Let me start with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Samuel Clements. At his 70th birthday celebration, Mark Twain outlined his own survival strategy:
I have made it a rule to go to bed when there wasn’t anybody left to sit up with; and I have made it a rule to get up when I had to.
In the matter of diet, I have been persistently strict to sticking to the things which didn’t agree with me, until one or the other of us got the best of it. I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. As for drinking, when the others drink I like to help.
I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome.
Pretty good plan for Samuel, but I think maybe he had a few good genes to offset the cigars he liked to smoke. And maybe he was exaggerating a wee bit for humor’s sake?
I read in the Wall Street Journal last week that even minimal exercise, in the range of an hour of exercise a week reduced the risk of death from heart-related disease by some 40%. Mark Twain, who actually lived to be about 75, might have benefitted? Or not.
Our longevity has increased over the years. Social security was put into place assuming most folks would die before they reached 65. The government didn’t plan to pay out too much.
However, times have changed. If you don’t smoke (or quit), exercise and reasonably good care of yourself, you can live much, much longer. I’ve read that individuals who are presently alive and in good health (of whatever age) can reasonably expect to live to see their 100th birthday. That is amazing!
Our challenge it seems to me, is to step back from the maddening market swings. Perhaps these times give us an opportunity to survey the broader picture. To dream, and plan, and scheme about what might be possible, given a few more years.
What might you want to do next? With that next 50 years, or longer, that are left to you?
It is probably going to be different for everyone, but here are some possibilities worth considering:
Give something back
I’ve had a long and full life. How can I contribute to my family, to my community, to the world around me? Several ways, this can be done:
Teaching, is of course one option. Many folks go back and do a ‘post-Bac’ which gives them an education degree in short order time. There is teaching in inner city schools, in poverty stricken areas, overseas (countries are eager to have Native speakers of English). Every school system in the country is short of math and science teachers.
Help someone learn to read. Literacy Volunteers is a great place to start. The training program is excellent, and the people needing your help might surprise you. Usually they are middle class citizens who for a variety of reasons never learned how to read.
Maybe their parents moved around a lot when they were young, or maybe they had an undiagnosed case of dyslexia or other reading difficulty. They are smart enough to fake it. They don’t take messages on the phone, they take applications home for somebody else to fill out, they make do.
You meet in a public place, for example a library, and help someone learn by designing reading materials around what they NEED to read right now: employment applications, their children’s school papers, notices from their church and school. You make a difference.
Or you could volunteer to work with young kids who need a role model: Big Brother/Big Sister organizations are always looking for new sponsors, and you could change a child’s life by volunteering a minimum number of hours a week.
Like babies? Consider joining the volunteers who rock newborns at the local hospital. Or be part of the program that reads to premmies. They have discovered that these little ones respond to the sound of the human voice, and actually put on weight and go home faster if they are not kept in total isolation.
Explore the roads not taken
Where have you put on the binders and not paid attention to what you are actually capable of doing? Pay attention to Maslow’s highest level: Self actualization. We are all capable of being more than what we are.
What are in the closets of your life—projects that you said, ‘I’ll start that someday.’ Did you want to learn more about film history, jazz, throw a pot, learn a language?
A good place to start is your local community college. I’ve taken some great classes at several. Pressure is off, because I wasn’t going for a degree. And I met some great folks doing exactly the same thing.
Now might be a good time to re-evaluate your beliefs and values. How many well-meaning but sometimes limiting “parent tapes” are still running in your head that no longer fit for you?
Consider your spiritual side
I am not talking organized religion here, although church is a good thing. I am wondering if you’ve given any thought to things here but unseen. To what really gives life something. A good place to start is the simplicity of existential psychology.
Or look at the tenets of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has some wonderful texts about living, right now.
It is critical to serve others, to contribute actively to others’ well-being. I often tell practitioners that they should adopt the following principle: regarding one’s own personal needs, there should be as little involvement or obligation as possible. But regarding service to others, there should be as many possible involvements and obligations as possible. This should be the ideal of a spiritual person.–His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
Check out the medieval mystics such as St. Augustine or St. Theresa of Avilla. Look into this century for spiritual writers such as Thomas Merton or Thomas More.
I recently started a book that enables me to read the Bible in a year. It’s not so overwhelming in bite sized pieces. I’m finding my perspective is very different from what it was as a child learning Bible stories!
Renew old acquaintances and strengthen existing ones
Those who know us the longest sometime know us the best. Friends become more and more important as we grow older. Is now the time to go to that high school reunion and see those who knew you ‘back when?’
Or perhaps to write a life thank you letter to an old teacher that started you on your present life path. Even relationships with relatives can mellow with the passing years. That elderly aunt or uncle might welcome the chance to visit and talk about how they grew up and what was important to them.
Explore starting a brand new career
Current estimates say that people will change careers an average of 5 times during their lives.
What did you always want to do at 18, but couldn’t? I’m not talking about quitting your day job here, but exploring what else might be out there.
Two good places to start are first, What Color is your Parachute, by Richard Bolles. This book is updated every year and for good reason. It has become the classic non-conventional way to look at career change.
Or, If you like taking tests you might visit John Holland’s self-directed search which gives you the opportunity to explore what other career options might be open to you.
Be proactive, not reactive about your life
As my favorite relative is often fond of saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal!”
You can spend the next 30, perhaps, coming home at night to watch reruns and the evening news.You can spend your retirement playing all the golf courses in town, or revving up the RV to tour the US “spending your kids inheritance” as the bumper sticker goes. Or, you can do something that might mean something, to yourself or to others.
If you stopped to think about it, what might that be for you? For your next 30 years?