One of the unexpected pleasures in writing this Blog is to have received responses from people we had not previously met. And then to add to the pleasure of the experience, there have been a few newly made acquaintances that then included Ascoli Piceno on an Italian visit itinerary. After you have exchanged Email correspondence with people and begun to have a sense for each other, it is very satisfying to finally meet face-to-face.
Many of the people who have been corresponding with us are approaching retirement. Several who are following the Blog have said they are looking at what we have done and wonder if this is something they might also consider doing. And a few people contemplating an Expatriate life have posed the question, ‘what does it take to start over?’ We have heard some version of that expression enough times that we found ourselves asking if we had felt we had been starting over?
Of course how we individually feel and interpret events is deeply rooted in our own unique temperaments and personal histories. Initially, in considering trying the Expatriate life, we gradually explored different ideas and then rejected many along the way. I’m not sure we ever thought about a ‘label’ for what we were in the process of doing. But I have to say in considering life as Expatriates, I don’t recall having it come into our minds that we were starting over. Naturally, there are a lot of semantic issues in play here. My own quirky makeup conjures up for me an image imbedded in the expression, starting over, as wanting to go back to attempt to redo an essentially similar, familiar experience. The term conjures up in my mind a desire to not stray too far beyond an already established ‘comfort zone.’
Let’s be up front about an inevitable process we all face. The experience of aging is not something that tends to generate a great deal of optimism. Someone said, “Aging is not for the faint of heart.” The further along in life we go, the more we are exposed to some very close and personal, existential realities. That includes the loss of others close to us and we are also confronted with the prospect of our own ultimate existential event. Along the way, most of us also have little choice but to recognize our bodies no longer provide as much resiliency in tackling the emerging world in front of us.
Therefore, some apprehension going toward retirement as a milestone in the aging process is a very natural reaction. At a stage of our lives when we become aware of increasing limitations, staying close to the familiar and what we still want to believe is doable is a natural reaction. But seeking security in the familiar and predictable is also a very powerful deterrent to embracing the reality that change is inevitable. In the simplest of terms, we can either let change run over us or, alternatively, we can attempt to have some impact on future events to mold them in a direction to our benefit.
So perhaps, in a sense we feel we have attempted to influence the course of events affecting our lives rather than having events dominate us. I think we prefer the idea of having started out, not over, in a fresh direction. Of course, that requires some degree of optimism and a faith rooted in confidence to still take on a challenge.
There is also another thread that seems detectible in the thought processes of some who are beginning to think about retirement. Any number of times we have heard, “All I have to do is hang on for just another (fill in the blank) years, and then I can retire.” Somehow that sounds more like fatalistic resignation and hardly a statement of being willing to take on any amount of perceived risk. After living in that kind of mindset for a while, considering anything that could be interpreted as a bold move might not be resting on very fertile ground.
What we hope we offer in this Blog is not a blueprint for others to attempt to duplicate. Most of all we hope what we offer is stimulation to encourage far ranging thinking about the broad possibilities that can be ahead for any of us. Whatever any of us did with our opportunities in the past has made us who we are here and now. The past can’t be done ‘over.’ So for us, it has not been about ‘over’ but concentrating on new possibilities.
Aging is inevitable but aging does not have to be synonymous with ceasing to continue to grow personally. Ultimately, we realize our physical body will die. But why should we accept a premature death of our spirit! There is a special compensation that comes with aging that is too easily lost in our obsession with bodily aging. It is too easy to forget that in the process of living we have acquired judgment skills and problem solving techniques. For some of the fortunate among us, aging can also bring some level of ‘acquired wisdom’ in compensation for losses in bodily resiliency. That is a special gift that is already available within us to be tapped. It would be a shame to waste it in a morass of doubt and indecision.
Embedded in this attitude is an inherent faith that in using skills we have acquired over time, many problems can be dealt with and in the process, new lessons are learned and further confidence gained. While in undergraduate school back in the dim past of the late 1950’s, I was exposed to Humanistic Psychology which Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers were its early proponents. In 1961, Rogers published On Becoming A Person-. Rogers presented the view that the truly ‘healthy personality’ was one that embraced change and became ‘self actualized’ in the process of continually adapting to its inevitability. I was exposed to those concepts at a very formative time in my life.
But to move forward, it is sometimes necessary to let go of the past. Retirement is a very complex right of passage. A great deal of effort, worry and frustration goes into whatever level of achievement one has reached in how we exchange our labor efforts for the material means to survive. It can also be an important source of affirmation in bolstering our own sense of self worth. The idea of leaving any of that behind is a natural cause for apprehension. Moving on to make room for others to make their contributions does not rob us of what we had accomplished. Personal pride on past achievements should be carried with us going forward. In its best sense, past achievement should provide confidence for moving in new directions.
And then there are the natural material concerns that can’t be easily shrugged off. The fact that we live in unsure economic times where we feel we have too little control over what happens to us financially only adds to apprehension. But some people we have spoken with seem to be struggling with the issue of maintaining their sense of personal identity. There is concern that identity would suffer if their ability to sustain a ‘perceived level of lifestyle’ were to change. For many of us, the intense consumer-based model of what constitutes the image of a successful identity is difficult to reexamine. I will simply say an adequate reappraisal of that issue was not something we achieved overnight. Unfortunately, unless one is in an increasingly smaller quotient of society having a rather significant amount of financial resources available, post retirement some ‘lifestyle’ realignment might be prudently necessary to consider.
In this regard, I find it interesting that Buddhism encourages addressing the issue of ‘attachment.’ It is an apparent common trait in human nature to attribute feelings of security to the material. Loosening the grip of that power is not always easy. We found movement in that direction takes some effort but brings with it a surprising benefit. We are now less burdened by ‘stuff’ and have freed up resources to invest in enriching experience. We also have less to worry about and feel much wealthier for it. If anyone were to suggest that we have made some form of ‘sacrifice’ in that process, we would strongly beg to differ.
If what I have been attempting to convey seems ‘fatalistic’, I have failed in what I have hoped to say. Yes, acceptance of reality requires being open to some inevitabilities. But the real issue is where do we go from there. ‘Fatalism’ implies resignation. What we are attempting to live is an ‘Opportunism’ that wants to search ahead for the positively possible.
So for us, we would rephrase the process we have been through from ‘starting over,’ to ‘starting fresh.’ We have carried into our new phase of life the important personal relationships of the past and are in process of also adding new ones. We also eliminated some dead weight we were dragging around in unnecessary ‘stuff.’ Our minds and spirits are much freer and in fact we have a more profound sense of being at peace.
It seems to be able to launch on a new and exciting voyage, you need to be willing to first let go of the dock. It isn’t about ‘doing the same thing again,’ its more about what is unfolding and being willing to give some serious effort to see where the future is going to allow you to go. And in the process, accomplishing something new lets you know you are still very much alive.