This new series is guest blogged by Doug Logan.
Doug Logan was the CEO for USATF from 2008 until September 2010. He was also the CEO, President and Commissioner for Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999. To read more about his background and involvement in Track, Soccer, Rugby and the Music industry, read my Freelap Friday Five Interview.
SHIN SPLINTS REDUX
We Have Not Won Anything Yet
I truly never thought I would live much beyond the age of 60. My genes were aligned very much against me. My father died at 56; both grandfathers before the age of 59. I spent most of my youthful years abusing my body and frequently placing myself in the shadow of physical danger. In my early 30’s I drafted a “life plan”, incorporating all my aspirations and professional goals. A remarkable document, it was curiously mute about my desires for my “Golden Years”. I assumed there would not be any.
Whenever I fantasized about life as an elder, the visual was always the same. Dressed in a white linen suit and a rakish hat, looking a bit like Maurice Chevalier, or Adolph Menjou, or Fernando Lamas, I would be sitting at a café table on some European boulevard, with a snifter of good cognac and a cup of strong espresso in front of me, a Partagas cigar in my hand, ogling the parade of pulchritude walking in front of me. Occasionally, someone would walk up to me and ask my advice on some great topic of the day and I would sagely offer a few words that would solve all the world’s problems. Ah, senior bliss!
Guess what? Not going to happen.
I no longer drink or smoke and I have throttled back on the coffee. The weakness of the dollar has made Europe an infrequent vacation choice. And, contemporary mores have appropriately curbed overt flirting to the point that my conduct in my fantasies would now earn me a punch in the nose or a lawsuit, or both. Finally, no one has asked me for my advice lately. And, they seem to be doing very well without it.
Once I realized I was going to survive for many more years with decent health, it distressed me to think that so many people seem to be aging unhappily. Just look at their faces and listen to what they have to say. Was that going to be me? The possibility was demoralizing. On the other hand, a select group of elderly seemed serene in their advanced age and truly happy and content. The question of why and how some could find joy in aging began to nag me and so I began my own little research project. Over a two year period of time I unscientifically asked perhaps 60-70 people with grey hair and wrinkles why they looked so happy. I did this at parties, airports, coffee shops, ballgames, malls and gyms. Over the course of time I learned that this group had some similar characteristics and attributes. Some are obvious but some are surprising. I will be sharing some of the results of my anecdotal “study” in coming posts.
So, how do you become or stay happy? In our early years we are generally too busy to question whether we are or not. The question becomes more acute once we have time on our hands to think about it. One of my favorite quotes related to happiness is: “The three grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for”. This old saw is so popular that it is variously attributed to three writers; Alexander Chalmers of Scotland [1759-1834], Immanuel Kant the Prussian philosopher [1724-1804] and, earlier, Joseph Addison the Englishman [1672-1719]. Regardless of the source, the quote is probably more pointed as we become older.
There is a staggering statistical bubble that we are currently living through. In the US alone, 10,000 people a day are reaching statutory retirement age and looking for something to do. And, this trend will continue for the next 23 years. Some will continue to do “productive” work and stay at their professional work stations. Some will become entrepreneurs and start businesses, although all the chatter about seniors starting up small businesses is just that, chatter. Some will find fulfillment in volunteer labor. Others will take up hobbies, although a life of building birdhouses out of Popsicle sticks seems awfully unsatisfying to me. Some will take up golf and follow a little ball in an electric cart, some will hang out at Costco and Wal-Mart waiting for the bargains, some will sit on a pier or by a stream waiting for a bite. The key to fulfillment and therefore happiness is to find something to do that defines you; that you can say proudly till your last breath, “this is what I do”.
The “someone to love” is fairly straightforward. Tellingly, the axiom is not “someone to love me” but the unselfish act of loving someone else. I have seen firsthand where that can include a trusty household pet.
The third essential, ”something to hope for”, is somewhat more problematic. This aspirational element of happiness requires a values clarifying exercise related to asking yourself the question “what do I want”. And, it also infers that joy is only truly achieved when we strive for something. Here, I am going to offer a suggestion. Find something that you can aspire to do better next year than you can do this year. Aging takes a lot of possibilities off the table but there are still many things you can consider. Can you learn the rudiments of a foreign language? Can you learn to dance or play a musical instrument? Can you read 100 books next year? Many know that I have become a daily walker instead of a runner. For me, to walk faster this year than last year became my quest. In 2011 I was walking at an average 17:01 per mile pace. In 2012 I improved to 16:06 and this year my average pace is 15:37. I don’t know how long I can keep improving but I am going to give it a hell of a shot.
During the Christmas holidays I had an interesting conversation with my two sons about generational differences. I was bemoaning the fact that automatic respect for elders was no longer the “default setting” for the current younger set as it was in days gone by. We agreed that when I was young there were far fewer older people around to defer to. And, one of my sons made an astute point. He said, “Dad, there are a lot of older people out there with a superior attitude, thinking they have won ‘the game of life’. The truth is they haven’t won anything yet.”
He’s right. We have not won anything yet. We will receive respect and admiration in accordance with our day-to-day performance and conduct, the same as in our prior years. We are still in the witness box, subject to examination. And, if we want a happy and dignified exit we will just have to earn it.