Dad said one day at the office, “There’s a reason people retire at 65, they become too ornery to work with after that.” A few years later, when he reached mandatory retirement age from one particularly lucrative and interesting board on which he sat, he didn’t like it so much. He felt that he’d just reached the time when his wisdom and experience were of particular value. The “young turks” who ran the company wanted him gone because he had too much sensible advice and counsel and it began interfering with their bonuses! No one from the company ever called him for advice after that; he became a sentimental nonentity.
I asked him once what was so compelling about being a board member of this company. It was during the ’70’s when people took to the streets to express their anger and frustration. He said, “I think I can make more of a positive difference as a board member than I can protesting in the streets.” And he did, for many years. Dad gained a sense of identity from his participation with high level people and decisions. When it came time to put that aside, I think he was devastated. He didn’t seem to know where to turn. He had lost his base.
Arno often said, “You have to have a base to work from.” Many of us, as we reach retirement or are forced to give up things that have been meaningful and sources of identity in our lives, are likewise adrift. Life will eventually take everything from us. We own nothing. We are borrowers here for a while; all we’ve borrowed must be returned. But, until that time comes, where can we find meaning in the latter stages of our lives?
Many of us have invested so much in our careers and outside interests that when the time comes to pull in that energy and live in a different way, we have nothing to fall back on. As I’ve told my clients over the years as they pondered succession in their family business, “You’ve got to have something to retire to.” Otherwise we come apart and are set adrift. How many times do people retire and within 2 years or so are dead? What are you moving to as you age? What is worthy of our energy and interest that can help us stay vital and alive as we move into the last stage of our life?