A few months ago I saw a bright pink plastic rabbit head ring on the finger of a woman I recently met. Obviously, full of life and living her life her way, she also sported the dark red hair of the unorthodox among our younger generations. The ring looked like something my five year old granddaughter, Sophie, would be wearing _ not someone in my age group. “I love your ring.” I said. “Thanks. I’m not dead.” She replied. I laughed and told her, “That’s what I tell people who think I’m a little out there these days. I’m old; I’m not dead!” In return, she said, “I’ll believe it when you dye your hair purple.” While I haven’t taken up her challenge and most probably won’t, I instantly admired this woman for her courage to be herself.
All of us are concerned with what other people think of us, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge that concern. How we act, what we say, how we dress are all tied up in the human desire to belong. Most of us want to be accepted and liked by others. Part of that want is our survival instinct. Long, long ago when our ancestors depended upon the tribe for safety and food, humans conformed to ensure the tribe continued to accept them.
Fast forward to our modern times and our modern retirement. After leaving our work tribe behind, comes an opportunity to be less concerned about what other people think of us. An article in Huff Post/50 about Dick Van Dyke turning 90, quoted the actor as saying, “As you get older you care less and less about what people think.”
When I was younger, I was concerned about how I dressed and what came out of my mouth, especially at work. I wore lots of grey, beige, black and navy suits _ conservative for the conservative industry in which I worked. I called myself a little brown bird trying to blend into the forest. I was concerned with conforming and fitting in. Van Dyke’s statement hit home with me as I realized how much I’ve changed since retiring. This bird is free and flying!
Retirement can be a time of self-actualization, of freedom to say and do what we want, a time of creativity. While we still need to act with a certain amount of decorum in order to glue our society together, the way we dress, the people with whom we socialize and what we do with our time is entirely up to us. We choose how we engage.
Someone once told me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This interesting little twist on perspective is freeing, no matter what your stage of life. Even though I often told people trying to force feed me their advice, “No one knows what’s best for Kathy like Kathy,” I also often worried about coming off as rude or arrogant. After all, and this holds especially true for women, we were taught as children to play nice and get along. Being a ‘nice girl’, or boy, all the time can rob you of being yourself. Experience taught me to follow my personal drum beat to a certain extent, but survival in the corporate jungle was still my priority. Age and retirement has given me the gift of not caring who thinks what about my life.
It takes courage at any age to follow your heart and mind but the reward is living a fuller life, living your life, not someone else’s life. Life is entirely too short not to be true to yourself. Once I left the world of work, a shift in my outlook began. I didn’t stop caring about my appearance but I did stop caring about what someone else thought of it. I also speak my mind more freely and just shrug off any raised eyebrows.
In retirement I am more my authentic self than at any other time except, perhaps, childhood. Maybe that’s what retirement is _ a second childhood. I freed myself from the constraints of what others think of me. Instead of looking at what the outside world thinks of what I do and say, I’m looking inside myself. The only person you can ever please fully and unconditionally is yourself. You will never please all of the people all of the time. So, don’t even bother trying. If, like me, you spent time thinking about what others think of you, stop. This is your time. Take it without guilt. Fly, little bird, fly!
On second thought, maybe I will add just a little streak of purple to my hair.