Marshalling My Thoughts About the Future

This summer I am marshalling my thoughts about the future, my friends. And it ain’t easy.

But let me digress for a bit.

Way back in my misspent youth I joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a member of their ROTP program. This was a scheme to attract young people to the forces, offering them free university education and a career as an officer in the Armed Forces. Following graduation from university, and several summers of training during university, I’d become a second-lieutenant, and owe them four years of service. I’d have the chance to stay on after the four years, but if I chose not to do so, I’d be debt free, qualified, and with several years experience in my profession.

It was a good deal. But to be honest, I mostly signed up because my older sister was dating a captain in the forces, and I kind of hero-worshipped him. I was flailing around trying to decide if I wanted to continue in my Bachelor of Science program which I hated. Or do something else. What that something else might be, I had no idea.

Look up, look way up.

So when my sister’s boyfriend suggested I apply for ROTP, I thought why not? They accepted candidates who attended civilian universities. To get in, I had to write some tests, write an essay about my leadership skills, and go through several interviews.

I remember my leadership essay clearly. Oh, I was the queen of “spin.” I included everything I’d ever done that might remotely demonstrate leadership prowess.

Like the year in high school when I organized and applied for funding for an Opportunities for Youth Program. OFY was a federal government project that funded summer employment for youth, backing student-led projects that created jobs for students and supported the community in some way. My brain-wave had been to offer free student labour to farmers who could ill afford to hire extra hands during their busy haying and harvesting season. The grant money paid the students’ salaries. Most of the kids we hired were city kids. This project, I argued in my application, benefitted the farming community, and taught the students about rural life, at the same time as they learned how to wrangle a hay bale. We all had a good summer. And that description sounded great in my essay.

But that was about it for my leadership experience. So I included in my essay my stint as sports editor of our junior high newspaper. I still have my article about French skier Jean-Claude Killy, whom I’d seen on television. Ha. I’m sure most of the kids who read my “editorial” had no idea who he was.

I even included the Barbie Fan Club I started when I was nine. I presume the recruiters must have chuckled at that.

Anyway, my leadership essay led to an interview, and then another interview, and soon I was accepted into the ROTP program. I was sworn in, kitted out with uniforms and, in the summer of 1976, bundled off to Chilliwack B.C. for basic training. Wait… what?

Reality hit. I was a huge failure at officer training. I hadn’t actually thought ahead as to what training might look like. And I hated everything to do with everything about it. Plus I was so homesick it took my breath away. The fact that when I graduated from school I’d be working in a job that had little to do with my abilities or interests seemed minor by comparison. A few weeks later, I sobbed on the shoulder of a fatherly C.O. and then quit and went home with my tail between my legs.

Lovely orderly fields on our bike route.

But here’s what I learned from that experience. Beside the fact that spin can backfire on you. You should always “pack your own ‘chute.” I never forgot that lesson. You should never ask someone below you in the chain of command to do something you can’t or wouldn’t do yourself. I remembered that one when I became a department head. I also learned that there is a certain satisfaction in cooperating with others to do something properly, even if it’s just marching with your platoon. Actually I enjoyed the marching. I guess it’s because as much as I hated being in the military, I love order.

Oh, and always do your homework before taking a big leap. That was a biggie.

Here’s what else I gained from my experience. Once home I ignored the career advice of my sister’s boyfriend, and took the suggestion of my own boyfriend. He said, since I always had my nose stuck in a book, why had I not thought of switching from Science into English? And since I loved to talk and tell stories, had I not considered teaching?

Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why was I not looking at who I was and what I might be good at? In the end, I applied to switch into a four-year Bachelor of Education program with a double major in English and General Science. My boyfriend and I broke up not long after that, but I have always been grateful to him for seeing something in me that I’d been ignoring.

Foggy early morning on the Rideau.

I was always good at that, you know. Taking the advice of others over my own instincts. Looking for external validation instead of looking inside myself. Ignoring gut instinct, then finding out my gut was right all along. Spinning my wheels when I should have been making a start. Casting about for the ideas and opinions of others instead of marshalling my own thoughts. Especially when the thoughts I should be marshalling are thoughts about the future. Especially when there are innumerable choices. And big decisions to be made.

Kind of like anxiously paddling a canoe in the fog. Lots of energy expended, with little idea if you’re heading in the right direction or not.

The fog clears.

So where am I going with all this talk of the past? Well, Hubby and I have been talking about the future. And I’ve been trying to marshal my thoughts about that.

And it’s kind of like marching with a whole platoon of women all with big packs on their backs, all marching slightly off the cadence. Until they aren’t. Until they are magically all in unison, boot heels hitting the ground at exactly the right moment, turning in unison, acting as a unified whole.

I’m still waiting for that last bit to happen.

Of course I’m way better at marshalling my thoughts about the future than when I was twenty. When I had no confidence in my own ideas or opinions, when I thought everyone everywhere knew more than I did, and I didn’t know the difference between someone’s throw-away opinion and someone else’s wise and considered advice.

And I’m way better at doing my homework.

Although I still can get in a muddle of thoughts. That’s why time and lists are good for me. And talking. Lots of talking. Of course I’ll let you know if anything transpires from all this thinking and talking.

You know, even though I did not persist, that experience in the Canadian Armed Forces was not a total waste. Like Hubby always says, everything that has happened to us has gone into making us who we are. No experience is wasted. Some are a bit more painful than others… but they’re not wasted. Plus the painful ones usually make for better stories. And despite the fact that I graduated from university with lots of student debt and no job experience, I was trained in a profession I loved. And which turned out to suit me down to the ground.

I love a country road. But it’s hard to see very far ahead.

I have a photo of me and two of my fellow officer-cadets from that summer of 1976. All decked out in our fatigues, big boots, helmets, and packs, holding our rifles across our chests. My boots are huge on my skinny legs, my helmet is too big and in danger of slipping over my eyes. I look ridiculous.

I initially included the photo in this post and then decided against it. The three of us girls, all so young, holding those rifles, seemed jarring to me. And including the photo just for the sake of humour seemed kind of tone deaf. Especially considering the number of mass shootings that have taken places in the U.S. in the past few days. Guns are no joke. People brandishing guns, or weapons of any stripe, shouldn’t be funny.

If you ever come to my house, I’ll show you the photo and we can both laugh. But I wasn’t comfortable sending that picture out over the internet today.

Now, it’s your turn my friends. What do you do to help marshal your thoughts about the future? Or to process your thoughts about any big decision for that matter?

P.S. And speaking of growing up, I wrote a longer post a few years ago about “flailing” and how we know when we are adults. You can read it here if you’re interested.

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53 thoughts on “Marshalling My Thoughts About the Future”

  1. I didn’t know about your military choices and agree with Stu,our missteps built us as well as our successes (and make better stories,too) and help us to realize what we really want
    Talking/ thinking about the future….oh,well,tough decisions one has to make…
    I was so happy to find your post on early Saturday evening here-I get it usually on Sunday morning
    Dottoressa

    1. There are tough decisions to face. Not right away, though. Which is why I’m still only thinking and talking. Hope Zagreb is not too hot these days. 🙂

  2. Krystyna Rowell

    Wow, what a “powerful” piece of writing. You absolutely resonated we me on many levels. Most especially when you reflected back on decisions made and now, in projecting forward onto decisions yet to be made.
    Our experiences were similar though the outcomes were different. Like you I became a teacher, I’m now retired and at 74, I find myself more in a state of fog (expending much energy without any clear direction as to where I’m going) than ever before.
    Up until a month ago, I was fit, fashionable and full of beans. However being referred to as elderly by a kindly nurse, really “unhinged” me.
    I’m panicking, rudderless, directionless and stuck in very thick fog.
    I’ve saved this blog for reflection and re reading. It’s time for me to write a list !

  3. This is a very interesting read Sue.
    I had similiar conversations with my dad back in the day and he nearly convinced me to join the National Guard in the states. I did not and my life would surely be different. But I am thrilled for the good and bad experiences in my life. In my TV news career of 30 years, I’ve had experiences most can only dream of…..I would not change a thing. I have learned so much. But I am curious now as you talk to your husband about the future, what do you say? My husband and I do the same. We travel extensively and have for many years. What does our future look like? Where do we want to be? What do we still want to do?

    1. I guess everyone’s conversations are different. We talk about what we still want to do as a couple around travel. How and for how long. But some of our discussions are to do with the fact that I am considerably younger than my husband which means our relative individual situations are different.

  4. thank you for sharing a life ‘mistake’ you made. we have all made them but your husband is right. they are important for making us our future selves. hopefully wiser!
    I have to admit to flailing myself at the moment. i travelled through europe for six months last year with my husband and learnt from that experience that he is a home body and I am a gypsy. this will take some future negotiating…
    for the first time in my life i am really conscious that life if finite and there is a lot less ahead of me than has already gone. I dont want to waste the rest of my time… but what does not wasting it mean… lots of thinking to be done.

    1. The “life is finite” is part of my mindset now too. Partly this was precipitated by my mum’s death. For so many years I was focussed on what she needed. Now my focus is on us.

  5. When I look back to the point in my life when I was making decisions about post-secondary education, I can think of two wonderful high school teachers who very much influenced the path I chose … And while it was a good path, it’s not necessarily the one I would take if I were doing it all over again. No huge regrets, but it’s interesting to note how easily swayed I was, as an 18-year-old, by those I held in high esteem.

    Wishing you all the best in the decision-making that you and your husband are doing!

  6. The notion of choosing one’s path at the age of 18–and sticking with it for the next 50 years—is absurd.

    Whatever future I could see for myself at 18 was really a mashup of what others thought I should do in the late sixties—get some post-secondary education (but not too much because men prefer women who aren’t too brainy!), find a husband at university, get married and have kids (usually said in the same breath) and, perhaps, find a job which would “compliment” my husband’s to help pay off the mortgage. Problem was I loved being a university student, I thought babies were boring, I wasn’t interested in being a nurse or a secretary, and I lost interest in boyfriends at an alarming rate which didn’t bode well for finding a permanent partner.

    My one rule for myself was to remind myself that my independence was dependent on being self sufficient so I was always careful with my finances and told myself that no job was beneath me and that I’d always perform every job to the best of my abilities. Those work principles had been drilled into me by my elders who had crossed seas with just a few dollars in their pockets to restart their lives in a country which offered opportunities. Next to them, I was “privileged” because I started out with so many more advantages. My risks could be chosen ones—theirs had been forced upon them. Taking risks at a tender age meant mistakes were inevitable, but I figured if I didn’t keep making the same ones, my errors in judgement or execution could be counted as “learning experiences”. Those same elders had also drilled into me that owning my mistakes—and correcting them as soon as possible—was a sign of “character”. Only children blamed others or tried to rationalize their errors—adults who had “character” learned, made amends, and moved forward.

    Now, at 75, with an aging spouse with health issues who is nearing the end of his 80th decade, I like to think that all those experiences, mistakes, flailing, risk-taking, and course corrections will actually be of use when I peer into the murky future of living alone as a elderly woman in her 80th decade. My next decade will hold a host of changes—some of which I will hate, some which will be anguishing, some which will be prudent, and, hopefully, some which will be exciting and even joyful. I will continue to take risks, make mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and make course corrections as needed. The biggest difference from my 18th year old self, though, is that I no longer listen to what others tell me my future should, or will, look like. I’ll continue to look for my path, even if it’s not the easiest one, and to anticipate, not fear, the consequences of my choices. The marching may not be in unison, but isn’t the real point of the march to move forward?

    1. Oh gosh did the end of your second paragraph ever make me smile. I remember being on the playground with friends at age ten, playing a game of “house” and thinking, “Why on earth do these girls want to have a husband and children?! I don’t understand!” I was always a determined spirit and loved being a university student, travelling, and yes changing boyfriends when I realized that they would never really know who I was or support what I was capable of. I have a wonderful partner now, but I remain financially independent. My number one life rule is to never be stuck in a situation I can’t change because of money. I also absolutely agree with the point about owning your own mistakes. I manage young people now and asking for special treatment is the norm. That’s fine in some cases but putting in the work and taking responsibility for your own mistakes are building blocks of character.

    2. I agree Marily. One of the things I used to discuss with my senior students was that their 18-year-old decisions would not be “forever.” That they could always change paths, make different choices, that they needed to decide what they wanted to do for the first few years after high school. And realize that they would probably change course. The days when someone trains for a job that they will do their entire career are long gone.

  7. Noreen
    Absolutely feel the same way for the first time in our lives. But we travel 4 to 6 months each year for the past ten years. We feel blessed.
    The future years cannot be tallied. We’ve considered moving but so much involved. I feel many our age are trying to get the most from life in the years ahead and saying what should I do. Much is centered around family. We don’t have children. Those who do, make those choices based on family. I assume. It boils down to enjoy each day. That’s what I am trying to do.

    1. I agree to a certain extent, Judi. We should enjoy each day. But there are decisions that I will need to make that I want to have at least considered before I am forced to make them.

  8. Wonderful writing Sue & excellent comments too . I think most human beings are groping their way through life . A few find their vocation early on & become junior chess masters etc but most of us are groping . My choice would have been something in art or design but in post war Britain there was little opportunity & next to no money , especially in my family . So I became a civil servant & actually felt fortunate to have regular employment which wasn’t too onerous . It was pivotal to my life because otherwise I wouldn’t have met my husband & that is unimaginable to me now . No children , we never felt the need & in those days over population was more in the news . Many friends felt the same & I think it was the right decision for us . I left my job at fifty & became a volunteer at the local animal home , interviewing prospective adopters , which was very rewarding & I stayed for twenty years . We got our own dogs , stopped the distant travel & began a new phase of our lives . I’m not sure what the next phase is but who does ? We love our home of over 50 years , the garden satisfies a lot of my old artistic inclinations & we intend to stay here as long as possible . I just know we have been the most fortunate of generations & I’m very grateful for that . Best to not look too far ahead . The sun is shining this morning & we have managed to vote out the worst government in my memory , definitely a good day today .

    1. I can imagine you are pleased with the election results in your country, Wendy. Even I was pleased. Over here the spectre of the extreme right wing on both sides of our border is a bit scary.

  9. It is difficult, in your late 60s, to think of a future that does not contain ideas of frailty, decrepitude, staring out of a picture window in a care home…even if there is no reason to believe this might happen. The sense of things being behind, not ahead, is compelling. However. In this household we are, at present, dealing with two conflicting situations: a serious health issue and also the prospect of a grandchild on the horizon. Worry on the one hand, worry/joy on the other. So the future here is small, day-to-day, and uncertain. Perhaps, in reality, it always is, we just choose to look at a bigger version, make plans, set goals. It is a relief not to. To be perfectly honest. Your post was timely.

    1. Wise words, Annie. We can choose to look at big picture choices, but the day to day is what we get. Hope the health concerns are weathered positively. 🙂

  10. Christina Brown

    Jean-Claude Killy. I was in 8th grade when he got all his downhill gold medals. I was so smitten that I decided if guys that looked like that spoke French then I needed to speak French too. That led to a lifetime of teaching French (and English) in junior high, high school and college.
    Crazy little ideas that shape one’s entire life!

  11. “God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road.”
    Karen Blixen

  12. It sounds as though we are in a similar phase of rethinking some aspects of life, so this post resonated. I’m about fifteen to twenty years or more younger than most of your readers, so the decision points are perhaps slightly different, but as someone above says, we’re all stumbling along. I also say touché to the Karen Blixen quotation from Gail. I have four degrees and another degree partially completed, so that tells you all you need to know about my youthful “flailing.” I moved to another continent in my late 20s for a boyfriend and a job, but kept the job and ditched the boyfriend. There have been many challenging moments at crossroads in my life and many doubts, but no regrets, other than the times that I was too passive. As long as I have been actively choosing my life and following my curiosity rather than simply falling into a path, I don’t believe I’ve gone wrong (even where misjudgments crept in and I didn’t like the outcomes). These are the building blocks of our unique lives. Good luck with your processing, debating…and choosing.

  13. As usual, a very thoughtful post and comments that hit home with me. Decisions seem harder at 70 than they did at 18. When I was young and throughout my life I tended to fall into things without a lot of thought to the long-term consequences. As I often told those I supervised throughout my career, errors can be corrected. And while I still believe that, right now I am somewhat overwhelmed by the effort to get to where I think I want to go.

  14. I understand so many of the thought processes here – yours, Sue, and also those of your commenters. So important that there is plenty of discussion about the future – whether between partners or as an individual. In a partnership, ageing is uneven and unpredictable. Changes can be gradual or sudden and, even when you plan carefully, things may not go as you expected. We have found that keeping a sense of humour, staying open minded and making deliberate choices with good thought behind them are the best that you can do. This is a very important post – thanks for it.

  15. I am famous (in my head, LOL) for periodically blowing up my life and making radical change. The first was when I joined the Navy — in 1976, like you. Unlike you, I stayed for a while and had amazing adventures. But was it really me? Who knows. I think I specialize in being a contrarian, i.e., asking others’ advice and then doing the complete opposite, LOL. I do look back on so many life mistakes and realize I veered off course by letting others influence me too much. Flailing — that’s the word! Now I’m retired, I’m determined to shape the rest of my life to be what I want it to be — which, of course, reminds me of the comedian who wrote, “God said Ha!”

  16. I can relate to so many of these stories, at 18 I was so young and clueless. It seemed that everyone I knew had a plan for career or marriage. My parents wanted me to get a job and expected me to marry. So I stumbled around job to job until I discovered classes at the local university and found a career path (communication design) that I loved and I did marry. Of course my parents disapproved of my career choice, thought I’d never get a job. I’m 75 now and had a wonderful career in a profession I loved.
    I find now that the roles seem to be reversed I see so many adults around my age not wanting to face the future and accept change. Unless we put our own plans in place while we’re healthy enough and able, you leave the decision making to others.

  17. Another thought provoking Blog , Sue. Thank you. As well as thoughtful comments by everyone. I half expected to read that you and hubby had decided to move to New Brunswick. Being close to family can be a strong draw. Then there is weighing the factor of whether a new doctor can be found in a new location (in Canada) , which is a Huge factor as we age. We have moved often in the past because of my husband’s job but have settled into a nice community, in our retirement. However, when a sudden illness pops up, it can leave one feeling quite vulnerable if family is not close by. Yes, so many thoughts to sort out. My motto has been ” never say never” because sure enough … circumstances always throw a wrench in things.

  18. My husband and I have had many, many conversations about the future but they never lead anywhere. We don’t want to just stay in our little community, tend our beautiful garden, visit with friends while growing old. Not that there is anything wrong with doing so but we want more out of life. We toss around more travel and circle back to how many churches, temples, mosques does I need to see, or how many castles, antiquities, ruins….We’ve traveled quite a bit and have seen a lot. The act of traveling itself seems daunting. Flights are long, delayed, etc. Boomers are traveling like never before so all sites are crowded with tours. Then we consider an RV and winter in the states but we’ve done that before and politics in America can be very off putting. I hope none of your American readers take offence to that comment. We’ve had a Harley and toured all across North America. Such a feeling of freedom! We’ve owned a boat and spent four months of the year traveling the Pacific Northwest from Washington state to Alaska and everywhere in between. There is nothing more relaxing then dropping anchor in a secluded cove, beach combing, crabbing, fishing, etc. We’re travellers at heart. From time to time, we think we should move across the country to be close to our children and grandchildren but…winter….mosquitoes…so we stay in coastal BC. Perhaps, what we have here is perfection and we should stop looking for another adventure and just age gracefully and together. But, I know the conversations will pop up again.. and again..

    1. The travel discussion is big with us. How much of our freedom are we willing to give up to still be able to travel? And by that I mean the freedom to drive where we want when we want in whatever country we want. Those days are not going to last much longer. And we’re not sure we are willing to do the guided tour route or go on cruises. In fact Hubby is totally against the latter.

      1. I don’t blame your husband for thinking that way. I once went on a guided tour. The on the bus, off the bus, check into another hotel for the night was exhausting. It was not my idea of a good time, nor a relaxing visit to that particular country.

        1. Oh, we really hate running on someone else’s timetable. I especially need a day a week when we are on long trips to do the laundry, read my book, and breath. I’ve had people say to me that I can relax when I get home, not to waste the time away. But I don’t think travel should be an endurance activity. Unless you’re actually doing an endurance activity. 🙂

  19. A very timely, thought provoking Blog.
    Thank you.
    I appreciate the authentic comments as well.
    Last year I had an elective knee replacement and was shocked at the lack of support of family and our 5 children who all live relatively close by.My husband also struggled with my care and was “fired” after two weeks, as you can probably guess, I am a nurse (retiring this year after 51 years.)
    My so called “ plan” that my husband, who is lovely, would be a caregiver were dashed and that our children and extended family could provide support to us as we age as well.

    So now, with these timely truths in hand we look at what the future can hold for us.
    We are lucky to be in excellent health and have the cognitive abilities to look at a more realistic plan of support.

  20. Lisa Goussetis

    Oh my, resonance in today’s post for sure! As a retired Physucal therapist, now in a part time second act as a project manager, I’d have thought that these future-musings would be far ahead. But for me the truth is that identity can become elusive. How much of my life wqs simply a response to the daily needs in front of me? I am asking myself questions about identity, and about authenticity, and praying that the answers help to guide me forward in an intentional way. In the meantime, I am cleaning amd sorting and downsizing withoit moving yet. Anything that comes in means that some corresponding itwm must go out. In this exchange, I am refining my own image amd hopefully getting closer to a distillation that combines my youthful hooes with my midlife experiemces. And it is ol with me that the path forward may have zig zags, and even a switchback or two. My word for this year is Listening.

  21. I have to say Sue you struck a nerve.
    The comments of your blog this time are so interesting and actually helpful.
    So many are at the same point in life.
    Bravo to you for such a thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading every single Comment. I dont normally do that.
    I asked before…when is your book coming out? You are a wonderful writer.

  22. Thought provoking…as always. I have started and restarted this comment a few times now. I’m thankful for the path of appreciation your writing has sparked, Sue.
    About a year ago, I was asked, “How many more years do you expect to travel?” That question stopped me in my tracks. I had not even given that a thought as I faced my 75th birthday. As a person of faith and a recent widow, I had to really take stock as to what would fill my time as I moved forward. I still wanted to count and be of value.
    Thanks to my husband’s hard work and provision, I am making plans to travel in whatever time is allotted for me. I’m engaged with a supportive community, growing grandkids, and a vegetable garden that sprouts as many weeds as produce! While bent to the task, I’ve asked the good Lord quite a few times, “Why don’t snails eat weeds? Why only the good stuff?” Always respectfully, I might add.
    Thank you for initiating this retrospective of my years and the trajectory of what lies ahead.
    Onward and upward…Charlene

    1. Certainly inward, Charlene. Part of our discussion is around our own home and property. It is not one I could manage on my own. And since Hubby is more than a decade older than me… I need to think about my own path if I have to walk it alone.

      1. Some sober thinking going on for all of us, Sue. I saw you mention in an earlier comment that “financial stability is a blessing.” Indeed, it is.
        I’m glad that you are taking stock now. It’s hard to pick up the pieces in the midst of loss and grief. I have witnessed your wonderful analytical skills via your writing. They’ll be put to good use in this important step towards your future.

  23. Aww my spidey senses have been tingling Sue. The past couple of posts have had a certain l’air de tristounette to them…seems like someone is at loose ends and change is in the air. I don’t know you but yeah I sensed a vibe.. you’re ‘of an age’ to consider your future and still young enough to put plans in place.
    Maybe that’s what the sixties are for? We are at that precipice of decision…jump and fly or stay with the status quo. Both choices have pros and cons, consider them well.
    I have friends that have pulled up stakes and moved across the country, sold a beloved home for a condo, left long marriages and started new careers. Also friends who are aging in place, have put travel dreams on the back burner to marshal grand children or care for elderly parents. Interestingly none have regrets, these were decisions they needed to make but also knew they had reached a critical point, that the years were flying and time is in short supply.
    Whatever you’re up to take council from our Jann Arden:
    Feet on ground, heart in hand
    Facing forward, be yourself

    Face your own future head on.
    Good luck!

    1. I spent many years after my step-father died managing my mum’s affairs. Since her death, my focus has switched from her needs to our own. Now we come first.

  24. Thoughtful post. I am 70 this year, and my life has never been planned. I have had two quite different careers both of which I fell into, married and divorced, had a child and step children too at one stage, and have moved a few times on a whim. My work friends were considerably younger than me. It is only now, a few years after retirement that I am seriously considering what my future will look like. I moved to another location as it was financially more viable but I am almost starting over again with making new friends. I am feeling my age for the first time, so need to plan better for the future. A lot of the comments here resonate with me.

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