In December of 1965 the number one song in America was Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds. The band’s cover of the iconic Pete Seeger folk tune was virtually taken verbatim from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. The song and the scripture remind us that for everything there is a season - a time for peace, a time for war, a time to be born and a time to die, and much more. The song came up on my music streaming service the other day as I was considering how to reply to an old friend who was asking some advice.
My friend is transitioning into retirement from a lifelong career of service to wildlife. As a biologist, he has spent a majority of his life advocating and caring for the wild animals that have no voice of their own. In the face of human population growth, energy development, and changing climates, my friend found his purpose as a supporter of balance and wise planning. I hadn’t talked to him for some time but he emailed a few weeks back and asked if I could offer any advice on his transition. He said, “I have this problem with commitment, and I can’t seem to let go.” He was finding it hard to give up the career identity for a life that he said was merely “getting old.”
As millions of Baby Boomers make this same transition, the problem is becoming somewhat epidemic. In just a generation, the aura of retirement has gone from something everyone wants to achieve to becoming a feeling of “being put out to pasture.” Why has this become the new normal? If you study that question for a moment, it’s pretty easy to see that fear is the answer. We fear change. We fear loss. We fear different. We fear waking up one morning with the feeling that we no longer matter, no longer fit, and no longer have anything to achieve. We fear missing out on the conversations. We fear not having the routine of going to get coffee at 10 o’clock each morning and seeing the same people. We fear that retirement is where we go to die.
“Fear is the great limiter,” explains Beverly Craddock, a consulting hypnotist and life coach who has helped numerous clients make big life changes. “Our mind has the job of keeping us safe and comfortable. It will always lean toward what it knows. Even if the job isn’t that great, the mind begins to believe that the known is safer than what we don’t know.”
The strange part about this fear response is that it isn’t something new for humans. We’ve been dealing with fear for thousands of years. For the better part of the human existence, we lived in a dangerous world. There was almost always something that was trying to kill us - wild beasts, enemy tribes, natural disasters without warning, and plagues or epidemics that ravaged entire civilizations. The human response to fear became “fight, flight, or freeze.” Our response to fear is designed to keep us alive in a notoriously unsafe world. But the world isn’t all that unsafe any more. Nowadays, stress is when the coffee maker doesn’t work, not when a sabertooth just clawed cousin Ug in half and is now running after us. These days the scary stuff isn’t that scary. But our evolutionary response - with thousands of years of reinforcement - hasn’t changed. So when the day comes to consider what might happen next, our mind gets us acting like we aren’t going to do very well out there in the great unknown that is retirement.
I had to tell my friend to look beyond the fear. The fear response and doubt he was feeling was only there to protect him and if he has taken steps to plan for his retirement leap then the fear is certainly far more scary than it needs to be. He should recognize the feeling as fear and merely a protective behavior and then plan for the transition so that he can then step into retirement with the assurance that he has prepared and will be ok no matter what the experience.
Standing on the edge of life and looking into the abyss that is the unknown, Craddock’s advice is simple - jump.
“Whether your thinking about retirement, eating at a new restaurant, taking another shot at love, or starting your own business, my advice to clients once they have done their homework is to go for it,” she says. “Is there a chance that things won’t go well? Sure. But there’s also a chance that something magical might happen. You’ll be stronger and more empowered as a person if you can realize the truth about the overblown, evolutionary fear response and go forward making bold choices.”
Remember, that to everything there is a season. A time to laugh. A time to dance. Maybe that’s what retirement is supposed to be - our time to laugh and dance. Turn, turn, turn. To everything there is a season.