Significance or Seashells?

As I’ve shared the news of our pending life change, I’ve received many good wishes, mostly some form of “enjoy your retirement”. As much as I appreciate the kind thoughts, every time I hear those words, I wince involuntarily. I’ve never been a fan of the “R” word, I’m much too young to retire, and I’m deadly afraid of joining what I fear is a tragic rite of passage to oblivion. In my view, the promise of working hard, saving up, and then stopping work so that one can “play” is one of the great lies of modern society.

I’m deadly afraid of joining what I fear is a tragic rite of passage to oblivion.

I think that John Piper puts it brilliantly in his book don’t waste your life (a must read), so I’ll let him express the idea in his own words:

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 14.55.21I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest what a tragedy is. “Bob and Penny . . . took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.

That’s a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!

In today’s age, we also have the phenomenon of the “grey nomads”, people who spend their early retirement travelling. I must admit that I’m easily tempted by this, as I somehow find collecting experiences less fatuous than collecting material things. Thus says the urban legend, “he who finishes with the most memories wins”. And yet my inner conviction tells me that collecting experiences is no more meaningful than collecting shells.

And yet my inner conviction tells me that collecting experiences is no more meaningful than collecting shells.

I believe that we are all instinctively called to a higher purpose, by design. One of the pop philosophers of our day, Bono, famously sings “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.  It’s easy to sing along to this rousing anthem at the top of one’s voice, but if the words ring true for us as we sing them, is this not a significant thing? Is this not worth a pause and a check-in? (Jim Carrey recently shared his own experience, read Ben Smart’s take on that).

So it was for me and my wife, Jen. As our children left home, and as we enjoyed many of the privileges of an executive career, we both felt tremendously blessed and grateful. We also heard that still small voice telling us to do something more meaningful, more purposeful with our lives. We’re Christians, and so for us, the area of purpose was clear: to be doing what God would have us do. Then about two years ago, friends introduced us to the book “Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford.  If you’ve turned forty, read it, you’ll be glad you did.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 15.36.20Ken Blanchard, coauthor of  The One-Minute Manager, says:

“This book is for successful people who want more fulfillment in their lives and realize it won’t come from the next victory, the next sale, the next conquest, or significant increase in their bottom line. Let Bob Buford be your guide to make sure your best years are ahead of you.“

Jim Collins writes the foreword to the 2008 updated edition, I like what he says here:

“Here in Halftime, he (Buford) asserts that the old model of arduous career followed by relaxing retirement should be jettisoned, replaced by the idea that the second half can – and should – be more creative, more impactful, more meaningful, more adventurous, and filled with more learning and contribution than the first half. A successful first fifty years should be viewed as nothing more than a good start.”

And here:

“The question of renewal stays with us for our entire lives. Some answer the question with tremendous grace and creativity, becoming “seventy years young”; others, sadly, begin to age early, reaching half-seventy at “thirty-five years old.” And while Buford has employed the halftime analogy with tremendous effect, there remains one huge difference between a sport and life: in football (or in a marathon or on a mountain climb) you know exactly when you have crossed the halfway mark. In life you might think you have reached halftime but in fact be at mile twenty-five of the twenty-six-mile marathon, or in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, or perhaps – if fortunate – still only a third of the way up the mountain. We only get one life, and the urgency of getting on with what we are meant to do increases every day. The clock is ticking.”

Jen and I have spent considerable time over the past two years thinking, praying, testing and sharing with friends, what this halftime idea means for us. The truth is, we don’t yet know with any precision. And we’re OK with that. We’ve formed the view that we can’t start our second half unless we finish our first half, and we realise that we’re privileged to be able to stop working this early. We view our first fifty years as a good start, for which we’re grateful. We’re looking forward to finding out what our second half holds for us, and while we don’t know what it will be, we do know that it won’t be collecting seashells …

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7 thoughts on “Significance or Seashells?

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  1. Good points Doug. The nomads have also robbed the following generations of desperately needed mature discipleship in their quest for leisure. It is shame. I wonder whether even thinking of life as in halves is a subtle playing into this same idea. The whole thing belongs to Jesus, work or no work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t argue with your last point. I think the idea of Halftime is more for Christians in the workforce to consider whether to do something different (if they can), or whether to stay where they are, at work. The workforce is a mission field, like any other, and corporate leaders, who are Christian, have unique access to that mission field. In that sense, the choice to stop work early is a choice to leave a mission. In my case, I’m hoping to be able to use my gifts and experience to more explicitly advance God’s kingdom and to be grown in the process.

      Liked by 2 people

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