We spend a great deal of our adult lives taking care of business and preparing for the future. We think about our plans for “someday” but our focus is on paying bills, raising children, building careers and establishing our place in the community. Then, in what seems like the blink of an eye in hindsight, you wake up to find the kids have grown up, the roots are down and you’re at retirement age. Someday has arrived. Now what?
To answer that question we have to know what motivates us. Family? Service? Art? Music? Legacy? A hobby? A sport? For me it’s adventure. I committed at a very young age that my life would never be dull. The minute life becomes routine I shake things up and make changes. That’s why I’m writing this from the road. This photo is the scene I’m looking at as I’m writing this post. Mike and I have no family responsibilities right now and both of us are reasonably fit and in good health. I love being a counselor but we realized a window of opportunity for adventure was open so I suspended my practice and we took it. We bought an RV and set out in June to see the United States. Here are our travels so far:
We recognize this window is narrow and could close at any time but that just makes the experience all the sweeter. Even the bad and scary times have their value because they will make the best stories.
Sometimes one of our strongest motivating factors is fear. It’s hard to let go of the familiar routine and even harder to let go of the security of a steady paycheck. We are unsure whether we have enough money to retire or take a leap of faith on one of our dreams. We worry about what might happen so we delay—sometimes so long we run out of time. Or health. Or other responsibilities interfere. There are some visions you will have to let go of. I will never hang glide, learn to roller blade or bike across the country. It is unlikely I will ever write a best seller or earn big bucks. But that’s OK because there is still plenty left on my bucket list and I’ve learned how much money is enough is for me.
What about age? What if I get sick? Or my partner gets sick? What if something awful happens?
I remember a woman I met at a Florida marina a decade or so ago when we were on another adventure, a sailing trip. We were chatting while we were waiting on our laundry to dry and she told me she and her husband, both in their 80s, were preparing to sail to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala to wait out hurricane season. I asked her if they had ever cruised the Great Loop, a voyage mostly in sheltered waters that includes the eastern part of the U.S. to Canada and back down to the Gulf of Mexico. “Not yet,” she replied, “we’re saving that until we’re old.” That woman became my role model on the spot. Now when I start the “what ifs” I think of her and remind myself that I’ve made it into my sixth decade and have been able to handle everything life has thrown my way so far. I have to trust that will continue.
You can spend your whole life planning, waiting for the right time and still miss it. In one of my favorite movies, Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp portrays Jack Sparrow, a flamboyant pirate captain more obsessed with adventure than treasure. In one scene, observing the misery of Orlando Bloom as he watches the love of his life walk away to marry someone else after he failed to declare his feelings for her. Jack comments dryly, “If you were waiting for the opportune moment, mate, that was it.”
In another memorable movie, About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson plays a milk toast character who has spent his whole life being conservative and playing it safe. Everything about him is boring—his job, his marriage and his relationships. He has no dreams and no interests. Soon after he retires he finds all his careful preparation was meaningless to his replacement and he has been quickly forgotten. If you haven’t seen the movie, just suffice it to say it’s a real downer and not anyone’s idea of a happy retirement but it does serve as a good reminder to us.
One of the bonuses of living into our 60s and beyond is a new understanding of the precious commodity of time. So whether you are motivated by adventure or creating the perfect garden or spending time with grandchildren or perfecting your golf swing, if you’ve reached someday are you acting on your dreams? Are you emulating Captain Jack Sparrow? Or Jack Nicholson?