I’ve had this restless unease my whole life about wasting time, always feeling a nagging guilt I should be doing something constructive instead of having so much fun. I’ve always been a why do today what you can put off until tomorrow kind of a guy. Bumping along this way, I’ve finished college, got married, kept a good job and basically done the essentials, but I never pursued those ambitions I dreamed about in youth. Well, obviously everyone can’t be an astronaut or rock star, two careers ill suited for my personality even if I had had the natural aptitude, which I didn’t. On the other hand, if I had applied myself I could have been an astronomer that occasionally wrote science fiction novels. I was just too lazy.
When you’re thirteen and thinking about your future you feel you have endless time. Just five years later when I had to fill in the forms that declared my major I wasn’t in the mood to buckle down to math and physics classes because by then all I could think about was majoring in the opposite sex. Oh, I started the classes and got decent grades, I just didn’t have the discipline to keep taking them for eight straight years.
There comes a time when you realize you have to choose between chasing a dream and settling for being ordinary. Becoming an original like Neil Armstrong or Bo Diddley takes a kind of focus that few people have, and being ordinary is a natural pursuit for those people who love variety.
But I can’t help but think of those five years of adolescence when I felt the potential of possibilities. It’s a time when I viewed a vast vista of time and dreamed of all the ways to spend it. That’s how I’m now feeling about retiring – I have an expanse of time that’s full of possibilities. People often talk about young ambition, but what about old ambition? Why is retiring seen as a time of withdrawal from life?
Everyone talks about what they want to be when they grow up, but why don’t people talk about what they want to be before they die? How come when people retire they don’t go off to college and major in something for their retiring years? If I can retire with thirty years before I’m sixty, and I could live to be ninety, then I have thirty more years for a second career.
Well the cruel answer of the fates is at sixty we don’t have the health and energy we did at eighteen, but is that a show stopper? Once again, it’s a question of discipline and focus, and choosing between having general fun and pursing specialization. Has anyone at age sixty ever set out to do something new like become an engineer, doctor, actor or pop star and succeeded? I can understand you can’t pick becoming a major league baseball player, deep sea diver or fighter jet pilot because of the physical limitations, but what about thinking careers? Isn’t old age supposed to be for the wise?
On one hand I think of retirement as catching up on reading all those books I bought and never read, and pursuing quiet activities like watching television and listening to music, and just plain relaxing after years in the rat race, but on the other hand why don’t I expect more of myself. We ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, as if being grown is just achieving full physical height. If growing is equated to mental development, then asking someone what they want to be when they grow up is like saying, what do you want to be doing when you die, because unless we’re attacked by some brain plague, we can keep growing to the end.