I’m standing in front of our home, speaking with a friend. His large dog nudges gently against my hand for attention. She’s beautiful and knows it.
“You have to be careful and not let the old man in,” he says.
He’s talking about retirement – how the destination is different from what many tend to think.
“I’ve retired and unretired twice,” he says. “Played golf, took walks and filled my time. Always found something to do.”
But in retirement, something important was lacking, he says.
“You’ve got to have a purpose in life, a reason to get up in the morning. Filling time becomes simply filling time. One day you ask what the purpose of living each day.”
My friend is upbeat, healthy, and looks years younger than the date on his driver’s license. He is always with a wave and kind things to say.
His dog yawns as if trying to speak. She is growing bored with the conversation and wants to get going.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “I enjoyed my regular tee-time with friends, but after a while, I began to miss the sense of accomplishment. So I unretired and went and did something new.”
His words run against the grain of society’s prepackaged definition of retirement – work long, save your money, and find ways to fill the hours of your days. One doesn’t have to stretch too far to see this as a twist on the putting one out to pasture formula. My friend would have none of this.
“As I said, you’ve got to keep the old man from getting in. You’ve got to have a purpose to your days, keep learning new things, and stay healthy.”
His dog rubs her white coat against my leg, asserting her wishes to get moving.
My friend pauses and then changes my life.
“Happiness is simply enjoying the passing of time. You’ve got to do what you enjoy – and that includes having a purpose of how you use your time.”
My dad’s generation defined retirement as a destination – a predetermined mark in time complete with a finish line where you effectively exited the interstate of a purposeful life.
Filling time, my friend says does not offer one the sense of making a difference in the world with each sunrise. We are not one-act plays, but rather should view life as a journey, one where we always have something to give or contribute to the world. And in the end, our happiness is driven by the purposeful reward we receive by actively investing our time and attention in others.
Forcefully tugging on the leash, my friend’s dog is ready to go. Her purpose apparently awaits down the street.
My friend is not afraid of life or the passing of time. He also knows he alone controls his true happiness. With each day he embraces the opportunity to continue to learn, grow, and find purpose in how he chooses to use his time.
That – and keeping the old man out.