Fast-Moving Age Wave Far from Finished
The symptoms showed up late last year, not long after my 71st birthday. A weariness settled in. It muffled my normally robust energy, leaving me bored and brittle. Day after day I consulted the list I had thoughtfully prepared outlining tasks I’d always planned to tackle when I retired:
Sort through old photos
Clean up gardening supplies in the garage
Cull holiday decorations in the attic
List armchair on Craigslist
Good, legitimate goals, all of them—the kind of unfinished business that builds up during years of focus on family and work. I’d always thought, somehow, that as I “matured” there would come a time when I would luxuriate in this process of sorting through history and lightening up. Instead, I felt impatient. I’d start a task and promptly lose interest. Almost anything could divert me. Before long, I’d look at boxes and not be sure which things I had meant to toss and which to save. (Lest you suggest the obvious, let me clarify right now that throwing the whole lot out simply is not part of my genetic makeup.)
In this era of discomforts disguised by initials, I diagnosed my malaise as PDD—Project Deficit Disorder. Tasks and chores delivered none of the zest missing in my days. Then, a bulb catalog showed up in the mail and offered a remedy--I promptly ordered 1,000 grape hyacinth bulbs. Alas, I was adding things rather than subtracting, but a project had taken shape in my mind. One hundred bulbs per hour? Was that a reasonable goal? One hour a day?
The deficit I suffered was Passion,
Well, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded, but when it ended, I was back where I started, mulling the to-do list and feeling the hovering presence of PDD. I rethought my diagnosis. I‘d gotten the initials right, I decided, but not the true source of this disorder. The deficit I suffered was Passion, not Projects. I needed a sense of purpose.
I guess I’m not the retiring type. Not yet, at least. Or not ready for the kind of retirement I envisioned. The tasks I’d thought would bring a satisfying sense of completion did nothing at all to ignite the buzz of excitement that tells me I’m still alive. I wondered how to keep the fire from going cold as I advanced through this, a seventh decade.
Demographic numbers suggest lots of folks like me out there—retirees not ready for traditional retirement. Every single day this year, and for several years to come, 10,000 adults in the United States will cross the demarcation line of age 65.
We’re the Age Wave that psychologist Ken Dychtwald identified in the title of his 1990 book. The wave that he forecast would change society and confront traditional views of aging and retirement. It appears he had it right.
At traditional retirement age, many of us are far from finished. Take actress June Squib, nominated at age 84 for an Academy Award in recognition of her performance in the film “Nebraska.” And just this month, Oscar winner Estelle Parsons, 86, opened a Broadway play about a woman who barricades the door and arms herself with a Molotov cocktail when her adult children try to move her from her Brooklyn apartment.
Granted, these are performers, different perhaps from the rest of us. But it’s the entertainment media that fashioned and feeds our cultural infatuation with youth, and media that can change it.
And don’t forget, there’s also Pope Frances. Last year Time Magazine honored him as Person
of the Year in recognition of the revitalization he aroused worldwide in his first nine months as Pope. At 77, he’s far from finished, indeed.
We face decades of living
for which we have few guidelines
The same can be said for many of us now afloat on this retirement wave. We face decades of living for which we have few guidelines. We’re reinventing ourselves with second and third careers to provide economic, social or intellectual support for our extended “golden” years. We’re navigating new roles in a culture so enamored of youth that we feel devalued with every wrinkle and arthritic joint. No wonder we suffer the symptoms of Deficit Disorder—be it passion, purpose, project or position that’s missing in our lives.
Actually, I have come to think that PDD isn’t exclusively age-related. It’s a malady that shows up at transition points throughout our lives—an indicator that something needs to change. I suspect it was actually PDD—Passion Deficit Disorder—that pushed me off the cliff twenty-some years ago when I put down my reporter’s notebook and left a position at The Register-Guard.
Friends asked me then if I was retiring. No, I insisted. Not retiring! Repositioning. It was time for new challenges. I’d spent 20 years as a newspaper journalist, 13 of them at this paper. As I hit 50, I felt the pinch of restlessness and grappled with a choice: settle in for the remainder of my working life, or make a career leap.
The leap felt precipitous. Regular work had shaped my days and my identity since age 15 when I proudly served my first Dairy Queen cone. Adrift in the gap of unscheduled days, I grappled with self-doubt. Was this change a mistake? Had I jumped too soon?
As I searched for direction, I hiked the reassuring path to the summit of Mt. Pisgah almost daily. The workout gave structure to shapeless days and eventually led me into writing two books about walking, for fitness and for healing. I found my stride in a decade of opportunities to travel across the country teaching walking workshops at resorts and cancer survivor events. Then last year, with professional invitations waning and personal interests shifting, restlessness stirred again. Where’s the passion, I wondered. What still lights the fire in my belly?
What inspires us at this time in life?
The time seemed right for another leap! This time I’m leaping backwards, in a way. Returning to The Register-Guard where I worked 1978-1992. The leap has me waking up at night, abuzz with questions and ideas for this new project—a column that explores the people, and passions, and ideas that keep us vital and involved with life as we face the challenges and opportunities of this, a new old age.
It’s my hope with this column to focus, with humor, experience, compassion and heart, on how we age and on how we respond to issues that accompany advancing years.
In coming weeks, I’ll be seeking inspiration and information in interviews with fellow explorers in the expansive landscape of our “retirement” years.
And I’ll be sharing my own journey as well. What wisdom, what choices, what tools of survival now inform our decisions? What inspires us at this stage in life? We are healthier than generations before us, living longer in an ageist society that historically has pushed old age out of sight and out of mind. I’m not going there yet!
Carolyn Kortge of Eugene is a former editor and feature writer for The Register-Guard
and author of The Spirited Walker. Contact Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org