I still remember the drive that that helped me get through college and med school and to become successful in my new career. I was fresh out of medical school and residency and eager to launch into that new career. But, now all of a sudden here I am at retirement age! The big question is whether or not I can find happiness with such a radical change in my lifestyle.
By the time that we reach retirement age we should have a pretty good idea of what brings happiness as well as of what does not. After all we’ve had quite a few experiences in our lifetimes. Most of us have figured out that just having fun is isn’t going to bring lasting happiness. Accumulating wealth and possessions, while promising lots of happiness, seems less important at 65 than it was at 30.
So… what is a retired doc supposed to do? Maybe that is really the million dollar question!
I recently re-read one of the most influential books that I’ve ever read: Man’s Search for Meaning written by Dr Victor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust during WWII. Dr Frankl was a Jewish psychologist imprisoned at Auschwitz, one of the most feared Nazi concentration camps. While there he was given a few privileges since he was a doctor. This likely one of the reasons that he survived. He made notes on some of the patients that he had the opportunity to treat (as well as some of the guards that asked for his advice). His book also reveals the terrible suffering and death that occurred there on a daily basis.
He observed that there are five things that bring meaning to our lives. They consist of relationships, health, possessions, position in society and past achievements. The loss of any one of these is enough to cause suffering and pain. However, in a concentration camp, people lost all of these very quickly and most lost their lives.
Dr Frankl was very fascinated by the small fraction of those who somehow maintained an attitude that enabled them to survive. They refused to let go of their faith in God even doing their best to participate in the important jewish customs and feasts. They prayed on a daily basis and tried to encourage those who suffered alongside them. Often they shared a morsel of bread or shared a blanket with another prisoner. He would tell some of his co-prisoners to remember your loved ones who are already in Heaven. He would tell them that “they are looking down on us and we must not disappoint them”.
Frankl concluded that the prisoners that survived maintained a hope that suffering and even death could not destroy. He said that some prisoners not only survived but their suffering actually seemed to create in them a greater ability to love and care for others. Spiritually, they thrived even as they were physically wasting away.
This is a seriously hard book to read. But for me has been a game changer. I know too many men that have retired and had nothing to really live for. But on the other hand there are those of us who will use their time and talents in order to be successful in new endeavors unrelated to our previous profession. Perhaps in a way that is even more meaningful in serving others.
Let’s look forward believing that there are just a few more exciting and challenging opportunities waiting for us on the next frontier. Now that’s Meaningful! That can really be fun! I could be really happy about that!
Doug Maguire, D.P.M.