Basic Instincts: Late for Life

By J. Michael Willard

The meeting dance is more exotic than the Brazilian Samba. It is more frenzied than the Cuban Rumba. It is more deadly to an organization than the venomous Black Mamba.

You get the alliterative point.

It begins with a precise meeting time, usually at the top of the hour or on the half hour. A few people timidly gather around the conference table, glancing at watches.

One person pokes his head in the door, coughs like a cat with a fur ball to get attention, and then quickly retreats, realizing that not all people are present.

Then, in turn, another person currently at the table, in one fluid and exquisite move gets up, does a slight curtsy and slowly strolls out the door, usually leaving a pen and paper on the table, a sign he or she will return.

This is repeated to the tune of the Virginia Waltz for 15 or 20 minutes, when, quite by accident, all arrive at the same place at approximately the same time.

Then, of course, someone’s cell phone rings, Joe having forgotten to silence it, and his wife wants to remind him to pick up bread and milk at the 7–11 on his way home.

The basics of a good meeting never change, sort of like a pair of argyle socks that stay on those stinky feet until the home team’s winning streak ends. It is made up of an objective and an agenda on how to get there.

Slides, advanced computer graphics, gee-whiz video equipment are all fluffy add-ons, and generally do little to move the agenda. But, they might not hurt — sort of like the old saw about chicken soup for a cold.

You probably thought these paragraphs were about lateness; which, to an extent they are, but they really have more to do with the wasting “life” time, and tardiness is merely one manifestation of its collateral damage.

When you reach age 40, you begin thinking about your own mortality. When you reach the 50 marker, you find yourself grabbing the Economist magazine, and turning first to the obituary page, the publications own cemetery for the famous and infamous.

At 60, you are in the Yellow Leaf period, quickly heading to that Noble Rot stage. At this point, you are selfishly protective of every gulp of breath. This is not a bad thing.

A few years back I wrote a book called “The Portfolio Bubble: Surviving Professionally at 60”. It was all about making the most of one’s time, sort of like a metaphorical Heimlich maneuver for those who believe work life doesn’t end when the first grandchild comes along.

While recognizing that Sun City, big three-wheelers and shuffleboard courts are fine for a large segment of the population, others would rather suck down a soda pop with an arsenic chaser than retire.

Until I was nearly 50, I could sit and watch automobiles race around a circle via a television screen for half of a Sunday afternoon. I could take in a movie that I knew to be mediocre just for the sake of munching on a big box of popcorn.

I could watch big boys play little boys games such as baseball, realizing that a single contest in a 160 game schedule probably won’t make a lot of difference in my life.

Don’t get me wrong.

There is nothing I would like better than to be in the stands behind the third-base line, watching my Atlanta Braves. Going to see a Darlington 500 NASCAR race, and even serving as a member of a pit crew, was the thrill of a lifetime. I also believe movies are great entertainment and have a lot to teach about life.

However, as one gets a little older, he or she is increasingly worried about being what I call “late for life. The condition is not fatal, and can be changed on a dime.

Mainly, and I’m preaching here, we simply need to show up for the moments we really enjoy, and zone and zonk out the confetti clutter.

In the twilight of a career and life, you should pamper yourself.

Sign up for those tap dancing lessons — you’ve always admired Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. What about that guitar gathering dust in the closet?

Really, Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff’s Symphony №1 in D minor, can’t be that difficult on a guitar.

Go for it.

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