Hey Elderly Aunt, what advice do you have for me, upon my retirement this July?
The Elderly Aunt is well aware that she is a bug about semantics, but she cannot offer retirement advice without first bridling at the term “retirement.”
For her, “retirement” smacks too much of us — the elderlies — being encouraged (if not commanded) to go meekly into that good night ( to paraphrase poet, Dylan Thomas) simply because we’ve reached a certain age. “Retirement” suggests it’s somehow in bad taste to keep working once our hair is grey and our skin is wrinkled, no matter how much we enjoy working and how we do our jobs. Indeed, the Elderly Aunt dares to posit that Americans generally view aging as an embarrassment; something to be done discretely, out of the public eye. Unless, of course, you’re running for president, in which case you’re encouraged to keep going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny.
With that in mind, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt suggests we begin discussing your “retirement” by semantically re-imagining it as your “reinvention.” It seems to her that whether you’re being forced out of a job you love or released from a job that’s bored you for years, your life is going to change drastically, and the Elderly Aunt sees no reason not to view this drastic change as liberating.
Onto the somewhat practical….
Retirement does bring us face-to-face with our finances, so the Elderly Aunt’s first question for you, dear reader, is: Do you have enough money in savings, pensions, social security to maintain your desired lifestyle?
If the answer is no, then the first step of your reinvention is figuring out how to spend less money. Rest assured, the Elderly Aunt does not say this cavalierly for she has had several periods in her loooong life when paying the rent was a real challenge. Therefore, when she speaks it as a veteran of serious financial struggle.
Her first suggestion is that you face your financial situation full-on, without any hand-wringing or resentment. Whether we like it or not, reality is the only row we get to hoe, and we best serve ourselves by getting on with it. For the Elderly Aunt, however, financial belt-tightening always came with an unexpected upside: It forced her to figure out what was really, really important to her. When she couldn’t afford to keep up with the Joneses, the Joneses couldn’t control her choices.
Another question the Elderly Aunt suggests you must answer truthfully for your reinvention to be successful: What do you really, really want to do with your time once you have more of it? Not what you think you should do or are expected to do, but what do you in your heart of hearts want to do? What truly engages and excites you? What underexplored talents and skills would you like develop? What have you always wanted to try, but used lack of time as a reason (excuse?) to avoid doing it?
Once you’ve answered this surprisingly difficult question, the true challenge of reinvention is to risk acting on your answer. If you’ve always wanted to write, then write. If you’ve always wanted to play the oboe, then play the oboe. But whatever you do, the Elderly Aunt suggests you do it with vigor and diligence. In her experience, getting better at something always has been and remains today one of life’s major satisfactions.
The Elderly Aunt sees the third major challenge of your upcoming reinvention, dear reader, as coping with the inevitable loss of your tribe. Even if work from home, you work with other people. Even if you don’t like all of them, you share common goals and common annoyances. The Elderly Aunt’s was quite surprised by how much her own loss of tribal membership mattered to her. It left a void—the loss of shared meaningful undertakings—that she had to first recognize and then address.
Dear reader, it occurs to the Elderly Aunt that when you asked for advice on your upcoming retirement, you probably expected something more practical than a lot of palaver about rethinking your upcoming retirement as your upcoming reinvention. Something specific; perhaps, with bullet points.
If so, the Elderly Aunt is delighted to meet your expectations with the following bullet-pointed suggestions.
- Keep moving! Build aerobic exercise, strength training, yoga—anything that systematically gets you up and moving—into your daily schedule.
- Never, ever utter the words “I’m too old to….”
- Unless you are waiting for a dental appointment, never do anything simply to pass the time. Instead, treat time as a golden opportunity to engage with life in new and adventurous ways.
Set goals and accomplish them…or fail fearlessly and gloriously in the attempt.
Of course, reinvention does not mean we stop adhering to the Elderly Aunt’s Three Golden Mandates of Life.
- Tell the truth.
- Be useful.
- Be kind.
Naturally, we are also still obliged to attend to the activities of daily living during our reinvention. But other than that, dear reader, it seems to the Elderly Aunt that the real challenge of reinvention, is to figure out what we want to do and then do it!
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice on an issue that’s been intriguing or bugging you, email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions).