Now in my later 50’s and recently laid-off I find myself at the crossroads of many possible futures. A greeter at Wallmart, not that there is anything wrong with being a greeter I’m just not sure it would be a good match for me. My financial adviser tells me I could retire if I chose. Hmmm retirement, isn’t that what we have all been working towards all these long years? Owning a little cookie cutter house in some retirement community in Florida with a name like Sunny Acres complete with its own golf course. The wife could play bridge with the ladies while I chase the little white ball dressed like a highlighter in white shoes. Other than the fact that I despise golf and the wife doesn’t play bridge there is one major problem with this scenario. I’m not ready for Sunny Acres or any other pasture. I’m healthy, still mostly lucid and feel that I have something yet to do. So, what to do with these gap years, those years between the end of the so called productive work and child rearing years and true old age?
A big part of the problem for those of us entering this stage of life is that we don’t know what to call these gap years. It appears that this rising new phase in life has disrupted all of our old ways of thinking about how we age and confused society in general. Not surprisingly it has confused the politicians making them unsure of whose hand to shake or whose pocket to pick. Sadly, and also very troubling, our greatest societal thinkers, our academics, all seem quite perplexed as well. You see there was a time when, if you lived into your fifties you were considered old and if you made it to your seventies you were ancient. These days we are living longer and are much healthier. The time is not too far off when living to be a 100 and beyond will be considered normal. The result of all this is we have lots of healthier folks in their 60s and beyond running around not sure what to do with themselves. They are physically able, have sharp minds and a lifetime worth of experience. Now retired and free of all the workplace and child rearing responsibilities they are trying to figure out what to do, how to fill this gap before old age and our eventual demise.
Unfortunately for folks in this gap they lack the essential label to guide them, a label to provide them their proper place in society and the benefits line. Labels are very important to the government, insurance companies, brokers and marketers of every stripe. Without this label no one knows what to do with or how to treat this new class of citizen. Without a proper designation this new class of citizen doesn’t know what to do with itself. It has become quite the conundrum.
This brings me back to our academics; they cannot seem to agree on how to label this new stage in life. Labeling things like life stages is a point of pride to our super brilliant who study such things. They like labels, categories and designations. Labels make the world appear right to them, everyone and everything fitting nicely into their proper place. Politicians need the appropriate label so they can target their message during the election cycle and then tax them appropriately. The academics need the label so they can place them into a nice little box and flood the market with self help guide books for the new class of citizen. Insurance companies like labels as well. For them it is a nice way to ensure you are being charged appropriately for your age. Please feel free to define “appropriately” however you would like. Marketers love labels for their catchy little jingles or to scare their targeted audience out of their lifetime’s hard earned retirement savings. How can you target an audience if you haven’t defined them and don’t know what to call them? The list goes on of all the different interest groups that are in desperate need of a marketable and catchy label for this undefined phase of life. Without a proper designation the country may very well collapse under the weight of the unlabeled age. As a side note this may just be a good time to buy gold for surely the dollar will not survive the crisis.
What to call this stage of life? The gap, golden age, senior, elder, retiree, encore just don’t work for me. I spent some time poking around the web for answers. Infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood seem to be the accepted tags for life’s cycle. I found it interesting that many don’t even mention anything past adulthood in much detail. It seems to be generally accepted that it is simply, old age. I also found it interesting that under the age of, let’s say 25, they get three or more stages broken down into a myriad of subcategories while those over 25 get adulthood then you die. The search for life’s labels continued and I uncovered four stages, seven stages and even twelve stages, each having their own definition, breakdowns, sub categories and explanations. While I found these to be very enlightened and some with so much detail that I began to scratch my head once again and wonder if these folks aren’t simply being paid by the word. Even worse none of them had a good catchy, marketable, feel good label for the stage of life in which I now find myself. Two of the labels that have arisen in my quest I truly don’t care for. I would prefer not to be called a Senior and Encore screams of the end. The way I look at it there is much more to come. I may very well have nearly as many years ahead of me as I do behind me. Golden Years makes me think of the Golden Girls sitcom and Betty White; now I love Betty White but I’m not quite there.
Since Google and a variety of very insightful books could not provide me with labels for the phases of life that I felt were appropriate for the times in which we live I decided to take on the academics with all of their high minded complexities and provide my own labels.
In its most simplistic form life is very easy to break down. We are born, we live and then we die. Everyone knows this, but it is a bit too basic for insurance companies, politicians and academics. So here are the four phases of life as I have discovered and experienced them.
Human Forming: This label gets a lot of bang for the buck. It covers everything from the day you are born until the day you become a productive member of society. Just as it implies all of the forming that makes you, for better or worse, the productive member of society you are to become. Please feel free to break it down into all of the little subcategories you like; infant, early childhood, childhood, preadolescent, adolescent, post adolescent, college years etc. Just remember that all of it is forming one to go out and conquer the world.
During our Human Forming years we develop an image of how we see ourselves, a great traveler and adventurer, an explorer of cities, a world class cook or a bartender on some tropical isle. You name it and define it. This is you as you see yourself. This is what is in your heart. Then the next phase happens and things get put on hold.
Human Doing: Formerly referred to as adulthood. To anyone who is presently experiencing this time of life or who has passed through it, it should be obvious where this name comes from. The you, who you saw yourself as during the latter part of the Human Forming Phase and tried to project to the world gets put on a backburner as the pressing issues of the Human Doing phase takes over. It is simply the phase in life where we do all of our Doing; job, career, marriage, creating a home, raising the kids, working, vacations, dreaming, spending, saving, you get the idea. This little list contains our entire lifetime of Human Doing. It is a very busy time of life. It is also a wonderful time of life full of excitement and challenges with all of the joys and sorrows that come with them. It is a time that does not allow us to relax and take in the world around us. We don’t have time to pause and breath in the wonder of it all and truly be the person we thought ourselves to be. We are too busy doing!
Human Being: Ahhh, now it’s time to take that deep breath and relax. All of the Doing is done! Human Beings no longer have to prove themselves and fight to move up the corporate or societal ladder. The next wrung no longer matters or even exists. Human Beings are done with all of that. The kids are raised and the carpool is shutdown. The minivan traded for something more suited to how they have always seen themselves, a symbolic return to their heart. Why be practical? The doing is done. This is a time when one is comfortable with who they are and the lessons life has taught them. A Human Being can now take all of those life experiences and turn them into something that has meaning for them. Many choose to go back to school, but it’s different this time. There is no pressure to prove anything. They may simply Be with it and learn for the joy of learning. Some choose a new career and why not? There are a lot of healthy years ahead. The difference now is they have nothing to prove to themselves or anyone else. They don’t have to struggle and claw their way to the top. They are already there and doing it because they want to do it, because they enjoy it and wish to Be present in it. Human Beings are often very keen on finding a way to share their knowledge and wisdom; to give back.
Human Beings have experienced the many joys and sorrows that life has thrown at them. They know how to feel these emotions and to Be with them as they pass through them. Their lifetime of experience has brought them to a place where they can now share that knowledge and help guide those in the Human Doing and Human Forming phases of life. They have so much to offer and the freedom to do so at they see fit. They are no longer grinding away they are simply Being, a Human Being.
Experiencing life as a Human Being is experiencing life to its fullest with all of the joy and perspective that only time and distance can bring. A Human Being knows life as a complete person, whole in life’s richness with all of its loves and all of its losses. Passing from this lifetime with dignity and grace, with no regrets is the gift of having lived and experienced life as a Human Being.
Human Passing: This is the final phase of our life. It is a time when we can no longer do for ourselves and we must depend completely on others. For some, this phase may be relatively short weeks or even days. Since being a Human Being may continue for many years some may never enter the Human Passing phase at all and enjoy life as a Human Being until the day they die.
Some of us get stuck in the Human Doing phase of life. They labor through life without discovering the joy of becoming a Human Being. I find this sad. To truly take advantage of the Human Being phase takes a bit of preparation and planning while still in the Human Doing stage of life. These days many enter the Human Being stage and simply drift. They are not aware that the stages of life have shifted and are still caught up in the old way of thinking. I have heard more than one retired friend lament the boredom in retirement. They endure it with game shows and idle hands. Fortunately they may change this reality once they realize the opportunities that await one who lives fully as a Human Being.
©2018 William C. Judge