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12. Life Story

Updated: Mar 23


My Sunshine. Acrylic on canvas. 2017 artjamminghk

My daughter used to play a game with her friends called “Life Story”, wherein each child would imagine what would happen to them and when. Some of these life events would be somewhat predictable like finishing college at age 22 or maybe getting married by age 27. But some were completely unexpected, like her having platinum blond twins, notwithstanding the laws of Mendelian genetics and melanin transmission in Asians.




Dreams


Such games are a way for children to share their ideas for the future - after all, they are always being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And yet at some point these games aren’t as fun any more. In fact these days kids can feel an inordinate amount of pressure to get into college. Even in elementary school, such questions can potentially be anxiety triggering or conversation stoppers.



I myself was never one to openly share my hopes of becoming a doctor even though I always have. I was a closet premed throughout college, never wanting to step into the open and often hostile arena of competition. Perhaps I learned from my family at an early age that others were often dismissive or prone to consoling me in advance for the disappointment I was bound to encounter. Did I realize how competitive Medicine would be? Wouldn’t I rather take it easier, get married and start a family? After all, I could always marry a doctor. Besides, how could I work and be a mother at the same time? Impossible.


Life happens


So we stop dreaming out loud, preferring not to expose those tender private aspirations to others.  But also because we become less certain about the future. Where will I live? How will I support myself? What kind of job can I get? Should I do more training or education? Will I have a partner?


And after starting a family, our plans become inextricably tied to daycare, schools, and perhaps mortgages. We may begin to worry about aging parents or other family members. In many ways, our goals become more immediate and concrete: we plan from year to year. How to pay the bills, when to take vacation, how to celebrate birthdays or graduations. And then one day you realize that you either have or will soon have an empty nest.


You can be certain that the future you create for yourself deliberately will definitely be better than one that just happens by random chance.

What’s next


You may have a few years left before retirement, but then what? Most of us have some retirement investments, but no actual concrete plan for what we will do with ourselves. Some are lucky enough to be able to continue doing the work they love or to have the option of working part time in a consultant capacity, Others cannot wait to get out of the work force and enjoy the good life. 



What if we were to play the “Life Story” game now? What comes up for you as you think about the rest of your life? We tend to think of traditional retirement age as being the sunset years, but actually it’s just a few years past the midpoint of your adult life. Assuming that you consider twenty-one the age of majority, chances are good that you can look forward to at least three more decades. With more of the baby boomers surpassing this milestone, we are beginning to see more and more possibilities for the second half of adult life.


Retired, Extremely Dangerous


Some of my favorite movies are those involving senior citizens like R.E.D. (Retired, Extremely Dangerous) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There is something heartwarming and inspiring about seeing marvelously seasoned actors having a fun time with action and romantic adventures. 


There is a freedom to being good at what you’ve been doing for a long time. A comfort in knowing yourself and those around you. You can trust your instincts and you know how to navigate life. And yes, the future is uncertain. But the thing is that your future is no more or less uncertain than it was when you were 30 or 40 years old. The future will always be uncertain, because that is the nature of life. The challenge is to embrace uncertainty with confidence in ourselves and our own resourcefulness. Because you can be certain that the future you create for yourself deliberately will definitely be better than one that just happens by random chance.






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