Thursday, August 11, 2011

Achievement For the Fun of It

Non-corporate office workers @ 212 Pier
At my local, non-chain coffee house, there is a man in his sixties who reports to ‘work’ every day, yes every day, Monday through Sunday and intently scribbles equations with pencil and calculator.  His preferred seat is a table near the window because the light is better.  He arrives every morning around 8 am, goes home for lunch, and returns for the afternoon shift.  The ultimate meaning and connection of everything in the universe is the topic of his project.  Preparing for publication in academic journals, his focus is consistent.  After he completes the calculations, he enters it into digital form at home.  Even though he does not have a PhD, he is intent on achieving his goal of publishing this paper in a respected scientific journal.  He does not seek fame, he has no academic credentials to burnish, and he doesn’t expect any financial return on the effort.  The sole purpose of his work is the work itself or pure achievement.  In our many long discussions about his calculations and theory, I have learned that he has had this calling since high school days and now he has the time to pursue it.

Another friend and former colleague retired to a small town in eastern Virginia, after completing a career as a math teacher in the Los Angeles school district.  He took a part time job at a gym and chauffeured his kids around bucolic hill country.  But eventually he got bored and with the help of a local political scientist started an on line journal (www.politicsandphilosophy.com). After making friends with other academics in his area, he gave a few talks on his theories in graduate classes.  Emboldened and encouraged, he has now written a 200 hundred page book entitled What Can I Do? expounding on meaning and responsibility in the human community.  Before retiring, this fellow was only been motivated by the bottom line creed, ‘what’s in it for me?’  He never worked after school, if he wasn’t getting paid.  Now, he works diligently to research, write, and publish a highly esoteric book.  His motive?  He wants to achieve a lifelong goal of developing a program for social-political change.  His book will be published in a few weeks by Rhino publications.

After ‘retiring’, a new life begins.  Some individuals look at this time as a well deserved rest, after years of laboring.  For many of us there is likely to be thirty plus years of this rest. For others it is the grand opportunity;  50-60 per week to fill in with exciting, intrinsically rewarding experiences.    How can we make the most of this time while we still have health and energy?  Martin Seligman of Penn State has recently published a book called Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being.  Seligman, the renowned founder of positive psychology, develops his new theory of well-being in which he extends and corrects some ideas originally published in Authentic Happiness.  He sees well being consisting of five prongs; 1) positive relationships, 2) pleasant emotions, 3) engagement in our activities, 4) meaning, and 5)  achievement.  Each dimension has profound application to the Boomeranger.  A flourishing individual experiences all of the five aspects but not necessarily from the same activity.  The first two are well traveled paths in the retirement literature and are typically the only preparation most retirees make at gold watch time.  (In my case, no gold watch just a plaque saluting years of indentured service).  There was no preparation for these other dimensions of life either by the institution nor my union, just a review of my pension pay out.   Not even an exit interview, just turn in your keys and badge and good luck.  I didn’t care, thank god my time was up and I was a free man again.  This time with a monthly stipend.   The missing elements of my new life slowly emerged and thus began my inquiry.

Building a new life at age 57 or 60 is kind of like graduating college:  What am I gonna do with the rest of my life?  Our culture blares its version of the good life in commercials on TV;  consume and seek pleasure, whether it is a fancy car, trophy mate, or tropical vacation.  Achievement is to be left behind at the office and after retirement one should simply float downstream to the mouth of the river where we all join the ocean of the departed.  With my two friends mentioned above, they have bumped onto an important facet of a retired life of well being:  Achievement for its own sake.  For me, I am planning to learn guitar, start a business, and climb many metaphoric mountains.  In following blogs the other elements of flourishing will be discussed and how to turn on the starter for this new refired life.   

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