Thursday, April 12, 2007

NPR - Being over 50

The subject of this column is about being in my late 50's. Something I learned recently in an e-mail communication with a friend of mine made me think about how we deal with change throughout our life. I wrote about this thought, and wanted to expand on it in a different direction. I realized that one's 50's is the most significant time in one's life for a variety of reasons, especially now as many in their 50's here in the US are finding themselves having to face major life changes, like early retirement or new careers.

I chose to retire in December 2005 at the age of 56 to pursue a new career. There's a long story about it here. It wasn't a tough decision to retire, it's tougher living in retirement after a long career, because you are for the first time in your life your own boss. It's your life now. But I'll always say I don't regret the decision or the life because I have two things we all strive for through our life and when given it, often fail to use it. And these are?

Time and freedom. Obvious? Well, yes, because you can choose anything you want, even working somewhere else. But you have to be mentally ready, and if you're not, you end up like my Dad, who puttered his life away from various illnesses and health conditions. At one point he was taking 11 drugs every day and have a quintuple heart bypass. Shortly after his 75th birthday he didn't get out of bed and died two days later. He was just tired of life.

What's my point? Well, I come to believe your 50's is the most critical time in your life. We all know the 40's are a transistion and the 60's are for retirement life and beyond. So the 50's are? Well, physically you've past the point you can get better, or not without a hell of a lot of work, and you can only stay even or slow the decline. It's the reality of our bodies where we slowed in our 40's and it's now permanent, we're not young anymore and don't have any hope to be anything close.

Mentally though, we're just starting. It's the time we've seen a lot in our life and it's the time we can redirect our lives into whatever we want to do artistically or academically. Our brains won't begin to decline for another 20 years, and even though it takes us longer to learn something, we know how to learn better and don't bother with the bullshit teachers like to feed students (ok, it's needed when young, just not when we're older).

The 50's are the time we come to terms with our own being, our sense of who we have been, who we are, and where we're going. Studies have shown that our perspective in our later years (after 50) is usually set in our mid-30's. We can change it in later years but the basic foundation is there, and if you don't have a passion for life outside of work, you're in trouble. But you don't realize it until you're there. And when you get there, you had better be ready, or you just fade into oblivion.

When you get into your 50's, you're like the photo, everything is there structurally and you have the time and freedom to refurbish the interior to be whatever you want. How will you fill your life when you arrive at the door to start a new life? Me? I'll bring my camera and wander through life taking pictures I like and write about what I think, see and feel. And hopefully find some moments that touch others. My life is centered around my Website and all it contains plus a few more things not there but within me still.


  1. Retirement can be a rude awakening if one isn't prepared. My own father recently retired and has so far had a rough go of it. Too often, I think, people become so bound up with their job that it blurs the line between identity and occupation. What does that mean for us when we find ourselves switching careers or left with nothing but time on our hands? It's seems wise to shore up one's identity with other pursuits besides work. What rational person would dump all of his money into one stock? The key to weathering change might be in diversity of character. A principle of evolution and extinction is that genetic diversity acts as insurance against environmental disruptions. Are we as individuals any different?

  2. Several interesting posts by you, especially since I'm 55 and a widow. My husband died at age 58, and had been putting off retirement for some time. We DID have plans, a small farm, and raising horses -- which we'd just begun to realize.

    I think too many men neglect their physical health and think they can function as they always have -- in their 50s. When that proves to be impossible, they choose to ignore it -- and the warning signs of serious and/or fatal illness.

    Your journal is insightful and your photos, incredible.