Is That All There Is? by Bob Lowry
If the title reminds you of a song by Peggy Lee, you are definitely a boomer retiree. In a rather bleak view of life, the lyrics suggest that if this is as good as it is going to get then let’s dance and party before the final disappointment of death. During a time of upheavals in the late 1960s, this was a top 15 hit for Ms. Lee.
Why such a bleak title and introduction to this post? Take comfort, dear reader, the song’s mood is not reflective of mine. I am not in the throes of despair. I do receive emails on a rather regular basis, however, that express at least some of this feeling about retirement. There are three primary concerns: What did I do? I loved my job, I will run out of money, or my spouse is driving me crazy.
I certainly understand these concerns. I flirted with similar ones after leaving the workforce 16 years ago. I didn’t think I was ready financially, emotionally, or socially…pretty much a clean sweep of feeling unprepared. Eventually, everything sorted itself out. For the almost seven years of writing this blog, I hope I have conveyed the message that retirement has the potential of making this stage of life productive and satisfying.
Even so, I would guess we have asked ourselves, “is this all there is,” every now and then. It is part of the human condition to wonder what we are accomplishing and what comes next. What sets us apart of other species is this need to question, to speculate, to hope.
At its core, retirement is the only time in our lives when a lot of the answers to those eternal questions are under our control. No, we can’t change the facts of mortality. We have only limited control over health issues that may have been baked into our genes from day one. But, that leaves tremendous wiggle room, doesn’t it?
I am constantly inspired by stories of folks with severe limitations achieving remarkable things. I think of those who compete in marathons in their wheelchairs, or on artificial legs. I think of people who are unable to move any part of their body below the neck, who have mastered painting, using a computer, or writing a book by grasping a brush or stick in their mouths to accomplish these tasks.
A perfect example is the story of Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, she mastered communication, learned to speak, and became an author, activist, and lecturer. Anne Sullivan, her teacher and constant companion, showed an awe-inspiring level of patience and determination to young Helen. When I am tempted to complain because I have some morning stiffness in my fingers or a sore back, Helen Keller pops to mind; I am embarrassed by my petty complaints.
While we are still on this side of the dirt, the reality is there is never a time when it is appropriate to ask, “is that all there is?” Because the answer is an emphatic, “No!” If you settle for what doesn’t make you happy or fulfilled, then it is on you.
Maybe you can’t change your physical condition or location. It is not all that uncommon for retired folks to live on a tight sometimes barely adequate budget. I certainly get enough emails from unhappy spouses (of both sexes) who feel trapped in an unsatisfying relationship. I am not minimizing the real pain and frustration that can accompany those situations.
But, I do suggest that you have the ability to rise above each of those scenarios. Strictly physical problems do not have to affect your ability to think, create, write, or enjoy the sound of the birds in your backyard. A pet could care less that you can’t walk or run. He will love you anyway.
A tight budget forces you to be creative. Can’t afford a computer or Internet connection? Your local library has both. Going out to eat is so infrequent you forget how to order off a menu? Become a great cook at home. Set the table, light the candles, pour the wine, and make an ordinary dinner something special.
If you have tried everything to make things work well with your spouse, and divorce isn’t an option for many reasons, reassert your individuality. Do what makes you happy. Carve out times of the day when you please yourself.
By Bob Lowry