March 16, 2016
A Knotted ball of twine
I am borrowing (with permission!) another great idea from the folks at Olderhood.com that has a strong visual impact: think of the problems or limitations in your life like a knotted ball of twine. The rope started out smooth with no kinks or twists in it. Over time, it has become tangled and unmanageable. Finally, you are left with so many knots that ball of twine is unusable.
Yet, you realize that if you take the time to gently unravel it, one problem at a time, the twine can once again be clear of knots. No matter how many kinks existed, with time and patience you can remove them all.
Isn't that a powerful way to think of how we can approach our satisfying retirement journey? There are few obstacles or disappointments that cannot be unknotted or overcome. What was a useless ball of string is ready for something new.
Thomas Merton, a well known religious writer and activist once wrote, "We are a living incompleteness." I love that phrase. It captures the mysteries and possibilities of human life. What you are today, or were yesterday, is not who or what you might be tomorrow.
With full time employment, maybe a growing family, building relationships, and finding one's place in the world, we are incomplete. We continue to grow and change. Attitudes and reactions to life at age 45 are not the ones we experienced at 25, or even 35. When we retire everything changes again. As we live, things become knotted and complicated even as we remain a work in progress.
Let me tell you story. There is a friend of mine who was respected in his industry and made a good living. He had a pretty, intelligent wife, and two well-behaved children. The kids never gave him any real worries, even during the teenage years, though he does admit always waiting up for one of them to come home after a late date.
His job required lots of travel and weekends spent at his home office. He went to church on Sundays when he was in town and tried to attend most of the school plays and sports. With a steadily increasing income, the family moved to a bigger house and vacationed in Hawaii or Florida on a regular basis. Some knots began to appear in his ball of twine from financial pressures and family responsibilities, but no serious tangles.
Life was good, or so he thought. But, as he talks with me about it now, he sees that it was a very incomplete life. He had no real hobbies or interests outside of work. Even when he was home his mind was elsewhere, always worried about business. On the surface his relationship with his wife was a good one. But, there was little real sharing or conversation that didn't center on the kids and their issues. When they were getting ready to leave the home for college, he worried that he and his wife would have little in common. The knots became bigger and more complex. But, there was no time to deal with them. Everything was moving too quickly.
Then, the darndest thing happened: his business began to fail. With few other choices, my friend decided to take a leap of faith and retire. The IRA wasn't nearly ready. The savings was OK, but maybe not sufficient. The house still had a big mortgage and a monthly payment that was too much to bear. But, something prompted him to admit that his life was ready for a shakeup, that his marriage needed a serious re-focusing, that his lack of interests and passions was a problem he could solve, and that he wasn't defeated by these incompleteness. Slowly, he saw the knots in the ball of twine and started to untangle them.
Since then, my friend has never looked back. The freedom that came with a business failure came at absolutely the right time for him and his family. He has healed his important relationships, made peace with the mistakes he made in business, and found a few passions over the years. He has stopped looking backward; he prefers to focus on today and what may lie ahead.
I think he has embraced his incompleteness as a sign that his life remains vibrant and fulfilling. I am not sure he will ever settle for what today looks like.
Oh, I am sure you figured it out: that "friend" is me. I would argue that at no time of my life is that concept of incompleteness more perfectly appropriate than during retirement. And, nothing is more important than unknotting the tangles that get in the way of a productive, happy, satisfying life.
Does your ball of twine have some knots that should be untangled?