I’m getting ready to take a long trip—five or six weeks, five time zones and two continents. I do this 3 or 4 times a year, something like a musician or standup comic going on tour except I will be giving lectures and talking to people about changing their organizational cultures and transforming the way they observe the world. I have traveled like this pretty much for my entire career and even used to enjoy it when airlines cared about customers and airport security was personal and inspectors apologized for the inconvenience.
Today, however, I am not looking forward to the travel. I still expect to enjoy the work I will be doing, but the travel has become painful to anticipate. My mind’s ‘internal conversation’ is saying stuff like “I’m too old for this”, and I’m wishing I had invested in Microsoft and Starbucks so I could afford my own plane. Mostly I’m feeling like I don’t have the energy to keep doing this. I watch myself being drawn toward thoughts about ‘retirement’ and giving in to a lifestyle of enjoyable activity and reflection, maybe even writing my memoirs if I can remember enough particulars from my past (which mostly I don’t).
I’ve been thinking about aging and observing the human phenomenon for a long time and I know that most of the chatter in my head isn’t ‘me’—it’s just the tapes of my past and my ego playing the tune to which my culture expects me to dance. For example, I believe and know from experience that the key to health and wellbeing is “participation”—staying engaged in whatever games I choose to play. Yet, that little voice in my head insists that I should rest more, take it easy, slow down and just enjoy life. I can observe myself being seduced by the reasonable and conventional wisdom that as I get older I should participate less.
If I ‘listen’ to my internal conversation, I will follow the predictable path most of us take as we retire. Life will stop being about participation and, more than likely, will be about filling time. If I am conscious and committed enough, I will generate alternative pathways for creativity and service and my level of participating will continue and even increase as I get older. If not, my future will be a predicable path toward inaction and, in all likelihood, a creeping stasis.
I am not saying people should not retire. Many are required to retire by their employers. But we should view retirement as an opportunity to take on more commitment, more participation, more engagement with life—not less.
The lesson? Stay conscious and make more commitments as we age. The ‘energy’ we feel will follow if we don’t succumb to those ‘little voices’ that want to rationalize away our choices and lock us into a prison of reasonable and conventional choices designed to perpetuate the cultural patterns and norms which define aging as a process of loss and decline.
I am off to the airport now, re-energized to confront whatever new challenges the airline gods have in store for me. I’ll send new postings from the road!