“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” Albert Einstein
“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” Ayn Rand
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference in Arizona, and while registering I began a conversation with an older gentleman. Now when I say older, it is all relative especially in light of this discussion and the fact I am no spring chicken myself. Anyway, I estimated this man to be somewhere in his early to mid seventies. Our exchange led to age-related matters, and I told him about my late mother and her wish to remain employed even while fighting cancer. The gentleman proceeded to share with me that when he was terminated by his employer he wasted no time enrolling in graduate school. I complimented him for such ingenuity and recited the inspirational quote from George Eliot which I stated in Part 1. Upon hearing this, the gentleman graced me with a smile from ear to ear.
Walking away from this man, I began to think more about my interest in the subject matter of work and achievement beyond middle adulthood. My mother’s life and death prompted me to begin writing about it, but other events and thoughts in these past several months have fueled my desire to examine it more closely.
More and more people are coming to terms with the reality that retirement does not necessarily have a set point nor is it the end for work and achievement. In June of this year, I attended an advanced workshop on hypnosis. Fittingly, the presenter was a renowned Master Hypnotherapist. We later found out he was 90 years old, and what a privilege it was to have the opportunity to learn from such a venerable professional. This July, the Wall Street Journal had an article about a 78-year-old man who decided to come out of retirement and start a hedge fund. He indicated that he was still quite capable, and without work, life could be mundane.
What makes these people unique? I do not know, but I hope to emulate them. They seem to have a zest to continue moving and achieving in some capacity. There also appears to be some recognition that one is not too old to find purpose or develop another part of their identity. The late Dominic Dunne did not start a new career as a writer and investigative journalist until his fifties. He was a “has-been” producer in Hollywood, and it took the tragic murder of his beloved daughter to catapult him into his new-found profession. I remember reading his book Justice in which he asked his unresponsive, dying daughter for her talent so he could seek justice. Mr. Dunne spent the rest of his life trying to do that as well as entertain us with novels and articles about the rich and famous. When some people say older adults should slow down, I counter this stance with examples of people like Mr. Dunne and Jack LaLanne. For those who remember, Mr. LaLanne was an exercise guru ahead of his time. Even at age 70, he kept performing strength-bearing and cardiovascular feats which left people awestruck. Until his death two decades later, Mr. LaLanne continued to challenge and push himself.
To continue to have a sense of meaning and purpose, it is up to each of us to think about life as a journey without a finish line, and through work, achievement or movement, such a mind set will evolve. When my mother died, her little Yorkie came to live with us. He is 16 years old with limited vision and hearing, but he is as spry as can be. When we take walks, he sometimes halts indicating he has had enough. I look at him and say, “Listen Biscuit, if you want to live, keep moving. We all must keep moving because it is a part of living.” With a little tug, he starts to roll again, and I know my mother who kept going until the end of her life is smiling from afar.
References and Suggested Readings:
Chung, J. (2015, July 24). At 78, He’s Starting A Hedge Fund. The Wall Street Journal, pages C 1-2
Dunne, D. (2001). Justice: Crimes, Trials, and Punishments. New York: Three Rivers Press.