I like the idea that retirement is a new phase of growth in life.
It's the defiant opposite of decline, where lots of people think retirement leads.
Growth is optimistic resistance.
I tried “growth" out for the first time on my wise and wonderful mother-in-law when she asked what I was doing these days. I said, “I’m in a new growth phase.”
“Doing what?” she repeated.
I listed current interests and mentioned how relieved I was not to be under the stress of multiple deadlines anymore. I said I was growing as a human being and wasn’t it a great privilege to be a senior (almost) and growing.
She looked a little perplexed, perhaps because, to her great credit, she’s still working part-time at 87.
My wife's parents see work as a lifelong pursuit. Why would someone not work? Work for them is like food. Sustaining.
My wife also pointed out that growth isn’t necessarily such a fabulous concept. The idea can feel daunting to many people. It still implies achievement.
“I prefer ‘shift,’” she said. “It’s more inclusive. We all experience shifts. It merely says change.”
Shifts can happen faster than growth. They can happen overnight. You can wake up and feel a shift has occurred while you slept. One day, perhaps early on in retirement, you still crave the familiar busy-ness of work and deadlines. The next day, you’re over it. There can be reverberations afterward, but something has shifted.
A number of shifts have sneaked up on me in retirement. The shift toward calming down. The shift away from ambition. The shift away from money-making to time-making.
I realize I can have faith in shifts. They will happen. Something beyond my control is at work. Usually, it’s benevolent. The next thing I know it’s part of me.
That’s not to say there isn’t lateral movement. We can shift back and forth. One month the making of money seems to me like a waste of precious time. The next month it seems like a prudent and interesting way to spend some of that precious time, until that feeling passes. Likewise, calmness can slide into anxiousness, then back to calm when nudged with some self-talk or stress reduction.
So, no rules. Just curiosity and faith and self-talk. And a willingness to ride out the shifts.
For growth, it seems to me there needs to be some propulsion, some purposeful aiming. “I want to be a person who…”
It can be anything from “treats other people kindly” to “throws knives into targets with uncanny accuracy.”
Growth in character suggests you are aiming for the things that matter most in life and mostly involve other people, like kindness, integrity, honesty, thoughtfulness, consideration, creative problem solving, moral courage. Virtues.
So when asked “What are you doing in retirement?” we might answer, “I’m growing things.”
"Virtues mainly. Oh, and watch me throw this knife."