I remember James Dean from his ”Rebel without a Cause” days. Talk about the epitome of cool. Garbed in his ubiquitous leather jacket wearing that famous confident yet boyish sneer, Dean looked at the world in his own unique way. He did not allow events around him to control his life but rather dictated just how he was going to live. He chose not to let life pass him by without reaching for the most he could. In the end he pushed the envelope a bit too far. But along the way what a story!
One particular quotation from him often echoes in my mind: “dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.”
Now for a slightly crazed virtually fearless teen heart throb who knew no boundaries, such a mantra sounds about right. But what about the rest of us mere mortals and specifically those of us who are living our second act? I believe those words of wisdom spoken from the lips of a rebellious youth decades ago have something worthwhile to say to all of us living the retired life today.
I for one have always been a bit of a dreamer. I remember as a kid playing football catch with myself, lobbing the ball into the air and running madly to catch it. Although the actual activity may have taken place on the asphalt outside my house in my mind I was center stage on the football field streaking to catch the game winning pass as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Who has not upon occasion dreamed of what might be? In our imagination perhaps a particularly superb member of the opposite sex might take notice of you or maybe your boss will appreciate all you have done and give you the praise (maybe even promotion) you so deserve. Why buy a lotto ticket if you do not imagine for a moment what you might do should your numbers come up? Las Vegas would be nothing but desert were it not for the dreamers – sometimes borderline obsessive – who regularly contribute to their local economy. And closer to home it is not so difficult to dream a bit picturing you living the perfect retirement life.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Many a dream has proved the inspiration for great things. Dreaming removes perceived barriers that reality tends to throw in our path – nothing is impossible. But dreaming alone does not make those wishes come true. It is far more likely that the combination of a good dose of hard work and focused effort ultimately get it done. That is where the living now comes into play.
Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die tomorrow.
I ask myself if there is some way to put those words to good use in the context of my retirement. What can I do to make the most of today? To begin with I guess I can get up off my butt and engage a little more in living. Waiting for life’s memorable moments to catch up with me may feel safe and easy but if I do not do my part I may miss the boat entirely. It is up to me to take action. The ball is in my court.
If today was my last day how would I spend my hours? I don’t really have a bucket list – I have pretty much tried to do those things that mattered along the way rather than wait. Of course there are still many places I want to visit. The more I read about history and other cultures the more I want to explore them first hand. I imagine myself walking the streets that famous figures trod long ago or sitting along the bank of the famous river Rhine or Seine or Danube or Colorado. I want to try Peruvian food. I would love to learn the swing dance steps set to In the Mood by Glen Miller – man that rhythm just gets into my blood! There are a bunch of melodic complex songs I would like to memorize to play on the piano. I might like to try my hand one more time at the guitar. I want to cook one of those Emeril Lagasse masterpieces that wow those lucky guests chosen to sit around the table and partake.
My brief list may not impress everyone but it includes some of what I would personally like to do. So, now that I am retired and have the time, what am I waiting for? If I don’t take the first steps to do those things I dream of they will never become more than dreams. How much better to do them, to live them, to enjoy them first hand and if I find I like it, do it again? Why not – what do I have to lose? What am I waiting for? What would James Dean do?
There is always time for dreaming. But I am learning life is also what you make of it today, right here and now. Is there something you have always wanted to do but maybe not had the time? Guess what there is no time like the present and retirement can be just the occasion to go for it. There is an old saying, life is like a coin: you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once. How will you spend your life coin?