Goals of a lifetime

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My grandfather was 55 when he retired. The year was 1965. I was just finishing elementary school.

He and my grandmother decided to travel, and I was one of the prime beneficiaries. By the time I graduated from high school I had visited the 48 continental states, many of them with my grandparents.

The first 10 years of their retirement, they traveled around the world. They shipped their Airstream trailer on a ship to Europe, where they spent six months traveling on the continent. They traveled behind the Iron Curtain while it was still in place. They saw places that have since been destroyed by civil wars that have occurred in the past 40 years.

Email newsletter signup

Each winter, they would travel to the Yucatan peninsula. One year they were gone from home 50 out of 52 weeks. At that point, my grandmother said she had enough. She didn’t want to travel anymore.

That’s when my grandfather took up woodworking. Most of the furniture in my first house was build by him. He sent roll top desks, custom-made entertainment centers, dining room tables and four poster beds to his grandchildren around the county. Much of it was built from the heart pine of the railroad depot in Donalsonville.

Then my grandmother said she had enough of moving lumber around. At the age of 78, my grandfather took up golf. He shot his age in the mid 80s and truly enjoyed the camaraderie of playing golf with friends.

My father also retired the age of 55. He probably didn’t adapt as easily as my grandfather to retirement. At some point, he and my mother bought a 44-foot boat. They both became certified Coast Guard captains for a vessel up to 100 tons. My father went back to technical school and learned how to work on the huge twin Caterpillar diesel engines on their boat.

They cruised the Caribbean together, inviting their children and grandchildren to come and enjoy the spectacular water and laid back atmosphere. He finally learned to adapt to retirement.

As anyone who ever owned a big boat knows, the burdens became more effort than fun. Like my grandfather, he took up golf at an advanced age. He loved the company more than the competition and relaxed into a pleasant retirement.

My whole life I have expected to retire at the age of 55. I turn 55 this week. I am not retiring. In fact, I am sitting in Adel, Ga., where we will open a new restaurant tomorrow morning. Where did I go wrong, or did I? Does a goal have to be met or is it all right to change your plans along the way?

The fact is that I enjoy what I am doing and can’t imagine retiring at this point in my life. One daughter and one son-in-law are part of our business and that encourages me to build for the future rather than settle into the past. I have a brother who is my partner, with children of his own, and together they give reason to build for the future as well.

I have known this date was coming for a long time. I have also known for at least a while that I wouldn’t be retiring at 55. Still, it is something else for the date to arrive and for me to confront that this long time dream would not be happening.

So what do I do going forward? It is important to have goals for the future, no matter what age you happen to be. I have spent the last few weeks thinking about the goals I want to set now, even as I pass the age of 55.

First, I want to visit the two states I haven’t visited. Alaska and Hawaii are on my wish list and I hope to do them soon. I want to travel by train across Western Canada. I want to do a tennis grand slam with my wife. I want to see my nieces and nephews graduate from high school and college.

I want to write a book. I want to see my church flourish in the service of our Lord. I want to visit Russia and China and if I have the guts, the South Pole.

I want to stand on the steps of the Capitol of the United States with my two grandchildren. I want to have at least one more great friend, and maybe one more great dog. I want to grant one wish to my two children.

Goals and dreams can change along the way. I hiked more than 1,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail before I realized I didn’t have to finish it to be a success. I took up golf only to drop it when it was no longer fun. I left politics after many years when the measurements of personal success changed for me.

It is never too late to set goals for your life. It is only a problem if you don’t set goals at all.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@ponderenterprises.net.