Today is my 79th birthday. When my older brother Bob achieved this milestone on his life journey, he reframed it, describing it as starting his 80th year of life. I like this distinction. Turning 79 seems inconsequential; starting one’s 80th year substantive. I thus decided it was a good time to post about my emerging future. More explicitly, I hope to answer the questions so many have asked me: “Why are you starting a coaching career now?” and “Why are you doing a blog now?” Clearly, the word to be emphasized is “now”!
Context counts. Not only are we collectively experiencing the shifting forces of Covid-cave emergence, but also the larger waves of change globally redefining the human enterprise. In the US, one of these is human longevity. We appear a bit befuddled by this longevity. Societal forces shape much of our lives, signaling the “appropriate” developmental tasks for stages of personal human progression through the life cycle.
For those who have lived 65 years or more, it gets a bit blurry and even frenetic. The obvious reason is that we do not have plans mapped out for long lives (and we begin to also notice we will die!). The more subtle reason is the unique nature of this “later in life” developmental stage. By the time you reach 65, no matter how many dimensions of your life seem comparable to those around you, you suddenly discover that your life journey is strikingly unique. This is not something you set out to achieve; it just happens! No one has exactly your personal story. One can reasonably posit that your “over 65” trajectory will also be strikingly unique.
This insight emerges within a set of social and cultural forces that seem intent on predetermining the nature of life after 65. The “big” summary word for this is “retirement”, defined as “the period of one’s life after leaving one’s job and ceasing to work”. It is implicitly presented as a positive time of release from the stressors of employment. Hence, this developmental stage is defined largely as what you no longer do. As is perhaps apparent, it does not say what you actually DO, or even if you DO anything. There is an implicit assumption that you will fill in the blanks yourself. Perhaps. I did.
Options abound, and many startled me: endless golf, social clubs, lots of cruises, trips, tours, vacations… It occurred to me that society is missing out on what those over 65 have to offer, and patronizing narratives do not suffice to explain what I mean. Persons who live to be 65 (and beyond) amass skills, competencies, insights, intuitions, strengths…there is actually a long list. They are an untapped reservoir of potential human wisdom. They have learned, and they can share. Yet, just when they might really be most useful, given these capacities, the social system prescribes dithering, self-obsession, inaction and silence. Very bizarre!
So, I studied my personal trajectory, noticing that much of my work had focused on helping fix what was broken. I wanted to shift to partnerships with others where what I knew could facilitate the optimization of the potential of others. I studied my personal values, and continued to affirm my commitment to being a force that would shed light in the dark and increase positive consciousness on the planet. I took an inventory of my strengths, and identified relationship building and writing as two strengths of personal value that I enjoyed. Then I figured out what I would need to do for these to be the things I would “DO” for my “wisdom years”.
I pursued quality training as a professional coach, completed the program at Hudson Institute of Coaching, achieved International Federation of Coaching Certification, and started my professional coaching career. I set up the logistics and began coaching. I had a particular interest in those grappling with their discovery of personal longevity. I was creating partnerships focused on the exciting human potential of others. Concurrently, I started this blog, and went through the disorienting process of “learning” the new skills I needed to post blogs on line. Most of this was a bit uncomfortable, and people often were bemused that the “old white lady-aka OWL” was doing these things. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what my coaching and this blog could be. In a world when quantification has often supplanted kindness and common sense, numbers of persons coached or number of blog readers are not my focus. And, I persisted.
This is a summary to answer the two questions I posed as I started this blog posting. There is a longer, sometimes more painful and sometimes hilarious version. I had many wonderful people cheering me on, and a few wondering what the hell was wrong with me. As I start my 80th year, I do not know how long or in what way I will continue these commitments. For now, they bring me joy. It is my hope that by answering my personal question of “life after 65”, I become part of a global investment in capitalizing on the wisdom of elders.
“Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world” ~Ramana Maharishi