A middle-aged couple are sharing a restaurant meal when the husband starts shaking his head and says to his wife, “Wow, see those two old geezers over there? That’s what we’re gonna look like ten years from now.” The wife, with a pained look on her face, says, “Honey, that’s a mirror!”
Sixty! Sixty-ish! Wow! The alien landscape of the sixties. For Baby Boomers, it is viewed with awe and sheer amazement. For most Boomers “the sixties” are a flashback conjuring up images of long hair, mini-skirts, rock and roll, protest marches, the Cold War, the counter-culture, landing on the moon, and perceiving themselves as being forever young, full of promise and possibilities to change the world. Being sixty-ish is a whole different dynamic. Such a number rolls off your tongue not so much in celebration but in disbelief. You repeat it to yourself in your head thinking that such a number cannot conceivably apply to yourself. You knew it was coming, but now that it has arrived, you still have a hard time wrapping your head around it. This is a number that you ascribed to your parents and not that long ago to your grandparents. If you are female, you would like to change the subject. If male, you just shake your head in surprise. But you quickly snap to attention with a grin on your face to hear friendly voices of family and friends singing to you with fervor and gusto their off-key rendition of Happy Birthday.
As night follows day, they proceed with jokes that your cake looks like a forest fire of candles and someone snarkily asks if they should call the fire department as a precaution. Young children, if present, are pressed into service to assist your suspected wind power and are eager to oblige in blowing out the candles before the wax melts into the frosting.
More jokes and gags abound about getting you a cane or a rocking chair. The ribbing continues with the inevitable light-hearted comments on various themes of being put out to pasture. It is all part of the ritual scene. Birthday cards in the same vein circulate around the room along with the concurrent hee-haws and hoots of laughter all at your expense. It is all genial fun and games as token presents are offered ranging from bemused sexual aids, thick spectacles, and blue-light luncheons at the local diner. It is, in its own strange way, like the beginning of your last year of high school or college whereby you are officially qualified, promoted, and bestowed with your new title of, “senior.” Ruefully, you wince inwardly to yourself and hope “graduation” is decades away.
Trying to come to terms with this new milestone in your life is going to require some psychological heavy-lifting and mental gymnastics. Your first observation is, “Mamma Mia, how did I get here so fast! Where the heck did the time go?” Your second observation is that it all seems so surreal, that this can’t really be happening to you. You reflect back and remember the adult milestones of turning 30, 40, and 50. You ruminate that every decade milestone did seem to be more condensed in time, each one showing up quicker than the one before it. It seems a hop, skip, and a jump and boom—sixty-ish is here. When it comes to aging, no younger person can truly understand it, and no older person can truly believe it!
Yet, somehow sixty-ish seems qualitatively different than those previous signposts on life’s journey. You have a private talk with yourself and promise not to fret about it since there is nothing you can do about it anyway. That little voice in your head tells you to accept it, don’t dwell on it, and move on. Quite imperceptibly, often on a sub-conscious level, you rationalize your new numerical status by trying to make yourself feel a little more sanguine about what has just occurred. All the old chestnuts come to the fore. “You’re only as old as you feel.” “Age is just a number.” “Think young, act young.” “Sixty-ish is the new 50–or maybe even a delusional 45.” You comfort yourself by trying to assure yourself the regular rules of aging apply to others, but not to yourself.
Of course, this new milestone happens differently for different folks. The same reaction is not universal by any means but can cover the entire gamut of emotions from A to Z. Most just take it in stride. No muss, no fuss. It is just another day along life’s path. For others, denial, regrets, and foreboding cloud one’s horizon. Still others express optimism over the possibilities entering the last quarter of life because they still have big plans with lesser responsibilities. Much is rooted in personality and one's outlook on life and how they feel about their health, finances, and relationships. Yes, a lot of life has been lived, and there is a lot of water under the bridge, but the one shared truth of all members in this new cohort is absolute stunned surprise by how fast the sixties showed up. The whole concept of “life is short” hits home with new meaning like it never did before.
FAILING AT RETIREMENT?
“I get up in the morning with nothing to do and go to bed at night with only half of it done.”
The lament of a retiree
Failing at retirement? What a joke! This is a trick question, right? Of course, it seems almost comical to even ask the question, “how can you fail at retirement,” but millions do all the time. They “take a knee” in the fourth quarter of life and run out the clock even though there are more good years to play in the game of life. It is like one of those business maxims about goal setting that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
Here is the upside-down way society looks at retirement. The traditional view is that you retire “from” something rather than transitioning “to” something. It is all the difference in the world. The popularized and fuzzy view of retirement is that you are leaving the rat race to “take it easy” by going on a journey to a strange land. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is the legendary “gold watch” parting gift in earlier times. The watch may be unintended commentary since it could be construed in one sense as measuring the little time you have remaining. Today a trendy “smart watch” or fancy cell phone may be the more appropriate and relevant gift of choice, but the wired ubiquity of Internet time is even more pronounced. The world is at your fingertips, but time is still limited.
The common picture of a retiree is taking up a hobby, playing games with friends, leisurely lunches, hanging out with young grandkids, reading the paper, watching TV in a comfy recliner, surfing the Web, and taking the dog for a daily walk. Sprinkle in a long-planned cruise, a foreign trip abroad, or to crisscross America in an RV, and that pretty much sums it up. End of story, fade to black. And this is where a lack of planning trips up so many people. These are the discussions all boomers should be having among themselves before they burn the bridge and make the decision to retire. What are you retiring to? What do you really want out of the Final Act of your own life play? Have you really thought this through?
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to go about it, just your feelings and wishes to consider for a life-changing chapter in your life. But there should be no regrets. So before taking the plunge and handing in your retirement notice to your boss or the head office, it is wise to review a little strategic planning. While many do some planning, others end up more often with an ill-defined “off the cuff” collection of things they believe retirement will bring and an informal feeling of “I’ll make it up as I go” process. It is like driving in a strange city without modern GPS or even an old-fashioned fold-up map stuffed in the glove box. It is easier to get lost and go in circles. A little planning can go a long way.
The future is important. It is the place where you will spend the rest of your life.
YES! TIME REALLY DOES FLY!
Why did the moron throw the clock out the window? He wanted to see if time could fly!
There is a proverbial story about a king of days gone by who called all his wise men into his counsel chamber. He asked them to consider the totality of mankind’s existence and to come up with a phrase that would stand the test of time and be true in all circumstances for all people for all time. The wise men protested vehemently that such a request was impossible to fulfill. The king ignored the wise men’s protests and gave them seven days to report back to him or he would revoke their special status and all privileges in his court. The worried wise men huddled and muddled for days nervously contemplating what to tell the king. At the end of the seven days the King called them to his chamber and asked them if they had been successful. Their spokesman replied in the affirmative. So the king asked of the assembled group, “What say ye?” The spokesman replied, “Oh great King, these are the words that are true for all time ... ‘And this too shall pass.’”
Scientists, clergyman, philosophers, and the average person struggle to comprehend the mysteries of time and space. From religious concepts of “eternal life” to the evolutionary study of the “big bang theory” (what came before?) the idea of time is a most elusive concept to understand. Our known “time” only goes back about 5,000 years of the written record. Pre-history, dating before any human records existed, passes on to a geologic time frame of the earth’s distant past. Cosmic time dealing with black holes, string theory, multiple dimensions, and quantum and theoretical science bend our minds into pretzels but still intrigue and mystify us at the same time. Even the most brilliant minds among us have a thousand more questions than answers in such research. But we pedestrian mortals on earth calculate time based on the rising and the setting of the sun for our days and earth's revolution around the sun to make up our “year.”
A human who lives to 80 gets 80 years, or 960 months, or 29,200 days, or 700,800 hours, or 42,048,000 minutes of life. Those who go into “overtime” do get some extra bonus time, hopefully quality bonus time, before their clock runs out. What an individual does with this time in essence makes up a life story. And mankind is riveted and fascinated by stories. Cavemen depicted them on walls, children ask for them at bedtime, and television is built upon them from situation comedies to gripping dramas to who-dun-it murder mysteries. Books tell stories about individuals, the fate of nations, and the rise and fall of dynasties and civilizations. We create fictional stories out of our imagination, some fantastical and other worldly.
However, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending that is always anchored in time. We, too, have a story to tell of our life and times, brief as it may be. Even the word “history” (his-story—and her-story) is just a descriptive story of mankind’s past adventures, follies, struggles, and accomplishments over time.
Time for humans is an interesting touchstone for our lives. We can use it, abuse it, waste it, kill it, and even wait on it. In military terms, soldiers are told to “hurry up and wait.” We are often reminded that time heals all wounds, to give time for things to work out, that nothing happens before its time, in due time, in God’s time, or even that you are out of time. We are told that in time you will get over it, feel better, forget it, or see things in a new light. Older folks reminisce about “special” times or impart stories of the “time of their life.” We are even frequently reminded that “time is money.” Yet, try as we may, we cannot ignore time. We talk about the “moments” of our lives; we catalogue them as they race by; birthdays, graduations, weddings, holidays, and special events. We try and capture it like an elusive butterfly that is here and then, poof, it is gone.
Time moves on silently, remorselessly, showing no favor to anyone. Rich and poor are subject to its democratic nature of giving everyone the same hours and minutes to each twenty-four-hour-day. Deadlines for business work projects are really all about a race against time. We constantly complain that we do not have “enough time” for work, chores, or pleasure. Only in sports is there a fictitious thing such as a “time out,” which is in reality only a delay of the game.
Timelines of nations, events, or famous lives are really just time maps laying out a storyline on a storyboard. Even a bygone commercial admonition to capture a “Kodak moment” is just a human attempt to snatch a second in time and freeze it in amber for posterity. Today, the ubiquity of cell phone camera’s and “GoPro” technology with thousands and thousands of captured images and countless hours of video footage means we need another lifetime just to review what we have recorded.
Then there is the perception of human scale time. As we age, people at all stages of life remark on the passage of time and how surprised they are by it. Looking back in nostalgia upon the 8 years of high school and college now looks to most of us like a couple of blips on our life’s radar screen. For parents, few things in life give one pause as much as seeing how fast your children grew from baby to toddler to kindergarten, to turning around twice and packing for college and out the front door with a hug and a reminder to drive safely. What happened? Distant family or friends who get together only intermittently over the years always remark, “Wow, your kids have gotten so big since the last time I saw them.” It is almost a stock phrase. Yet, when one is in the middle of life and living the day to day experience, the individual chapters of life are less perceptible as the daily present commands our full attention.
Yes, time is constant for us mortals on earth. It drones on -- tick-tock, tick-tock. An hourglass sifts the grains of sand through its tight bottleneck at the same rate. Yet, it is fascinating to watch people watching an hourglass. If it has just started, people will quickly lose interest and move on. But if it is near the end, people will hang around and linger. They are mesmerized as the last trickles of sand seemingly rush pell-mell from the top to the bottom of the glass. It just “seems” that merely observing the last “sands of time” go through the hourglass that they move quicker than before. At the beginning, it seemed more leisurely, more measured, as in “there’s a lot more sand where that came from.” But toward the end the grains of sand seem to dash through on an urgent mission to pick up the pace and end the process quickly. Of course, this is all our perception, but perception is often reality. For if we see it, think it, believe it, it is our own reality, and it becomes our own truth. The real truth becomes largely irrelevant. So, time really does go faster, at least in our minds. In the same manner as the hourglass, the perception of time, as it relates to our life, appears to rush forward at an accelerated pace.
Perhaps more so than previous generations, boomers, as part of the “forever young” generation, have been genuinely taken by surprise that there is not more sand in the hourglass.
THE FOURTH QUARTER (OF LIFE)
The most exciting quarter in the game of life? Rah! Rah!
Life is like a football game that is divided into four distinct quarters and played against an unforgiving clock. When the gun goes off at the end of the game, it is game over save for those few occasions when the score is tied and “overtime” is allowed to settle the matter. Likewise, life itself from the moment of birth is played against a relentless clock. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the same clock. A few will barely get into the game at all while others are tragically given only a quarter or two. Yet, most people will get to play nearly the whole four quarters, and a few will even get some extra overtime in the game of life, but there are no guarantees. In this game, famous star players and ordinary, no-name teammates alike, can be carried off the field of life at any time.
People in the 60-80 age bracket are what we will call fourth-quarter people. The first three quarters in the game of life (0-20, 20-40, and 40-60) have different game plans. The focus and sense of strategy in the first couple of quarters are designed to get ahead in life as much as possible. But fourth-quarter people (60-80) start to notice a change in their mindsets and outlook on life much as autumn leaves and falling temperatures signal a change of seasons. The days are still mostly bright, and there is a fresh crispness in the air. It can be invigorating after a lovely spring and a long, hot, and busy summer. However, looking at one’s face in the mirror, one may notice that while winter has not fully arrived, the signs are everywhere that it is quickly on its way.
The spring days of baseball season characterized in our early life are definitely over with its languid “innings” of unknown durations when time was on our side. We recall fond memories of days gone by, even if they are selectively remembered. But life is rougher and more akin to football, a serious rough-and-tumble business played on an unforgiving field with its triumphal advances and difficult setbacks. The game of life is filled with fighting in the daily “trenches” of life between work, family, goals, and dreams. It requires fortitude to persevere regardless of the blitzes, blocks, bombs, and attempted sacks of what life constantly throws at you. And all of this is played out against our ever-present and unrelenting life clock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
At birth, there is no standard one-size-fits-all formal script for a meaningful life. There may be millions of game plans at the start, but certain rules and patterns are in play. Gender, family, nationality, race, income, religion, health, parental education, and economic conditions are all relevant factors that hinder or smooth one's journey in life. Inequality and unfairness can be overcome, but it is like a football game in which a lesser-gifted player must work several times harder than a gifted or lucky-star player to make the team and work even harder to stay on the team. Lots of extra effort is required to be competitive in life.
As your own life coach, it is vitally necessary to review your own current situation in your fourth quarter after the first three quarters of your life have already been played. While the game is still in progress, you are constantly assessing the flow of the game of life and may need to make adjustments as conditions warrant. Bad breaks and lucky opportunities happen unexpectedly in life and must be fixed or capitalized upon as quickly as possible.
Perhaps your life plan has been one of too much caution, and you have been playing too defensively in order not to make any big mistakes. It may dawn on you that perhaps, in your case, you are playing to avoid losing in life rather than to win, by pursuing a boring and uninspired game strategy by being stuck in a comfortable rut. New strategy may demand a push forward with a positive life plan to finish your fourth quarter of life that will be both meaningful and satisfying. You begin to realize that if you do not make some changes right away, the clock will take over and begin to dictate to you, greatly limiting your options.
This is the biggest difference in the fourth quarter compared to the first three quarters of life in the big game. Before, there was always time, or so it seemed, to pull the rabbit out of the hat, change course in the game of life, make new plans, rebuild a career, or embark on a new life. Some of these goals can still be accomplished in the fourth quarter, but it is harder because of the clock and there is little time to lose. The game of life is still in progress, and if you let up too much, it may slip away from you. No one wants to go out in a whimper. In sports, losing a game to a great rival is tough enough to swallow when an unforeseen injury or an opponent’s lucky play occurs, but the real heartbreak in life comes when one loses not by unique challenges faced in life, but by losing through inaction, bad judgment, poor play, or no planning at all. Ouch!