Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 605 The New Year – My Life List

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

January 1st is when most of us make lists. We don’t look at our entire life. Rather we look at the New Year. We try to get something going in the first week or the first month. I’ve never been good at making these kind of lists: stop smoking or drinking, read a bit more, plant a garden, go out to lunch once a month, once a week, or whatever. All of the above may be very important. It has always seemed to me that these kind of things need to be made on a daily basis. They will not wait for the beginning of another year. It’s the first kind of list that interests me; the kind where you look at your entire life; the kind John Goddard made.

“My life list”. That was the heading of an article I read about in Life magazine many years ago. John Goddard made a list when just a boy and then went about accomplishing 109 of the 127 of his goals. He traveled to exotic places, he wrote books, he studied primitive cultures, he explored underwater, he climbed mountains, he learned to play  instrument - he did all sorts of stuff. It very much impressed me. It was like making New Year’s Resolutions; only this was a one time deal for your entire life.

I use to have my students make a ten year list. I asked them to think ahead ten years and try to conceive of what they might like to have achieved in this limited time span. They tried to arrive at one hundred things. From age 18 to 28 are pretty important years in a person’s life. Change is the norm. Pack your bags and go away. Where? That is the question. Become a student? Become a marine? Become a lover? Become one thing or another. Settle in your hometown. Settle a long way from home. This is the time for choosing careers and life partners.

Students thought about their lives in the long term; long for them. No, it doesn’t seem long to us who are now retired but ten years was more than half of the time they had lived up to that point. These students then put the letter into an envelope and addressed it to someone whom they thought had a good chance of being there in ten years; maybe an aunt, or uncle, or perhaps a neighbor; someone who had a good chance of knowing where they might be in ten years. Then they put three or four stamps on the envelope and left it with me. It went into a bundle of letters wrapped with a note to mail it in l978 or l988 or l998. Ten years after they wrote it I would mail it.

The goal of course was to get them to think seriously about what they wanted their lives to be like. It was intended to encourage at least a modicum of thought that might help them make daily decisions. I’m not sure it had much effect. They did enjoy making the list. I remember one student put a twenty dollar bill into the envelope. Said he might need it more then than he did now. Of course, I mailed the letters. Of course, some of them were returned to me; unopened. I’ve often wondered what happened to these students and what real effect, if any, the letters had – for the students that got the letters

In the spring of 1972 my wife and I sat down in our living room and each came up with our own list. It was amazing what we learned about each other. My personal list of one hundred things grew over the years. The list lies in the back of the drawer of my desk. I haven’t looked at it in years. What was significant about this list of resolutions, or desires for change is that many of them were completed as if by accident. On rare occasion I would come across the list. I would notice that many of the items listed had indeed, been accomplished. It was like they had been achieved almost without effort or intent. Perhaps the list had become internalized. I was always a bit surprised. But, it felt good to see that more goals had been met.

What was just as interesting were the items on the list that were not achieved. Or what one might call the failures. I would sometimes look down the list hoping for new directions or goals that might rejuvenate my aging mind into action of some sort. It has never happened. Things that I really wanted to do have been done. Other things no longer seem worthwhile or desirable.

I suppose I could be upset at myself for this and think about how I have failed and never met those youthful goals. But, it never happens. Goals shift as one grows older. I suppose that is as it should be. It doesn’t seem reasonable that youthful goals would still be controlling, or guiding us, as we grow older.

Retirement might be a good time to write out another list. The New Year might be good time to sit down and think a bit about where we are going and what we are doing with our lives. Retirement certainly narrows the time frame for any such action. It should make the job a whole lot easier.

This is retirement talk.

If you have questions, comments, or suggestions contact



Follow Retirement Talk on Facebook: on Facebook