The gift of time is very real. Life expectancy has increased dramatically because people are in much better overall health than prior generations. In 1950, for example, a person age 65 could expect to live another 14 years, with about half of those years in good health.
Today, people live 19 years on average past 65 with 12 of those years in good health. And lifespans are likely to continue increasing. So, are these added years a gift or a burden?
“It is a time for us to let go of both our fantasies of eternal youth and our fears of getting older, and to find the beauty of what it means to age well,” Joan Chittister wrote in her 2008 book, “The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.”
“It is time to understand that the last phase of life is not non-life; it is a new stage of life,” she wrote. “These older years — reasonably active, mentally alert, experienced and curious, socially important and spiritually significant — are meant to be good years.”
These are the capstone years that bring to bear all of the experience, wisdom and desires we have to make a whole new life. The gift of these years is the opportunity to become more fully alive. How we manage and master this gift of time will determine the success, satisfaction and rewards enjoyed during this life stage.
“Time is the coin of your life,” Carl Sandberg said. “It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.” Do you have the understanding and tools necessary to address this phase of your life?
NEW HABITS NEEDED
When we were children, our parents, family and teachers helped us understand how to navigate in life.
Later, we had the structure of our careers, education and continuing support from our families. There were many support systems or examples to help guide us. Learning from experience was normal because we usually had time to adapt or recover from bad decisions.
Many people approach retirement with a general understanding of how to plan for their eventual financial, housing and lifestyle needs. They remember how their parents or grandparents seemed to do these things. But very few people receive any specific assistance to successfully navigate this next phase of their lives. We are generally on our own.
Without any structure, some retirees will start thinking about regrets and things they wished they had done. Or they may start thinking about what they don’t have. They may very well start preparing for their next phase of life simply by dwelling on their past.
With new challenges popping up unexpectedly, the gift of time can become more of a burden than an opportunity to blossom. Focus groups conducted by the National Council on Aging report most retirees favor quality of life over longevity, so it may be necessary to break some old habits and explore new directions. We will need to form new habits in our “senior” years.
We need to understand our talents and how we might want to share them with others. How do we perceive our accomplishments in this phase of our life? How will we tackle barriers that might confront us? Do we understand our purpose? It can and should be a fulfilling adventure.
Ron Smith is a Maricopa resident and an aging-in-place advocate. He is a member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee, a member of the Maricopa Senior Coalition and a certified Aging-in-Place specialist.
This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa magazine.