Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.
–Oliver Wendell Holmes
A friend from my high school days recently asked me on Facebook when I was going to retire. I said, “It should be soon. I want to retire so I can travel and write.” But that is mainly what I do now, so I’m not sure how it will be different. Am I retired now? I’m not sure.
It reminded me of a time years ago when I was a young man working in a retail establishment and a slender man of advanced years approached me with a question. He had been an elevator operator for 40 years and was retiring. He asked me what I thought he should do now that he was retired.
No more compulsion to go to work every day, all your time free! It sounded great to me and I thought of all the things I would do. “You have all your time to yourself now,” I gushed. “You can do whatever you want. You could read all the books you never had time to read!”
“Oh no, that’s too much like work,” he said. “I’m through working. I don’t want to do any more work.”
Now that gave me pause. I hadn’t thought of it that way. What was pleasure to me was work to him. I tried a few other suggestions, but to him they all seemed like work. I was sorry I could not be of more help, and he went his way. I never saw him again. I often wondered how he did with his dilemma.
He taught me something that might help me deal with that question in my own life. What is work to one person may be play to another.
For me retirement should be simply to be freed from the kinds of tasks you don’t want to do anymore. It’s that golden moment when you can put aside what you have to do and focus on what you like to do. It could not mean being inactive. When I think of sinking into an inactive life my danger signals flash on high alert.
It is vital for the health of body, mind and spirit to keep active, to stay in the flow of life. Of course, as my encounter with the retired elevator operator showed me, that will mean different things to different people.
Retirement can be a confusing concept,. When the necessity of working a job is removed from your daily activities it frees up a tremendous amount of time and energy. But some people are at a loss when their daily activities cease. It’s not always so easy to know what to do with your newly attained freedom.
I’m no expert, but I think it’s crucial to re-channel that energy, to fill that vacuum with things you love, and to continue to be active one way or another. We’ve all heard stories about people who retired and then “went downhill.”
Retirement forces us to take a new reckoning on the fact that our time on earth is limited. Of course mortality is a fact we have all understood intellectually. But when you were occupied most days from morning till night with work that had to be done, it was easy to put it out of your mind. When you are retired it forces you to really face the big question: What do I want to do with my life? We Americans especially tend to be workhorses. But yes, there is life after work.
At that point surely you realize that there is something more important than money, and much more precious. And that is time. As a good friend recently told me, “Disposable time is far more scarce and valuable than disposable income.”
I am thankful to be living in a time and place when it is possible for many people to live longer and healthier than ever before. It is possible to retire before you are worn out and can no longer fulfill those lifetime dreams you worked so hard for.
It has always made me sad to me to see people work for years to reach a point where they can travel, and then to be unable to do it. How sad to miss the chance to fulfill that dream!
To me the best answer to what to do with retirement is the same as the best thing I have done before retiring. As long as I can remember I loved to travel. When I am traveling, I always feel certain it is time well spent. The joy of travel is a shot of super energy that blasts away feelings anxiety and ennui that may take hold when I am just sitting around at home.
It doesn’t have to be somewhere far away and it doesn’t have to be a difficult, expensive trip. As long as I am immersed in new experiences and impressions, it lifts me to a place of inner peace and satisfaction. I can’t say why this is true for me, but I know that for me it is.
You could say it just provides a distraction. If that is true, then let it be. I am okay with that. I believe the reality is much more profound than that. But I am not equipped to explain why travel is so transcendent for me. I have my theories about it, but they are just theories. I think we humans are born explorers and seekers. It’s deep seated in human nature. When we retire we are able to unleash that natural drive that we have suppressed for too long.
To me, travel is the obvious answer to the question of how to spend your retirement. If retirement brings the opportunity to travel, then it can truly be the threshold to golden years.
Over and over again I come back to the same place. Travel is the perfect solution. Every day that I am traveling is a good day. And I don’t have time or the inclination to worry or brood.
I heard an ancient Turkish proverb the other day that keeps echoing in my mind: “Not he who lived long knows, but he who traveled much knows.”
On that note, I will leave you to pursue your own adventure while I pursue mine. Who knows, perhaps we will run into each other along the way.
Until then, I remain
Your humble reporter,
A. Colin Treadwell