Most who rise to senior positions in their chosen occupations don’t continue into their late 70s and beyond. A Dr. Fauci, or Admirals Rickover and Hopper are exceptions. Corporate policy and personal limitations encourage retirement sometime between 65 and 70, which always bring major adjustments to life.
At 77, I’m starting my second retirement, and it feels uncomfortable at times. I changed careers in my 50s, moving from the corporate world to serving the church as an Episcopal priest. Retiring at 65 from being rector of a thriving congregation, I dove into community work, some a continuation of what I had been doing, and some new. It was a time of self satisfying work with the freedom to travel widely, and enjoy extended time in our favorite vacation haunts. By my mid 70s, and looking around at the other elderly men and women filling chairs at board and commission meetings, it seemed time to make room for a younger generation. In fact, it became something I harped on whenever given the chance, which led to laying plans for my second retirement.
It isn’t that easy to disentangle from years of community engagement that provide a strong sense of purpose in life. The work may be unpaid, but it’s foundational to the health and well being of many people. Awards are given for service rendered, experienced wisdom is sought after, and self satisfaction of a job well done is ego building. My disentanglement was a slow, incremental process that ended abruptly when we moved from coast to coast to be closer to family. Now, in a city where I have few connections, I’m just a retired guy who writes a blog. Maybe I’ll buy a boat.
All the preamble about my second retirement was triggered by an article James Hohmann wrote in the Washington Post (10/6/20) about the nation’s aging leadership. Both presidential candidates are in their 70s, and congressional leadership is older yet. Is it time to make way for a much younger generation of leadership to take their place? Certainly it is, but giving up long held positions of power and prestige is even harder for national leaders who’ve become fixtures in the rarified atmosphere of political power and position. Ordinary people of modest wealth and social status are living longer with more vigor than ever before, which makes them reluctant to give up hard earned status in their communities. The nation’s political leadership is more than moderately wealthy, and political power is seductively addictive. Electoral interventions may be the only way to pry them out of office.
In his NBC town hall (10/5/20), Biden answered a challenging question that came close to an intervention. A twenty-something man asked him point blank if it was time for him and others his age to get out of the way. It is, Biden said. It is time for a younger generation to take its place. His term as president would be, Biden said, a time of transition preparing the way for younger women and men to take over. But age is not without its merits, he added, years of experience have produced wisdom only age and experience can produce, and he will use it to restore common sense, integrity and dignity that will repair the chaos these past four years have foisted on America. They weren’t his exact words, but that’s the gist I got out of it. Which isn’t to say age and experience always produce wisdom. They haven’t for Trump, nor have they for a good many others each of us know personally.
Biden is a man of age and wisdom. He’s suffered the tragedies of life, overcome great obstacles, made mistakes and learned from them, and worked hard to achieve success in high office. He knows his role: to restore global trust in America, relay foundations for sustained economic growth, reopen doors to the American Dream, and prepare the way for younger generations to assume their place of leadership. He knows his limitations, and has the needed humility to turn to others for their gifts of knowledge and wisdom. They don’t add up to perfection, but they are gifts much needed in the face of the Mussolini posturing wannabe dictator whom we’ve endured for the last four years.
Afteward he can enjoy his second retirement.