I wrote a while back that one thing you don’t want to build in retirement is a box. I was talking about the box of a shrunken life.
Here’s a snippet from that post: “This week, I met a young man (33) who told me about his recently-retired father (64). Not only has the father stopped working (as a telecom technician), but without a plan for how to spend his time in retirement. He and his wife have moved to smaller city where they don’t have friends. The mother still works. The father sits at home and doesn’t do much.”
That box might as well be a casket. And for some it is, because they get depressed, then sick, then, believe it or not, dead. A lawyer friend told me he sees it all the time. “It’s often the guys from factories. They leave their job. They go home. They watch TV. Within two years they are gone.” (Appropriately, my lawyer friend was on an exercise machine at the gym while he was telling me this.)
Those factory guys must be the men who skew the after-retirement mortality figures and provide fuel to the alarmists who proclaim that if you stop working you are basically dead.
Another friend said, “That’s being a tourist in life, as opposed to a traveler.” He was talking about people who wait for things to happen to them, preferring entertainment to education, spending almost no time in reflection, and undervaluing self-awareness. So when direction is no longer provided, they are naturally lost. And more than sometimes dead.
There’s another kind of box that works with similar efficiency. It’s the box of the rigid worldview.
A worldview is the way you look at the world. Wikipedia says, “A world view or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”
In short, it’s our way of understanding almost everything.
One’s worldview, in my experience, tends to congeal over time. We make up our minds about the way things are, what we value, and what we feel. And the concrete hardens. It’s often very difficult for anyone to persuade us otherwise, even for ourselves to persuade ourselves.
That explains the inflexibility of political orientation among older people. And really, when you think of it, the general intellectual inflexibility among the elderly and those becoming the elderly. As the joints stiffen so does the ability to stay limber of mind. Or perhaps the willingness.
Stanford researcher Carol Dweck has written about the difference between “the fixed mindset vs. the growth mindset.”
The blogger James Clear recently wrote about how our beliefs can be detrimental to our personal growth. “The benefits of a growth mindset,” he writes, “might seem obvious, but most of us are guilty of having a fixed mindset in certain situations. That can be dangerous because a fixed mindset can often prevent important skill development and growth, which could sabotage your health and happiness down the line.”
Comfort and security are two big reasons. It’s uncomfortable to revise a firmly rooted worldview, even part of one. It’s rattling to move off a habitual position and free fall into something alien — even if it makes all the sense in the world.
So even if a government or politician of a certain party robs society blind and shows not a shred of decency, there are millions who will continue to support that government and that scoundrel simply because it and he fit into their worldview.
It’s well known (thanks to a linguist/philosopher by the name of George Lakoff) that if we want to reach people — communicate a message, change a mind, or reinforce an idea — we must get inside the “frame” of that person’s worldview. Fail to get inside the frame, and the message — no matter how logical, scientific, or passionate — will rebound like an arrow off a boulder.
So how does that all relate to retirement and aging?
Like this: If your worldview about work, retirement, aging, and what you are willing to do and not do in life, are as rigid as a boulder — if you think, “That’s just the way it is” and there’s no room for any other way — you could be in a detrimental box of your own making. Not a casket necessarily. But certainly a trap.
This fits with what I’ve written about the opportunity at this stage if life to rewrite stories we tell ourselves that don’t serve us anymore. To change the narrative. The road to personal growth runs in that direction. Ovid apparently said, and I believe him, “He who can believe himself well, will be well.”
The choice between a rigid or flexible worldview is woven throughout my blog. I just checked. There it is, all over the place. Some examples:
You could say to yourself, “Retirement is decline” or read this: “The word ‘retirement’ needs work.”
You could say, “I’m too old to change” or read this: “What are you growing in retirement?”
You could scoff at sitting down with yourself and really looking at what your possibilities are at this stage of life, or try this: “Lists For Larger Living.”
You could say to yourself, “Getting old sucks” or shift slightly in this way: “What we have to do we also get to do.”
Granted, for most of us, our worldview is a hard-won victory over the randomness and insecurity of life.
And yet, if your worldview has become so stiff that it resembles a trap, you could be exchanging the comfort of a stiff worldview for the ongoing discomfort of an unsatisfying final three decades of life.
The best strategy, I think, is to step outside your frame briefly, examine its degree of sclerosis, weigh the pros and cons of chipping away some of the barnacles, and then give it a shot. Audit dispassionately then adjust courageously, or at least experimentally. (You can always turn back.)
Or not. That might be asking too much of some people. I know.
But we should all know that any worldview is an invention, a story. It could be true. It’s likely only partly true. It could also be completely untrue. In other words, it’s made up. So it can be re-made. It’s more choice than fact.
How about a couple of good quotes to drive the final spike into this post?
Here’s one from the Stoic, Epictetus:
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.”
Will Rogers said it even better:
“It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.”