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As the movie line goes, “It’s an offer you cannot refuse.” Circumstances and planning provided me an opportunity to retire early after thirty-eight active working years. I know I am not alone, but the timing was right for a change in life and I took the monumental step.
I’ve thought about retirement since I was in my fifties (many start on the first day they take a job). My retirement planning was intentional at that early age. I read an interview with the late Peter Drucker in which he said something to the effect of “create your second career during your first. Then when it comes, you will be ready for it.” I wish I could give credit to the source, but it has failed my memory. The advice, however, was not lost on me.
Since my mid-fifties, I stepped up my independent work in reading, writing, consulting, and public speaking. I’ve honed these skills over the years and in time, did create a second career. Now that early retirement as arrived, I am looking forward to advancing these opportunities even more. By setting a plan and working the plan, I am finding my days full of what I believe I was created to do.
I’ve written in the past and am researching and writing anew (you can see my books on my website). I am teaching again, which I did for nearly 20 years, at the university level. I had to take a work time out because the demands of the job became overwhelming. Something had to give. And I am exploring my family heritage via genealogy work. I got really interested when I did research for a book chapter, but also stepped up my learning when my mother passed away rather quickly in 2010 (that’s a long story for another time). I’ve attended several large genealogy conferences, have identified over 10,000 family members, and have taken several DNA tests. All of this has been exciting and leading me deeper into research and a different angle for my other assignments in teaching history and leadership….yes, genealogy work has helped in my leadership teaching.
Life after retirement has been good so far, but there have been those moments. Some of boredom, some of wondering what to do, and some slight depression about it all. While it may appear to be refreshing not to work after thirty-eight years, there are moments when you feel as if you have no place to belong. But Drucker was right, you’ve got to create that second career while you can, because it arrives quicker than you think.
I look forward to the items on my to-do list. I can also now say with my earlier retired friends, “wow….how did I have time to work with all the stuff I have now to accomplish?” A second life created in the first has made the future bright and exhilarating.
It’s been one year and sixteen days since I last wrote a blog. An eternity in the world of the internet. And a way to make oneself irrelevant in that same media. But it’s been one of those kinds of years in my life. During these 381 days, I’ve come to understand a number of things important to my well-being. Maybe they will strike a cord with you, too.
The World Now has too many words:
I’ve been exhausted by the amount of words and media coming at me every day. Some of this is because I am an introvert and prefer more quiet moments, but in reality I get hundreds of emails a week in my workplace, notices on Facebook, and thousands of 140 character blurbs scroll past my Twitter feed in the same time frame. Everyone wants something of me and I have only a finite amount of time to read, respond and give to these requests. So I have been quiet in adding my own words to the mix. One more voice in a expanding universe of words that is growing, as Buzz Light Year heralds, “to infinity and beyond.”
Learning to Focus in the Universe of Words:
While the amount of words is overwhelming to me, I’ve learned another lesson. Focus on the words and the ones sharing them that make the most sense to you and to the value they add to life and well-being. I follow less than 100 people on Twitter. I know you are supposed to follow many in exchange for those following you, but in the sea of words that are essential for me to know and understand, I don’t need to see someone’s food, hear of their latest breakup, or read political banter and prejudices that don’t really add to public debate or resolution of the world’s ills. I am looking for thoughts and suggestions that add meaning to life. So I follow the few I’ve found that add quality. And I tweet or pass along this information only if it will be of value to another. I also discriminate Facebook friendship requests. I have over 200 requests sitting in my inbox. My method of screening is “If I wouldn’t sit and have an extended coffee break in conversation, I probably would not “friend” you. I know we may have many people in common, but I value time together….not more words about things without meaningful conversation. In Facebook, I even created a category called “Who I want to See.” I’ve gone through my entire FB friend list and checked those I want in this category. I now go to it regularly as the place to start. I may get to the trending or most recent, but those I want to see get priority.
Focus on Family and Relationships:
Over the past four years of my life, my mother and my in-laws have died. It is that age in life (now I’m 60) when all rapidly changes. I’ve decided that focusing on family has the greatest rewards and benefits. I know focus on my children, grandchildren, siblings, and my dad….who is the last. I love him and want to spend quality time with him. I’ve learned it all changes in a telephone call. I want to live my life with no regrets when asked to give a eulogy. No relationship regrets….say it all when the time is right and live it all when the moments are present. My dad, who is in his 80s, reminds me that every day is a gift…no guarantees. I am applying this wisdom to every relationship I have right now. No waiting.
Attending to the work that matters:
As I said, I’m 60. I may have six to eight active working years remaining. I want to give value to these years. Thus I am focusing in my work on what matters to future generations. I have the privilege of working in higher education. My current focus is on reducing student debt through a major grant. I know that a student going to college will earn in a lifetime at least 50% more than those who do not. But that comes with a price they should also not have to bear. My work is now focused on helping them graduate with little to no debt. That is a major gift. Also, I am focusing on those things that will give me joy in my retirement years. Peter Drucker counseled to create your second career while in your first. I am focusing now more on research, writing, and those hobbies that I’ve had on the side for a few years. I am also attending to my financial matters of retirement. My wife and I know the realities of a less than well financed retirement as we have witnessed it in others we know and in family members. It is heartbreaking to watch…make this a priority of life from age twenty…it does matter.
What can I say…health matters. If you are not healthy all the rest is irrelevant. I’ve watched vibrant, active people reduced to a bed in semi conscious states and pain over this past year. When your health goes, all the rest is totally irrelevant. Period.
I trust 2015 will be a great year for those who read this blog. I hope in it there is wisdom for yourself and others. I plan on continuing action on what I’ve learned in the last 381 days. May you also find what matters and stick to it. Grace and peace to you in this opening day of 2015.
It’s all there every year…boxes of lights, glass bulbs, snowmen and a tree that over years now leans a little to the left. Decorations that announce “Merry Christmas” dot the house—all the artifacts that say December 25 is fast approaching when gifts will be exchanged, unwrapped and laughter will waft through the house along with the smell of candles and the favorite foods for this time of the year.
I don’t know when it happened; somewhere over the years from childhood to being a responsible adult. It just found it’s way into my life amid the rush of shopping, parties, cards sent, pageants attended, and one more call to do something of good cheer. Somewhere I just lost the mystery of what Christmas is all about. I’ve been called Scrooge a time or two over my life, yet in my defense, I enjoy things, not always because of what they are but because of what they mean, really mean at the core of our being in the way that affects us. So over time, for me the squabbles over “Keep Christ in Christmas,” or “Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays,” and even “It’s our baby Jesus, not yours….so love it or leave it” have taken their toll. The good cheer that is on everyone’s lips for 45 days once a year never seem to be transferred into the other 48 weeks. The sights, smells, and sounds of this time seem to make us feel all cuddly, warm, and nostalgic about life, but once these days are gone, it’s back to normal…whatever form that brings to each person. Even here I can hear the reader affirm…”Yep, you ARE Scrooge.”
God, however, shows up in funny places sometimes in life, just when we need it. I was fixing a porcelain “wise man” I had broken (long story) from an heirloom nativity. Glue and lots of pieces lay on the work space. The whole manger scene, however, was stacked in a pile next to the shards of this red robed messenger. I had been listening to Christmas music, as I was alone for the day. In these movements of trying to get Elmer’s Glue to do its thing, I realized the manger should not be waiting for a lost comrade before it could be placed. So I put the press board stable with pitched roof (so European, I might add) on a table in the living room, arranged all the characters where they are supposed to be, and plugged in the cord to illuminate the stable with the white coated bulb “over the place where he lay.”
It was while arranging the pieces that Michael W. Smith’s CD “Christmastime” came to the track…”Tears are falling, hearts are breaking, How we need to hear from God. You’ve been promised we’ve been waiting, Welcome Holy Child, Welcome Holy Child.” My own tears started slowly meandering down my cheeks… “Hope you don’t mind our manger, How I wish we would have known; But long awaited Holy Stranger, Make yourself at home. Please make yourself at home. Bring your peace into our violence, Bid our hungry souls be filled. World now breaking Heaven’s silence, Welcome to our world, Welcome to our world.”
That’s what I had lost at some point—the mystery. Really, if we are honest, the story makes no sense. God, the creator of the galaxies, the expanse of infinity and unknown, would choose to come to be WITH US—Immanuel—his creation, so he could bring hope into brokenness, a way to live transformed in peace and abundance, the path to be reconciled to God and each other, and the reality that life will spring triumphantly from the sorrow of death. Really? It’s a mystery so grand that only my heart can come to perceive it. It is a mystery too great that can never be found in a string of lights, a box of chocolates, or any gift that will make the day perfect. The mystery is not housed in whether I say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays….it is bound in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is a mystery I had allowed to become lessened by ravenous commercialism, nonsensical debate, and forgotten by many on December 26.
It is too much a mystery that endless grace, mercy, forgiveness would pour out of God’s being into a human being, so that we might experience wonderful counsel, the mighty God, and peace and love beyond our grasp. “Child in a manger, Infant of Mary. Outcast stranger, Lord of all. Child who inherits all our transgressions, all our demerits on Him fall. Once the most holy Child of salvation, Gently and lowly, Now as our glorious Mighty Redeemer, See Him victorious O’er each foe.”
The soft tears had by now turned to those we often experience when flooded with emotion to deep to control by our own fortitude. “Tidings bring! Hail the King, shepherds did adore Him, From afar by the star, Wise men sought and found Him. Son of God Son of man, All in all I see. Carols raise, His name praise, He shall reign eternally. Carols sing to the King, Jesus Christ our Savior.” That is the mystery and wonder of this time of year that I have been longing for. To remember and experience refreshed the “reason for the season.”
There is a space in the manger scene for the repaired wise man to join the others once the glue is dry. It is a visual reminder that there is always space to join in the mystery of believing that God came and “pitched his tent with us” so that we might experience love, joy, and peace that nothing humanly can capture. (John 1:14) I cannot promise the accoutrements of Christmas and the unfortunate behaviors often witnessed will not draw from me a “Bah-Humbug” in the future. Yet, this year, my heart is drawn again to the wonder and mystery of this ancient story told from the foundation of the world, through voices and witnesses of those who longed to see it (1 Peter 1)….”Joy to the world! The Lord has come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart, prepare him room! And heaven and nature sing!”