a major birthday. Upward and onward, one step at a time.
As I write this, it has been over four years since I retired from my private practice at Genesis Clinical Services and three years since I left my job as an attending psychiatrist and addictionologist at Rosecrance. It is time for me to do my annual review. I am writing this post for my personal summary. I will share it with those of you who wish to travel with me on my journey.
The process of retirement is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Revolutionary discoveries occur, but that process is slower and more meandering than what happened during my work life. I tend to liken it to watching an analog clock. If you stare at a clock, the hands don’t move; look away for a bit and they are suddenly in a different place.
I’m aware that this process is influenced by forces, such as age and health, independent of any purposeful action. There are things that I can do and things that happen to me that I have to accept.
The beginning of the year brought a cancer scare and a multitude of diagnostics tests and specialists. The bottom line is that I don’t have cancer; rather, I have a chronic condition that doesn’t have a cure but does have treatments. I’m continuing with a variety of those as I write this. Many of these treatments are relatively non-specific. As a medical professional, I can read scientific literature critically. It is clear that most of my medical recommendations are based on weak studies and anecdotal findings. For instance, I’m supposed only to drink low acid coffee. I’m trying to be as compliant as I can be while I recognize that much of what I’m being advised to do is shotgun medicine. In other words, I’m getting dozens of recommendations, none of which are based on a solid statistical footing. With that said, I’m very grateful that I’m generally healthy as I will turn 69 in less than two weeks.
Those core things that have always excited me continue to do so. I love learning and teaching. Creativity is my jam, and the use of technology to aid in creating things has always turned me on. However, how that I achieve these objectives continues to evolve. In the past, I would reward myself by buying things that I could compare. “How is this camera manufacturer’s solution different from that manufacturer’s?” “What are the differences between an inexpensive guitar and a more expensive one?” “Why does one computer application solve a problem one way when another piece of software does it differently?” Buying things gave me the pleasure of discovering how other people solved problems. That helped me expand the way that I critically think about things.
Although I could still buy and compare things, my purchasing has slowed down dramatically as I now can pursue other ways of learning; Retirement has given me the time to explore. With that said, I did do deep dive on automatic blood pressure cuffs earlier this year and bought quite a few of them so I could determine their pros and cons. I gave most of them away after I finished my study, so I guess it turned out to be a win/win situation. In addition, I wrote a post about my findings to teach others. What good is knowledge if you don’t share it?
Much of my explorations of late have involved acquiring knowledge for the sake of learning. My goal has shifted from being an expert on a topic to being knowledgeable about a subject. It is less critical for me to acquire expertise and more vital for me to learn. I appreciate the vastness of information available. Disciplines that superficially seem different from each other connect on more fundamental levels. It is exciting when I discover these connections. Yes, everything connects with everything else. You just have to look.
If you have read my post, you realize that for the last 7 (or is it 8?) years, I have had the opportunity to learn about construction from my expert friend, Tom. This is just one area that I have been visiting. I have been studying topics that range from learning about other medical specialties to exploring the accuracy of the Bible. There is a joy of discovery when I learn something new or understand something on a different level. There is also a sense of freedom as I can spend as much or as little time as I choose to on any particular topic. No one is going to test me with an exam, and I don’t have to prove to anyone that I have the most comprehensive knowledge.
My role at home is slowly changing. I have taken on more responsibilities than last year. I do many tasks, from cleaning the house to grocery shopping. Naturally, I have continued my long-established outside duties and household fix-it jobs. My job title would most accurately be described as a househusband. Many complain that such tasks are beneath them or even demeaning. I don’t feel that way at all. Household tasks are fundamental for both the individual and the family. They are of the utmost importance. That is not to say that I don’t find some jobs boring; of course, I do. However, there is a satisfaction of knowing that I’m accomplishing these tasks and that they benefit all parties. With that said, I have been trying to strike a balance. The number of adults that live here fluctuates from three to five. All are very capable. The reality is that I could completely take over all household jobs, but that would be a disservice to me, the other members of the household, and our family system as a whole. Everyone has to have some skin in the game, and finding that balance has been an ongoing process.
I have always been a little boy at heart, but I have rarely had the opportunity to express that side of me. I find the greatest joy in the simplest of things. Retirement has allowed me to acknowledge and nurture that aspect of my personality. This part of me is difficult to express in writing, but it involves finding beauty, wonderment, and excitement in just about everything. It is cool.
Long ago, I understood that I was an introvert, and my social needs were different than many. I have no problem spending long periods by myself, and there are times when I need to be alone to recharge my psyche. However, retirement, COVID, and other situations have illustrated the importance of strong connections with others. I continue to invest in those who I love. I have put ongoing effort into my marriage, children, and other important relationships. I continue to be amused with the knowledge that most things are neither bad nor good; they just are. The COVID pandemic certainly had many terrible aspects, but it also got me to call my sisters on a daily basis. I am close to all of my children but was most distant with my daughter, Kathryn. Kathryn returned from the Peace Corps due to COVID, and this forced the two of us to spend extended amounts of time together. What a blessing this has been as we have developed a new closeness and respect for each other. My other kids are now adults, yet they still seek me out for companionship and advice. I am so grateful.
I made one grand trip to Montana this last year, but I took many shorter trips in Violet. Some of them were for fun, and some were for practical reasons. This is the first year that Julie and my son, William, accompanied me on many adventures. I’m very grateful. You may wonder why I don’t camp with my daughters. It is simply for practical reasons. Violet has one platform bed that can accommodate Julie or William, plus me. Part of Violet’s charm is her ease of use as there is little to no set-up; I have no difficulty choosing to stealth camp. To camp with my girls would involve using formal campsites and setting up tents. I’m not excluding this option, but currently, I’m choosing other ways to spend time with them.
I crave to be on the road more, and I long to go on trips that would last a week or two. It would be great to do this with someone, but my current travel companion’s busy lives don’t allow for that extravagance. I’m now comfortable traveling alone, and I have developed enough social confidence to engage with strangers on the road. However, I still have a lot of guilt leaving Julie for more than a few days. If I asked her if it was OK for me to travel, I guess she would say, “yes.” However, I do worry that she would be resentful of my meanderings. It is unclear how much of my concerns are real vs. my own internal conflict. I plan to engage Julie in more meaningful and honest conversations on this topic. In reality, I’m talking about a week here and possibly two weeks there. I long to be out west. I think my soul lives on the other side of the Mississippi.
All of my years of financial preparation have paid off. However, I live on investments, and that can be concerning. At the beginning of COVID, I instantly lost 25% of those investments, which threw me into a bit of a tailspin. But, as we all know, the market has rebounded. Thank goodness for that. However, I’m trying to be conservative with my spending, and I’m thinking about those things that I spend money on. I’m the guy who tries to finish the leftovers in the fridge and the one who thinks twice about buying something. When you are retired, there is less need to spend.
My spiritual life seems to be moving in many directions. I was raised Roman Catholic, and although I respect many aspects of that religion, I separated from it when its sex scandal broke. My biggest issue was the secrecy and conspiracy that was enacted on all levels despite the damage that it caused to parishioners. Sadly, what appeared isolated now seems to be a reality among other institutions, as we know from recent events with the Boy Scouts of America.
Eventually, I drifted to an Evangelical Christian church, which I have attended for many years. The church appeared to have an “all are welcome” philosophy and presented Scripture in a contemporary way that I found beneficial to my daily life. Over the years, the founders have aged and become more conservative. Their sermons have become more traditional and less engaging. However, they never demanded their parishioners to think in a certain way, and they have promoted social justice causes. The latter is very important to me as I believe inclusion is one of the cornerstones of Christianity.
Recently, and surprisingly our lead pastor took a stance against a subgroup of society, citing Biblical teachings. This not only shocked me, but it also disgusted me. Entire religions are created based on the human interpretation of a few Scripture passages. However, those very religions often cherry-pick Biblical writings. They embrace passage A while ignoring passage B. As of late, I’m putting some effort into gaining a better historical understanding of the Bible. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I do understand the Bible’s bullet points, including “Love thy neighbor.” A church should bring people together and not draw arbitrary lines based on individual differences. I can no longer support the church that I have been attending for well over a decade based on their discrimination against others.
I think that a spiritual journey is personal and that externals (such as a church) should be used to assist the individual along that journey. My belief in God is not based on fear of damnation or even the promise of everlasting Salvation. I’m not a Christian because I’m looking for the golden ticket to heaven. I’m a Christian because I have a strong belief in God, and I believe that the message of the NT is one of peace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness. When a religious organization violates those basic rules, it is time for me to reassess its importance. This new chapter is in process. Hopefully, I’ll be further along my path when I do my 5th-year retirement summary.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been granted the ability to retire from my work life and be in my current situation. I live in a beautiful town, and I don’t have the daily financial struggles that many others have to deal with. It has been fantastic to explore topics of interest that don’t have practical value. It has been wonderful to expand my creative abilities. I’m most grateful that I have been able to deepen my connections with others. I think that this latter fact has been the most significant benefit of leaving my 9 to 5 (in my case 7 AM to 10 PM) professional life.
I continue to grow, explore, and be open to new possibilities as they present themselves.
I share these most intimate thoughts with you. I hope they will help you do the same with those you care about. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a reality. Vulnerability allows us to grow and to become better humans.
This post contains self-disclosure. If you are sensitive to such things, please be advised.
I don’t have a lot of difficulties talking about my inner feelings; I guess that comes from my years working as a psychiatrist. I know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Growth is a journey and not an experience that ends at some arbitrary age, like 18, 21, or 65. It is essential to acknowledge this fact, and it is imperative to recognize that learning about oneself happens on many levels. In other words, it is possible to understand the same truth about yourself but to appreciate that fact in many different ways.
A common theme that has impacted me throughout my life has been the differing opinions of my childhood worth. I have mentioned this conundrum in the past, and I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Oh God, here he goes again.” I would have to agree with that assessment, but the topic seems pertinent to so many of my quirks that I have to revisit it.
The basic gist of this issue is that on one front, I was told that I was stupid, fat (ugly), lazy, incompetent, a POS, etcetera. At the same time, others said to me that I was intelligent, kind, reliable, and gifted. As far as the ugly identifier is concerned, it seemed as if girls liked how I looked, but I have no other point of reference in this regard.
Initially, I embraced the latter opinions, which allowed me to move forward. Later, I intellectually accepted them based on available evidence. However, emotions run deep, and the emotional aspects of early trauma can be challenging to reconcile. I am an introvert, but beyond this, I am a person who moves very cautiously when forming connections with others. A part of me wonders if I’m imposing on the other person, as this was a strong childhood message. Since teachers and others praised me for things I could do, I assumed that was my value. However, I have not let early experiences completely rule my life, and I have used the understanding of my past as well as current observations to challenge those skewed beliefs.
As I have said above, I received the most praise for what I could do rather than who I was. Some of this centered on how I could think; some were based on aspects of my personality. For instance, I’m reliable, a hard worker, and a good provider. I felt that these attributes gave me value to others. But in many ways, these things seemed like parlor tricks that I knew how to perform; they only represented a small part of who I was.
I would like to share a secret with you. I have always had a fear that people close to me would abandon me if I no longer could perform for them. The image that comes to mind is an elderly Inuit being placed on an ice drift once they are no longer beneficial to their community. I would like to emphasize that I didn’t experience this fear intellectually. As a trained scientist, there was no empirical data to support this hypothesis. My worries were on an emotional level.
It was impossible to challenge this emotional millstone during my working life as I was constantly producing, constantly giving of myself, and continuously making money. However, that all changed when I retired, and my lifestyle took a one-eighty. As I moved away from a lifestyle model that had given me so much success I had to face my greatest fear. But how would I do that?
The following incident happened this morning. Many may feel that it is trivial, but reality is written in trivial events. I could give similar examples from others close to me. However, to do so would make this long post even longer and would not serve any additional purpose. I’m writing about this incident as it is fresh in my mind, but it is no more significant than other lessons that I have experienced since I retired.
Last night Chicago was blasted with freezing temperatures with a low of 17℉. I love experimenting and learning (my drugs of choice), and I decided that last night would be the perfect time to test out a Wabasto heater that Tom and I installed in Violet the campervan. This particular heater is plumbed into Violet’s gas tank and is designed to lightly sip on petrol, which it combusts to heat her cabin. I had already done some experiments with the Wabasto. I knew that the heater worked, but I had never used it in a real-life situation. So I decided that last night was the night, and I started the heater as I got ready to camp in my driveway. The experiment was a resounding success as the cabin was a comfortable 61℉ throughout the night and into the morning. This result proved that I could winter camp, even in a boondocking scenario.
My friend Tom has been incredibly busy as he has several projects on closing timelines. I have been thinking of ways to help him, but I concluded that the best option was to simply stay out of his way. In other words, I would give him space so I would not become another thing that he had to do. When I say he has been busy, this is no exaggeration. Yesterday, he started his workday before the sun was up and ended it at 10:30 PM.
At 6 AM this morning, I was greeted by Tom, who knew that I was spending the night in the camper. He went out of his way to pick up some coffee and drive it over to me—a simple act of kindness that was utterly unnecessary but very much appreciated. To me, it was a statement that said I was important enough for him to alter his insanely busy schedule. It deeply touched me.
As I stated earlier, I could give examples of others close to me who have shown their genuine care for me even though I can no longer produce for them. My interactions with those whom I care about are mostly routine. I try to be a good husband, father, sibling, and friend, but I no longer perform circus tricks. I can only be me, the same me I was when I was age 5, age 10, age 25, or age 50. The person me, not the scientist me, doctor me, photographer me, or insert title here me. To have those whom I love value just me is emotionally mind-blowing. It is also emotionally healing. Another gift that retirement has brought.
I write this post as a personal reflection and primarily for my kids to realize that growth is a continual process. In addition, I write it to emphasize the reality that at any age, we can always grow, learn, and become more whole as a person. We can challenge past false beliefs. So many individuals are uni-dimensional. They view their life based on singular criteria. Perhaps it is their career, wealth accumulation, or possession and conquests. However, I am here to tell you that living such a life leads to a sense of incompleteness. We are so much more than a single note; we are symphonies. No one can conduct a symphony without hard work, practice, and introspection. It is the same for our life symphony. Every day gives us opportunities to expand and understand our complex selves. As we know ourselves, we gain the knowledge to fulfill who we are. That growth is constant; it is not static. I hope this post encourages you to pause and pay attention to your inner soul and how you are either meandering towards or away from those core things that are truly important for your wellbeing. Explore your career, relationships, interests, and life. What falsehoods do you refuse to let go of? What realities are you neglecting to embrace?
I thought I would add some photos of me from various points in my life. Each represents a different season of my life. My circus tricks change, but I stay the same.