I don’t always agree with other people. Not that they could care less, much less so if what they’re planning on doing affects themselves alone. In any event sometimes the least offensive way to contradict someone (or, if you’re not feeling particularly confrontational, to side-step them) is to say you’re on a different page. The observation isn’t necessarily one of restrained politeness; it may actually be true. Even people in seemingly similar circumstances – people you’d expect to behave similarly – can be on a very different page. We all have our own inertia; some are winding down, others are winding up and others are merely coasting or in-between. Contemplation of change (including the grave matter of retirement) can of course stimulate alternate responses; some see it as a race to the finish; others set up a beach chair and watch the tide roll out. Recently the difference was brought home to me.
In my retirement I rejoice in what I have without feeling any obligation to do anything further. A friend of mine on the threshold of retirement behaves quite differently. He is aggressively canvassing a number of corporate directorships and charitable offices. He intends to pursue one or more of these at the instant of retirement. This gave me pause. It made me wonder whether I wasn’t being lackadaisical. Should I be doing something to justify myself? Had I thrown in the towel too early? Am I as Has-been?
Interestingly my friend and I have many things in common. But he is unquestionably geared to accomplish more in life than he has already (and that has been considerable). While I can see the value in enlarging upon one’s successes in life, I fear the preoccupation may translate into doing more of the same just because there is nothing better to do. I also fear that if unchecked the enthusiasm diminishes the value of relishing what one has. Although this may sound that I am feeding my own truancy, I believe there is real effort required to learn to be satisfied with what one has, much the way one must learn to trust one’s instincts. In both cases mere lip service is insufficient (and equally perilous). It may be my downfall that I have ever been content with my prevailing situation. Having said that, I also know that on occasion I have made dramatic change when I am no longer happy, but those 90° turns always restored me to a path of complacency. I am at ease limiting my scope in life at least with respect to what was traditionally within the ambit of my professional occupation. As much as we are taught that the sky’s the limit, I rein in that misty-eyed gusto. The metaphor I now adopt is that I prefer to look out rather than to look in; that is, I want to absorb the scenery around me, not the terrain of my personal development. I don’t need to re-type my Curriculum Vitae. I prefer at this stage of my life to be a bystander rather than a performer, an observer rather than an actor (or a “player” as those A-type personalities might prefer to be called). The other reality is that, even if one were a concert pianist or a celebrated courtroom lawyer, it is likely required endless work to get there. Eventually it may be opportune to take up another career, a different career, and one which by design avoids a path of exhaustion. Choreographing such a move is not without its challenges. One cannot simply pluck a new model from the sky and try it on for size. If one is serious about what to do, it is never an accident getting there. And what is probable is that there will be some hard decisions along the way (even if in retrospect those decisions are obvious or necessary).
If I examine the goal of my ambition I can understand why I am pleased to plagiarize the success of others. Let me explain. First, my objective has no ulterior motive; I simply want to be happy. I do not for example want to be happy because of something else; that is, my happiness is not dependent upon achieving some further or other target. Just being happy is sufficient. While that may sound trite it in fact requires some accommodation to relinquish a lifetime yearning for achievement. As for infringing on the copyright of others, by that I mean only that it is no indignity for me to have the advantages of others’ success without the hassles normally associated with it. To be perfectly blunt, living in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island for five months a year is about as close as I will get to Hollywood. Driving my Cadillac along streets lined with palm trees and hanging Spanish moss is my idea of a passable way to go shopping for groceries. Granted, not a big deal by most people’s standards but it works for me. This flightiness is punctuated by the numerous Audi, Mercedes and Corvette convertibles sailing by (mostly with South Carolina licence plates naturally). A bicycle jaunt to Harbour Town to watch the yachts in the late afternoon sunshine is similarly inspiring, more of that harmless business of commandeering the vernacular of paying customers who are intent upon exhibiting their style.
My intellect is sharp enough to deter me from any sense of comparative failure when I see what others have. In spite of any hope or ambition to the contrary, we’ll never be anyone other than who we are. The only real success is to be happy with oneself. What’s more to the point is that I haven’t the energy to sustain anything more complicated. If I need to quell my urge to feel qualified in this atmosphere I maintain a pretence of mockery or perhaps some highbrow distance. It is incontrovertible that one cannot have money and things; and that things deteriorate. I can find no complaint with gazing upon palm trees, the beach and the Ocean every morning over coffee. If this is the product of my life, well then that is just fine!