This morning, at 5 a.m., I rose, got a cup of coffee and went into my writing room just like I do every day. I am working on my next book, a complicated spy novel and period piece.
I am 98.
I was born in 1922. I have lived through The Great Depression, a world war, the tumultuous 1960s, September 11, the loss of two sons and most recently the love of my life.
All along the way I knew that at some point I would start writing books and telling stories. In my late 80s I began with a memoir. I followed that with a trilogy of gritty crime novels loosely based on my father’s true to life story. Other books followed.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom about age, my late 80s and 90s have been by far my most productive and satisfying time of life. In a national radio interview a few years ago I was asked about my writing process. I told the interviewer that I go into my writing room every morning and meet with my characters and let them tell me what they are going to do that day.
I am blessed with a great team of advisers and experts who I also listen to. They help me accomplish my goals and they have my best interest at heart. I listen carefully to them. To the culture that worships youth, not so much.
So, who are your characters? Who are your advisers? Who are you listening to? It’s important because what you listen to and give credence will become what you believe about yourself and the world.
Retirement and aging can be a daunting thing, especially if you have been a high achiever. The idea of leaving that environment where you have lists and accomplish great things every day to one where you have to make your own agenda is challenging. But I am here to tell you that you can write your own story. Here are a few tips on how to accomplish that:
Change the way you see aging and retirement. Getting older is actually a great thing in many ways. You have more time. You are comfortable in your own skin. You don’t feel like you have anything to prove like you did when you were younger. There’s no competition really except competing with yourself. You are smarter than you have ever been. You have the wisdom that years bring. You have more and deeper relationships. People will take your calls because of your relationship and reputation. You have more options. Choose among them and ask for help to accomplish them. Don’t believe the myths about getting older. They are only true if you choose to buy into them.
Dream a little dream. Remember when you were a kid and you sat out on the grass in your yard and looked at the sky and daydreamed about doing something amazing someday? Well, what did you dream about? I dreamed of being a writer. I even wrote an article way back in 1963 for The Saturday Review about writing and being published. Then, when I reached a certain point in my life where I had time and energy and ideas I got started. I turned off the TV and started chasing my long-held dream.
Re-connect to your childhood or your young adult self for a little while. Try to remember what it was like to think the world is your oyster and anything is possible.
Find helpers and encouragers. If writing is your thing, go out and find a writer’s group in your town. Meet with other authors. Hear their writing stories.
If you want to paint, go take a painting class. Set up a room in your house so that it’s easy to paint and hard to ignore it.
A friend of mine is handy and loves fixing things. He hung out a shingle and found more work than he could do. He chooses the projects he likes and says “no” to the rest. When he doesn’t know how to do something he asks his ‘advisers’ at Home Depot or checks it out on YouTube.
Believe you can. There are a lot of people out there like me these days. The world of aging is changing every day. We are all living longer and healthier lives. Surround yourself with young and old friends who love what you are doing and tell you that you can. Avoid the naysayers who think you are too old because they are wrong.
Start having success in whatever you decide to do. Success is the jet fuel to keep going.
Your life is an amazing story. It doesn’t end when you stop working at a formal job, nor should it. In many ways, it just begins.
Babette Hughes grew up in the time of Prohibition and bootleggers. Her father was one of the first bootleggers in the country, and was murdered by the Mafia in a turf war at the age of 29. Babette was just 2 years old at the time. She is the author of the Kate Brady series, as well as several other books.