On Retirement at Age 32

In Portland, spring is right around the corner. Or is it already here?!

The scent of Fragrant Sweetbox (Sarcococca spp.) and Winter Daphne (Daphne odora) have literally stopped me mid-stride on my sunrise runs.

Yesterday, the People’s Co-op Farmer’s Market had so many fresh greens, each vibrantly touting their skill at photosynthesis.

In the passage of time over the last few weeks, I cross the threshold into my 33rd year.

I wrote this piece on my birthday.

It pulls together some ideas I’ve been rolling around about the time I claimed this past year to “retire,” to have space to hear my inner soul-speak, to not have my inner life need to be as fast-paced as our other world. Ideas that rolled through my days on the PCT.

It speaks to my love affair with the hoops of time and the necessary mending of our intergenerational fabric.

If so moved, I’d really love to hear any reflections it sparks in the comments below.


Creating Space to Navigate Thresholds

As I child, I loved Peter Pan. I found a lively rebelliousness in singing Pan’s “I won’t grow up, I won’t grow up” during my childhood years creating backyard forts with my brothers and summoning animals and stories to life in my many coloring books. What was being a grown up anyway, besides the loss of imagination and shouldering “burdens with a worried air”?

However, as time counted my growing years, I realized that the adventure of life did not slow or stop as I was pulled into my hormone-induced adulthood. What if Peter Pan felt like he could live a wild and fulfilling life through all his years? If so, would he be a leader today as so many are who disobey the status quo, hold onto their self-authority, and live a radical and simple life? We need more people like this.

I was grateful to hear Peter Pan’s song as I meditated on this article critiquing our culture’s notion of retirement.

Merriam-Webster articulates retirement as “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life.” While there is value in the edges of this idea (honoring that we slow down in our older years), the central concept feels quite mechanistic. Once we leave Neverland (childhood), we inhale the necessity of production-consumer society, “learn to be a parrot…and recite a silly rule,” and often lose our sense of genuine imagination and self-direction in order to live a financially stable life. I don’t mean for this to sound bitter, but I do find it on a mass scale to be true.

Only once our service to the mechanisms of success have been stamped as complete by time and creaking bones and grandchildren can we return to our individuality and retreat into…into what? Into our deeper “who am I?” questions? Into a time to rest and watch the body fall apart in a culture that has forgotten the essential and sacred soil of elderhood?

Merriam-Webster’s third definition of retirement is the one that resonates most with my decision to name 2017 my “year of retirement” at the wee age of 32. It reads, “a place of seclusion or privacy.” As a very mechanistic society, we are often far from our natural circadian rhythms and the soulful turn of seasons that once anchored our human roots to the most natural sense of belonging.

If we had a cultural cosmology that was guided by natural seasons and cycles (something that I believe Peter Pan would have been a huge fan of), then our stair steps of modern life from childhood to productive adult to retired adult to death would fade away.

Instead, we would have what I’ve always dreamed of as beautiful and sane. We would have generational hoops that were woven together by a sacred understanding of the importance of the roles we play in each hoop. In between each hoop we would experience what we now call “retirement.” It would be space to honor the passing from one hoop to another that would include ceremony, rite of passage (including times of privacy, soulful solitude, and silence), and community celebration. We would remember the gift of each hoop and celebrate ourselves in our passing years as we tell stories of what our lives were like and the wisdom learned as we navigated their seasons.

For me, 2017 was a year that I moved between the hoops of adult-childhood and true adulthood. Amidst much confusion, I somehow knew I needed to turn inward, claim solitude, listen for how to use unique gifts, claim my increasing responsibilities, and live these questions by being still and receptive. Rather than out, looking in. This is a difficult path (as our inner worlds are full of trials and strong lessons), yet, this is the adventure of adulthood that I believe Peter Pan would have loved.

I recently read a quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that named “the white moderate” as the main barricade to racial justice. If we, who are privileged by the systems and are more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” are lulled to sleep by the mechanisms of our success, then we are the border wall between our own freedom and the freedom of all. I recall this, to rouse all of us, especially those of us that benefit tremendously from white privilege, to not forget how easy it is to forget our yearning to be freedom fighters. Let us not forget that we are hungry…no, we are starving to know a way of being that is so much more loving and just than the paternalistic and capitalist systems that have carved so many outdated definitions of success. As we can all see, so many of these structures are crumbling.

Imagine 100 years into our shared future. How might you wish your great-great-grandchildren move through the hoops of their lives? Any action that you can take to create and actualize that vision is a part of your legacy. Be wild in your trust of what new whispers come to you that “don’t fit in the box”. Worship them.

May we all “retire” from our good work in the world several times over the course of our individual lives. And may we return to our community with a new focus on who we are and our purpose. May we spend our cycle of years giving that service with our fullest heart and greatest gifts…until we are called again to retreat and retire.

Life is a grand adventure. I want to grow up (sorry, Peter)! I want to feel joyful about one-day becoming a revered elder and future ancestor to my young relatives. I want to support my elders to feel confident in their beauty and silver hair and need for every one of them to share their stories and mine their lives for the wisdom and legacy they what to pass on.

The idea of working for 40 years (or even working a well-paying job for 20) and retiring early, totally misses the point. Our systems keep us tied to asking for permission. What if we are free to be original thinkers? Let us come to know our hearts so we leave our impact as our soft footprint on the earth.

Are we ready to release the culture of ageism and material success for a cultural cosmology that weaves us together in sacred hoops? Here we can be natural human beings in synced relationship to this cyclic mother, our home. We can touch one another with tenderness and say, “I need you, and you need me. We are the mirror of our future.”

Next time I get to Neverland, I’ll invite Peter to come back with me. I’ll let him know that our imaginations are coming alive again. Maybe, if we believe enough in magic and the creative sparks in our heart, he could feel at home here. And one day, he too can have grey hair.

**Notes: In doing some research for this article I sadly was reminded of all the parts of Peter Pan that are grossly racist. This is a testimony to how I can select what I want to see and remember if it does not impact my direct sense of identity and worth. Here are two articles, one from the Huffington Post and another from Smithsonian Magazine, highlighting the racist portrayal of Neverland’s Indian Tribe, which wasn’t controversial to most of its viewers at the time. Please join me in honoring all indigenous peoples and calling for a time when we get to make reparations, listen with patient ears to each of their stories, and carry our hearts forward on the path of our shared humanity.

Stepping Stones

One. Two. Three. I have been hopping from one business development initiation to another the last month and a half.

I sense I’ll be ready to send out another post next week with some new and exciting updates. 

For now, a BIG THANKS for reading! And again, I’d really love to hear any reflections this post has sparked in the comments below.  And now, take it away, Maya!

Maya Angelou Quote 3

Celebrate Black History Month!


4 thoughts on “On Retirement at Age 32

  1. WOW!!!! So much richness in this piece of sharing! It immediately reminded me of our singing “Tender Shepard” each night from Peter Pan…
    My feelings about the word retirement are reflected here… it does such disservice to those of us in this period of life… it is a word for another time.
    Now is the time for creation… for each of us… in all chapters of our lives.
    Glad you have decided to bring Peter back to this time… there is much to be done~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your reflections, Mom. It is such an honor to do this work across generations. I am so grateful for the community of Elders that I know who are doing their vulnerability work (including the grieving of what you all thought would unfold in our collective after the awakening of the 60’s and 70’s) so we can create a culture of respect between all generations and among all beings. So glad we get to share these conversations together! It is a gift that I do not take for granted. Same with getting to openly talk about God, death, money…all of the typical “elephants in the room”. Here to share in this good work!


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