Two weeks ago, I received quite unexpectedly a brief text message from an unknown source.
It read as follows: ‘The ability to not dwell, to let go, to accept what you can’t change, is key to aging gracefully’.
Whoever sent that quote to me made me pause for a while and consider the full implications of that nugget of distilled wisdom.
While there is some merit in that statement, there is far more involved in the process of aging gracefully. In the second half of our lives, we have a unique opportunity to give form, substance and class to making this half of our lives different, more focused in non traditional ways and more meaningful.
Whether we realise it or not, we should actually be moving from a life of clearly defined work, pressures and priorities to a life that is now seeking creativity and wisdom. It should also be about adding value and leaving a wonderful legacy.
Move with Purpose to Seek Significance
Whilst we were in full time employment, the natural and understandable focus was on making a success of our jobs and in building satisfying careers. We sought good salary increments and promotions on a regular basis.
In this second half, if we care to make a meaningful change, it should be more about moving from seeking success to seeking significance!
The great Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘ The secret to finding yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.’ Someone wise also remarked that it is in giving that one receives! One needs to ponder deeply on these two wise sayings to better understand the full meaning.
Take Time to Smell the Roses
I am amazed and sometimes troubled by the sight and instances of individuals continuing to carry on with their careers without any change in approach or even in purpose. They are reluctant to accept that this is the second half of their lives and that it is now time for some reflection and re-direction in their whole approach to life. Some continue to work in exactly the same job, keep the same hectic hours, spare little time for their family and friends and continue to save.
Little do they realise that this is their time to shift gears, so to speak, take a break from the stress and strains of working life as they know it, re-charge their batteries and consider other more relevant and appropriate activities. They do not seem to know how to relax, how to treat themselves to a vacation from time to time and how to spend time interacting with family members, former colleagues and friends. It is as if there is no second half to their lives.
Sadly, sometimes they leave it till it is too late to realise that there is more to life than a job and the thrill of making money. It takes a major illness or the death of a close family member for these people to realise the folly of their ways. For these hard driven individuals, there is no room in their lives to occasionally pause for a while, take time to smell the roses or enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Other Keys to Aging Gracefully
a. Adjust to New Reality
It is important not to dwell too much on the past and to let go of previous positions of power and prestige. Do remember that these came with the job and the designation. Once you have retired and moved on, you need to let go of the trappings of power, re-adjust to the new reality and downsize if necessary.
For instance, you may have lived in a four room bungalow with your wife and three children for over twenty five years in a nice, friendly suburban area. Now that your two daughters have married and moved out and your son has relocated to his own condominium, should you continue to live in that same house for sentimental reasons? Or should you be more pragmatic and relocate to a smaller apartment style complex which is easier to manage and which has security features?
Too often an inability to appreciate the current reality and to sensibly re-adjust in such a manner poses unnecessary problems for the couple.
b. Draw up own Programme of Activity
When you were in full time employment, you were subject to the demands of your employer. You had a five or five and half day work week, you enjoyed two weeks of paid vacation a year, you were entitled to free medical care etc.
Now that you are retired, you have the chance to draw up, for instance, your own programme of activity for the week. You can decide to go to the gym in the morning, four times a week for an hour each time. You can decide to attend a play or concert once a month. You can also decide to explore the far corners of your home state on week ends and after that the rest of the country at a pace comfortable to you. Once a year, you can treat yourself to a nine day cruise or travel to an exotic destination.
There are endless possibilities.
c. Make Time to Contribute to Society
i. This can easily be a very satisfying period in your life. The focus here is to maximise all your latent talent, expertise and experience for the greater good of society.
You can do this in a couple of simple ways: you can choose to assist a senior citizen in an old folks home keep in touch with her children overseas by helping her in writing letters on a fortnightly basis; you can carry out some simple shopping chores for another senior citizen on a weekly basis; you can offer transportation to a nearby hospital or clinic for a poor, sick individual without means of transport from time to time.
None of these are huge, demanding tasks but these are much needed and deeply appreciated by these senior citizens. I know of friends in Melbourne and Petaling Jaya who do actually carry out such behind the scenes services quietly and with much satisfaction. What a great way to add real significance to this half of your life.
ii. Another way to contribute to society is to volunteer and serve on NGOs. You can always choose one that you can identify with comfortably and serve with dedication. There are many such worthy societies and you can easily find one where you can render such service. Do not look for the limelight in this phase of your life but rather focus on the need to serve with sincerity.
In my case, I have chosen to serve with the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) as a co-opted management committee member. Much of my contribution is done behind the scenes and the only people in the know are the president of the association and the executive secretary.
iii. In Canada, for instance, they have a programme where senior retired corporate executives render altruistic service to a NGO in a developing country. I am not sure of the other details of this programme but it is quite clear that this is an instance where the skills, expertise and experience of a senior corporate executive is matched to that of an NGO in a developing country that will benefit greatly by his assistance for a brief period.
Through this unique scheme three goals are achieved: technical and managerial expertise is harnessed from one geographical area to assist a deserving organisation in a less developed country; the skills of that person are still made use of for a different and noble purpose; and finally, it earns great appreciation and goodwill for Canada from the organisation and the country concerned.
d. Meet up with Friends and former Colleagues
There is much joy and satisfaction in keeping in touch with friends, college/university mates and former colleagues. You probably did not have the time and maybe the inclination to keep in touch before while you were in harness. This is, however, a great time to renew acquaintances and bring back a flood of wonderful memories made sweeter through the passage of time.
On my part, I try to stay in regular touch with college mates from St. Joseph’s Training College in Penang. I keep in touch by hand phone, through emails and occasionally by face to face meetings over a drink or meal not just in Kuala Lumpur but also up north in Ipoh and Penang.
We also have had 2 day reunion get together events in Penang, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca biennially. Between each such reunion, a few members pass on. These reunions, as such, take on greater meaning. We take time at each reunion to remember those who have passed on and recall happy moments and colourful personalities.
Aging gracefully is thus a choice that we consciously make to add greater meaning and comfort to us and those that we love and value. In the process, we also spread joy and happiness to those with whom we come in contact with. It is this ready willingness to share our talents and abilities for the greater good and benefit of others that helps soften, purifies and stretches our service in the true spirit of love and selflessness.