Success

I'm 78 and refuse to retire—here are 9 things about happiness and money we're often taught too late

Sergio Lacueva| Twenty20

I am 78 years old, have been married to the same woman for 50 years and am a proud parent of two daughters. My wife and I are also grandparents, of two children.

Of course, there have been ups and downs, including being diagnosed with two forms of cancer. But I'm able to look back on my life, and on my career as a publisher and writer, and feel reasonably successful and happy.

Now that I'm nearly 80, I've learned nine important lessons about success, money and happiness.

1. Remember to be kind to yourself

Kindness can be directed inward as well as outward. Being kind to yourself isn't self-indulgence; it's validating your own worth.

We are probably our own harshest critics, and we certainly know our limitations better than anyone else. So when things don't turn out as you intended, it's sometimes a kindness to remind yourself that your intentions were honorable.

Not everything that goes wrong is your fault, and while you might be good at taking the blame for the sake of a peaceful life, being kind to yourself means sharing the burden of guilt that from time to time cripples us all.

2. Money won't make you happy

Money allows you to enjoy life if you have enough — and maybe a bit more than "enough."

But it won't significantly boost your happiness in life. (I don't need to emphasize this very much, as there are various studies out there that will tell you the same.)

Your happiness and well-being comes from taking care of yourself, the good things you've experienced (like love and laughter) and nurturing relationships with people who make a positive difference in your life.

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3. You're never too old (or young) to make mistakes

Mistakes are signs of vitality, inventiveness and adventurous intelligence, at least when you're the person making them.

You'll never try or discover something new if you're afraid of getting it wrong. Mistakes are an unavoidable part of progress, so don't be afraid to make the leaps, no matter how frightening they may seem.

Of course, there are limits.

Incompetence or malpractice deserves punishment. But people — especially the younger ones — should be aware that generally when we make mistakes, it's a sign that we prefer to experiment, rather than be cautious to the point of cowardice.

4. 'Retirement' is a nonsensical term

I am self-employed and still working in my late-70s — and I don't plan or want to retire anytime soon. (I've just finished writing a novel and even have another one planned!) In a world where so many dream of early retirement, this must sound like a shocker.

But "retirement" is a nonsensical term: to call yourself retired is a totally inaccurate description of all the activities and anxieties that fill your waking — and often your sleeping — hours. Just because you're no longer in full-time employment doesn't mean you have withdrawn from the world, or that you have nothing more to contribute.

Giving up your active work life just because you have reached an arbitrary age is ridiculous. If you're still alive, active, capable and taking pride and pleasure in what you do, you should be encouraged to continue.

5. Self-employment isn't for everyone, but it can be rewarding

If you have a hard time just thinking about working for someone else, and you have the energy, confidence and communication skills to persuade other people to use a service, then I encourage you to consider self-employment or running your own business.

Find a gap in the market and look for something that no one else is going to do — or if they are doing it, do it better. It's risky, of course, and it's not for everyone; you must work harder than you ever did for some other company or corporation. And you must be prepared to make all the important decisions, as well as take responsibility for anyone you employ.

The good news is that no one can fire you, unless you do something illegal or go bankrupt. But if you do it right, you'll wake up each morning looking forward to the next challenge.

6. Keep your ambition engine running

Ambition is something you should cultivate even if you've long left the world of full-time work and boast — probably when drunk, depressed or seeking empathy — that you've achieved all the goals you once set for yourself.

Without something to aim for, you risk getting bored, and boredom can destroy you. An ambition should be just — but not too far — beyond your reach. At my age, I still have the ambition to do my daily walk a bit quicker or cook a dish I've never tried before to impress my wife.

Also, the greatest ambitions don't always have to be career-related. They can be things you've never gotten around to doing, like playing jazz piano or mastering mahjong.

Then, once you've acquired the basics, you should play to win because you never really lost the competitive spirit that kept you going in the first place. Ambition means looking forward, and that's always better than looking back.

7. There's no point in trying to escape change

Change is difficult and uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you should avoid it. It can be forced upon us by unexpected circumstances: an accident, a job loss, an illness or malfunction in a machine we rely on.

If your partner suddenly breaks a leg and you need to abandon your usual activities to take care of them, show them what an adaptable, tolerant and responsible person you are — and change accordingly.

The odd thing is, the older we get, the more we grumble about change, yet so many of us have already faced the greatest change of all: going from independence to dependence, with little or no preparation at all. I suppose it's because it's something we don't want to think about too much, as we're secretly confident we'll cope when we have to.

8. You can be a hypocrite without even knowing it

Hypocrisy isn't when you tell an actor they were wonderful when they were terrible, or when you tell a friend they look terrific when they're deathly ill. That's being well-mannered for the sake of a quiet life (and because we all want to be liked).

Hypocrisy is when you promise you'll go see someone you have no desire or intention to visit; when you say you'd love to have lunch with someone you've successfully avoided for months; when you add to an email: "Please let me know if there's anything more I can do," when you've plainly washed your hands of the matter.

Hypocrisy is lying, and you may be guilty of it without even realizing it. And it's nonetheless reprehensible when you do it at a distance. Don't fall into the trap of getting so used it to that it no longer bothers you.

9. Don't worry about keeping up with slang

It's one thing to keep up with the Kardashians, but trying to keep up with slang is something else entirely.

Vocabulary changes so rapidly that attempting to adapt to today's ever-changing culture of slang is simply a waste of time; you're perfectly capable of holding a decent conversation with the words you've already acquired over the years.

Now, learning about new advancements in technology may be essential to your career and contribution to the world, but if you attempt to use new slang, you're bound to get it wrong and become an object of pity bordering on contempt. Apart from political correctness, today's neologisms can be so limited in application, they're better avoided.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think the language we learned is expressive, flexible and often beautiful, and though of course it's always in a state of flux — if it's properly used, it'll be properly appreciated. Amirite?

Peter Buckman has written books, plays and scripts for film, TV and radio. In 2003, he set up The Ampersand Agency. The first writer he took on was Vikas Swarup, whose book turned into "Slumdog Millionaire." Peter's eighth book, "Still With It!" (published by The Experiment), is a collection of life-changing lessons for readers of all ages.

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