Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 767 Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda


This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

"Two roads diverged in the yellow wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."

That poem has always resonated with me; the way I have lived. I have always believed that I did take the road less traveled by - and that it did make all the difference.

But just recently I heard a radio broadcast that suggested the poem really leads to the opposite conclusion. That most of us take the road that is most traveled by. We do what others do. We live a life of could have, would have, should have. It came as a bit of a surprise to me.

An old neighbor of mine in Alaska who taught school for thirty years always shook her head and repeated the mantra when she approached retirement - "no more coulda, woulda, shoulda". I had always thought she had lived a very good life but evidently she thought that she had done much that was against her will. She had regrets. Retirement was a time when life would change all of that.

She saved money in one fund or another. She and her husband bought time shares in condos in Florida and Hawaii. She started to play golf. She looked to a bright future in retirement. Then she died. She didn't live more than a year into her retirement years. Her dreams ended in a cancer ward. She had spent much of her life looking back with regrets and looking forward with hope. It is a sad story.

I'm trying to look back on my life and envision making other decisions and taking different roads. It's hard. For example,I just can't imagine majoring and succeeding at anything other than what I studied in college. I can't imagine marrying someone other than my wife. We have been married 47 years and counting. How would that of worked? There are no woulda, coulda, shouldas there.

I'm trying to consider my career as a teacher and our drive up the Alaskan highway in 1968. Could we have done something other than what we did? I suppose so, but at the time it seems like I was propelled out of the midwest in search of something different. And that road was literally less traveled. When I try to imagine what life would have been like had we turned around it isn't pleasant. I certainly can't imagine it would have been anything as rewarding, interesting, exciting. There are no would've, could've, should've there.

I can hear someone saying that this is all a grand rationalization and perhaps it is. It must be so sad to look back on one's life with a long list of wrong turns or missed opportunities. I just have a hard time understanding why anyone would have lived a life where decisions were made that lead to disappointment and regret. I'm sure I am missing something here. Perhaps outside forces were forcing undesirable choices. If that is the case perhaps there wasn't a choice in the first place. Hopefully one of my listeners will help me out by pointing out where I took a wrong turn in understanding this attitude.

Perhaps it all comes down to attitude. If we have an attitude that we have missed the train then we indeed may spend time in the would've, could've, should've camp. Perhaps it is the attitude toward those decisions that makes all the difference. It isn't that we have gone down one road rather than the other but it is our attitude about accepting whatever choice we made. I'm not sure where this attitude about life decisions come from; I suppose from seeing our parents and siblings in action. Certainly our teachers and fellow classmates play a role in our attitudinal development. We learn to accept life as it comes our way. We learn to make the best of it. Or, we learn dissatisfaction; we fall into a life of discontent. We complain. We do spend time wishing we had taken another path.

One thing about it. Retirement offers us an opportunity to not stay in the position of taking the wrong road. We can venture down one as far as we wish and then take a turn if we so desire. We can change. We are never too old for that.

When this podcast originated over seven years ago my wife painted a little watercolor of what I had in mind. It became the logo of the podcast. If you look at it you will see two roads diverging in a yellow wood. Frost was in my mind then and still is. We can all keep our eyes open looking for the path that is less traveled.

This is Retirement Talk.

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