Tony Leighton is a Canadian writer happily retired and attempting to help others feel the same.

Mail: On Liberty & Getting Older

A friend turns 70 this summer. In an email invitation to a birthday celebration sent by his girlfriend, she quoted these lines that my friend had written:

I sometimes wonder if there’s something wrong with me. I actually worry why I enjoy growing old ... or should I say "older"? Because as the months go by and each birthday comes and goes, I stop in my tracks from time to time and hear myself saying: "Life is getting better. And better. I simply can’t wait till the next one turns up and see what it brings my way!”

This is from another friend (in this mid-sixties) who does regular retirement reality checks. He continues to exceed his own expectations.

It’s odd and wonderful that we can’t predict how good the new life will be. We will now have freedom, and for the first time it will be in combination with wisdom and the ability to see that our time is precious. I sometimes review the changes I sense in my interior life over the past few weeks and months. Sometimes I then extrapolate to try to get some sense of what’s coming. And very often what actually arrives is unpredictable and better than expected. Maybe people who are resisting retiring are imagining their life to be merely some variation of sun-bathing, playing with grandchildren, and golfing, whereas what really awaits them is being their own Captain Cook.

I received an email from a professor friend who has spent three years gradually warming to freedom after he left his job. He senses a new quality in that freedom:

For the past few years I have felt like an East German after the wall came down — kinda missing the organization and control.

I am just now getting used to the freedom. It has taken a long time, but has taken hold in the last few months. For me, it's the freedom not to assume ownership for the school and my old job, not to hold to a schedule, etc. These days, I actually feel "liberated." I have always been free (the neat thing about academic life) but it was within a box. That box is gone.

In response to the email above, yet another friend, also a prof, who is at the cusp of retirement, said this in an email to me and prof #1:

I need you two guys to keep pulling on me, so I can also escape that box. I’m near the door now, reaching for the handle. But my hand is trembling. What will I find when I open it?

Here's what I told him:

You will find your future self. He's appreciative of the past but unwilling to dwell on it. He's excited about the years left to him. He's the same man of action, just aimed at a new set of challenges. The cool thing is that he's fully equipped — with his health, more than enough money, and a big basket of options. He can try all sorts of things on for size. He can explore, gradually crafting an existence that satisfies his deepest longings, one that regularly takes him out of his comfort zone (where the real learning happens). He can set himself up for the phases of life to come while disproving the clichés about retirement, and having the time of his life. Importantly, he can show others how to do it, because they need his help.


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