If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt

I’m on the downhill slope of life — so to speak. Sixty-three and counting. Heading for retirement. Slowing down.

Really!? Well, no!! I am 63, but I get a burst of energy every time I contemplate retirement, or semi-retirement, in about three years. Right now, most of my time and creative energy are taken up here at work. I really like my job, but I’m most creative and energized in the morning, and mornings (and afternoons) I’m at my desk working on magazine articles and answering reader e-mail questions. Evening is my low-energy time when I might weed the garden or do a load of laundry, but I wouldn’t start a new family scrapbook or plan a holiday get together then. Those tasks wait for Saturday morning, or — retirement! I have a lifetime of ideas that haven’t seen the light of day, and I’m determined that those ideas will be brought to life during my retirement years.

But how does one start the projects that have languished on the back shelf, waiting to be remembered, waiting to be rediscovered, waiting to be given life? A few years ago, in the summer of 1992 to be exact, I took a class in Future Imaging as part of a Master’s in Community Leadership course at Regis University, Denver, Colo. We were to imagine where we would be in 10 years and draw a picture of what that future looked like. But how to get to the 10-year goal was the process we learned. Here is a summary of that process: Write down where you want to be in 10 years. Next establish where you need to be in 5 years to get to your 10-year goal; then do the same for two years and one year. Last, identify what step you should take today to start.

I was living in Phoenix when I did this future imaging. My goal for 10 years out was to live in a log cabin with pine trees in the background, a little creek in the front and a large grassy meadow. When the opportunity came to make the move, I knew what I wanted it to look like! Two years later, I was living in a log house, heated with firewood, watching horses prance in the 40-acre meadow. Of course, there is always an element of luck — the fact that this perfect place was for sale while I was property hunting was not under my control!!

But what does this have to do with retirement, you might be wondering? Everything! It is never too early or late to set your sights on a dream and plan how you will get there. Here are two examples, one from a 20-something, Vermont homesteader (scroll down to “before it all”) and the other about an 84-year-old woman who bicycles 150 miles to support multiple sclerosis research. They both are passionate about what they do and each had experiences that launched them into their current situations.

I think that is the trick to having a full life — at 24, 44 or 84 — to identify the passion, identify the steps necessary to be successful and then be ready to recognize the opportunity when it comes along or you create it; and be ready to act on it. Of course, not all dreams last a lifetime — I spent 5 years on the farm and then decided living on a dead-end dirt road, 40 miles from my job, was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my life. But I will always value the experiences I had, the skills I developed and the friends who supported my efforts while I was there.

Do I wish I had done this when I was 30 with my husband and two kids? Hmmmm … no! It was my dream to live in the “Little House in the Big Woods,” not theirs. Now, I’m making lists and planning for the future. Once I’ve prioritized the list, I’ll make a new 10-year plan. And what is my first step, today? Reminding myself that life isn’t over until it’s over!