A Reflection after the first two thirds of life.
It hit me in my gut like a sad pillow fight blow.
I would not need 15-Year Goals anymore. I stared down at the piece of paper with the columns labeled 1 Yr, 5 Yr, 10 Yr and 15 Yr. In fifteen years, I will be, what, seventy-five? In my early seventies am I really going to be gunning to get that second home, crank out an Iron Man, buy a boat, publish a book?
So this is what it feels like to be old, I sighed. Oh, I get it, you don’t have to tell me that I should not be thinking like that. Age is just a number!
Until it is not. By now, I have seen a good number of folks smacked in the face with old age.
Their faces transformed into crinkle wrap, skin like a lizard, knuckles like marbles, slip on shoes. Cognitive and physical strength pulling out of the station. As I’ve watched.
What I’ve seen:
- Once people turn 70, they start to seem old. You meet them and they strike you as old. Definite grandparent material. Probably not going to casting calls for leading roles.
- When people turn 80, they seem to be doing pretty well. Look at them! Able and hearty! Traveling! Meeting friends for a dinner. They are rocking 80!
- Around 84, most people hit a wall. Maybe it’s a fall or a car wreck or a health condition, but they are now struggling with daily things, more and more.
- By 87, nothing is easy. Sure, they can still dress and feed themselves and enjoy their friends and family. But around this time, they become more and more dependent on other people. Not even dying is easy.
The Third Book in the Trilogy
I tell myself that when the time comes, I will go to Montana and take a long walk, hoping not to be found. I just want to walk in a beautiful land with no buildings. I want to feel warm sunshine on my crepe-y skin. I want to lay down on my back and die of dehydration, before I get eaten by coyotes or whatever. The only question is: when. How do you know when it is time to book the flight?
But for now, I still have those last 30 years, the third book in the trilogy, what I call the 3rd 3rd of life. How to use that last thirty years given that only the next twenty or so will I, realistically, have the physical and mental capability to grow and change.
I started having conversations with friends and colleagues about retirement. How were they envisioning their Third Third era? What were their plans, their hopes, their fears? Everyone mentions the travel spectrum ranging from the African Safari – Machu Pichu – South Pole triumvirate to the National Parks Driving Extravaganza. So, travel is a given. Volunteering came up as a frequent survey answer, a flexible way to have purpose and meaning. GaaS, or Grandparenting-as-a-Service ranked high. Time fillers. No one mentioned starting a business, climbing a mountain, going to school. No one mentioned a single goal.
For about a year now, ever since that day staring at my annual goal setting matrix and realizing I probably wasn’t going to join a mountain climbing club and hit the Seven Summits between now and the long walk in Montana. (Okay maybe Kilimanjaro. I’ve heard it is long but not steep), I have been considering my Third-Third.
Like Goals, But Different?
How to think about my last Third as something meaningful and productive? If I’m not this person going after goals any more, then who would I be? Maybe what I needed was something like the goals I used to set, but different. I thought to myself, Who. Who do I want to be?
I wrote down:
I want to I want to be someone who put in the effort to get continuously better at writing, one verb at a time. I will deliver to myself 200 blog posts by the time I’m 65.
By the time I am 70, I want to have had enough meaningful, generative conversations with my grown kids that they have told me everything they find annoying about dealing with me and anything I have said or done that hurt them I have had the opportunity to understand so that I can spend the next years showing them that their mom loved them enough to live out the words, ‘Now that I know better, I will do better.’
I want to be someone who arrives at 80 as strong as possible. I want to be an 80 year old who runs 3 miles, 3 times a week.
I want to be someone who dances on the beach at midnight in the arms of my mate on my 80th birthday.
I want to be someone who lives every day past my 80th birthday with such joy, gratitude and enthusiasm, it stops people in their tracks.
I want to be a member of the tribe that seeks to bring out other’s latent potential. By the day I die, I want to help at least 50 people believe in themselves more because they met me.
I will never be a real runner or a real writer. I will never be a famous self-optimization guru or make money inspiring other people. I have already failed at my marriage and, let’s be real, it’s almost impossible to be a mom and not have your kids talk amongst themselves about your foibles.
And yes, I used to have goals like build a $5 million dollar revenue stream, start a business, run a company, have a lifelong marriage.
Now I just want to be someone who does the work.
Someone who brings warmth like the sun.
Someone with the strength to hold other humans up.
Like a gnarled, bony, straggly, grinning Granny Atlas.
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