I’m Not Old.  I’m Only 88.

Going on 58. I mean, nothing’s changed. Well, maybe a little. When I was a seeming hotshot on Madison Avenue in NYC, I loved walking everywhere.  Nowadays, destinations on concrete are not on my list of priorities. I wonder what I would have done differently in my 40s or 50s had I known I’d still be kicking (i.e., writing, speaking, teaching, lecturing) 40 years later??? 

Fess up. Are your goals set for a 5-year run or a 40-year run? Do your Purposes in life have a longevity option? Chances are you’re going to live longer (maybe a lot longer) than you’ve planned for.

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While you’re planning how to be productive in your 80s (remember, I’ll be 89 this year), I have a suggestion for you — something I do every day. In the evening, I make a short list, hopefully no more than six or seven items. It’s a list of the things I most want to accomplish the next day. I try to get them done first thing during the morning and check them off. Wow! It gives me a great sense of accomplishment. It gives value to the day. But thinking back, I swear I never thought about life after the messy middle. Honestly, I don’t think I had a midlife crisis — I was too busy. Many, many years ago, I embraced a wise quip from the wiseass mouth of Noël Coward:  “Work is more fun than fun.” And of course, he’s right. Friends, who knew I had an unforgettable villa in Acapulco for muchos años, said, “Why do you work so much, Jim? You can float around a pool all day with a margarita in your hand.”  Hmm, that (was) true. And it’s Great — for maybe 20 minutes — and then the boring nothingness of it takes over.

I know you hear (and read) a lot of stuff about The Power of Purpose (wise words from Richard Leider) and the value of Atomic Habits (Mr. Clear will blow you out of complacency). And guess what? They’re true. Without Purpose, how can you get up in the morning? Yeah, yeah, you have stuff to do. Walk the dogs, make the coffee, maybe check the news to see what today’s traumas are. But, friends, that’s not enough. Yes, we all have the trivialities of living: the necessities of bathing, feeding oneself, cleaning our quarters. But you can do most of that with your eyes half open and your mind closed. I’m smiling, thinking about a good starter. Read Admiral McRaven’s wonderful quickie book Make Your Bed. Or maybe even better, find his speech on YouTube with the same title. It’s brilliant. I started doing it before I read his book, and I still Make My Bed every morning. I’m fortunate; I have a live-in full-time nanny (that’s what I call her) who takes care of most of the trivialities of my life, who will cheerfully make my bed. But I agree with McRaven. If you start your day making something that’s messy, neat, you’re getting your mind set in an orderly path. 

Of course, some Purposes in life can’t be knocked off in a few minutes. On my current list (I’m a writer!) is finish the novel I’ve been studiously avoiding because I know it will require total attention, which means I can’t play with the other things on my creative plate. I mean, I finished creating a TV series — even wrote the pilot. And I’m almost finished with a screenplay. If I could make this article five pages longer, I’d tell you about it and ask you for any ideas about how to finish the damn thing.  

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So, where am I going, babbling on and on about What Are You Doing That Makes You Wake Up With a Smile? And can you keep on doing it forever, without boring yourself? You are saying, “But I don’t have time. I mean, we still have children, ranging from teens to college, and they require so much.”  True. But they’re going to have to learn how to choose their own path; and suddenly you’ll turn around and the little darlings won’t be there, and won’t need you to hold their hand — and maybe won’t want you to hold their hand. I love my children and grandchildren. But I don’t call and ask them: “What shall I do today?” And, hopefully, your kids and grandkids are so busy with their own lives, they don’t want to manage your life.  

I really don’t have to tell you Life is a Gift, do I? I mean, there were no guarantees you’d wake up on the right side of the grass today, but here you are — Wow! Another chance to see, hear, taste, smell, touch — it’s called living. And even better than that, it’s an opportunity to help someone else, besides yourself. It’s especially good if you can help someone and not expect anything in return. 

Here’s an exercise for you. I can’t remember the smart professor or lecturer who said it, but it’s terrific. See if you can write, in just six words, a statement about who you are, who you want to be, why you matter — in other words, a six-word summary of the essence of you. Hey, being a writer, when I was given that challenge, I thought of the brilliant writer James Michener, who lived 90 extraordinary years and wrote immensely long historical novels, each one a treasure, who said of himself, “I can’t say Hello in six pages.” But I did it—printed it out and have it pasted to the bottom of my computer monitor, so I have to see it every day and try to live up to it. It says: “I am present —living, giving, loving.”  

Jim Flaherty was an international advertising writer/creative director, has published two novels, and two non-fiction books. Was also creator and innkeeper of a five-star country inn/conference center. He is a frequent motivational speaker to Elders and Almost-Elders, as well as parenting associations, and writing groups. A strong believer that you are only as old as you think, Jim cheerfully admits to being 88 (going on 58) and is a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Besides his books, he has a TV series, screenplay, and musical ready for public viewing. Home is a 1940’s art-filled dairy barn in the foothills of the Berkshires. His website: https://www.jamesbflaherty.com. Link to his latest book, EMBRACE YOUR AGE: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1737986744/