Life has no script except for a block description of the stages that one should go through, namely babyhood, toddlerhood, and adulthood. No matter how those who have gone before can try to explain what is expected of you at every stage, once it unfolds, the experience is unique to each and every individual. Comparable but different. The details of the various stages are more characterised by the environment and the values that are taught.
Travelling has just taught me that some of the principles taught by my parents were never cast in concrete. They surely have made me the man that I am, but they are not the only way. Apart from being a lifestyle, I am learning that retirement is also freedom. I see how a life of expecting a sure income each month becomes so addictive. Not only the money but also the addiction to waking up at the same time. Having to do the same routine each day for a number of years and getting that recognition from the status that comes with the job.
I remember when I was a young officer in the Air Force, newly commissioned and just reporting to my station. I noticed one retired Colonel that kept on coming to the gate about the same time they delivered the newspapers, and he would drive to come and collect one. In fact, at the beginning of the year, when we would be given our institutional diaries for the year, he would actually come through to get a copy for himself.
The thing about believing that life should have a script is that you will not fly even when the chains are off. There is something about belief systems that tends to defeat the mind so much that being accustomed to a certain lifestyle will make one treat every other as a cult. “I want to be a fashion designer,” “I want to study art,” and “I want to be a professional golfer.” I mean, the stigma, if not a slap, that one would get for trying to dive into such dreams. In this part of the world, being a doctor, lawyer, economist, or engineer is for those who have Division I certificates. While those in Division II can be in the hospitality industry or become teachers or nurses. Meanwhile, the trades are left to those who do not have good grades or only managed to obtain a General Certificate of Education. Then, after individuals are launched into the marketplace, society starts to complain about service delivery.
On the flip side, ideally, it is just supposed to be about choice or preference. With six points at grade twelve, depending on one’s preference, one can enrol in plumbing school, nursery school teaching, or medicine. So, this script that has been written for society as people we tend to go with into retirement, which should be a place of freedom, unlike at the point of active employment. Retirement will become so relevant when freedom is being exercised. Go after what your gut is saying, aim for the very purpose you were created for rather than what is convenient. It is important that as one navigates the stages of life, they search for themselves so that they identify with their purpose.
Life having no script can be seen by taking a leaf from the men who have ruled this country. Surely all of them are Zambians, yet one was a teacher, the others lawyers. A trade unionist, to a trained conductor/policeman. While the other is an economist, the other one was called from the farm to the state house. The naughty friends in high school that used to skip classes and wear the wrong uniforms are now managers for companies and responsible fathers and mothers.
Retirement will require that you open your eyes and let fate lead you to your destiny, not some script that society just found themselves doing and imposing on all those that are born in the same society. In my generation, I have seen people move to other countries and take on different roles. I know of other friends who never did their tertiary education, but we are now with them in the streets, and I am learning quite a lot from them. People do not wait for retirement to build their own house. While others prefer second-hand vehicles, some enter show rooms and get the car of their choice. Life is bigger than norms and traditions. We have so much to give. It is utter disrespect to life not to use its full potential at the expense of trying to fit in. Take the space, and retirement will make sense.
The author is a retired officer of the Zambia Airforce and an Advocate. He can be reached via email: [email protected] or Whatsapp: +260 97 9165574