Saturday, January 28, 2017 is my 60th birthday. For months I’ve just shaken my head in disbelief at the thought of it. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem possible. Maybe it should just be another date on the calendar, but it isn’t. Like I jokingly said to my bride of 37 years recently (who turned 60 last summer), “This is more serious because it’s happening to me!”
Part of me still thinks of myself as the young son of a wonderful Mom & Dad living on the farm during junior high and high school, catching the school bus daily and being bullied on the way because of being the skinniest kid around. Part of me is the 16-year-old grocery stock boy putting cans on shelves and buffering the store aisles for $1.60 an hour. Part of me is still having fun in college with those who would become lifelong friends. Part of me is the shy introvert who still prefers a good book and a quiet room over any loud gathering. Part of me is still fumbling around trying to figure out how to talk with others – especially girls. Part of me is recalling my first full-time work or moving to a new city or experiencing new ventures of faith that would shape a lifetime. Part of me is trying to figure out how to handle kids’ diapers (only now they’re grandkids’ diapers).
But nobody can see those parts of me regardless of how real they are in my mind. My soul hasn’t aged quite as obviously to others as has my appearance. I’m not exactly sure what others see when they look at me or what they think when they think of me (if they do at all) – especially younger people.
Do they just see someone who is old? Someone with thinning, gray hair and age spots in way too many visible places? Do they see someone who tends to slouch a little more than in years past? Do they see someone who isn’t as relevant, useful, trendy or fun as others who are younger and more energetic? Does that car of teenagers driving by see some old fart they want to scare by yelling at me out the window while I’m walking my dog? (Yes, that’s happened several times in recent years.) Do employers see a senior to push out of the work force in favor of someone younger who has more creativity, ideas, and energy (and a much lower salary)?
Those who haven’t approached 60 birthdays yet may not know or suspect how this day can mess with one’s mind. Older friends with 20-30+ more years than me under their belt are probably chuckling at me at this point saying, “Jeff, you’re just a kid to someone my age.” I know they’re right. I’ll always be my parent’s youngest child to them regardless of my age.
Most birthdays don’t get to me, but this one has. Why? I think it’s because the social/cultural perceptions and expectations just don’t match who I am and what I feel inside. My head and my body know I’m 60, but my heart and spirit haven’t gotten there yet. So how should I respond to the day? I see three options:
- See myself as growing old and start living the life others expect of seniors in our culture;
- Carry on as though nothing is changing;
- Take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.
The first option above just isn’t me. Part of me imagines what it would be like to retire from full-time employment, volunteer more for my church, run a little Airbnb business on the side to help pay the bills, and downshift from the faster pace I’ve traveled for decades to something more common to one in his 60s. I’ll consider that a guilty pleasure to think and dream about, but not something likely to happen anytime soon. I have no plans to dramatically change course, riding off into the sunset of some presumed, easy, self-absorbed retirement. There is work to be done, and as far as I know, I’m still the best person to be doing some of it. So I can cross the first option off the list. It isn’t me and it isn’t financially an option, anyway.
The second option of carrying on as though nothing is in flux sounds like a possibility, but isn’t very realistic. My body (energy, sleep needs and more) is, indeed, changing and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. I’d wear myself out ignoring that reality.
It seems like option three makes the most sense to me: take stock of life and reenlist for a continuing tour of duty with adjustments made as needed.
So here is what I think is ahead insofar as it is up to me:
- There is more to learn, so I’ll keep learning something new every day. I thrive on learning – always have, always will. When the court ruling came out earlier this week on whether or not a federal judge would allow another company to purchase the one I work for, I relished the opportunity to read all 158 pages of the decision before going to bed that night, learning all kinds of matters related to relevant law, the opposing sides’ arguments, and the judge’s reasoning. It was fascinating and the highlight of the month for me personally and professionally in terms of learning. Teaching others forces me to keep learning as well, so I’ll keep saying “yes” to teaching opportunities because I know it will force me to learn more. True lifelong learners know it’s a vital part of a meaningful life and should have no end.
- There is a better me to grow into, so I’ll keep working at being a better person. Growing in my Christian faith and practice is also an unending pursuit to become more like the One I worship. I’m attending a marriage seminar this weekend at our church because there is always room for learning how to be a better husband even after these nearly 38 years of marriage to my bride, Linda. I haven’t yet mastered the art of being the best father, grandfather, son, employee, teacher, friend, citizen or neighbor I can be, so there’s work to be done to keep moving in the right direction on all of those fronts.
- The older you get, the more important it is to pay attention to your health, so I’ll continue to be mindful about my health. I’ve been blessed to work at Humana for over 13 years where employee health is a major focus. I wouldn’t do what I do to #startwithhealthy if not for my employer’s vigilance at emphasizing health and well-being with all employees. That doesn’t mean I deny myself any type of food I enjoy, but it means I make more healthy choices daily than not. I keep my weight in check and stay reasonably active averaging 4-5 miles a day of walking. I could do more, but I won’t obsess about it. As far as my doctor and I are concerned, I’m in good health and I want to keep it that way.
- As long as I can make positive contributions, I’ll keep giving my best to my employer. I love what I do and the wonderful people I get to do it with every day at my job, so unless some unexpected ideal opportunity comes knocking on my door and makes me an offer I can’t refuse (not likely), I’m happy to stay where I am and do my best to make a positive difference for my company. I’m in my 14th year here and I like the thought of making it to my 20th anniversary.
As long as God gives me life, breath, passion, skills and opportunity along with the health and mind to make a difference in the world, then who am I to plan otherwise? Sure, I’d rather be working out of my home these days most of the time instead of going in to the office. I’d rather have more sleep and more free time. I need to get better at saying “no” to some requests that consume huge amounts of what should be free time. But I value serving others more than serving myself, so saying “no” is a constant struggle.
There is actually a spiritual and biblical component to why I keep the schedule I do. I just don’t see anywhere in the Bible where old folks are told to stop being productive and fade away, doing nothing but living for themselves the rest of their days. It just isn’t scriptural. The ways in which we are able to serve necessarily change over time, but the fact that we serve does not change. My health and abilities may dictate what I can and can’t do, but I can still serve God and man in some way as long as there is one more breath in me.
So this week I turn 60. It sure has me being more reflective than a typical week or a normal birthday. It isn’t just another date on the calendar. It’s a chance to reenlist in life – in making a difference and serving the best I can wherever ability meets opportunity.
Time to get back to work…
Added Feb. 3, 2017: I just ran across this quote from Margaret Mead which seems appropriate – “Sooner or later I’m going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”