Old Age and the Fear of Dying
INTERESTING STUFF – 10 September 2016

Have You Lived the Life You Wanted?

Or planned? Or expected?

To avoid misunderstanding, let me stipulate up front that new beginnings, new goals, renewed aspirations and purpose come about at any age. But for most of us who hang out at this blog, our working lives have ended or are winding down and our private lives, too, have probably changed a great deal from 25, 30, 40 years ago.

If I live as long as my internet friends, Millie Garfield and Darlene Costner who are both 91, I have at least another 16 years – time enough to pursue all kinds of possibilities whatever amount of new knowledge and learning they might require.

Generally, however, by age 75 or so we slow down and even ignoring the barriers society places in the way of elders who seek new ventures (paid or not), it is also a time when it is useful to take stock of where we have been and what we have done over a half century or more - how we have used all that time and consider how it has turned out for us.

I've been doing a bit of that during these waning days of summer.

Today's children are pressured almost from the cradle to choose a career path. Nothing like that happened to our generation, especially for women. If we were to work at all in the mid-20th century, it was understood to be a stopgap until we found a husband and retired from the workforce for motherhood.

But I knew that wasn't for me partly because, when I graduated from high school at age 17, I still felt like a little girl. There was so much to learn, so many places to go, people to meet, things to do. I felt unprepared.

There was, however, the question of college. The University of California at Berkeley was a short trip across San Francisco Bay from where I lived, easily affordable in those days, and my mother said I could live at home and commute if I chose that. Otherwise, get a job, she said.

Two things about college. From a young age I was generally a loner and although I was at ease with most grownups I was equally uncomfortable with my contemporaries.

The idea of arriving at the Berkeley campus and undoubtedly needing to ask some kid I ran into where to go paralyzed me. I know that makes no sense but that's how it was for me then.

If college had been required for some reason, I would have managed. But it wasn't, which brought me to the second thing, the rationalization.

I had no idea what to study or what I wanted to do for a living. From day one in school I had been an A student, was an enthusiastic learner and craved more knowledge. If anyone had bothered to ask me what I wanted to know, I would have answered in a flash: “Oh, everything.”

So with no life plan available, I went to work as an office clerk in San Francisco. I hung out with Beatniks in Sausalito and North Beach and those amazing people who were mostly 10 to 20 and more years older than I saw to my continuing education by sneaking me into jazz clubs, sending me to avant garde movies, giving me books they required I read and including me in their wide-ranging, all-night discussions, debates and dialogues.

During these years (because of them?) I continued to ask myself what I wanted to be when I grew up. Nothing came to me. I liked my life if you didn't count the mindless office typing and clerking jobs.

When I tired of the fruitless internal debate about my future, I deliberately decided not to make a choice and I made a big deal of that. I made no decision my life plan: I would keep putting one foot in front of the other, I told myself, follow whatever interesting stuff turned up and see where it took me.

And oh my, that worked so well for me that here I am still doing it, now with a blog. In between, I fell into media – first radio, then television and for the last ten years of my paid career, the internet.

What a glorious ride it has been and still is, gathering in all the ideas, knowledge and collective thought I have time to track down about – “oh, everything.”

I've never tired of it because by definition, the media I worked (and still work) in requires constant learning and understanding it well enough to report on it to others.

Back when I was trying to find life path, I didn't know there was such a category of - well, let's call it “See what happens” that for me has turned out to be right up there with to doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

Now and then I still question it. Lately, especially just after I've been in touch with Millie or Darlene, I ask myself if I shouldn't make a plan for these next 15 or 16 years, choose something and follow my bliss, as it were. Be more deliberate about choices than I've been for the first 75 years.

Then my wits return. Nah. Even not knowing what I've wanted, not having a plan or expectation, it's turned out fine for me.

What about you?

Comments

In the second job I held after graduating college I remember a lunchtime conversation with a coworker where he espoused a 25 year plan for his life. I left that lunch appalled. His plan sounded so boring.

I never planned. Things just happened to always be put in front of me when they were necessary. I never planned or expected to end up where I am physically, mentally, financially, emotionally. I've made a couple of pivot turns in that path that were completely unexpected.

There were a couple of people here and there that pointed to a different path and I went. If I had a plan generated when I knew nothing about me then maybe I wouldn't have gone down those paths. Who knows now.

It's been an interesting time. I'm satisfied with my life though it's had its moments. I don't see the need for a plan for the next 10 or 15 years. I'm going to trust the Universe to put the next major experience in front of me as it has. In the meantime, I will amuse myself. And see what happens.

Ronni,

I admire you.

Linda

This brought to mind a quote by Joseph Campbell: "You have to give up the life you planned to find the life that is waiting for you."

Although I was geared toward Nursing, I was beginning to think of a career in Art by my senior year in high school. It was settled for me when my parents presented me with a form and said, "Sign here...you're going to nursing school."

I will say that nursing has served me well-not necessarily financially, I've taken many jobs to supplement my income- but I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if I went on to study Art.

As for my final years, I'm taking it one day at a time. I'll go along with whatever the Universe has in store for me.

I'm 69 and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

Only for a brief time in my 80-year lifespan did I have a plan. About halfway through college and for about three years after I wanted to own a weekly newspaper. It became apparent that wasn't going to happen for economic reasons, and I dropped the idea. I've never followed any blueprint since. My beautiful wife recently described the past 55 years as "a fun and adventuresome ride." I agree. Life has been fulfilling without a plan.

When I finished high school. there were three paths available to young women—hairdressing, nursing, teaching. That may have been owing to the geographical area (Northern Canada), but I think it was true for many people of my age. So, with few options, I chose to teach, something I would never have chosen to do if I had more choices! It served me well financially, but as soon as I could, I took my pension and set off for a search for a more meaningful path. I'm still on that search 15 years later, but am veering closer and closer to a late, late, late career in writing. Thanks for this post. It was great to read about how you achieved a satisfying life!

I wrote a blog post awhile back about the plans I had made when I left teaching. I hated the word retired as I not going to retire but regroup and do something different. I had lots of plans and did my very best to carry them out, but the universe was not willing. Six years later I'm just taking it day by day.

I'm 79 and still looking for a 5th career. Right now I'm trying a blog. Its fun. That has been the driver in my life. Do what is interesting and fun. Always trying to be on the steep side of the learning curve. It's been a hoot.

Ir's strange, but this morning I was musing about this topic. I asked myself if, as I near the end of my journey, I was satisfied with the way my life had turned out.

My conclusion was that few of the dreams I had wished for when very young had materialized. I am sure they were unrealistic to begin with. But the ones that did come to pass were great enough to compensate for the unfulfilled dreams.

I had always assumed I would go to college, but my step-father had different ideas on that subject. My mother didn't know how to make it possible and there were no such things as guidance counselors then so I didn't try to find a way to make it happen. I then chose marriage and motherhood as my goal.

The joy of holding my new born babies was the most thrilling experience I had in my life and I am not sorry that my life took the path of homemaker instead of a career. Sure, in later years I wished that college had been possible for me and eventually I did go to college, but I still didn't achieve my dream as I had to drop out before graduating.

Sometimes the path not taken may not have been the best one for us, but we will never know. Sometimes life has a way of choosing for us.

I really really wish there were a way to "LIKE" or "LOVE" the comments placed here! Thanks, Ronni, for your blog as always!

First, I thought i would go to college and become a scientist. Then, I was "called" to become a nun and thought I would be one all my life. Then I realized I needed to leave the convent to keep my sanity and did so. Then I married, had kids (adopted a third) and thought I would be married the rest of my life. Then he left after 26 years and i thought I would be happily single the rest of my life.

Finally, I ended up on a plane in Denver after diverting in a snowstorm from Seattle to Phoenix and sat next to a tall blue-eyed guy who would turn out to be my second husband, You never know, do you? After seven years, still happy together and I have committed my free time to working to reduce gun violence. And it is working.

Every experience, every bend in the road, has been an adventure. I regret none of it!

I love the comments- so many like-minded readers, don't you think? As for me, when I was very young, all I wanted to be was a mother. Later on I tried songwriter, writer, and whatever came my way so I could live where I wanted and have enough free time to do whatever, mostly travel. After my first marriage broke up, I went to grad school and got a teaching certificate along with the EdM, but then moved to places where they weren't hiring. I did teach HS English for a few years, then lots of pre-school, but mostly I waitressed, which afforded me lots of traveling time. Finally I stumbled into the best job I've ever had at about age 50- Activity Director at gated communities. What fun!!!

No plans but some lovely adventures and mostly by accident! Hospital trained lab tech in the 60's, married because I got pregnant, divorced because I shouldn't have gotten pregnant lol! (But wouldn't have missed out on my two sons for anything!) Moved up to hematology supervisor in the lab I worked in. Got married again because I wanted more consistent sex! Went back to school at 40. Eventually settled in the IT world, and supervised the install of lab system - still in same lab. Then moved across country to Tucson, got divorced again, worked at a software company, hospital IT dept, and for myself. All the time studying integrative health/wellness and graduated with a BA in that field at the age of 57. Back to PA, taught, had a bodywork practice. Then back to Tucson and the software world. Worked as a consultant in the EHR world and finally retired 3 years ago at 66. Dear god!

Who could plan for that? It was fun, scary, fascinating - and I don't regret a bit of it! Still studying because I can't give it up, develop workshops and will be offering to community next year but now on Aging and how to be creative and have some fun between dr. appointments... Would be funny if it weren't the truth. Love my life, and also entering my 70's so embracing my end of life homework - I've come to believe the more consciously we prepare for that next step on/off the path, the gentler it might be. And who knows...

Thanks Ronni!

No.

Probably because I had five plans a day, and still do.

And thought it was just me, I made plans, but still trying to decide what to do when i grow up, at 66 years young. Ok. so I got a degree in Mass Communications, and PR. and enjoyed my four years at USF, in Tampa, got married and raised the three sons, now have five grandkids, and been there for my folks in Miami over the years, before retiring to Jax. Beach two years ago. Well, grow up? Thinking taking my 4 PM nap would be a good thing. Loved all the jobs, working with Social Work, Community Center, our family business, then teaching in an Assisted Living Community...all good things, and lots of PTS/NCJW/and KFHA, volunteering too. JOB? Thinking Maynard G. Krebs...

Still taking my time figuring out what I have done and will do. Leaving a lot to the universe is a good idea. Planning seems to just fall apart at times and become discouraging. But having dreams in the form of small goals that seem they can become reality is the steps I have tried. I always put a star out to reach and every once in a while I catch it and can shine. Thanks for your inspiring words of the day. Enjoyed all you had to express.

Short answer, no! I married the wrong man for the wrong reasons. I was 'too nice' to get out of the engagement and have never been very happy in the marriage I should have gotten out before there were kids involved. At this point...in my 70's and after nearly 50 years and with an autoimmune disorder, it is really too late. I so wish I could have a 'do over'!

I always had a plan, got all my degrees done, became a psychologist. Had a wonderful practice for years...still do part time. In between I married my first love who sadly died young. I married my second love and he died a few years ago; tragically a suicide....a Vet Nam vet who lost the battle to his demons. I never thought life gave us a free pass and I was blessed to have had two great loves. I have but one regret, not having children in my early marriage. Miscarriages and I suppose with today's medical progress, it may have been different. I still work part time doing what I love. So, no, I wouldn't change a thing other than the obvious . I've had a great life,am blessed and look forward to every day and what new adventure is around the corner. I don't go down easy-:)

I suspect that, like Anon, others of us would like to have had a do-over option in at least some areas of our lives. My path in life has been rather like walking a labyrinth, and it's been mostly interesting and contemplative, though challenging and frustrating at times.

There was another option for young women when I graduated from high school in 1969, a route I considered taking because of travel opportunities. I had just begun to explore becoming an airline stewardess (only females at that time, so no "flight attendant" nomenclature). However, I ended up marrying the boy next door when he was put on academic probation in his second year of college (too much late night pinochle and music to get to those morning classes, don't you know) and moved back home. The person I had been seeing at that time, who had gone away to college and eventually became enormously successful in life, was shocked, as was everyone else who knew me, not the least of whom were my parents. But, as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. Nearly fifty years later, we are still together and still having fun, although life continues to challenge us in many ways.

I did finally complete a college degree, twenty years after I began that process, while being a wife and mother, working inside and outside the home, and raising three sons. I had a few different jobs during my adult working life, but essentially one career, in social services after finally completing that bachelor's degree.

Like you Ronni, life seemed to put options in my path when I have needed them. Recently, I have been thinking about going back to school and completing a master's or possibly a doctorate degree, but we'll see. I'd also like to do something in art and/or writing, so perhaps it would be better to just take a few classes in those areas at the local liberal arts college where I completed my undergrad degree nearly thirty years ago and see what happens from there.

I've very much enjoyed reading everyone's comments here and hearing more about your own journey, Ronni. I'm eagerly awaiting Part 2 of your interview. It's rather like a cliffhanger serial; although we know basically how things turned out for you, the details are fascinating.

I had lots of dreams, no plans or goals. I seem to always being in middle of a current life event or two. And numerous crisises.

I too have been extremely restless, needing a new interest to liven up my days.

Great line in old movie.. "I'm not too old for anything but being unhappy."


I always enjoy your writing, Ronnie. Your topic reminds me of a Christopher Hitchens quote that fascinates me for reasons I can't explain. I guess it's the 73 year old in me finding a bit of humor in his opening words:

"Even with all the advantages of retrospect, and a lot of witnesses dead and gone, you can't make your life look as if you intended it or you were consistent. All you can show is how you dealt with various hands."

My parents expected me to go to college. But, when, in 1954 the time came, I had no idea what to study. As was said before, options seemed limited to teacher, nurse, nun or dietitian. Because I was good at science, I picked Dietitian having no idea what one did and had never met one. But then, I really expected to gt an MRS degree and so it didn't matter. After two years at Sacramento City College and Cal Berkeley, I'd had it with getting A's and a boring curriculum and accepted the prposal of marriage from my high school steady, who was now finishing flight training with the Marines. Exciting, and now I could at last find out what sex was all about. Goodby career. Hello way too early marriage.

It lasted 1 1/2 yrs and then he died in a car wreck after happy hour. In retroscpect, maybe I should have gone back to college, but I thought I'd feel out of place with all those kids, me being a full fledged woman of the world. Glamour and adventure called, so I signed on as a Flight Attendant with Continental Airlines and moved from Laguna Beach to Texas, then Denver. After two years of a very fun job, a guy I'd met in church (Catholic) got in touch and, out of the blue, proposed marriage. This was all pretty much business with not much chemistry. We perceived ourselves as needing to marry now at 26 and we were of the same faith, smart and pretty good looking healthy people. So, we did.

He went to grad school .We had 4 girls in 6 years like good Catholics and made it through 21 yrss before he called it quits. I'd meanwhile finished my Batchelors and Masters degrees at Iowa State where he taught. I worked at various jobs in dietetics. Of course, the marriage was doomed from the beginning, but I have four wonderful daughters from it.

Then I found another man who made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so I quit my job at 55 and he retired at 61 . We bought a blue water cruisingCatamaran sailboat and spent 9 yrs on the ocean blue. In my wildedst dreames I'd never thought I'd be able to do this!

Now, at 80, I'm still breaking new ground for myself. We're still married, but mutually decided to live in the same building in separate apartments. (Too much togetherness) It's working very well. We are both also learing to live with disabilities, especially losing vision.

Life is still good. It's certainly not what I had expected as a young woman. Then I thought I'd follow my mother into marriage, parenthood, retirement and travel , growing old and devoted to each other.

"Life is what happens when you've made other plans"

Clearly one can have a satisfying life by following one's heart and choosing to see what happens, but there is nothing wrong with having a plan! A life plan is not a restriction that stops a person from taking advantage of serendipity, learning from life lessons and experiences, participating in unexpected opportunities, or wandering down a path one didn't expect to find. For me, having a plan feels reassuring, even when I choose not to follow it or it doesn't turn out the way I expected.

John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Probably very few of us have ended up exactly where we imagined when we were 18-20 years old. Much less imagine everything that's happened along the way. But they say it's the journey that counts, not the destination. I've done pretty well on both counts. Lots of detours and side trips along the way, but a career in a field I loved, a wonderful healthy son and grandkids, and a little home near, if not actually in, Colorado's Rocky Mountains. My current plan is to get healthy again after a bumpy 18 months and let the future take care of itself (which it would do anyway, right?).

In my day the unwritten plan was - graduate from High School, get an office job, get married and have kids. That's what I did, dull office job but through a lucky connection got a great and interesting office job that taught me a lot in many ways.

I did the usual homemakers things but whenever I could joined groups where I met people and learned from them. I was active in organizations that gave me the opportunity to try and do things that I never had done before. I remember the first time I had to introduce the guest speaker at a function - that was nerve-racking! The more I did it the easier it was. Live and learn.

Sometimes I plan things, sometimes they just happen.

When I was in my late 70's I started blogging!! I never expected such a life changing and enriching experience to come from it. I'm not blogging like I used to but I realize how much I have benefitted from hitting those keys.

So as I have said to Ronni many times - the 70's are still "so young." Anything is possible!

I was lucky to have been able to stay home with my children (a ten year age spread) for over 15 years. One day when my youngest was 5 and I was 40, she asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course we were both on swings at the park at the time, so maybe she thought I had as long a way to go as she did.

Compared to the rotten hand so many other people are dealt, I've been incredibly lucky. To start, I won the birth lottery. I was born in Canada, an enormous blessing right there. My parents loved each other, and me, and my brothers. My dad's career as a university prof meant we had a modest suburban home filled with books. My mum was gentle, kind, and infinitely patient. I was given a fantastically good start in life, though (naturally) as a teen I didn't appreciate it and was as full of angst and self-pity as anyone.

I met my husband at a university student association Christmas party. Another bit of great luck, meeting him. We married the September after I graduated and we are still together, for... well, it's coming up to 51 years, now. Don't know how many more years we've got left, but we're going to make the most of them.

I kind of fell into computer programming. More luck. It was like living in a science fiction story. I loved it, and spent the first 15 years of my career half-expecting that any day now, employers would wake up and start charging me for the privilege of programming their big expensive computers! I was a geek's geek. Eventually I got a job in a big insurance company doing things and making connections that were even too technical for the programmers, and researching new technologies.

When home desktop computers started being an affordable thing, I was an early and eager adopter. I did a monthly newsletter for the local computer club. At work, I wrote a lot of reports. Since, unlike many of my colleagues, I could actually write intelligible prose, I became an explainer-to-executives, introducing them to the advantages of strange new concepts like laser printers and computer spreadsheets.

I was the one with a steady job. My husband was always the adventurer. He worked as a high school teacher, a design engineer in a long-distance bus factory, an instructor in the education department of a government-owned computer service bureau, a restaurant owner in a small mall (both pizza and Chinese), publisher of a monthly computer newspaper (remember those?), and organizer of local computer shows.

I was the editor of that newspaper, which meant I had to assemble 50,000 words each month of news, exciting new product announcements, and feature articles. We had one employee, who sold ads to local computer stores and did the layout. My husband and I did everything else: product evaluations, trips to Comdex, bill collection, accounting, taxes... Oh yes, and also arranging those shows, several times a year. It was a crazy time, full of sleepless nights. Sometimes I didn't know how I'd get through it. Looking back, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

You mentioned way back I the 3rd paragraph about the pressure on kids these days. That's so true!
This summer my 11 year old granddaughter, a talented gymnast and dancer, attended 2 weeks of classes at a local circus training gym/ studio.
She's gone to the same studio since she was 4. She's comfortable there, knows all the instructors and excels in her field. However the 'Circus Project' people wanted to have her train at their circus focused program. They hit my daughter up the 3rd day Brianns, the grand daughter , attended classes. At the end of the 2nd week they were salivating to bring her to the is studio. Brianna HS expressed the desire to be in Cirque de Soile but she did not want to leave her comfortable studio. At dinner my daughter was pushing Bree to move to the circus training studio and said " this could be the door to your future". Bree answered "mom. I'm 11. I don't have to worry about my job yet". It was such a polite yet pointed way for Bree to tell mom she didn't want to worry about that yet.
I was so tickled with her reply.
Elle aka PlantCrone

I echo so many on here - no plans, no goals, just bumbled through what I think so far has been a varied and interesting life. I've had a good share of love, affection, learning, adventures and things just happening, as they do.

I don't think, as I contemplate the future at aged 75 , that my attitude will be any different.....but who knows what's round the corner.

Loved your blog and all the comments. I kind of fell into things and am still falling. Loving adventures, I see possibilities everywhere. Yet more to come as I celebrate being 3/4ths of a century old. I am so grateful to be alive, to be mobile, to have a damaged brain which still works fairly well, and to have opportunities to learn something new at all turns.

Ronnie,

You luckily had great timing.
You were in the "class of '72".
Big media was hitting the wall on profits.
So they decided to lower overhead by hiring women with no experience.
Of course they paid them less to lower overhead.
10 years earlier, you would gone no where.

The big media or as I call them "capitalist p__gs got the EEO law on the books to make this mandatory and legal.
I actually heard the order, "get a broad in here we have a quota".

I on the other hand loved Top-40 radio.
But when I was starting in the 60s, the hippies were just starting to bring their vinyl collections to play on the air.
Broadcast standards went in the bumper.
Bad timing for me.

Of course, by 1973 the hippies all dawned back pin stripped suits and drove beamers.
Oh did I also mention they were taking advertising money from EXXON.

Jack Ray

What a good topic - I had no thought of a career when I went to a branch of the University of Calif. at age 17 in 1957....after my required art class I switched major to Art. Only went to college to be near my high school B/F whom I married at age 18 and traveled with for 8 years, courtesy of the Army, before being divorced after 14 years...But I had my 3 wonderful children and I graduated at age 30 with a B.A. in Art.

Had a few piddly jobs then taught high school for several years and after I divorced second husband, who was abusive, got into therapy and decided to get a degree in Art Therapy and also became licensed as a psychotherapist.....this career was wonderful for me, providing me with a rewarding job, and a retirement income. Now, at 76 years of age I am again pursuing my passion with a series of Art classes I love.

All this was not accomplished easily but through years of struggle, hard work, and heartache which all of us who reach this age endure. No way to experience joy and satisfaction if not for the "down" times in life. Now married for almost 20 years to my darling husband...and though it has not always been easy, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Nothing in life is easy, but I'm glad I "followed my bliss" as Joseph Campbell said.

I always planned, but the direction that my life took was always so much more interesting than the plan. I graduated High school in 1969, with the country coming apart at the seams in protest of so many things, but yet a sense of positive change with the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. Going off to college in fall of 1969, there was really no precedent for what women were supposed to choose as a career. We were just now even being accepted into some of the “men’s” careers, and it was a hard-fought battle. Looking at the kids today, I am rather nostalgic for those crazy times and I know that is kind of a nutty thing to feel. I am also glad that they do not really know what it is like to hear a company say, “We don’t hire women” That means our movement was successful.

thanks for your post.

the only thing I would tell my younger self is ´be more adventurous, don´t be so f...g sensible´ I always had a love of nature and adventure but spent my working life in teaching (being ruled by the bell) and in charity administration. I always admired the people who threw it all up in the air to do their own thing, but I listened too much to the unspoken concern for safety from my family and doing the sensible thing. Next time around screw the career plan, I would head off to a low paying job in a jungle camp somewhere. In offices you are a only a slave to the outcomes that other people desire.

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