Click HERE for the podcast of this post.
I have been absent a while as I have been learning to navigate what I would admit has been a major transition in my life, turning 65! Although it is just a number it was the psychological impact that “hit me like a Mack truck” (slang that shows my age). It represents entering the “home stretch” in life, asking a whole new set of questions, and confronting your mortality. One of my key realizations is that although I am comfortable with the concept of death and what is next, what scares me is dying. Getting old brings with it a lot of new complications, challenges, opportunities, and obstacles. This is what absorbed most of my thoughts initially. I will highlight a few of these realizations.
The image of retirement I had related to the images you see on billboards. A youthful looking couple playing golf or living at the beach. But what about those that are single or divorced? How about those who are financially challenged which is a significant portion of Baby Boomers? Did I really want to watch the grass grow, stay working, complete a bucket list, learn to play golf, or live in a retirement community? What is the impact of living longer? What the heck do I want to do with the rest of my life?
As I began to research this topic I was overwhelmed by the opportunities for those entering retirement. You could move abroad and live well and with great medical care and with limited income. You could become part of the new trend of Van Life, living full time and traveling in a van conversion, consider tiny home communities, and a million more options. I spent a lot of time watching videos about these options and learning the advantages and disadvantages of each. What is key is that you consider the options and choose the one that is best for your own circumstances and lifestyle.
But it was learning the 3 phases of retirement that I realized is a MUST for those considering their choices and options. The first phase is referred to as “Go-Go” and represents what would typically be characteristic the 60’s when you have all your health, mental faculties, mobility, finances and more, which provides us with a period of freedom to do what we want. A key decision during this time is whether to remain working or to retire early (e.g., 62). It is important to consider phases 2 & 3, when making this choice. Many are forced to work, not having the finances to retire early. Others want to stay working for a variety of reasons. What I realized is that one really needs to consider the next 2 phases before making their choice.
Phase 2 is “Go-Slow”. As we begin to experience more health related issues, characteristic of the 70’s. As our bodies begin to deteriorate, combined with various diseases and aging related complications, we begin to slow down which has implications on how we live and what we can do. We may need to wear oxygen tanks, use a walker or wheelchair, get regular treatments at medical facilities, or simply learn how to endure arthritis or other ailments we have. The result is that we slow down, not having the endurance, stamina or health that we enjoyed in our Go-Go years. Phase 3 is “No-Go” and refers to the time where our mobility is signficantly limited and when we or our loved ones consider nursing homes, assisted living centers, or a bedroom in one of their children’s home. This is characteristic of our 80’s. However, as we live longer, there are those that retain their health and vitality longer in life. We may live longer, but what is the quality of our life?
Considering Phase 2 and 3 is very difficult to do. It is hard to imagine ourselves, while we are still mentally alert and physically able, to be in decline and ultimately lose our independence. No one likes to do this, but I discovered its importance, which is to learn how to enjoy what we have now as we break through our denial that this will happen to us too! We also realize that we must plan for these phases or at least consider them as we make consider our choices for retirement. The biggest implication to me was learning how to enjoy each day no matter how much or how little money I have. It was learning to be grateful for what we have at this moment, which we often do not realize until we are confronted with serious medical issues. I can breathe, walk, and see the amazing aspects of life around me!
Confronting Your Mortality
Isn’t it sad that so often it takes facing death to appreciate life and each other fully?Lori Earl, This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl
While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.Leonardo Da Vinci
We are a death averse culture. We simply do not like to talk about death. “Traditionally, Western culture keeps death at a nice, safe distance. A process left to hospitals and funeral parlors and not for everyday conversation.” (Why don’t we talk about death? by Dr. Claudia Aguirre). I strongly encourage you to view the following video, “A 97-Year-Old Philosopher Faces His Own Death“ and then read the comments. I wrote several blog posts on this topic. Check them out. The sooner you can grapple with your mortality the sooner you can use this awareness to make the most out of every day!!
- On Death, Part 1: We Are All Going to Die, So Let’s Learn About It
- On Death, Part 2: How Life Taught Me
- On Death, Part 3: Meeting Tom Sawyer
- On Death, Part 4: The Upside of Accepting Death, The Cost of Not…
- On Death, Part 5: A Point of View Beginning with Why We Are Here
- On Death, Part 6: A Point of View About Death
- On Death, Part 7: A Conversation About Death
The art of dying is the art of living. The honesty and grace of the years of life that are ending is the real measure of how we die. It is not in the last weeks or days that we compose the message that will be remembered, but in all the decades that preceded them.Sherwin Nuland, “Ars moriendi as ars vivendi“
The Opportunities are Amazing
With a greater awareness of what retirement consists of, along with the fact that we are closing in on our end of life, we can then focus on what we want to do to make the most of this time. In the years prior to turning 65 my focus was on everything but retirement. It was not until the months prior to turning 65, which represented more free time for me, that I contemplated what this meant to me. I began by talking to others who were retired, which was incredibly enlightening. It was rarely about a bucket list, but instead about a lifestyle. The lifestyle was based on their financial situation and their interests. For many it was being close to their children and grandkids.
I turned to YouTube to view hundreds of videos on the topic of retirement. This was awesome. Here is where I realized there are so many ways to retire no matter what your financials are like. I viewed websites on how to retire on $1500 or less and realized that if you are flexible you can move to many beautiful locations in the world and live very nicely and with great healthcare on a fixed income. Others were selling their home and living in their van conversions or as a way to get out and see the US. The movie Nomadland is worth viewing related to this concept for those with few financial resources. There are retirement communities, and some that revolve around a golf cart. There are those that move south for the winters and return home in the summers.
Retiring today is better described as “active retirement” particulary during the Go-Go years. You can split your time and remain working whether for financial needs, enjoyment, or simply staying busy. One of my neighbors is turning 100 in January. He realized that he spent as much time volunteering as he did working. He volunteered until he was 90 which is when he was pushed along, asked to no longer volunteer. This was a very difficult time for him.
What Really Does It Mean To Live Longer?
I asked my neighbor who is turning 100 about his views on living this long. Granted this is only one data point. I would encourage you to view videos on this topic. Frankly it all depends on how one’s health is. Many who survive into their 90’s are mentally alert, but their bodies are frail. My neighbor stated that it was good while he was able to volunteer and have a purpose each day, but once this ended it become more lonely and difficult. He stated that all of his friends and his spouse have died, adding to the loneliness. He was still able to get around his house and for very short walks, but that was it. He considered himself very fortunate that he was still largely independent. Once you lose your independence many lose their will for life.
Although we may be living longer, the key question is what will our quality of life be. There is a great video, a segment from 60 minutes on this topic. The research focus of this report was very educational. Stay active and exercise every day, even when you don’t want to. Check it out.
This is a good place to close. More to come, particularly as I experience this new phase of my life!! Thanks for tuning in.
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Career Coaching, Leadership, Personal Growth & Self-Discovery. Check out “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” You can also view my latest development book on Leadership, “Leadership From The Inside Out: Building Your Leadership Foundation” which utilizes the concepts covered in this Framework to develop great leaders. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com). You can contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org