Forget about retiring! don't like the word retirement. Retirement is a modern invention and my friends in the adult development field are suggesting it may already be obsolete, becoming more rare in the next decade. For me it has come to mean permanent loss of work, a loss of engagement and purpose. I think retirement is a bad idea, anyway. At 59, I established as one of my goals: "to be a productive 80-year-old." As I move through my 60s, I may want to change the pace of my work but not the nature of my work.
At age 70, I see myself casually stretched out in a chair in my Africa-adorned office. On my wall is a quote by T. S. Eliot: "Old men ought to be explorers." And I'm an explorer. Dressed in my trademark black shirt, jeans, and sandals, I'm recounting my thirtieth year of trekking in Africa. At 70, I see myself as a "new elder explorer." I'm exploring a retirement in which age does not matter. In fact, I'm burying the whole notion of retirement. I am a student of and in the process of becoming a "new elder. "I see myself just unpacking from a hiking trip in Montana and I'm repacking to speak at an international conference on "The New Elder" in Oslo, Norway, to be followed by a one-month stay in the Bergen, Norway area.
Sally and I "bagged" 30 sleeping-bag nights this year. And this is our goal, 30 nights a year sleeping out—in a tent or without one. At 60, I made a big change. I committed my professional life to studying and living in the radical questions: "What is eldership?" "Who is the new elder?" The field of gerontology and aging has held my interest since my Bush Fellowship in 1973, studying the adult life cycle. Now, as I have become a dedicated student and spokesman for the need for the new elder in society, my work has become increasingly important, not less so. My work now focuses on speaking and writing. I see my vocation now as enlarging the possibility of eldership, not retiring from it. I'm often invited to speak at significant conferences around the world as a model and advocate of the "new elder" in society. Sally and I live a simple, debt-free, uncluttered life. We have a passionate, interdependent partnership based on our shared purposes and our love for each other and for the natural world. My strong voice for the new elder has allowed me to claim a place at the fire. "How do you discover passion?" I'm often asked. "In dreams," I often reply. We all dream in our sleep, but some dream in the daytime.
Passion is not born of vague dreams. My passionate dream is to transform retirement. It is to create a wholly new vision of the new elder in society.