As we age, we have more choices than ever before. In the United States, particularly, for many years, 65 was the age in which the implicit message was “time to retire.”
Although this decision may continue to be the choice for many, the beauty of living in the 21st century comes with the availability of other options. Yes, at one time, a person working past the age of 65 was viewed as an anomaly.
Role Models and Trail Blazers
My mother was an example of someone who chose to work rather than envelope herself in the comfort of retirement. For many months, after she did retire and take a reprieve, opportunity knocked for her to return to work.
She accepted the offer and ran with it. My mother returned to her employment at a local medical center in another position. She became a one-on-one Guide, walking or sitting with patients who needed assistance. My mother loved it and cherished the connection with both patients and staff.
At one point, she informed me that she was thinking of retiring again because of statements from others who questioned her desire to work at such an advanced age. When she confided this to me, I reminded her that people who have purpose often live longer.
My mother listened and said, “You know what? I will tell them I am like Betty White.” I applauded her feistiness and basically said, “You go, girl!”
She worked until age 82, even during her bout with cancer, and only stopped because they closed the program. Most importantly, my mother remained financially independent, maintained a home, paid her own bills, and drove everywhere. Truly, she was a great role model, someone who chose her own path.
Resistance to Individual Choice
When I wrote about my mother and the idea of choice, I was received with harsh words from a few people. A couple of women indicated we should “just be,” while another woman wrote that she felt sorry for my mother.
I replied with diplomacy but reminded these women about choice. I went on to say that it was okay to “just be,” if that was their choice, but many of us choose to pursue meaning and purpose. If work is one way, so be it.
Some people continue to resist the idea of independent thinking and changing the trajectory. If they choose a certain path in the final chapters of their lives, they cannot reconcile why someone else would not wish to do the same.
Last year, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal by two authors who were proposing in their upcoming book that there should be a mandatory retirement.
They went on further to say that if people were not willing to retire by the determined age, they would have to accept, without question, termination of contract any time going forward.
Well, needless to say, the letters to the Journal revealed that this bold but controversial proposal did not sit well with many of the readers.
I continue to be amazed that people of all backgrounds keep wrestling with the idea that someone may not want to “just be” in the sunset and even the twilight of their lives.
Many insist they want to live independently all of the days of their life. In addition, many people hope to live longer, healthier lives. Those aspirations are most commendable, but one needs to reflect on what that entails.
How does one occupy the space left void from work, raising a family, or other time-consuming endeavors? How about finances? Many people, especially women, fear running out of money.
If You Choose, Be with Cicero
Returning to the Wall Street Journal… this past January there was an op-ed written by the retiring war reporter Jim Michaels.
The author felt that we should not have to pursue other ventures but let go of those energetic undertakings and be at peace by inviting a quietness at this juncture of life. Apparently, Cicero, the great orator of Ancient Rome recommended this way of life.
I respect Mr. Michaels’ choice, and he has every right to commiserate his thoughts across the pages of the Wall Street Journal. I wonder, however, if he feels the need to justify his decision by encouraging others to do the same.
Living in New England, we have Walden Pond where the Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Thoreau, ensconced themselves in the natural wonder of early Concord, Massachusetts. I suspect they may have been doing exactly what Mr. Michaels is advocating.
Well, Cicero, Emerson, and Thoreau lived centuries apart, but they were far, far from the modernity we experience today. Perhaps, if they lived in the present, they may have made other choices regarding the later chapter of their lives.
Obviously, we will never know. Most importantly, they made decisions which worked for them at those moments in time. If Mr. Michaels chooses to do the same, cheers to him.
For many of us, Cicero’s path, as well as Emerson’s and Thoreau’s, is not our desired way of life.
Whatever path we travel at this seasoned time of life, we should choose one which we uniquely tailor for ourselves and be who we want to be!
For me, having written my first book, Stop Depriving the World of You, at age 60, I subscribe to the last stanza in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s hauntingly beautiful poem A Psalm of Life:
Let us then be up and doing
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
What are your thoughts about these later chapters of life? Do you believe we should be allowed to be who we want to be? What are you choosing? Are you willing to consider choosing what resonates for you even if it does not for others? Please share with our community of fabulous women who often find themselves at these exact crossroads.