Was life a long ‘rat-race’ for many the importance of which we typically overemphasised? Should we have been the proverbial ‘rat’, and ‘run’ the race that intensely as if there were no end? Should we have put more 'life' into our life by rather not avoiding leisure and instead working so hard taking our profession so seriously.
When we run the marathon for about three or four decades with the speed of a hundred meter race like a sprinter or so we try, and suddenly retire from our vocation when at the peak of position, performace and engagement, we find being at the end –post of the race with no further target to chase and being left alone to be on our own. That makes many of us wonder with a sense of shock and dismay –was the rat-race worth it?
In the Indian context, where the culture eggs us on to work hard to be upwardly mobile and be in quest for financial security, leisure was often looked down upon. Taking a day off just to laze around with wife or family or just because one was not in a mood to work would have been taken by the boss and the company as a sign of unbecoming indolent behaviour and would have made the employee look suspect before them in regard to efficiency and commitment. These values were deeply ingrained in us and we ourselves never felt anything amiss about following the same.
And yet, if a person has been employed by a Corporate or Government in India, sooner or later he has to retire. Usually, the age would be around sixty years, give or take a couple of years. While pitted against the inevitable, suddenly it lends us an opportunity to pause and ponder about Age and Aging.
It is this milestone of retirement or should we say the dead-end of the race-post that rather unexpectedly makes an individual find himself in an altogether very substantially different world. How to take life forward from here on rankles most of us.
Possibly the first thing that changes is the tyranny of time, and Watch which till now was glaring from the wall and controlling every moment seems to have also retired and lost much of its relevance. Suddenly the person finds himself to be the master of his time, deciding or still better undeciding when to do what, very often based on his own sweet will. Most often time is only for reference and not to induce urgency.
The famous Parkinson Law slowly comes into play and a person starts taking much longer time to do the same work that earlier often he had to do within a tight schedule! If self-discipline has not been a strong point, procrastination on many occasions becomes one of the ‘virtues’ of the post-retired life. If something can be done to-morrow why bother to do it to-day when there will be too many to-morrows coming one after another with nothing much to do !The pace of life slows down.
The tyranny of Time symbolised by Watch is replaced with the Tyranny of Free Time !From paucity of Time we quickly seem to be faced with Surfeit of Time, which if not handled well and imaginatively may become more tyrannical and a great tormentor!
The time around when we retire turns us for some time Janus- like, a Roman God who had eyes both in the front as well as in the back. He was also a God of transitions! We try to evaluate our life in Retrospect as well as in Prospect and want to foresee as to what lies ahead. Future stares blandly at us and we do so in return!
Let us first look into and try to understand how different persons see life in prospect! Possibly there is greater individual subjectivity in how we deal with our retired life in comparison to our professional life! One reason for this is the voluntary nature of its utilisation with often limited compulsions whereby each one can decide as per his ' humour', while the latter one is relatively more involuntary and strait-jacket with the broadly similar expectation of living for a livelihhod and the attendant desires and compulsions which accompany the same !
It is interesting to understand as to why one should retire at all when at the prime of his knowledge and experience . Why it cannot be a more gradual process linked to decline of physical faculties or irrelevance related to job. After all people who are professionals and not formally employed can carry on for virtually as long as they want to and are capable of .
For instance, surgeons operate well into their seventies and even beyond, accountants audit balance-sheets of large corporates again into their seventies or beyond. Big businessmen remain CEOs and Chairmen well into their seventies and eighties. Thus, retirement is like a sudden artificial premature cutting of the umbilical cord from the concerned organisation when a person is still in the prime of his capability.
During earlier days when longevity was low and there was no formal sector for employment, people used to work till the end and usually die in harness. With growing industrialisation and also increase in longevity, the system of retirement from employment in organisations at a particular age got adopted. Hence, the issue of how to spend life post-retirement became an increasingly important matter, more so with rising longevity.
Yet the purpose here is not to underscore retirement at an age which is not commensurate with the enervation of mind or body although this is one important aspect. What is interesting is to explore how people feel in general after the retirement and try to cope with it.
Many indeed look forward to retirement not only from a Corporate Job but any other profession as well, and so want to retire early by preferably accumulating enough wealth to take care of themselves for the rest of their lives. As a result, there are so many financial consultants who write on or off, or load videos on Youtube as to how to retire early.
Many wonder as to after all why unnecessarily carry on with the same job in employment and let one’s remaining precious time fritter away. If someone has greater heights to attain towards self-actualisation it is still understandable but otherwise simply to carry on repetitively with no larger or strategic purpose because one does not know how else to spend time fruitfully, may be deemed by many as a waste of time.
Afterall on crossing the age of sixty or so, one is left with only limited number of active years, may be ten or twenty when he can be physically and mentally active and do things on his own.
Indeed many feel that after a certain age, life has to be put on a Fast-forward mode as the time flies faster with end looming increasingly nearer on the horizon. A person should prepare a wish-list depending upon his circumstances and possibilities , and finish off as fast as he can as if there were not many years at hand. Even otherwise quite a few leave the world abruptly and rather unexpectedly -may be due to the law of or lack of it related to 'random selection' by Providence. Indeed particularly after retirement one should live in deeds of personal fulfilment of whatever wishes one might still have, rather than try to live in years as the latter remains unknown
When the age has advanced, one suddenly realises that it is too late, the body gives in afflicted by disease or the usual decay. One loses both the ability and confidence to venture out. Further with age the zest to enjoy something correspondingly goes down.Temper from being jovial turns to being sober to at times sombre.
Thus, the life for many becomes desultory if not a drudgery passing from one day to the other with a gnawing sense of sameness.
Yet many live a thoughtless and aimless life even though of reasonable comfort.Is a comfortable aimless life a happy life or a meaningful life is a happy life remains an arguable existential question !
There are many views in favour of enjoying Leisure to replenish oneself mentally and physically. Aristotle held:"We are not- at- leisure in order to be- at- leisure."To Greeks non-leisure meant worldly toils for livelihood and survival. Thus, to Greeks and Aristotle, hard work had leisure as the objective.A time which a person could call as his own and indulge in relaxation, intellectual development and so on . To-day we again talk of the elusive work-life balance in lieu of modern-day workaholism. !
The Italians have a wonderful expression 'La Dolce Far Niente' thereby meaning 'pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness'(Merriam Webster).Sitting at a roadside restaurant while drinking a hot cup of coffee and seeing leisurely humanity go by can be one example .Or, be in the midst of Nature listening to the twitter of the birds .
Possibly what one should avoid is sheer slothfulness or becoming an aimless drifter of time.
Indeed one wonders if most people know better how to earn rather than spend money. Some put in too much of effort at earning in quest of financial security particularly of our generation recently retired, which was upwardly mobile coming from a middle-class background and which a generation earlier mostly lived on shoe-string budget.
Thus, ironically and even pathetically many give so much of their effort and time to earning which they might never spend in full or substantially, taking it as the measure of their existence and indeed success!
Further, when we think of preparing for retirement, usually we think in terms of financial savings enough to take care of a comfortable living. But most of us have neither the time nor the foresight to prepare ourselves in regard to how to spend our time fruitfully. Most of our hobbies do not get much cultivated during our professional life as the latter saps our energy and time.
Hence, when we retire, very often we do not know what to do with ourselves. Desultorily we engage ourselves from one task to other but often end up not doing anything meaningful on a sustained basis . This results in a sense of redundancy creeping in and reconciliation about taking the life as it comes, increasingly involving in the mundane work of family and what life offers rather than what we draw out of it !
Indeed to keep oneself purposefully engaged and avoid boredom is one challenge which many are willy nilly not able to overcome. They also get used to life as it comes even if at times it feels 'lifeless'.
However, in the ultimate analysis everyone has to decide for himself as to how he needs to spend his time. The Roman philosopher Marcus Cicero rightly stated :" Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself."
The bigger task is to make life meaningful at this stage –associating it with some larger and novel purpose which may provide happiness and be fulfilling. Most do not know how to go about the same and do not seem to have thought of or prepared for accordingly. Thus, there is a drift and directionlessness despite the desire. One is reminded of the following sentences from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? (Asks Alice)
That depends a great deal on where you want to get to “, said the Cat.
So, we sincerely want to tread the right path but don’t know how and whereto!
Indeed, we find different individuals handling Age and Aging consequent upon retirement in different ways. All are justifiable one way or the other.There is no conclusive argument in favour of any particular choice ! Afterall as to how a person goes about it, appears to be guided by the traits of his personality coupled with the compulsions of the circumstances !
Possibly quite a few would like to lead a meaningful life post-retirement with liberal doses of leisure as welcome interlude! To use time wisely while at the same time being the master of it!
Hence, some reinvent themselves accordingly.
Indeed, being in sixties may a little boldly be considered to be the 'youth' of old age!
While trying to evaluate oneself in Retrospect, one may take what is sung as the famous seemingly swan song'My Way' by Frank Sinatra as the pursuit of sacredness of one's individualism and wishes despite the odds and occasional failures. The song is long and though it deserves to be quoted in full,due to constraints of space let us pen down the following stanzas and savour them :
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I travelled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way!
And now, how some look at life in Prospect!
One is reminded of Odysseus, the smartest person on the side of the Greeks , who gave the idea of Trojan Horse in the battle of Troy and the rest as we know is history.While returning home from the battle, he took a separate journey covering ten years through ocean, the travails of which are recounted in the epic poem Odyssey of Homer.
On reaching home, Odysseus places his son Telemachus on the throne of Ithaca and starts leading a life of leisure. But soon he feels bored and restless living a routine life without much purpose. He thinks to himself that though the best is over and he is physically not as strong as he was before and capable of earlier heroics, still all is not lost and something of his past is still within him. So he sails out again on a maritime adventure for further novelty and experience as was the want of those days.
The above phase of Odysseus is beautifully captured by the poet Alfred Tennyson and can be a great source of inspiration to those who are aging having left their best days behind but still want to lead an active and meaningful life instead of resting on their laurels.
Let us see a few lines from Tennyson's poem Ulysses :
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil ;
Death closes all : but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note ,may yet be done ,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
'tis not too late to seek a newer world,
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are,we are ;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate ,but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not yet to yield.
Thus,while aging is inevitable,retirement is more of an inflection point not foreclosing or spelling doom for optimism and future activities.
To wrap up,possibly a very fulfilling experience of life is to be genuinely deserving to think of the past as having ''done it my way'' as sung by Frank Sinatra ,and of the future ''to strive ,to seek ,to find and not yet to yield'' because '' tho' much is taken ,much abides'' and ''that which we are,we are ''!