Wise Old Owls

Seems like there are a greater amount of older people in my life now. Way more than there used to be. May have something to do with me getting older--not sure about that one. Not that the older crowd wasn’t always there I just don't think I was as aware of them as I am now. Maybe because it appears I am achieving “membership age” and it seems like it snuck up on me. I am 54 and when I was born, my dad was 30 and mom 24. I was born in 1960 which meant that the age difference between my dad and I was always kind of stark. I was zero he was 30. I was 10, he was 40. I was 20, he was 50. And when he passed on he was 65 and I was 35. I really never got to see him become an old man.

But now my father-in-law is 85 and although he is very healthy and spry, 85 is a lot of years.  Mom will be 80 in August. She looks great and is very active too. She still teaches piano, goes on extended vacations with her friends, eats lunch at all the trendy restaurants, maintains the house she and my dad bought 55 years ago, plants every flower in the summer, loads the wood barrel in winter and is as quick witted as ever. But 80 is also a lot of years. There's no getting around that.

The men that were my mentors at work have long since retired and I get a letter or two now and then with their adult children and grandchildren in the pictures to remind me how many of them were my current age 33 years ago when I came to work in the parks and recreation industry. It's hard for me to envision some of them as old men now since they were so young and vital when they retired. You have to remember that a lot of park and recreation workers start their career right out of high school at 18. Many of them get their 30 years of service and retire before they reach 50! So again the mental picture of them in my mind is always a youthful, tree-climbing, trail-hiking woodsman. Then when I visit the sick and/or elderly, it is almost shocking to see what the 25 years did since I saw them last.

So where am I going with all this? To be honest I'm a little afraid. I'm now one of those 50-plus-year-olds that has years under his belt and could wrap it up when I feel my contribution has been made. But is that contribution complete? As I review the past years in my mind, I arrive at the idea that this indeed was what I did with my career. These years, this trade, this industry; this is where my attentions were focused for more than three decades. You know the first half of your life is filled with people asking what you plan to do with your life. Then you do it, you live your life, and then you spend the rest of your life asking yourself if it was the right choice.  And I have all the symbols to validate that I made a good choice. I have shelves filled with 30 years of trophies and plaques and I am comfortable with some of the ideas I fathered, trends that I pioneered and committees of change that I participated in. I did not sit idle during my tenure; I was involved, connected and dedicated to the cause. But as I watch the next team take the field and begin their run at the title, I am struck how symmetrical it all has become. I can see the beginning and the end now and it’s a bit disturbing to realize the changes a person makes in his/her career, the goals he/she may not attain have more to do with the energy levels of the newly inspired than their unique ideologies or trendy nuances. There seems to be a repetitive pattern that precedes each phase that we all go through and if anything, our inability to conquer the loftiest of ideas it is more impacted by a wearing down process than anything else. It looks like this:

1.      I can change the world.

2.      I can change my corner of the world.

3.      I may not be able to change any "worlds" at all but I can influence the way people think.

4.      I may not be able to change the way people think but I can get them to see things in a different way.

5.      People will always see things their own way.

6.      I can change my thinking.

7.      I can't really change the way I have always been but I can pretend I have changed to achieve results.

Ah ha! What was that last thing? Pretend? What does that mean? I can pretend I have changed to persuade people to see things my way or at least a different way. Does it mean your life is a lie? No. It just means you learn what you can and cannot effect and the maturity that accompanies aging reminds you not to waste energies on that which won’t budge. So when you say, “Oh I understand,” you are really saying, “Oh, I see you’re not going to change your mind here so I’ll just sacrifice my point so we can keep moving forward.”

Honestly--I think that's what we all really do. Our base opinions are really pretty much set in stone by the time we're adults and although we may come off as increasingly liberal or mature- level conservative, the kid that ran with scissors at 6 or 7 is usually still the one that has a hard time with rules as an adult and the kid that sat in the car with mommy at the fireworks display with a blanket over her ears is typically kind of quiet and reserved later in life.

So that being said let's conclude accordingly. I have aged like most everyone else. I stayed in one career that whole time and felt I contributed wholeheartedly throughout those years.  Sincerity? Check. Strong purpose about myself? Check. Used my education and brought honor to the institutions that taught me? Check. Was able to support my family independently and earn a salary commensurate to the effort put forth? Check. Made excuses or properly rationalized what was and wasn't important? No I didn’t and yes--I think I did.

So--maybe I can lighten up and pass on to the next few levels of advanced age without too much regret or conflict? If I become the elderly version of the man I now behold in the mirror, albeit with some fear and trepidation, should I ease my mind by simply knowing I did my best and served up the best I had within me?

I think so.  

Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a BS in Business from Bowling Green State University and an MBA from Baldwin Wallace University and has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990.