Dorothy Harris

Unsettled but satisfied at 50

“I figured at this age, we’d be all settled in our lives,” she said. “After all, I’m almost 50 and what do I have to show for it? At this rate, I’ll never be able to retire.”

A lot of folks around Harris & Co. live within a perpetual state of busy, rushing from one thing to another. While it’s exciting and we amaze ourselves by what we accomplish each week, the endless movement also leaves many quite weary. A few also feel as though they haven’t gotten as far as they hoped to be by this age.

Whether its finances or relationships, child-rearing or accomplishments, many are frustrated by what they perceive as failures, or perhaps unacceptable levels of achievement. Many thought they’d be living in utopia by age 50, in perfect health and wealth, preparing for that early retirement they always heard about. Instead, there are still children to care for, or for some, grandchildren; and the early retirement of ease seems to have vanished into some very thin air.

Woozy from a lack of oxygen, folks are swooning over un-met expectations. They anticipated having it all together by now, but the tapestry keeps unraveling. Why aren’t things easier? Why are they still struggling? When does it end? Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions and not considering the right answers. I’m beginning to think the focus is what’s really off, rather than our lives.

I’m not really sure where the ideal of having it all together at 50 came from, but I don’t recall getting that memo. Considering the economics of the past couple of years, I suspect a lot of folks are feeling they’ve lost ground in many ways. If you’re in the middle years of life, you can’t help but feel squeezed by all the demands on you. Caring for kids, parents, college, medical bills and more, we find ourselves wondering if we’re ever going to make it. The question I don’t hear anyone asking though is where is it? If we don’t know where we want to get to, how will we find our way there?

By 50, most of my parent’s generation hoped to be retiring or at least be paying off their house in anticipation of traveling and enjoying the golden years. For many in this generation, retirement is an ever-moving mirage. Will full retirement disappear before we get there? It sure seems like it, but is that really the dreadful disaster some fear or is it simply an evolution of modern life?

Surrounded by folks who had retired, then gotten terribly bored before reentering the workforce, it’s clear to me early retirement is a mistake I don’t want to make. If one is healthy enough to work, one should continue working as long as they possibly can because it makes sense in so many ways. Cutting back hours, changing careers, learning something new or doing something you always dreamed about is smarter and people who have done this seem happy.

Getting to 50 and having it all figured out may be an illusion. Maybe having everything settled isn’t what we should be striving for after all. Maybe we should focus on being satisfied rather than settled. Perhaps nurturing contentment with what we’ve accomplished thus far, and then kindly considering what more we’d like to do between now and when we can’t anymore, would be a better way to approach this point in life. If nothing else, it seems genuinely possible, unlike fulfillment at 50.