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As life returns to the relics of normal, my work is blossoming in change. More people are visiting, volunteers are returning, and my outfits include more pants than sweatpants.
The visitors were consistently arriving even during the depths of the pandemic, but I had yet to meet the delightful humans called volunteers. I have worked at a few establishments with an abundant crew of retirees, but this is the first where I work right alongside these hardy mortals for 4 hours.
At the prime age of 35, I still have hesitations of an anxious teenager: Are they nice? Will I like them? And more importantly, will they like me?
Like a perky new kid who finds her people on day one, the volunteers have been delightful, hilarious, and 100% sassy. Their wisdom, experience, and playful personalities have improved my time at the customer service desk.
I’m half their age, but I am more like them than many of my middle-aged peers with my voracious love of books, food, and feisty exchanges with unsuspecting humans who take the bait.
I’m an old soul. A statement that soothes, as much as it surprises.
The more time I spend with them, the more I realize they are supplying valuable life lessons and I have been eagerly gulping from their fountain of youth.
I have named this hardy crew – centenarian candidates (the youngest is 71 and the oldest is 92).
Centenarians (age 100+ years) markedly delay disability towards the end of their very long lives, at an average age of ~93 years (that’s 33 years beyond the age of 60!). We regard these individuals as wonderful models of aging well.Boston Medical Center
As clear examples of how to live well in their golden years, I pepper them with questions about their life. I want to be a strong centenarian candidate. What better way to pick up candidacy than by badgering them?
Luckily, they were
semi willing participants.
Active & Attractive
Objects in motion, stay in motion. Physics 101 turns out Human 101 too.
There is a strong urge to make things easier with age. It’s during such time I let my inner rebel shine and shyly say, I wouldn’t be good at that.
Being and staying fit is a centenarian candidate prerequisite. My mind automatically drifts to gym memberships and pay to play fitness but, the pandemic was a painful reminder that there are other ways.
From the dozen stairs in my house to the extra steps I take from parking at the back are little ways I stay active in a similar fashion to my silver-haired peers. Most don’t have fancy gym equipment or a trainer, but they are active daily with low-impact activities like gardening, walking, and cat herding.
My default mode is introvert, but I turn on the charming extrovert for my park ranger persona. People seem to respond better to a happy, upbeat Ranger behind the desk. It turns out when I’m happy people are reflect happiness too. It helps that most visitors are on vacation and a bad day at the museum is still better than a good day at work.
Or so I’m told.
The centenarian candidates have active social lives. It starts with their neighbors and friends and trickles down to the organizations they support. They are out there talking and delighting their community.
They have card groups, church gatherings, and hobby interests that get them out of the house into people’s lives. It’s the people they interact with that seem to bring light and purpose into the humans excelling in their golden age with sparkle and carbonation like a fine ginger ale on a humid day.
Learn to Earn
Through less than formal questioning (pestering), most of the volunteers are former teachers. From history to English, these educators feel driven to inform long after they leave the classroom.
I have a dash of experience working in a school but, I have been dabbling in interpretation (informal education) for much longer. As with many professions, continuing education is highly suggested. A few of my certifications downright demand that I continue expanding my knowledge.
Teachers by trade are mandated to continue their education to keep their job. This requirement plays a role in their consistent consumption of knowledge. Losing a certification is one thing but losing your job because you stopped learning is intense.
What is this, the Goblet of Wisdom?
Once retired, teachers can choose to leave the knowledge quest to the relics of the classroom, but a lifetime of learning seems to be ingrained.
From books to crafts, centenarian candidates are learning about their unexplored interests, which are varied as a box of See’s chocolates. Their never-ending need to explore is the spice that keeps their mind active, sharp, and full of sass at the ready for their government counterpart (me!).
Kindling the FIRE
I was casually chatting with a volunteer and telling her all my findings on centenarian candidates. She fit the mold as a retired teacher who is active in social, fitness, travel, and all the other flavors of the golden age.
Her story was a touch different in that she retired early, a full 20 years before traditional retirement. A fellow FIRE (financial independence, retire early) starter!
She was kind enough to share her insight which included, being intentional with the person I am before I retire. If I was someone who worked and went home. I will be the same person in retirement but without the work part. If I work, go home, and have an active life, it will be the same in retirement.
Of all the things I have drooled over with early retirement, it wasn’t until this conversation that I realized I need to start building my retirement life.
I can’t take afternoon naps or tai chi in the library at 11 but I shouldn’t expect that I will become a social butterfly overnight because I no longer need a job.
As I continue to pester the centenarian candidates, I have to start asking and planning what I want early retirement to look like and take steps to get there as a soon to be 36-year-old.