I listen closely because the question and tone are familiar; often ricocheting around in my own head and through conversations with other people my age. One of this blog’s readers commented after the last post on the very same subject, so it’s a query that seems to be uppermost in a lot of people’s minds. Every time I pass by the starting drop at the top of a ski mountain I used to attack with relish in my youth, I ask myself what’s become of my capacity to take risk. The list of reasons it would be stupid for me to ski off-piste now, having nothing to do with my strength or conditioning which are both arguably better than they were in my youth, overwhelms my acceptance of the challenge. I’m not alone. I find most people my age have learned that saying ‘no’ to the things they don’t want to do anymore is the privilege of maturity. It frees up time to do what you like. But why don’t we want those adventures now when they were very much a part of our early living? Do maturity and the fear of being physically vulnerable make wimps of us all?
Some say they were able to complete daring feats in their early years because they didn’t know how hard they were. But those exploits refer mostly to external challenges; athletic prowess, physical technique in music and the arts, deprivation caused by harsh environments endured without forethought. Surely most of us don’t want to live the second half of our lives giving up our precious time to physical recovery and rehabilitation, or risking the resources we’ve gained over a lifetime of work whether they’re physical, emotional or financial. But the special realization we come to is that we’re no longer tied to the ‘success’ machine. We don’t have to prove ourselves to an outside world any longer. At last we can go inside ourselves to live the greatest adventure of all. Wimps, sit up and take notice: there’s a good reason they say old age is not for you, and it’s not because disease and infirmity are the greatest threats. It’s because the personal adventures inside your own head can offer the biggest challenges .
My own turning point away from the stimuli of my former work and toward creative writing came with my realization that something was missing. Of course it was a long process from there, including the answer to the question, what’s missing? Leaving a career behind when you don’t have to retire and aren’t miserable is pretty daunting, and the transition is not for the faint of heart. But so many people today seem to be deciding they want to do something creative with their second lives that it’s obvious the rewards must be worth the risks.
I, and many others who’ve explored these uncharted territories have found, once the journey inside is begun, that the creative spark lights the way in us as nothing else could. No amount of travel to strange lands, perilous scaling of dangerous terrain or wild swings of opportunity can make us feel as alive as a trip through our own imagination. I wonder if this is why so many people from all career paths end up writing, painting, acting or playing an instrument for their own pleasure in later life. Some kind of magic comes rushing in through the portals our creativity creates when we stop being distracted by outside noise. I think the state of recollection that’s natural in later life lends itself ideally to the writing life, but even those who wouldn’t claim a particular interest in the creative arts can make something wonderful happen, and ensure their own future survival, just by grabbing onto the creativity lifesaver.
The vision that comes from this kind of late life meditation taps into one’s inspiration and makes life rich; and far more exciting than it could ever be with the simple stimulation of a career goal or life-style challenge. Of course there’s a sense of being lost and overwhelmed at times. You can survive that. Naturally guilt develops that none of this was attended to sooner. Kill those thoughts. Everything comes at its own time and the distractions of youth were far too great to permit this kind of focus before. Now, when the career no longer fascinates and the money isn’t enticing, now is the time to go exploring inside yourself! The risks you take as you learn more about who you are create a freshness and newness I’ll bet you’ve never experienced. Don’t let the answer to the question, what’s missing? be, the energy of life! Or if it is, then take the necessary risks to go find it in your own creativity.