On Aging

You’re a long ways off from this Vera. Perhaps longer than any of us think. By the time you reach my age (61), people routinely may be living past 100. Or perhaps not.

But no matter what the mortality tables tell us, you will age. It’s our common lot. When I was young, I didn’t think much about it. Now I think about it more often (although not a lot).

My perspective has changed. When I was young, I couldn’t see the end of the runway. Now I can. What one does with his or her life prior to takeoff (or the crash) becomes a more pressing concern.

I have no reason to think there is one right way to age. But I’ve seen lots of wrong ways — well, not necessarily wrong; rather, ways that I personally don’t find attractive.

So what have I learned that might benefit you?

Here are just a few. First and foremost, I’ve learned the value of optionality. Second, I’ve seen the flaws in the traditional concept of retirement. Third, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the value of family and good friends. Fourth, I’ve realized the criticality of fitness. Fifth, I’ve discovered that nature can feed the soul.

  • Optionality. I love the fact I have so many options at this stage of my life: more freedom to do that which I want to do and not that which I feel I must do. I can stay on the corporate treadmill and work 24/7, or take a month and go to a distant land or explore the nooks and crannies of our new home, Colorado. But optionality doesn’t happen all by itself. It requires luck and planning. If you want to build optionality, save. And develop the skills and competencies that others value (and are willing to pay for handsomely, or at least to the extent of your needs and wants). Most importantly, do whatever you do very well. And conscientiously and reliably. Finally, nurture your curiosity and interests.
  • Retirement. Some people still think of retirement as a stage of one’s life when you do nothing. You retire from a life of work and live a life of leisure. Perhaps that works for some people, but I doesn’t work for me. I’m reminded of your great-grandmother in Pennsylvania. She’s a great role model. Retirement for her is a time in which she doesn’t have to work to make money; rather, it’s a time she can devote to the thing that brings her joy and fulfillment: helping other people. Sitting on one’s butt all day is antithetical to her very being. We need to come up with a better word: retirement simply doesn’t cut it. I never intend to “retire”
  • Family and Friends. Life is a series of transactions. And in most of those transactions others are seeking to derive benefit (often, financial). Precious are the interactions not grounded in what we or someone else hopes to gain from the encounter. Therein lies the value of family and true friends. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to appreciate the importance and value of family and true friends and the limitations inherent in all the other relationships. I’m lucky: we have some wonderful friends in our new Colorado home and also back in Pennsylvania, from Pittsburgh, to Central Pennsylvania, to West Chester. I wish I’d been a better friend to them in the years I was consumed with work. And I wish I’d been a better family member. But one cannot turn back the clock. I’m just grateful they are part of my life now.
  • Fitness. It’s no secret who your enemy is here: weight, sedentary lifestyle (the temptation to be physical inactive) and loss of muscle (natural degradation of the body). Fortunately, adequate defenses exist. Unfortunately, it takes commitment to muster those defenses sometimes. My commitment waxes and wanes, the main culprit being sweets. Currently, considerable positive momentum exists. What’s clear to me, however, is that there are several musts as one ages: good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots (preferably both), bike, free weights (or gym membership), healthy diet, and lots and lots of discipline and commitment.
  • Nature. It’s one of the reasons we live in Colorado. Whether it’s riding my bike through the foothills, or hiking to a mountain top with your grandmother, or simply standing at the foot of the Grand Tetons and experiencing the profound silence and grandeur of the earth, or simply marveling at some of the glorious skies we get out here, nature, more than ever, nourishes my soul. It was become an important part of my life. Don’t ignore the earth and universe. You are part of it. Stay in touch. The rewards can be immense.

All of this may seem a long way off for you. But remember: how you live your younger years will influence greatly your future.

Consider that which is truly important to you. Then nurture it. Be intentional.

I am grateful to be alive so I can experience this new phase of my life. And I’m especially grateful that you, Vera, are part of it.

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