Now that I am almost a week into retired life, friends and well-wishers increasingly ask, “So what are you going to do?” Often, they have suggestions!
An unspoken preface contains their curiosity: “Now you have a chance to do what you really want to do, what are you going to do?” I surmise this to be the retiree’s version of “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
In more philosophical language, what is it that you want to do that will be most authentic to your true self and fulfil your deepest yearnings?
Over the years, authenticity has become a huge value for me, as it now is for those with the Millennial mindset. I have some personal clarity but am always grateful for the chance to revisit the question.
Charles Lindholm says that, traditionally, the question of authenticity focused upon whether or not a person was being true to their history, to the traditions and geography of their birth. Were you a real Smoke Eater or person from Pine Falls? Were you living up to the expectations, fulfilling the obligations and claiming the opportunities of a Cree man?
But with industrialization and urbanization, geography and family/clan history became less of a factor. As people moved from the land of their birth, the question of the meaning of life began to emerge since asking whether or not you have been true to your history no longer made sense in a root-less culture. If you are just another cog in the industrial machine what gives your life meaning and purpose? The question became an individual pursuit rather than communal engagement.
For many – and this is constant across generations – “family” became a key component of the answer. In essence, the answer returns to the root understanding although on a smaller scale: these are my people; these are our traditions; these are our elders; these are our norms of conduct; etc.
Also true for me, though not sufficient.
I am deeply rooted in the Christian tradition even though I often rail against the church and am deeply bored and frustrated by some of its practices and discussions. Still, I see my life through a Christian lens. Or, as those interested in narrative theory might say, I see my story as part of the larger Christian epic.
So whatever comes next must necessarily engage and reflect some of the themes of the Great Mystery as I experience it, including: mystery, wonder, beauty, transformation, forgiveness, love, challenge, resurrection, hope. Whatever picture emerges these realities form the frame.
Over the years working for the church the key to my sanity lay with the concept of gifts. I have earned my salary through employing many talents – administration, communication, entrepreneurship, etc. But gifts, in the Christian tradition, refer to that soul itch that must be scratched. Whatever the platform, the gift pushes for expression like steam must be channeled through a whistle or the great wheels of a locomotive.
So, for me, authenticity is all about the discovery and use of the gift.
My wife says that as long as she has known me my perennial question has been So What? So what does this – whatever it is – have to do with the Great Mystery?
My full response to what comes next will follow that thread. And if exorbitant wealth and massive public acclaim result, I shall not refuse. But they are far down the list of my criteria for success.
Photo by Jason Chen, downloaded from Unsplash