Sometimes I want to avoid conversations with other people my age. I’m sixty-three and all but retired (sorry Mr Abbott, I’m obviously lazy but I’ll try not to cost you anything…). I don’t always want to talk about the best place in town to eat or have a conversation about the weather and how it’s annoying or not perfect for golf or for gardening or whatever. Now, not that I don’t complain about the weather, I do, but it’s boring and I’m trying to keep my mouth shut and just get on with it.
On a more serious note however, I’ve been observing what happens to people when they retire or when at least they have more time on their hands. Sure, when we get older we can slow down a bit and unfortunately for some folk, illness might be part of the equation as well. However, for many people my age it’s a time of travel (depending on a few things, money being one of them…) and socializing to fill in the time. And, that’s the bit that is starting to bore me terribly. People will inquire, ‘planning any trips this year’? I guess this is fair enough as we have travelled a bit over the years, tracing family heritage and researching for writing (good excuses). Now you might say, ‘well isn’t that just luxury or filling in time?’ Yes, you are right it has been a luxury and that’s what I’m starting to challenge.
We (us fifty, sixty and seventy year olds) can’t continuously take holidays and seek self-gratification for ever, can we? Don’t we have to be useful members of society and contribute or put something back occasionally. Well that’s where I’m up to right now. It isn’t an easy position to take because it puts a level of responsibility right back on my ever stooping shoulders. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun or take time for travel, of course we should, but it’s the pursuit of leaving behind any responsibility of work, (not all work is paid employment) community and the needs of others around us that saddens and worries me.
Of course not all of us want to do volunteer work that is of little interest to us. I know some people who volunteer and carry out tasks for all sorts of community organisations and see it as ‘doing their bit’ but not really enjoying it, an obligation perhaps. I would much prefer to be engaged in an activity or cause that I believe in or feel that I at least have something to offer. So, a very real dilemma exists around being actively engaged in worthwhile and satisfying ‘work’ as opposed to just doing your bit because you think you should. It’s easy to understand then, why so many people seek self full-filling social and entertainment opportunities as a way of feeling active and happy.
However, there are many examples of people who refuse to join in the ‘retired’ syndrome of adjusting to no work, all play mentality. They take on family responsibilities like childcare for grandchildren or look after older folk, they set up small business opportunities, they study university courses (if they can afford it…), they teach in their area of expertise, they join and really contribute to community groups, they look after a sick neighbour, they worry about the kids across the road, they visit relatives and give a hand, they join political parties and have a voice . . . a real voice not just a whinge, they work with the disadvantaged and after all of this they sleep well at the end of the day and don’t have time to think about themselves and what they will do tomorrow. . . I want to be one of these people, I’m working on it but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
First of all, to be an active contributor I think you need to think long and hard about capacity. There is probably a need to have a balance and not over do the active contributor role, better to keep it happening than to burn out with over enthusiasm Besides when we take on new responsibilities we sort of have to explore and learn how to manage ourselves with our new roles. Often I suspect, the boundaries of engagement take a while to become evident.
A couple of years ago I decided to become politically active. I tired of mumbling at the television set or complaining to friends about government policy and felt dis-empowered in relation to what was happening in my own country. So after some soul-searching I joined (re-joined) a political party. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was asked to volunteer. I tentatively agreed and became a raw recruit. Luckily I was able to utilise some of my skills but still there was a learning curve to be navigated. I worked amongst younger and highly skilled people, I learnt from them and I like to think they picked up a few skills from me. Most of all I was in an active and stimulating environment.
Now I’m not suggesting that all people should join political parties, it’s just an example of an activity that enabled me to experience something that fitted with my values and ideas at the time. But, it taught me to do something that felt right. And unlike when I was working in paid work, I had the time to make it happen.
So now that I’m thinking more about these issues, particularly having blabbed about it on a blog…I have a real task ahead. Or perhaps instead (if it all gets too hard) I’ll fall into having too many lunches with friends, planning resort holidays, thinking about cruises on boats and checking the weather for the perfect day…forgive me if I do…or better still remind me that I wrote this!