I received the following note from a long-time friend and colleague recently and I have his permission to use it as a springboard to my response.
“In questioning my most purposeful activity at this point in life, I am considering not continuing in service for others…but rather look at all the expectations and all the techniques applied to them as a starting point in understanding myself and my personal view of the world and life…..as I see it.
“What’s the outcome? I’m not certain. I would like to, simply, make the most of my own emotional maturity and understanding of the gifts that may have been invested in me.
“I share this with you largely because it is a little counter-intuitive for folks with our kind of experience. Do I think it selfish? Not really. Does this mean that i become self absorbed? I certainly will avoid that curse.
“There is no real agenda here other than to know myself. I may not like what I see and will return to being whatever got me here.
“All in all, I thought you might like to critique the idea.”
I love sharing ideas with you especially because I believe you are a kindred soul. That doesn’t mean we don’t or can’t disagree with one another, it just means we listen to one another with respect, understanding and a measure of care and compassion. I like your notion of not being certain of the outcome for when can we ever be certain of the outcome? We can postulate, project, even predict, possibly prepare (yes, I like alliterations). But if we believe we know what really lies on the other side of many decisions we make, we may be in for a surprise or two.
What is probably one of the most salient phrases are your four words in your first sentence, “at this point in life.” I say that as one who has mused often on the transition to what so many rightfully call our “later years.” Here we are, at a point when most people have “retired” and we can find other words and meanings for this time in life other than “golden years” because we are no longer working as professionals in leadership roles. I treat it as an earned gift of time and given the vagaries of health in these years, we need to make the most of what we have while we can where we are. I know you’ve heard me say that before but It bears repeating and thinking about the opportunities we have in front of us.
I regard this “time in our life” as yet another transition, a time to celebrate and to enjoy so many things that we have either had too little time previously to explore and develop or that we might have postponed for whatever reason. Whether pursuing the proverbial bucket list or taking on something new and different, I find the latter to be refreshingly challenging. As I complete my 80th year, I am going to re-read and appreciate Oliver Sack’s On the Move: A Life, and Gratitude along with Flora Scott Maxwell’s, Measure of My Days. Sacks’ four essays in Gratitude form an ode to the uniqueness of each human being and to gratitude for the gift of life. He was in his last year and knew it. It’s a short book, only 64 pages, well worth pondering. His other one, an autobiography, shows how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.
Maxwell, in her treatise about growing older, says “as we age we are more alive than seems likely, convenient or bearable. Too often our problem is the fervor of life within us. My dear, fellow octogenarians, how are we to carry so much life, and what are we to do with it?”
That we have time to re-read books previously enjoyed and to carefully select new ones to keep our minds and ideas alive and cooking is simply one more gift. And for a 92 year old friend of mine who can no longer see to read, there are audible books on tape.
So, how do I want to critique your idea? I want you to know you are exactly where you are supposed to be and here are two essential, defining issues that you have heard me offer up many times. One is that it’s still about who you are and the second is whether you are, at this point in life, more hopeful or more fearful. Those will take you to the next step and beyond as you rediscover who you are and what you want to be about. That you are still questioning “purposeful activity” speaks volumes about who you are. Blessings on you, my friend, as you continue the journey, a different road perhaps but nonetheless just as fascinating and interesting as it ever was.