There’s a technique psychologists sometimes employ to help people to focus on what they think their life goals should /might be. The psychologist or even a normal person asks the ‘client’ to visualise (psychologists love this concept, not sure whether normal people do) a situation where they only have six months to live and then asks, given this situation, how would they choose to spend this last few months of their time on earth. I think it’s sometimes known as the bucket list. Unsurprisingly, few people say they would go to work more often and work harder. I think this concept of impending doom or release depending on your view of the ‘d’ word, does focus one’s goal setting. I think Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People did something similar when he wrote about ‘starting with the end in mind’ and asking his readers to visualise (that word again) their own funeral and answer the question – what would you want 4 people who knew you in different ways and who stood up to talk about you, to say about the kind of person you had been. The words you chose for the four people to speak being representative of your values, those that then underpin your goals or your aims and objectives for your life.
Why do I mention, and at some length, these strategies? The simple answer, maybe as simple as it gets for the rest of this blog, is that they relate to the question in the title of this blog. People who have read these retirement blogs before will know that I’m close to obsessed with this titular (nice word, at least I think it’s a word) question. I’m constantly asking myself is there a missing link and if so what is it? Given that I’m not even sure that there even is a link that’s absent, it’s perhaps not surprising that I have little idea as to the second part of the question. It was on one of our pup walks that this question – if I only had six months to live etc. – popped into my head. Mrs Summerhouse says I spend too much time thinking about things on these walks and she can tell when I’m deep in thought because I walk looking down at the square yard of ground in front of me rather than appreciating all that nature has to offer and is going on and I would see and appreciate if only I picked up my head and looked around – as she does. Phew, that was a long sentence, but you get the drift.
So, what would I be doing if I had only the six months? PS. To God or whoever, this is only a game, I don’t really want to only have six months of focused, spot-on, fun, rewarding activity. I’d rather have another 20 years of not bad than 6 months of terrific. Which is telling in itself of course. This tells me that I don’t need to find perfect and that, say about 75% satisfaction, maybe a bit less, is all that’s required for the rest of my retirement. I hope I’ve made that crystal clear to God or whoever sorts this stuff out. I’ve given it a paragraph all of its own to make this point to whoever is listening / reading this.
That said, what would I do that I’m not doing now if I had these hypothetical six months? Anything entirely different? Would the balance be different? Is there any activity I would give up all together? I found out this week that our gardeners read this blog so I have to be careful what I say about the gardening business. It’s great and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. No indeedy. Is there owt else I’d give up, as we say in Yorkshire? Probably ease off on the DIY in the Derbyshire cottage and the vineyard might produce juicy grapes without much effort from us. I’d develop a sudden and miraculous talent as a jazz guitarist and my blog would go viral and win awards. But that apart I wouldn’t change a thing.
The big one then, is there some activity I would add in to the mix? The legendary missing link. I often think when we’re not travelling, as is mostly the case, unless you count between houses, I often think it would be great to be up and off to Colorado, repeat the road trip across America, visit vineyards in the Moselle and Canada (where they have unfriendly weather conditions for grapes), hook up with friends in Bejing, New Zealand, Australia, check out on an impulse Alesund in Norway (saw a picture of this town in weekend travel supplement, looks nice and one of these days I’m going to write a blog about hygge) and so on. So many places and how easy to forget all the hassles that come with travel, airport delays, no leg room, crying babies, lost luggage, etc. etc. and, far worse, the thinking and worrying that imagines all of the above and more before we even set off. As we sit looking over our beautiful vineyard there’s always a vapour trail or four or five, 30,000 feet above us and I look up and imagine (apart from the very rare occasion we’ve flown business class and who the heck could afford to keep doing that on a pension?) being in that aluminium tube and I give thanks that I’m not in it, gripping the arm of the seat or worse still (for her) the arm of a long-suffering Mrs Summerhouse and willing the plane to stay in the air. And don’t ask about take-off and landing which, as we know, are the most dangerous times. No, not the kind of adventure I’m looking for. So travel yes, but only from the armchair. God I am getting old. Where’s your spirit of adventure?
It’s been tempered by a sense of order or sensibleness, or, as you’re so old, you’ve become quite boring or a bit of both. For heaven’s sake enough of this retirement introspection. Get up off the couch and do something, you might only have six months left. But what….