Now that I am ‘retired’ and in my 60s, I find myself trying to define this stage of life as fully as previous ones, such as going to college, entering the work force, getting married, having children. But it seems to me that this stage is different, one that doesn’t come with the scaffolding of strict work schedules or childcare needs. It’s all about time—how we think of it, what we do with it.
Some people dream of round-the-world cruises, or moving closer to their kids, or just being able to afford not to work full time. But when you think about it, the dream is almost always the ability to choose how to use your time. And for that, you need to be open to the possibilities. My own sense of time is a bit skewed by a career in television where the clock is demanding and unforgiving down to the half-second. It’s taken some time (there it is again) to develop good habits without the deadlines crashing over my head and making the decisions for me.
I’ve gone a few boxing rounds with ‘time’ in the past two years since I retired. The first was wrestling with the notion of not working full-time, being now 64, noodling out who I am if I’m not working as I did from the age of 15. To begin with, how am I 64? I mean, I was 34 about ten years ago, in my mind’s eye. My almost 30-year-old son was a toddler just a bit ago. Why does Facebook keep sending me ads for ‘anti-aging’ products? Jeez, at one point, I got one about a mobility scooter and nearly threw my phone out the window.
I think I won this round—or at least fought to a draw—when I realized that we are all just nesting dolls, containing an array of our former selves. When the sun shines and I’m driving, and the right Tom Petty song comes on, I truly am my teenage self again. Inside the older people all around us are the wild child or young parent or wanderer they once were. And it’s okay to feel yourself living at various points along your own timeline.
My second round facing off with time revolved around how to be intentional with it. I didn’t want to fritter away my days or lose a sense of purpose, but I also wanted to feel free to do nothing (which I would argue IS doing something). My husband leaned into this more quickly, framing houses with Habitat for Humanity, taking up cycling, and practicing daily guided meditation. I can’t emphasize enough how unlike him that last activity used to be, so it caught my attention. I’m giving it a go as well, and it feels like a chance to get squared away, as my military dad used to say. It’s difficult to spend the hard-won currency of time wisely if your mind never quiets.
So that brings us to the third round of facing off with time. The part where I look in the mirror and see my mother. Where I see my hands and think those can’t be mine. Where my feet have veto power over stilettos. Where young people call me ‘ma’am’ and I honestly have no idea who they’re talking to. Part of this battle is normal, part of it is a carry-over from working in television where, let’s just say, one receives an inordinate amount of feedback on one’s appearance. Here, I called on the idea of ‘radical acceptance’ from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which has been a powerful influence in my life in recent years. The concept calls for looking at situations with non-judgmental curiosity rather than a need to control or a tendency to feel not quite good enough. It fills me with gratitude to be in good health, to have my family safe, to still contribute and exercise the wisdom I’ve gained.
I’m sure my boxing match with time is not over, nor yours. And life is closer to the end than the beginning. But it always makes me smile to remember Djimon Honsou’s scene in my favorite movie, Gladiator, when he contemplates joining his ancestors when life is over and then says, ‘but not yet. Not yet.’
We’re still here. Let’s make the most of it.