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On Being an Explorer

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“Old men ought to be explorers.” – T.S. Eliot “East Coker”

65 is the fabled time of retirement since the late 1880’s. It may have made sense back then as most people passed well before reaching 65. Yet, the retirement age has stayed the same even though we are living so much longer. To my generation, it is an age and concept that can bring mixed feelings. What does it mean to retire? When is it time to furl the sails and drop the anchor? Does such a time even exist?

I passed the age of 65 several years ago but do not plan to retire anytime soon. I think Elliot was correct. As I grow older, my desire for further exploration and contribution has grown stronger.

Consider for a moment that in the 1400 and 1500’s the average life expectancy of a European male was only 35. Someone 40 was an old man. Yet, Christopher Columbus set sail to discover the New World when he was 42. and Amerigo Vespucci was in his mid 40s when he sailed from Spain to the West and discovered Trinidad and the Amazon River. Clearly, they believed that old men ought to be explorers.

I find it interesting that a person’s most significant contributions many times come in the last chapter of their life. Some of Galileo’s most significant contributions came when he was in his 70’s. Artists like Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pablo Picasso all continued to explore through their art well into old age. Every year numerous Nobel Prize winners are 65 or older.

If you are reaching or have reached that fabled age of retirement have faith that the best years stretch before you and there is still much you have to contribute. In the United States, between 1900 and 2000, average life expectancy increased by nearly 30 years. Most people born today can expect to live into their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond.

Let’s not prematurely furl our sails. Instead, let us continue to explore.

 

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