Youth is life in the fast lane. Our metabolism is high, our reflexes are quick, our intensity is great, and we live at a fast pace. As we explore what life has to offer, we take risks in the belief that life is eternal. We believe that any misfortunes or setbacks will be followed by rapid recovery, and very soon we will be back in the fast lane. Ergo, zoom!
But we can’t keep this up forever. As author John Jensen once said, “The trouble with life in the fast lane is that you get to the other end in an awful hurry.”
As we age, our metabolism gradually decreases and we begin to slow down. “Life in the Middle Lane” now more aptly describes our lifestyle. We pursue our careers, we build our families, we gain and grow from experience, and we now look beyond the present and into the future as we build our assets and invest in our retirement accounts. As we mature, we tend to take fewer risks, physical, financial and emotional, since we realize it will take us longer to recover and time is no longer on our side. Our parents pass on, and we personally experience life no longer as a perpetual journey but as a finite one.
But if we keep ourselves “fit,” physically, financially and emotionally (as discussed in our last newsletter), this middle lane can sustain a long and productive life. The problem comes when we retire.
Many of us look forward to a less active lifestyle in retirement. “Now, at last, I can relax and just do the things I want to do.” With no specific schedule, we can “sleep in.” “My retirement will be a perpetual vacation.” Now it will be “Life in the Slow Lane.”
Sound nice? The problem is that life in the slow lane sends physiological signals to both your body and your mind that it is time to shut down, as explained in detail in the book, “Younger Next Year” (see “Resources” section below). Life in the slow lane is actually a fast way to demise and death. There are too many examples of people who retired, expecting a long life of leisure, and died soon thereafter.
Many of us do not realize that work gives our lives three very important things: structure (when to get up in the morning, where to go, when to come home, etc.), purpose (a cause to pursue), and a community of other people with whom to engage on a daily basis. And while we may complain about the physical demands of our work, meeting those demands raises our metabolism and keeps us active and functioning. So, in retirement, we need to re-create structure, purpose and community for our lives which will, in turn, keep us going.
The trick is how to do this in a way that will make us fulfilled. In our book, “Your Retirement, Your Way,” we take readers through a process of self-discovery which will help them make the choices that are right for them as they craft their “New Life.” Step by step, they create for themselves a lifestyle which will be consistent with their unique personality and individual motivational needs, leading to satisfaction and fulfillment. Then they develop a strategy to get there and a financial plan to support their new lifestyle.
It may seem counterintuitive but it’s true that, in “retirement,” by raising metabolism, challenging ourselves mentally and physically, and continuing to explore new horizons, we continue to grow and postpone decay. The intent is to preserve “Life in the Middle Lane” as long as possible, which will in turn help preserve us for the long term, physically, mentally and emotionally.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid of standing still.
—Old Chinese proverb
Management consultant and speaker John Trauth is the author of “Your Retirement, Your Way.”
An excellent book on the subject of crafting a healthy, fulfilling life in middle age and beyond is “Younger Next Year,” by Chris Crowley and Harry S. Lodge, M.D.
Dr. Lodge, a prominent physician, focuses on developments in cellular and evolutionary biology, explaining that how we live sends important signals to our body. Crowley, his guinea pig, was in bad shape when he retired and his physical’s test scores were like those of a much older man. As a result, Dr. Lodge gave him only a few years to live. By creating an active and healthy life for himself, applying Dr. Lodge’s advice, he is now older but active and in much better shape, physically and mentally, with test scores of a much younger man and increased life expectancy. Hence the title, “Younger Next Year.”
It is an easily readable and entertaining book. The key lesson here is not trying to stop the aging process (there is only one way to do that, and it is not pretty) but rather slowing it down. By doing so, the authors contend that you can live like you were in your 50s well into your 70s and 80s. Not a bad goal for any of us.