Looking at our responsibilities as we age

Friday, March 2, 2018 2:09 PM

Shouldn’t our responsibilities lessen as we age? I’m thinking we did our careers, we did our families, now we can relax. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the reality many of us are experiencing.

I just returned from a two-week vacation in California. The whole time out there, I felt so carefree, so in-the-moment and so flexible, relaxed and happy. It was wonderful.

Arriving home, I see how busy I am, how many activities and responsibilities I have. And how structured my days are. Why can’t I feel more like I’m still on vacation?

It’s obvious that a vacation is a great time to leave our normal lives and experience different energy and experiences. But getting home shows me so clearly what my life is like and how different it is from vacation – not bad, just different. So I’m looking at my responsibilities and asking why I choose to have them and are they such a bad thing?

The term useful comes into play, and I’m seeing how some of these responsibilities make me feel useful. Do we all need to feel useful? We felt very useful during our careers and family time. Now that we’re aging, do we just transfer that usefulness into other areas? Isn’t it time to stop being so useful, to stop having so many responsibilities? Or perhaps it’s a time to want to feel more useful because we no longer have those previous roles.

Some of our activities and responsibilities connect us to other people and groups in the community. The involvement is good and healthy for aging people. To be out and interacting with others and new ideas and plans is stimulating and fulfilling. And giving something back, in whatever form, is part of our task as we age.

I love all my activities, most of them I choose to do, and I don’t want to give them up. They reward me in many ways. But maybe we’re all doing too much, and it’s time to re-evaluate. Many of us seem to be busier now than when we were deep into our careers. How many of us are addicted to being busy? We feel our identity revolves around all these things we do. We need balance between down time and being out there in the world. I’m needing to feel more spontaneous.

This is what Bill Plotkin, in his book Nature and the Human Soul, says about aging:

“We become increasingly content to just look and listen and feel, to marvel at the evolving world with the wonder and innocence – the presence – of a child. The urge to do more begins to wane ... we prepare to surrender our spirit and to enter the last part of our lives, toward profound fulfillment and happiness.”

So, what are our responsibilities now? What gifts do we have and how do we share them at this end of our lives? I think we have responsibilities as elders to model healthy aging to others and to our families and perhaps to share some of our wisdom. We may have family responsibilities as partners, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, and perhaps even as children to parents still living. We all have responsibilities as members of our community, and members of the world and simply just as humans.

To sort through all this and really examine what we’re doing may be helpful. I feel a shift in what I want to spend my precious remaining time doing. I am wanting to change all the rushing around and be more peaceful, too. And then there is gratitude that I even have these choices.

What does your pie chart look like? How much time do you just “look, listen and marvel”?

Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and has written a book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at