Old Soldiers Never Retire … Nor Do Many Others

Sheworeayellowribbonpost.jpgAbby Allshard: [Capt. Brittles is retiring after tonight] Where will you go, Nathan?

Captain Nathan Brittles: Oh, West, I guess, Abby… California… new settlements.

Captain Nathan Brittles: [to Olivia] “Old soldiers…”, Miss Dandridge… hah! Someday you’ll learn how they hate to give up. Captain of the troop one day: every man’s face turned towards you; lieutenants jump when I growl! Now, tomorrow, I’ll be glad if a blacksmith asks me to shoe a horse.

[he leaves]

~ Dialogue via IMDB for She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949)

I am not a fan of John Wayne’s politics nor a particular admirer of his acting, with a few exceptions.  The above cited film, part of Howard Hawk’s Cavalry Trilogy, is the strongest of those exceptions.

In the scene, Wayne plays a retiring cavalry officer on his last day of duty, who shares his feelings about coming to the end of a time which defined him.   He articulately expresses the emotions many others experience as they come to the end of their working careers.

Two important issues arise in this short, but impacting scene.

1)  A distinct and often abrupt change occurs when you move from a position of authority to a position where you no longer exercise this authority.

I wonder if this is why so many throw themselves into volunteer work, where they are met with open arms and long lists of “things to do to be helpful”.  If one has been used to being in charge of something, one might seek to continue to be responsible in other ways.

This also might explain a little about why so many retired executives are a pain to work with in volunteer positions.  It is hard sometimes to remember that volunteer activities and relationships are different from work relations in some important ways.  Volunteering is often touted as the solution for those in retirement who wish to remain active, but it is not a comprehensive solution for all.

Being responsible and in charge is not something we can just “turn off”, especially if you have been successful in effectively leading others …

2)  The challenge of remaining engaged and vibrant when a significant source of engagement is removed from your life.

I find this scene particularly moving, since Wayne expresses a vague plan to explore the still developing West of this young country.   Much like Wayne’s character, many of us find ourselves still relatively active and able to continue to engage and provide value. 

The question we often face is “Where?” … the option to go west to California does not hold the possibilities or promise it once did.   As our economic landscape continues to change, we are constantly challenged to stay ahead of the curve, as they say … but that curve is not just one crest, but multiple ripples of change at ever-increasing rates in many ways, all at the same time.

We seek to contribute, to build, and to collaborate … whether we are being paid money or simply receiving the satisfaction of being part of something …

This is going to take some dedicated planning for many of us …

Some have already resolved these issues and many struggle with them now.  If you are already retired, facing that possibility down the road, or (like many of us), in that vague and misty place of “sort of retired, but not really”, which has emerged from our economic conditions of recent years, you might just be wondering about how things are going to go into the future as well.

Change can be exhilarating, but it can also produce confusion and fear.  Spend some time with a trusted friend or someone who has credibility in helping people explore options, resolving issues, and making effective decisions. 

As you ponder, I recommend you spend a few hours with Captain Brittles, Miss Dandrige, Lieutenants Cohill and Pennell, Colonel and Abby Allshard, Top Sergeant Quincannon, Sergeant Tyree, and a host of other finely drawn and well-acted folks with whom I would have been proud to have shared a posting.  They may not answer your questions, but I don’t think you will regret the time spent.

Wondering if anyone has a horse that needs shoeing in the Heartland ….