This I Believe

Craig - New Orleans, Louisiana
Entered on January 5, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: change, work

I’m at the age where so many of my contemporaries are marking the calendars toward their retirement, saving frantically to be able to retire or are coming to grips with the idea that they very well can’t retire — at least not to that life of fishing, golf or other leisure they’d hoped to find.

I believe all three of those scenarios to be somewhat sad, given that each involves at least a fair amount of looking back to a personal Used To Be, depending on what one did or didn’t do or what did or didn’t happen. But, having embarked on a second career after spending more than 30 years in the first one, I’ve learned that relying on previous dids and didn’ts isn’t going to provide much long-term reason for getting up each day.

Theodore Roosevelt remarked in 1910 that it was “the man in the arena” who deserves credit for having the desire and the testicular fortitude to actually attempt something rather than sit in the stands. Be the result failure or success, I think it’s the Being There that is most important. The people I find most interesting are those who understand that they never really “retire” — they just find another arena.

For many, the idea of working the hours of an enthusiastic 25-year-old is simply more than they want to imagine after a lifetime of professional ladder-climbing. But I believe we shorten our own lives, chronologically and personally, when we cease getting in an arena to see what we can still do — particularly if it’s something unrelated to anything we’ve done before. Lawyers can become plumbers, while electricians can become professors.

We spend so much of our professional lives making compromises that it seems silly to me to refuse, for reasons of security, to deny ourselves a chance for a personal exhiliration that we can give ourselves by embarking on something unfamiliar. We are much better at life than we think we can be.