My dad was an intense man. That’s not exactly the word I would have used when I was a kid as his intensity set the tone of our home, but it is the word that best fits him. As I learned about traits of giftedness in the last few years of his life, I felt like I was finally getting to understand him. I don’t know that he ever had the opportunity to really understand himself.
My dad died 5 years ago at way too young of an age. I wish I could say he enjoyed his early retirement in the years leading up to his death. But he, like many gifted older adults I know, didn’t necessarily choose retirement. I think he would have been much like my mom is today, still working through the indefinite future. His body had other ideas and there came a time when he simply was forced to retire.
My dad threw everything he had and all his intensity into his work. He often didn’t last long in jobs because he tired of them once the challenge was over, and very early in life he discovered he needed to be an entrepreneur. I don’t even want to think about what it would have been like to be his boss! When retirement dropped in his lap, he lost his outlet for his intensity.
At first he redirected it toward home projects. Mom and I had no idea there were so many projects needing to be completed! When he couldn’t create any more projects to complete (or grew tired of them, in all honesty), he turned his intensity toward cooking. Every family meal brought a new creation. Hours and hours were spent planning and preparing for each meal. Then came intense bargain hunting. So intense that I have flashbacks of sitting in my office, watching the minutes click by and typing up work notes while my dad chatted away and informed me of the various prices and qualities of blueberries and pork chops for 45 minutes. And then he created his rebate game. There was a particular store that frequently offered rebates on products. Spreadsheets were created, multiple po boxes were opened as my dad computed how to obtain the most amount of free or extremely low cost goods by playing his rebate and couponing game.
Eventually, though, he grew weary of these new projects and I could see the depression graying out his eyes as he searched for meaning and purpose. I can’t help but think that had he been given tools and knowledge about his life as a gifted person that his last years might have looked different. As a geriatric therapist in my former work, I’ve seen many, many older and retiring gifted adults who really struggle with this transition. It’s often a hard transition for everyone, but for those of us who are wired differently from the start, the relaxation and supposed ease of retirement feels as comfortable as trying to sit still in the kindergarten classroom while the teacher is droning on about letters that you’ve been reading for several years.
While my life is abundantly full and my own intense multipotentiality frequently finds me living a frantic pace of life, the idea of retirement sounds lovely. In reality, though, I know my own wiring well enough to know that I’ll never be content without something going on, and realistically, without several somethings going on. I have the luxury of learning about the intensities of giftedness, and understanding myself better than the generations before could have. We need to support those who go before us, who have been paving the way, to help them understand how they are wired, that it is typical to be intense and that purpose and meaning making is vital for everyone, but can be especially depressing when it’s absent for gifted people. We need to support our gifted elders to know themselves, know what makes them tick, and help them continue with their intense lifestyles as best as their bodies will allow.
Before we retire - find projects, volunteer opportunities, plan for a part time job in a field we’ve always thought would be fun, plan to go to school, join clubs and groups, build up our tribes, gather our stacks of always-wanted-to-read books, start writing that book we’ve always talked about, learn a new instrument, join a community theater, take art classes, start a non-profit, get some pets, create our own research project, subscribe to Great Courses, listen to podcasts (I’ve heard the Fringy Bit one is great! <shameless plug>), learn about giftedness, attend gifted conferences, create our lists of things we’ve always been curious about, etc, etc, etc
Our intensities stick with us. They were there the day we were born and they’ll be there til the day we die. I’ve seen what happens when we don’t feed them. I’ve seen what happens when we pretend we don’t have them. It isn’t pretty. We need to help the generations ahead of us embrace their intensities and we need to intentionally embrace our own. Planful, mindful, purposefully intense retirement activities for all of us gifted elders and gifted elders-to-be!
I am honored to call myself a colleague of the other fine writers who contribute to Hoagies' Gifted Education BlogHops each month. Soak up their wisdom in this month's bloghop: Gifted Elder Issues.