Many people heading into retirement share one common denominator: fear. Of what they will do. Of how they will make ends meet. Of "flying blind into uncharted territory."
Many couples in their sixties find retirement such a daunting subject they don't even talk about it with their significant other. And yet, a lot of us have been this way before -- not retirement, but getting pushed out of comfortable lives into the great unknown.
It was called commencement. We graduated from college with a diploma and a dream but not much certainty as to what path our lives would take or even who we'd become along the way. Most of us leapt before we looked and landed okay. So, why the dread over what I'll call "commencement 2.0" (which somehow has a more affirming ring than "retirement")? If, in our callow youth, we could navigate the dicey twists and turns of finding jobs and building a career with a certain fearlessness, why can't we approach retirement with the same gusto?
A few years ago, I developed and edited "Creating a Life You'll Love," an award-winning collection of inspiring commencement addresses from such notable speakers as Tom Hanks, Anna Quindlen, Thomas L. Friedman, Anna Deavere Smith, Dana Gioia, Muhammad Yunus and Ken Burns, among others. I believe that for boomers facing commencement 2.0, the words of the following illustrious contributors to "Creating a Life You'll Love" will apply with as much meaning and resonance, if not more so, as they do for their grandkids.
"Make the love of learning central to your life," says David McCullough. "What a difference it can mean. If your experience is anything like mine, the books that will mean the most to you, books that will change your life, are still to come. And remember, as someone said, even the oldest book is brand new for the reader who opens it for the first time." Read the classics you once skipped in high school or college. Explore museums. Take a class or two at an institute for learning in retirement or an elder-hostel. Go on a volunteer vacation and learn how to do an archaeological dig or help save an endangered species.
"There is an indispensable justice, to yourself and to others, in doing well the work that you are 'called' or prepared by your talents to do," says Wendell Berry. For retirees, this may mean pursuing an encore career that you're passionate about or a calling that you're finally ready for -- like writing that novel or running a marathon.
"Raise hell -- big time," exclaimed Molly Ivins. "I want y'all to get out there and raise hell about damned near everything. My word, there's a world out there that needs fixing. Get out there and get after it." If you've ever thought of volunteering or even starting your own nonprofit, what better time is there than now?
"The happiest people are the ones with the most community," says Barbara Kingsolver. "You could create an unconventionally communal sense of how your life may be. This could be your key to a new order: you don't need so much stuff to fill your life, when you have people in it." One of the biggest pitfalls of retirement is isolation, so call up old friends (even those you haven't reached out to for a while) and get involved with the wider community as well.
"Things that look dead really can come back to life." So says Tess Gerritsen, citing the "creepy fact" that a woman who was presumed to be dead actually woke up hours later -- in the morgue. She also notes that Sally Ride, who pursued her dream to be a tennis player for ten years, realized that she'd never make it to the top and made a "course correction," going back to college and eventually becoming the first woman astronaut launched into space. "The lesson is: yes, sometimes you do get a second chance at life. Sometimes you really can live twice."
So, for everybody contemplating their own commencement 2.0, stand up to your fears and create a life you'll love. The best is yet to come!
(Note: All the contributors to "Creating a Life You'll Love" provided their commencement addresses on a pro-bono basis since all the royalties generated from the sale of the book will be donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention and research.)