Swaying gently in the afternoon breeze my hammock allows me to drift like a caddis fly on a sedate stretch of river, a decent drift. Rivers provide us answers to our questions. All too often rivers prompt us to ask better questions.What if numerous studies aren’t enough proof as to the validity of creative work? Turning on my side I ask my question directly to the river. How can I be certain creative work will actually make me happy all through retirement? Palominos graze nearby posing proudly under the shade of tall pines. Many would argue it is wealth and the options it provides that makes one happy in retirement. I disagree. I assert performing creative work for compensation or not all throughout one’s retirement years is as good as it gets irrespective of one’s financial situation good or bad.
Having a regular job in retirement is like getting in touch with nature by feeding bears through a sliver of open window from inside your securely locked car. Tragically I lost my mother at the tender age of ten. My father a technical writer for Boeing and NASA decided to sell our house which he built himself on a pine-covered hill overlooking Lake Washington in Seattle. We moved to Mexico in the mid 60’s. My father was ready to write his great American novel.
It was in Mexico that I got my introduction and early education regarding living happily in retirement. Living in various colonies of retired Americans in Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo, and Acapulco provided me great insight into how happy or unhappy one can be in their retirement years.
Every sunset the “creative folks” gathered spontaneously at one of the artist’s apartments jutting out from the tropical hillside overlooking the ocean. Drinks were poured and the ritual began. Novelists, cartoonists, poets, painters, philosophers, sculptors, musicians, actors all throwing in their two cents as to the meaning of life. At my fathers insistence I joined them at every sunset as part of my ongoing education.
Each individual in attendance performed creative work sometimes for compensation sometimes not. By and large they were a happy group excited to see who they would become in older age. Helping to inspire each other was their contribution to the group’s success. Many times they shared their finished pieces with the group and were content with that. Other times they spoke of editor’s deadlines, art show dates and the like as the devil. Yet it was clear to me whether it was the inside group’s support or the outside world’s pressure both were helpful. These creative folks learned how to make the most of their time, energy and talents. They had retired just not from life.
Meanwhile I routinely watched retired doctors and lawyers abandon their new yachts and villas. Wealthy retired businessmen were murdered over local woman, became victims of real estate scams, while others fell into depression, the bottle or both. All too often it was almost comical watching wealthy retirees living the “Endless Summer” retirement dream. Sadly they discovered their unhappiness in retirement one day at a time. At times it appeared they had spent their entire lives up until that very moment working practically non-stop 24/7 or close to it. Their retirement plans were 99.9% financial. Now suddenly like in the movie “Groundhogs Day” with Bill Murray these retirees awoke to the same empty day over and over again. They really didn’t know what to do with themselves.
This stark comparison was common place in the various retirement and artist colonies I lived in during my years in Mexico. The folks living a leisure retirement the “Endless Summer Retirement” were mostly miserable too much of the time. The folks performing creative work for compensation or not continued to grow, and fully develop themselves. They were happy, creative and productive. Each had found their passion and capitalized on it.
They’re creative, passionate people. They’re busy doing that which they were best suited to do. They’re genuinely excited to see who they will become in this new phase of their lives. Huddled around the table at sunset they push each other to think a little differently then they had the day before. They embrace the secret to maintaining their mental flexibility. Mental rigidness (can’t teach an old dog new trick) is the Kryptonite of older age.
Staring intently into crystal clear, braided pocket water, I smile, recalling how yesterday I was getting lost in what I love doing. Tomorrow I will awaken excitedly to the prospect of creatively filling one of my 6,000 blank pages. Thankfully I saw first hand long ago that the “Endless Summer Retirement” is really more like the “Endless Bummer Retirement”. What creative work are you looking to do within your 6,000 blank pages?