This is the advice we’re used to living by. We’ve heard it since we were kids, when our parents encouraged us to get high grades, perform well in sports, get into a good college, find a great job. Nothing wrong with that, right? Being achievement-oriented is a great way to suceed. Nope. Nothing wrong with it.
But now, in my senior years, I am considering if the advice still applies. What do you mean? you might be asking. Of course I am still aiming high. My life’s not over!
Well, not so fast. I think it’s a reasonable question, really, for those of us in the sunset years. Our striving has taken us this far, it’s true, but at some point it’s a great relief to stop and reap the benefits of all those years of aiming high.
Look, I know some of us are still facing hard times. Maybe we made poor financial decisions that we’re still paying for. Maybe the striving hasn’t paid off in the way we’d hoped. Perhaps our circumstances require us to hit it harder than we’d like. We’d like to take it easier but can’t. I get that.
But I think it’s only logical to ask ourselves how much of the rest of our lives we want to spend striving. We can still ask the question, do some planning, set a date. Because there’s great joy in letting go of the pressure to achieve. In setting more reasonable goals for this stage of our lives.
Even in retirement it can be hard to let go of striving. A friend of mine comes to mind, one who was forced to retire a little early by circumstances beyond his control. A more rural lifestyle appealed to him, so he moved. Known for high achievements in his field, he took on a community task in which his expertise was badly needed. He aimed to make a difference and he could have, if his community hadn’t been so small-minded. Because it was his nature to aim high, he aimed higher than his community was ready for and was sorely disappointed in the results. I think, in the end, he would have rather gone fishing every day. And should have.
When we’ve spent a lifetime achieving, it’s hard to let go of that. It’s an almost knee-jerk reaction to everything we get involved in. We don’t even think about it.
What I’m suggesting is that in our senior years, it’s time to think more about the quality of our life. Some of us don’t want to think our contributing days are over, but the thing is, they aren’t. In our later years we’ve given the opportunity to contribute in a different way. To spend time with family and friends. To explore hobbies and creative interests. To read books. To watch sunsets.
I find myself thinking about the things I’d like to do. Sure, I’d like to finish a book. I’ll probably do that. But if I don’t, the quality of my life won’t suffer.
Back in our parents’ generation, menopause was called “the change of life.”
I love that phrase and think we should co-opt it for our senior years, because that’s when we’re given the opportunity to really change our lives. And, in my opinion, improve its quality.
Got some thoughts about this?