Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Greatest Vanishing Natural Resource

Retirement might include rocking chair time, relaxing and enjoying
the moment, but it can be so much more than that.

We express concern about the environment and the importance of preserving valuable natural resources – fossil fuels, animals, plant life, our rivers and oceans, the atmosphere. And rightfully so. We’re not permanent residents, just sojourners; wouldn’t it be good to leave this place in as good shape as it was when we arrived?

But there’s one steadily vanishing natural resource most people are overlooking. As I noted in a recent post, every day on average 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving work and careers that consumed much of their lives. The great question for many of them is, “What now?” Or, “How will I spend my remaining years?”

Boomers have been a controversial generation. We were the most numerous. We’ve also been the greediest, turning consumerism into a way of life. But this generation has also left a huge footprint in many positive ways – innovation, hard work, determination, creativity, imagination. Does retirement mean taking all our experience, wisdom and insights acquired through the years, throwing them in a closet, shutting the door, padlocking it and throwing away the key?

Good stewardship calls us to make our experience and wisdom available to those that come after us – and if they have any sense at all, they’ll take full advantage of what we have to offer.

That doesn’t mean keeping up the breakneck pace we maintained while forging careers. We’ve earned a chance to reap fruit from our labors and slow down a bit, stopping to smell the flowers we used to speed past. But to not avail our successors with lessons life has taught us would amount to extreme selfishness.

Years ago I met a young man looking for someone to mentor him. “Why do you want to be mentored?” I asked. “So I can learn from your mistakes,” he replied without blinking an eye.

That’s good thinking: Someone has said wisdom is found by learning to make good decisions, and the trick to making good decisions is learning from bad ones. Why make all of your own mistakes when you can benefit from ones others have made?

The Bible often speaks positively about the “elders.” These were people that had traveled down life’s road quite a distance and had experienced their share of successes and failures. The apostle Peter, for example, offered this exhortation:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder…. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing…not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:1-5).

One way of investing our “natural resources” of wisdom and experience is mentoring – not in a condescending, overbearing manner but relating to another person as a “mentoring partner” (a term David Stoddard and I coined in our book, The Heart of Mentoring). We “old dogs” can still learn new tricks from the younger people we mentor, just as they can learn from us.

We also can volunteer, enlisting to serve and help with causes we feel strongly about. Even though I work full-time, I’ve spent several years volunteeringonce a week at a local hospital, visiting patients that have just undergone open-heart surgery, a procedure I experienced myself more than six years ago. It’s been one way to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Someone once asked me, “If money were no object, what would you love to do?” Yes, we can take vacations, go fishing, play golf, or just sit and read a book without fretting some deadline. But wouldn’t it be meaningful to dedicate some of your time and energy to worthwhile causes?

In the process you could be doing yourself a big favor. Dr. Patricia Boyle, a neuropsychologist and researcher, in a Wall Street Journal article recently stated people that maintain a purpose in life show substantially slower rates of cognitive decline and enjoy longer, healthier lives.

Do you fear suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia in your latter years? Dr. Boyle says studies show setting goals and having a sense of mission give continued meaning to life, and cognitive brain functions are greatly enhanced. Who’s opposed to that?

So find a way to help others – using the gifts and talents God gave you – and at the same time, help yourself.

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