So how did it come to this? I’m 70. It’s inconceivable. But it’s real, it’s true. I’ve been planning my 70th birthday year. Now it’s here. As they say on TV, ‘How do you feel?’
1. I don’t feel as well as I did when I was 60
First, my physical health is clearly declining. I’ve designed a rigorous program of activity for the year, but I notice that events take more out of me than when I was 60. I tire out just minding the grandchildren, napping has become not unusual (can’t joke about that any more…). My tennis serve has gone (but I am still playing). Walking has become a 15km day, not a 20km day.
And my memory is fading. What did I actually feel like at 60? I can’t remember exactly. Increasingly I forget things, events, people’s names (very embarrassing), what happened yesterday/last week, why I came to the room I’m in now. Is it early dementia? Is it normal (which it seems to be, judging from friends). Whatever, it is scary.
That said, I’m working hard to minimise the inevitable decline, hoping I can stave it off. I certainly don’t ‘feel’ 70 on my inside and in my brain (whatever that feels like…). I’m actively choosing to work on helping organisations do better, using my brain and enjoying it.
But mortality has appeared on the horizon. As other friends are struck down with life-changing health problems, I’m very conscious that my own ‘Final Quarter’ of life has no definite length. I’m making the most of whatever I have, while I have it.
2. My energy levels have changed
I used to rise early, walk before breakfast and work after dinner, going to bed around 11 or so. Now, I luxuriate with breakfast in bed, reading the papers. 9am comes before I know it. I still try to cram as much as possible into the day, but I rarely work at anything after dinner. And somehow staying up till 10pm seems a struggle now, even though going to bed isn’t that attractive, since I sleep quite poorly.
3. My desires are changing
The need for more new foods, new adventures, new friends, growth, change are declining. I’ve had a very, very lucky life, from a very early age. I see others clamouring for what I’ve already had the opportunity to experience and understand what they seek. But there’s little new and different that I seek.
I find myself wanting to help others, particularly younger people (I feel the 70 year olds are no longer interested in changing themselves – they are what they are). But, with education and experiences, younger people can be introduced to life-opening opportunities. The future world is theirs. I/we have had our turn. My pleasures often come now from seeing others benefit from whatever resources (time, skills, money) I can put in to help them.
4. I care less for other people’s views
Being happy and content with myself, and seeing myself as having a limited future, I care less for other people’s views. I’ll do what I want, regardless (well, within reason…I’m not that eccentric). If they like it, great. If not, too bad.
5. I’m deeply depressed by the political situation
While I’m still actively interested in solving all the organisational problems I can, I’ve become deeply depressed by the local and international political landscape. The May election results crushed me, just as the 2016 results crushed many Americans and the Brexit referendum crushed many liberal Brits. The role of lies and liars, the misunderstanding of facts and evidence, the self-centredness of the average (I guess) voter, the impact of the 24/7 social media sludge, the political power of hidden lobby groups and powerful individuals about whom we really know little, and the self-interest of incumbent politicians and parties are resulting in frightening outcomes for many countries, not just Australia.
What is really depressing is the apparent inability of evidence-based thinking and thinkers to influence this. After the May elections in which I invested a significant amount of personal political capital, energy and emotion, I’ve decided to stay out of the political system for a year and try to understand whether reinvolvement will make any difference.
Really, I feel my generation has let the world down. The environment and our social systems are collapsing around us…but the powerful elite seem not to care. We seemed to be advancing our societies through education, libertarian and egalitarian movements the 1960s-90s, but the rise of neoliberalism (free markets) led not to individual freedom and choice, but to powerful companies and organisations trading off countries, states and cities, lack of transparency and lack of responsibility for taxpaying and social welfare.
6. The Future?
Right now, at 70,I’m increasingly less interested in the ‘future’. Which is frightening for someone who has been a planner all my life. The concepts of random spending now just to spend, of random use of time now just to use it is difficult for me to handle. But if the concept of ‘future’ is unclear, then ‘present’ becomes more meaningful in this crazy world.
And that’s partly why I’ve devoted this year to me. Irresponsibly. The Present. What I’m doing is unsustainable at the society level. But it’s personally pleasurable. And I’m loving it. But I’m doing it with friends – there’s more joy in sharing where you can.
The ‘future’? Ask me in a year. Hopefully I’ll have a better, more attractive answer then.