I look at my life in three distinct time periods (so, a hockey analogy as opposed to my standard football one). The first 25+ years were about investing in myself – the focus on growing, maturing, being educated, becoming an adult, building a strong mind and body; and starting a career and being a contributing citizen to society. The next 25+ years were about investing in my family – marriage, fatherhood, mentoring my children and all the roles that came with that period building the foundation of a home; and being a significant wage earner to provide for them; this third and final phase is about my investing in others. Mentoring, motivating, building connections, raising the tide for all ships; establishing a better tomorrow.
There is an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, which they call ‘ashramas.’ The first is Brahmacharya, the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is Grihastha, when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family. Vanaprastha is the third ashrama, usually starting around age 50, in which there is less focus on professional ambition and more devotion to spirituality, service, and wisdom. Vanaprastha comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” The Hindus add a fourth and final stage, Sannyasa, which is dedicated to the “fruits of enlightenment.”
New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about the difference between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Résumé virtues are professional and oriented toward earthly success – things I have done in my first two periods. They require comparison with others. Eulogy virtues are ethical and spiritual and require no comparison. Eulogy virtues are what we would want people to talk about at our funeral. Eulogy virtues, although they should be a part of our early life, ought to be the focus of our final third. The opportunity to share gifts and make a difference in the world around us is one of the most profoundly fulfilling experiences we can have in life. Our kindness will out live us.
We can become attached, even addicted, to earthly rewards and our resume virtues. Money, power, and prestige can keep us anchored in the memories of successes many years ago. Some of us work hard to extend our self-worth, which is based off long-lost skills, to last a lifetime. In the Hindu way, “we fail to leave Grihastha” and miss the spiritual development of Vanaprastha, the antidote to these worldly temptations.
Since 1990 when I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I have periodically done Stephen Covey’s eulogy exercise as part of the habit, Begin with the End in Mind. It has provided me an unmatched opportunity to connect to my most important priorities and values. This eulogy exercise is not entirely theoretical as we will all eventually die and have someone eulogize us.
In 2007, a team of academic researchers at UCLA and Princeton analyzed data of more than 1,000 older adults, those well into their final third. The findings showed that senior citizens who rarely or never “felt useful” were nearly three times as likely to develop a disability as those who frequently “felt useful” and were more than three times as likely to have died during the study.
For our 30th Wedding Anniversary I gave my wife a poster of the Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” lyrics. Being at a hinge point in time where our daughters were grown and striking out on their own, I thought it was important to acknowledge that we would be:
Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day
And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun
In the Pixar kid’s movie, Cars 3, there is a lesson for older adults around accepting diminished skills and one’s retirement options, mentorship, and legacy. It addresses planning for closure and passing the torch willingly versus fighting the inevitable which can lead to “crash and burn.” McQueen (Owen Wilson’s character) learns that even though Doc (Paul Newman) never raced again, he found a new happiness in training McQueen. A lesson McQueen gets to pay forward. Real life Formula 1 race-car driver, Alex Dias Ribeiro, said “Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy.” True happiness can be tied to improving those around us.
For my final third I am considering a “reverse bucket list.” My goal for the rest of my life is to give things away – wisdom, knowledge, time. As Jimmy Buffet sang in his song “Souvenirs” – “Someone wants a piece of you; Never let ’em pay; What you do not give them; Time takes anyway.” Turning away someone that asks for help, is self-centered. Matthew 5:42 “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
The story of Elijah and his mentorship of Elisha is a great example of refocusing one’s efforts on being a teacher and not a doer. Elijah, considered by many to be the greatest prophet in salvation history, played the role of mentor to Elisha’s protégé. Elisha went on to perform twice as many miracles as Elijah, yet it is Elijah that is more widely remembered and exalted.
Paul’s second letter to Timothy, written late in Paul’s life, is considered one of Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles” because it is related to Timothy’s work as a pastor caring for the community under his charge. Paul is mentoring Timothy: “So you, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2)
I am happy to be where I am in my life, where my feet are firmly planted. It is more rewarding to build eulogy virtues, also there is less pressure. I intend to finish this final third strong. My life has been an ongoing process of finding fulfillment that continues to unfold and deepen. If I follow Christ’s model and serve others; then my own retiring into the forest will be the nourishment for others to bloom.