Daring Greatly

One of the few things that I planned to do when I retired was to read Edmund Morris’ monumental three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt.   I had been curious about the life of our twenty-sixth President for some time, and I bought the Morris set months before I retired.

Not long after my retirement date, I began reading the biography, and eventually I completed that part of my retirement plan.  One of the best known Roosevelt quotes came from a speech he delivered after his presidency.

Roosevelt, anticipating his retirement from office, planned a nine-month African safari.  Now, that’s a retirement plan!  Teddy did not mess around.  After completing his hike through Africa, Roosevelt toured Europe during the spring of 1910.  On April 23, he delivered a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris.  As Morris describes, Roosevelt’s audience of some 900 students and 2,000 ticket-holders gave the loudest applause “when he attacked skeptics ‘of lettered leisure’ who, cloistered in academe, ‘sneered’ at anyone trying to make the real world better.”  Although Roosevelt himself was surprised by the success of the speech, it almost immediately gained fame for the following lines:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

When I read these words in the biography, I realized that I had read them before.  I recalled that a colleague had framed this quotation and had hung it on the wall of his office.  My colleague, himself, was one who “dared greatly.” He devoted his professional career as a lawyer to many worthy causes, even when others considered his efforts to be foolhardy.  The words on his wall were both a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and an apt epitaph for the man I knew.

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the greatest presidents our country has ever had.  It is not a mistake that his image is carved on Mount Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.  He was in many ways a remarkable man, and could justly be considered the first president of the modern era.  Reading about his life was an inspiring beginning to my own next chapter.

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Unplanned Retirement

When I mentioned my impending retirement, a retired friend advised me: “Make sure you have a plan.”  The reason why this is important, he confided, was so that I would not end up spending my days in retirement sitting around in my underwear watching television.

It seemed like good advice.  Having a plan would provide direction and structure to my retired life and save me from boredom.  I gave it some thought.  Despite good intentions, however, coming up with a plan was difficult, and on the day of my retirement, I found myself still without a plan.

Prior to my retirement date, the workday formed the structure of my day-to-day life.  Within the workday, I became proficient at time-management.  Certain things had to get done by a certain time and in a certain order.  That required planning of a sort, but it was in real time.  My priorities were set in response to the demands of the job, and those demands were not always predictable.  I had to be flexible.  Plans change.  I was rather good at it.

My career turned out to be satisfying and successful, but looking back on it, I did not have a career plan.  I went through two major career transitions during the course of my working life.  The kind of work that I started out doing after graduating from college was not the kind of work I ended up doing three decades later.  I suspect that my working life would have been far less interesting if I had followed a career plan mapped out in advance.

Financial planning for retirement was another good idea that I never quite got accomplished before I retired.  Nevertheless, my wife and I seem to be in a pretty good place financially.  This is largely due to careful money management over the last forty years.  We are where we are despite having no plan or a vague plan at best.

We did not calculate our retirement dates by using a retirement calculator.  No financial rules of thumb told us when we were ready for retirement.  The numbers that I plugged into various retirement calculators gave me a general idea of what we would need to live on every month, but the number did not drive our decisions about when to retire.  I always thought there were too many variables and no way to be certain about what the future would bring.  The best laid plans lie on guesswork.

My retirement is happening now, and still I have no plan.  Sometimes, I sense an absence of direction and structure in my life and feel a little dizzy.  What is worse, I sometimes feel a little bored.  And yet, I do not obsess about the lack of a plan for retirement, because I am not obsessive by nature.

One’s nature may be the key to the entire matter.  When my retirement date arrived, my nature did not suddenly change.  Before retirement, I liked the independent, time-management aspect of my work because it gave me a lot of freedom to decide what I was going to work on each day.  The freedom to design my day kept the job interesting and was a source of job satisfaction.

I do not worry so much about boredom in retirement.  After all, I got bored from time to time before I retired.  It has never become a permanent condition.

I retired without a plan.  I have not come up with a plan yet, and I no longer even have a plan to make a plan.  My perspective on the wisdom of planning my retirement has begun to shift.

An unplanned retirement gives me the freedom to design each day as it comes, and to appreciate surprises.  I am learning to translate the independent, time-management skills that served me so well in my career into time-management skills that will serve me well in retirement.  Finding my way through the hills and valleys of retirement without a roadmap may turn out to be as interesting and satisfying as my career was.  I am only sure about one thing: I do not plan to sit around all day watching television in my underwear.

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