I've been thinking a lot about the Pilgrims lately, and not because as I write this it's a few days after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving represents abundance, yet my thoughts concerning these first New England immigrants have been more about scarcity and how they dealt with it.
Coming to the New World was always a risky venture for them, and to make matters worse, when they arrived, they were not where they expected to be, the mouth of the Hudson River, where the weather was more temperate and soil more fertile.
You need only step into Provincetown Harbor in November, where they waded ashore for the first time, or stand for few moments in the winter wind off Plymouth Bay to imagine their dismay at the miscalculation that had brought them there.
Despite the fact that he had misgivings about the Pilgrims at first (he thought they were kooks), Christopher Jones, skipper of the Mayflower, had come to respect his pious passengers, so much so that he delayed his departure as long as he could.
But on April 5, 1621, almost six months after it arrived, the Mayflower sailed for England, There is a local cafe which has a painting of this moment hanging on the wall. It shows the citizens of the newly founded colony of Plymouth watching the Mayflower leave, taking with it any possibility of going back to the life they had previously known. From now on, they would be alone in a world full of uncertainty and peril, which also offered, if they persevered, the possibility of creating a better life.
It's pretty clear to most baby boomers that they will be creating, either by choice or circumstances, a very different kind of retirement from their parents, for whom it simply meant, stop working.
Retirement was first quantified in 1935, when the Social Security Administration gave it the number, 65. At the time, the average lifespan was 68, so it made sense to spend the relatively few years you had left exclusively focused on leisure.
Since then, however, life expectancy has expanded by almost 30 years, adding what some call a "third age" to the lives of those of us fortunate enough to benefit from longevity.
The question is, what do we do with it? And what do we call it?
Exactly what the new retirement will look like is as obscure as some of the new "re" words—rehire, rewire, renew—that have been coined in the attempt to move away from the old word (whose syllable "tire" connotes being too worn out to work).
Some of you may remember Jack LaLanne, whose exercise show on daytime TV was helping people stay fit long before anyone had ever heard of Richard Simmons. (he’s still at it, at the age of 90).
For many years, he has been in the habit of celebrating his birthday by doing some amazing physical feat, like swimming across San Francisco Bay with his hands and feet tied, pulling a boat with his teeth.
I’m not quite that athletic, but I do like the idea of marking a milestone occasion in a way that is personally meaningful.
This year I decided to celebrate my sixtieth birthday by attending a workshop in Chicago entitled, “ The Second Half of Life: The Best is Yet to Be,” led by a teacher of mine, William Bridges.
Almost everyone knows about a book that has become a classic in the field of career-related literature: What Color is your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. Far fewer people are aware of another of his books, The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them. The message of Parachute was timely, but in order for it to be kept up to date, it has had to be revised annually.
The Three Boxes, however, was so far ahead of its time that it has taken over twenty years for us to catch up with its message. At the time the book was written, the compartmentalization of life into the “three boxes” of: education, ages 5 through 18-22+; work, ages 20-something to 60+; leisure, age 60+ (“postponed” in favor of education and work); was more or less taken for granted as the norm. Fortunately, this is changing.
When I was considering whether to pursue a Master's in Counseling, I went to talk to a highly respected career professional about it.
When I lamented that it would take me until I was 45 to complete the program, he said to me, ”You need to think in terms of a 200-year plan.“
At the time I thought he was crazy, but now I hear myself saying the exact same thing to my clients.