You know at my most pessimistic I feel like a 70 year old car. Unlikely I know but it will do as a metaphor or whatever it is for now. Let me explain. I feel like a 70 year old car with dents (or is it dints?). Each dent, I like this word better, represents, for me, a damaging life experience. Not a fatal crash or anything, no serious damage but a little dent in my surface, dare I even say in my self-esteem if I wanted to be psychological about it. Like this morning’s example they seem these days often to relate to our dogs, who we affectionately describe as lively and others describe as out of control. It’s not the purpose of this blog to elaborate on or defend this contradiction simply to use it as an example of what I’m writing about.
Each little dent to my psyche either finds an unblemished (increasingly hard to find) surface or overlays an already existing dent – much more common. So each layer of dents blemish my surface waiting to be revisited at some point in the future. They never disappear just build layer after layer of little blemishes all waiting to be noticed. The little dents can, if not treated seriously, damage the bodywork until, at 70, in my case, the car is hanging together by a thread. Too dramatic? Probably.
Mrs Summerhouse, a notoriously glass half full kind of person, will say, as she did this morning, most of the people we meet on our morning walk are lovely people just the odd one who’s unpleasant. This I know to be true but what the hell has that got to do with the price of fish? It’s almost not worth saying but I will, that old chestnut about 10 people give you feedback about something, 9 say something positive and just 1 gives you a negative, which do you remember? Nuff said.
It was ever thus. When I used to deliver lectures and asked for feedback, it was as above. Although if I got a particularly swingeing one I would read it out at the beginning of my next lecture and say something like, I challenge you to beat that. A clever way of reframing a negative I thought but born out of a general confidence in what I was talking about. I used to say the same thing to teachers who I was advising about challenging pupils in their class – make sure you notice the rare and unusual bit of good behaviour (and reinforce it and there’s a whole text book on how you do this). You will notice the bad stuff much more easily but this is a habit you need to change if you’re going to change the pupil’s behaviour.
Now it’s almost like my words have come back to haunt me. OK, smart guy, says God or whoever, positive this. I remember every dent and forget the majority of life experiences that, what shall I say, unruffle my surface. And it’s not just enough to vaguely notice the positives in retirement, which is about as good as I get, you have to seriously value them. More, you have to see your retirement through their prism. And yes, I do think that we retired people have to make a particular point of this, yes, more so than when we had a career to (hopefully) raise our self-esteem or at least provide us with a fairly constant stream of opportunity to do good the next time.
Retirement, it often seems, provides fewer occasions to shine (yes, I know and fewer occasions to fail, but this is a ‘look on the bright side’ blog, I’m going for the half full approach here). So I’m suggesting, with little or no evidence, so you can take it or leave it (sorry that wasn’t very positive), that it’s just that little bit easier to get pulled out of shape by life events or, to return to my first metaphor, to acquire yet another dent on the surface when you are a retired, or even 70 year old person, than in your earlier days. As we know we bruise so much easier these days.
The answer to all this doom and gloom? Well, it’s obvious really isn’t it? Apart from staying out of harm’s way, i.e. never leaving the safety (most accidents happen in the home so go figure) of one’s own home as I think one or two people I know do, you need a strategy. May I suggest one that nearly / sometimes works for me. I’m not bigging it up because that would be hypocritical. It helps me but does not cure the problem. If I were promoting the latest in self-help books for retired people, actually I don’t think there are that many, I would be writing how my method was guaranteed to improve your life beyond all recognition. But no, it just helps me a bit.
And after all that blather what’s the answer? As I say, it’s obvious – develop a thicker skin, accumulate a suit of armour. OK smart pants and how do we do this? Well, I’m afraid I need to go back to a favourite theme of mine about retirement – have a strong identity. Know what you are and what you’re not, as a retired person and most experts would say, stop calling yourself a retired person, you’re defining yourself as practically dead, sorry that was way too dramatic, you can tell I’m a bit out of shape as I write this and that I am, not for the first time, using this blog and the act of writing, as therapy. Probably most retired people are happy to call themselves by that name and don’t see retirement as a negative thing at all. It’s just me.
As one of my birthday cards said, and you know you’re in a bad place when you’re quoting birthday cards, but what the heck – don’t think of yourself as old but as a classic, which brings me neatly back to my car metaphor. Makes me wonder when I’m going to grow up and be happily retired?