Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Is your bucket half full, or half empty?

In my mind the calendar reads late October, with November lurking just a year or two ahead. (As if I have any say on such matters---for all I know it may be late December.) Yet whatever the date it is not too late to plan for my future. Fact is, there are some things I want from the time that remains? 
How about you? What do you want from the October of your life, and beyond? Is there someone out there who might make your future more complete? Are there things you would like to see and do for the first time? Or special places and people from years past you would like to revisit? The things is, no matter what your “want,” it’s okay to be “wanting” at our age.
Have you ever stopped to wonder where those “wants”---what you want and what you don’t want---come from? Though I can’t say for sure, I do know there are a couple constants in my life that emerged at a very early age. 
I don’t recall that I invited either of those particular interests into my life. Near as I can tell they simply arrived unsummoned and never left. For as long as I can remember they have helped shape my personal vision of the future I wanted for myself and my family. Can you relate to that? Have there been similar “constants” in your life?
From one end of my life to the other storytelling has been one of those motivators. I “published” my first story at eight.(To rave reviews from Mom and Dad.) I’ll bet some of you did that. Later, my periodic escapes from the real world---to play cowboy or create an English novel---provided opportunities to write. Finally, when retirement threatened to overwhelm me, it was storytelling that rescued me, providing the creative possibilities I was seeking---not in hopes of selling books---but to tell my stories the way I wanted to tell them, put them in print, and see them on my bookshelf.
The second of my youthful passions---what I call wanderlust---had its hold on me even before I created my first story. The big Rand-McNally World Atlas under the coffee table was favored browsing even before I could read the names on its multi-colored maps. I spent countless hours trying to imagine those many exotic places. Later, as the spoiled boss’ son in a family business, I had the time and means to scratch that wanderlust itch with extended family travels in the US, Mexico, and Europe.
But all that was long ago---in the mid-summer of our marriage adventure. What did those good times have to do with October and November? I think I know what it means to me. Chances are you too can relate to those possibilities.
Storytelling and wanderlust---if I had been aware enough to create a Bucket List when I retired they would have been near the top. They, along with Roma’s candidates, might have helped shape our so-called Golden Years, bringing a degree of order to what instead became an unstructured, sometimes rudderless time---full of suddenly free days we were not putting to the best use.
Truth to tell, until I was introduced to the concept by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman the term “bucket list” was not part of my vocabulary. Though I had spent my career (actually two careers) helping organizations plan for the future I had not approached our own future with the same diligence.
If you had asked me “pre-retirement” about the future I envisioned for the two of us my reply would have been simple enough. Retirement equals travel. The troublesome career constraints, the reasons for staying home, were about to be removed. Or so I thought. In fact they were about to be replaced by a new set of limitations.
First, extensive travel would be expensive, probably beyond our limited means. Second, after decades spent following me from place to place, my life-mate and partner was ready to settle down and stay in one place. To put it bluntly, we were not on the same page.
Predictably, I would later use an exaggerated example of those opposing retirement desires as the basis for a story. The following excerpt from Family Matters depicts Dan and Nell Padgett at the very beginning of their “bucket list conflict.”

“It’s time for us to start making some plans,” I explained, ever the methodical and organized one. “Can you believe it? For forty-three years we’ve been tied down to wherever I was working. It’s always felt like we were chained to that place, wherever it was. Now we can finally break loose. We don’t have to drag that anchor around anymore.”
“Dan Padgett, will you stop being so dramatic,” Nell said as she pushed her coffee aside. “What does that mean, ‘We don’t have to drag an anchor?’ I don’t understand.”
“It means we can finally get away from all this. We can sell the house and hit the road. You know, in a trailer or a motor home. Something like that. We can be footloose, with no need to worry about a schedule or timetable, with no mayor or city council to answer to. There’ll be no house tying us down to one place. We’ll finally be free. 
“Kathy is in California, doing her own thing. There’s no reason in the world for us to be stuck here in Tanner---not when there’s a whole world waiting for us out there. We can go where we want, do what we want, and see the places we’ve always wanted to see.”
“You mean for good? Leave our home? Leave Tanner, to live in a trailer?”
“Of course. Why not? We’ve sure as heck earned it, haven’t we?”
I was so startled by the suddenness of Nell’s response that I nearly dropped my wine glass. In a split second she was on her feet, hands on her hips, glaring across the table at me. “You’d better be kidding, mister. Because I’m not going anywhere for more than a week or two at a time. This is our home and I expect it to be our home for a long time to come. I’m sure as heck not going to live in some dinky trailer.”
“Come on, honey. It wouldn’t have to be ‘dinky’ at all. It could be as big as we wanted.”
“You’re not listening. I am not going anywhere.” She gathered some plates and started toward the kitchen, before turning to finish her thought. “Will you just listen to what you’re saying?
“I’ve followed you and that job of yours all over this state, from one town to another. And for all that time the one thing that kept me going was thinking about the time when we could finally settle down for good, where we could put down some roots. 
“The way it turned out that ‘home’ is right here in Tanner. And after all those years of bouncing around, you can bet this is exactly where I’m staying.” The next sounds I heard were dishes clanking in the sink.

Can you imagine how that difference of opinion might complicate the creation of a post-retirement bucket list? Sadly, in a more modest way, I found myself in that same space. It did not take long to realize that if I was truly set on becoming a full-time RVer I would be doing that alone. About then my innate intelligence (Or was it survival instinct?) kicked in. 
A month after my retirement Roma and I set off on our grand tour---a three month return to the UK, Ireland, and Europe, revisiting special places and old friends. Then, having scratched that itch one last time, at least on that scale, I filed my “wanderlust” notions on a back shelf and we settled down. In time I found my way back to storytelling and the two of us settled on a more age-appropriate, common-interest agenda.
In one form or another I’ll bet that happens to lots of folks. The future we imagine, one that fits our tastes and lifestyle, is a movable target. It changes over time. Think about it. Our most productive dreams are the ones we are able to make happen. To make October and November the best they can be, we need to create goals that we can realistically achieve. For the seventy-eight year old guy I have become to resurrect his teenage dreams, no matter how seductive they may be, would be courting failure.
It seems to me that a bucket list, or whatever you choose to call it, is an important part of October thriving. It helps create an understanding of what we want from our remaining years---while recognizing our October circumstances and limitations. Done properly it allows us, in at least a superficial way, to become active co-creators of our own future, rather than passive observers of whatever comes our way. Truth to tell, the dialogue leading to that common understanding is probably more important than the list itself.
In retirement, when the option of doing nothing is so close at hand, some of us need that motivation, that carrot on a stick, to help us thrive. How about you? Is there a carrot dangling in front of you? If so, is it one that excites you, that you are willing to work for? Put another way, is your bucket half full or half empty? 
So what say you? If you are one of those October types, has the transition been easy for you? Have you been able to avoid the nasty speed bumps that can empty your bucket? I’d really like to hear what you have to say. Just use the “Comments” option below. I was thinking about a prize for the first three Comments we receive. Unfortunately, that idea didn’t quite make my bucket list, I hope you’ll have your say anyway.

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