Last week I wrote a review of my life after one year of full-time retirement. I left the paid workforce right after my 66th birthday. My retirement and birthday will forever be linked, but they are still separate events. When I blogged about my retirement, I structured the post to focus on functional things, like my hobby life. Today, I would like to focus more on what aging has brought me.
My 67th birthday was a shock to me. I was the “surprise” in my family and was born 7 years after my next closest sibling. When you are in such a position, it seems that you’re always younger than those around you. However, time marches on, and it will eventually catch up to you.
The average life expectancy for a man in the US is 78.69 years or roughly a decade from my current age. This is a sobering number that I hope to exceed, but it does give me pause. When I was in my 20s, it seemed that I had an infinite amount of time to determine my destiny. When I entered my forties, I realized that half of my life was over. During my 50s, I convinced myself that being 50 was the new 40. I am now 67 and much closer to 70 than 50. It is difficult to find a slogan to soften that fact.
I am not a person who spends a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. I will glance at myself when I’m washing my face or brushing my teeth, but I don’t pay a lot of attention. However, sometimes I’ll accidentally see my reflection when I’m out and about. During those situations, I shock myself. “Who is that old dude?… Gads, it’s me!” I’m grey, bald, and something strange has happened to my skin, it wrinkly! When did that happen?”
I am very grateful that I’m healthy, and I try to be active. However, as you age you are not as strong or supple as you were when you were younger. When I’m sitting for a long time, I become stiff. I get random aches and pains that seem to have no other purpose other than to aggravate me. I find myself hunching over and have to consciously force myself to walk more erectly. I can no longer sleep without a pillow, as my neck refuses to lie flat.
I find that I multitask less, and I’m more inclined to “take a little break” after I do an activity like grocery shopping. I’m more cautious when facing novel situations. I worry more about ice when I walk. It takes me a bit longer to learn something new. Also, I’m aware that I’m at an age where “stuff happens.” Men in my decade develop serious illnesses, have heart attacks, and get cancer. This is sobering.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have more unstructured time, which is something that I have not had since my teens. I love to ponder random things and expand my knowledge. I enjoy exploring. The other day I spent several hours trying to find something that I had not used for years. In the past, I would have given myself 15 minutes to search, and then moved on. However, I took my time, and in the process of hunting, I discovered a few other fun items. This wasn’t 15 minutes of “I don’t have time for this” torture, it was two hours of fun and discovery.
I am doing more win/win activities. My recent cake decorating class got me thinking; I’m pretty sure that I can duplicate fancy bakery cupcakes (think “Molly’s”) at a fraction of the cost of buying them at a cupcake boutique. Tomorrow, I’ll make some lemon/poppyseed cupcakes with a lemon curd filling, and a zesty citrus frosting. If they turn out, I’ll give them to Julie, and she can take them to her Bible study group. I avoid concentrated forms of sugar, but I can still have fun learning this new skill.
I’m available to help my friend, Tom, with any task that he may come up with. It has been great fun to spontaneously do things with him.
Julie and I put together a care package for my daughter, who is currently living in Africa. I was able to spend the time to find my old “Seal-A-Meal” and vacuum pack the items for safer transport. I avoided a “here’s one more thing to do,” mentality. Instead, I imagined the smile on my daughter’s face when she received items that weren’t broken or stale.
I think that the life experience that comes with age has allowed me to better enjoy doing these things. I have come to believe that small things can be just as rewarding as significant events. An expensive trip is incredible, but so is helping someone you care about.
With age, I have become happier with what I have. When I was younger, I was more likely to associate happiness with material possessions. The car that I drove was important, as were other physical trappings. These desires lessened years ago, and now things appear to have little value beyond their actual utility. I am grateful for what I have.
I feel that I’m good enough. I think some may assume that I’m a competitive person (being a doctor, and all of that). However, this has never been the case. I have structured my life so that my trajectory falls squarely on my abilities alone. My successes are not fueled by someone else’s failures. I believe that it is irrelevant if my life is better than another person, it is more important that I’m improving who I am. However, I do want to be on an even playing field with those around me. I live in a town that has frequently been cited as one of the best places to live in the US. I have a beautiful house, but many have much larger homes. People talk about their exotic trips and expensive purchases. Fancy cars, like Teslas, are commonplace. I had intellectually distanced myself from envy a long time ago. However, with age, this denunciation has been embraced by my emotional self.
I indulge myself in random interests. I now have more time and less responsibility. Soon I’ll take a day trip to rural Illinois to photograph small-town landscapes. I want to take a few days to travel in Violet the campervan to Southern Illinois to visit a National Forests. I’m considering a solo trip to see my kids. I’m thinking about taking an adult education class. And much more.
I have become more frugal. It should be noted that my retirement celebration cake from Genesis was in the form of an Amazon package. A nod to the many packages that I would receive at my workplace. Therefore, the above statement may seem shocking to my former co-workers. I am attempting to make do with less. I’m trying to prepare foods that I purchased, and eat the foods that I prepared. I’m asking myself the question, “Do I really need that?” when I’m at the store or looking on-line. It feels good to use less.
I cry easier. I was recently watching a documentary on TV that had a happy ending, and I found myself tearing up with happiness. I genuinely feel sad when I read about people who are suffering. I’m more likely to be overwhelmed with love for those close to me. An emotional barrier has broken inside of me, and I’m not complaining.
I feel a greater need to spend time with people who I care about, and less time with obligatory connections. I want to be with people who I love, and I don’t want to waste even a moment.
Things that excited me as a child are exciting to me again. A snowstorm no longer means a lousy commute, it is a wintery adventure. A walk in the woods isn’t just exercise, it is a discovery opportunity. From decorating cakes to home construction, I celebrate activities and experiences.
It has become easier to say no. I have always been good at setting limits, but I would still succumb to doing things that I didn’t want to, as I didn’t want to disappoint people. I still want to extend myself, but it is easier to pass on things that I really don’t want to do.
I savor every day. Each day can be as fantastic or miserable as I choose to make it. I find myself making a conscious effort to enjoy every single day. I don’t have time to place my life on hold.
Every phase of life has negative and positive realities. Being freed from the burden of a 60 hour/week work schedule has opened up new opportunities, and has allowed me to revisit old interests. Each day is a new beginning, and I want to take advantage of every moment.