My father bragged that he retired at 53. He was dead at 63.
I have to admit that I hate getting older. Many who read this statement might be thinking: Yeah, no kidding, who would like it except maybe a masochist? Well, if you follow media that targets baby boomers, you’ll read stories about people from every walk of life, who in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, apparently enjoy lives so full of joyous activity and abundance that they can hardly contain their enthusiasm for what comes tomorrow. I’m happy for them, but they certainly don’t represent the majority.
I wonder what the ratio is between those who have boundless happiness and excitement for the future, and those who feel they are missing some secret ingredient that makes life after kids and career so full and satisfying. In my experience, I’ve met far more boomers who are bored with their status quo or lonely for human interaction, than I have met members of the elder tribe who are jetting off to distant lands to luxuriate with friends in a hot tub in Sri Lanka.
Happiness or Boredom
For many of us, retirement turned out to be way less fun than we dreamed about when we were busy working toward that time when life would suddenly become free and easy. My father bragged that he retired at 53. He was dead at 63. How did he live out his last decade? He did a little handyman work for his neighbors, but mostly he sat at the kitchen table drinking all day and playing solitaire. A friend of mine retired around 57. He’s a golfer, loves to golf every day! He rides the course on a cart, plays a fast 18, then it’s home to his favorite comfy chair to proudly enjoy a fraction of his 300+ TV channels. He talks about his life as if he’s living the dream, but I can see an emptiness behind his eyes.
There is a missing ingredient that causes many baby boomers to wonder what happened to the anticipated blissfulness that would become our later years.
That missing ingredient is the sense of being useful and valued. But suddenly, the kids are grown. The career is over. No one calls seeking advice. Social connections dwindle, and so does our sense of purpose. Many of our value propositions have disappeared. This perceived lack of usefulness hurts us on so many levels. It leads to depression, a fear of what’s next, intellectual laziness, weight gain, poor health, and too much idle time that frees us to worry about inconsequential things.
So, where do you go from here?
The fix for this dilemma is to rediscover or reinvent your value as a human being. You’ve acquired a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom that’s valuable to many people, young and old. It’s relevant to your neighbors, friends, grandkids, institutions, and businesses.
Look for a forum where you can share your experience with others. You will soon realize how rewarding it is to have your value recognized. Here are a few ways to rediscover your usefulness and reap the benefits.
The human type, not the digital variety. Spending time with interesting people leads to friendships, new ideas, and opportunities you likely haven’t considered. Real connections with other humans are the basis for intellectual and emotional growth. You’ll discover greater fulfillment and a potential increase in longevity, as noted by the Eldercare Alliance:
Whatever option you choose for meeting people, pay attention to the breadth of your social connections as socialization will play an important role in your overall well-being as you age.
Consider working past retirement
Start that small business you always dreamt about. Become a consultant in your field of expertise. Be your own boss for once. Create work that you actually enjoy, work that makes you want to get out of bed each day. Even part-time work will keep your brain busy planning and scheduling, which in turn will make you feel needed and useful.
Care for others
Many worthwhile organizations need volunteers to help those less fortunate. Using your time to help someone else can be a rewarding endeavor. I was the caregiver for my mother for 15-years before she passed. Yes, at times it could be stressful, but overall I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
Be a life-long learner
Many older folks are enjoying the classroom these days. You’ll stimulate your brain and make new friends. Take the time to learn something that truly matters to you, and during that process, you’ll gain a better understanding of how a younger generation sees the world. If you’d prefer to gently ease back into academia, consider the many opportunities available in online course work.
It’s the best way to ward off boredom, depression, and the malaise that accompanies the false feeling of being devalued. Stay healthy by eating right, and taking advantage of the many types of activities available to you that are free or low cost. Keep your body moving, your heart beating, and your lungs pumping. Physical activity relieves stress, clears your mind, and makes the world a brighter place.
You can walk, jog, try yoga, or join a gym. I took up serious cycling at the age of 53. Turns out I love it! I’ve ridden thousands of miles in 14-states around the US. I’m often joined by other serious cyclists, some of whom are 80+ years old. It’s energizing, athletic, and it can be very social if you want it to be.
You are wiser today than you were 10 or 20 years ago — more patient, more discerning.
Consider yourself a work in progress. Your usefulness as an older person hasn’t diminished, it has grown exponentially. You are wiser today than you were 10 or 20 years ago — more patient, more discerning. Your problem-solving skills are sharper than a younger person’s.
We live in a time when ageism works to rob you of your value. Don’t let it! Get out in front and speak your piece. Share your experience with others, and by your actions and a new mindset, you’ll bolster your confidence, and enjoy a new sense of purpose.