This month I turn 70. I know it’s just a number, but it’s also more than a number. I’ll start to collect Social Security after making payroll contributions for over a half century. I always thought I would retire at 70, but I plan to continue working part-time as a psychologist because I love what I do. I still feel it’s a privilege to help others become their best selves. And I hope my column, Family Talk, will endure and offer readers ways of becoming the person they hope to be.
I’m fortunate. I’m relatively healthy despite having all of the requisite aches and pains that getting older brings. But my greatest good fortune is that my two grandchildren and a daughter live close by! My 2-year-old grandson and 4-year-old granddaughter give me hours of delight every week.
This milestone age has its downside, too. It marks entry into the last chapter of my life. As my father loved to say, “We’re not getting out of this alive.” I hope to have another 25 years, but who knows? Like all older adults, I’m more concerned about retaining a good quality of life, which is often dependent on what our body has in store for us, and much of it is outside of our control. All things have a beginning, a middle and an end. But this knowledge reminds me to savor, every day, the miracle of being alive.
Reaching a milestone age, whether it’s 21, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70, can also bring misgivings, doubt and precipitate an emotional and existential crisis. We all have ideas about what we should have accomplished and achieved at different ages. What if I’m 30 and haven’t found true love? What if I’m 40 and haven’t been as successful as I hoped in my work? Or had the family I imagined when I was 21? What if I’m 50 and I have no idea how I can help pay for my kid’s college education? We’re prone to measure our progress at milestone ages, and sometimes our reality falls short of our expectations. This can bring pain. And what if our marriage goes upside down? Our kids have serious problems? Our jobs fall short or end? There are many life crises that coincidentally occur near our milestone birthday.
So how can we enter a new decade of our life with a positive outlook?
Put your yardstick away. Life is an adventure that rarely proceeds in the linear way that we imagined. We make choices that don’t turn out as expected. We live through a global pandemic that turns our lives upside down. New technology changes the course of our lives. Our solid marriage goes awry. The list of what is outside of our control is long. We don’t have a crystal ball.
Reflect on the last decade. What did I learn about myself in the last 10 years? How did I handle the changes that arrived at my doorstep? What decisions did I make? What was important to me and how did I keep those priorities front and center?
Formulate a vision for the next decade. What do you want to nurture in yourself? How can you make sure to make the main things in your life the main thing that you do? What qualities do you want to further develop?
My vision is to be a source of love and support for my family — for my wife, children, and grandchildren. I want to be an instrument of healing for my patients. I want to face this next decade of my journey with grace, peace and dignity. I want to be fully present in every moment of my life.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.