New Tricks For An Old Dog

In 1969 I was working on a Bache & Co. brokerage house in Hallandale, Fla. I was 20 years old and halfway through my first year of apprenticeship. There was a guy on the job—let’s call him, Bill—who worked for a major communications company and was installing a PBX board that would handle all of the inter-office phone lines, intercoms, and data connections to Wall Street.

Bill was four months away from retirement and everyday at lunch he shared his excitement and plans with us. He had jobs to check off his “Honey Do” list, plans to travel, visions of leisurely meals in fine restaurants, lists of books to read and movies to see. At this point in Bill’s life, Time was an ally that was gently carrying him to the goal that he had worked a lifetime to achieve.

One day we saw Bill and he was not his usual bubbly-self. He spent the morning by himself, concentrating on his work to a degree that seemed out-of-line with his past behavior. Lunchtime came and we sat down in our usual places atop stacks of lumber and sheetrock. We broke out our food and started eating and B.S.-ing just like groups of men do, when given the opportunity.

Our soon-to-be-retired friend did not join in the discussion and finally someone asked what was going on with him. Bill explained that he received his company’s monthly employee magazine in the mail the previous day and there was an article about retirees in it. There was a Good News/Bad News message in what he read and it caused him to review his retirement plans—now just two months away.

The company had found that a high percentage of their retirees were dead by the time they received 18 months of benefits. The corporation marshaled it’s forces and put a team of Industrial Hygienists and Medical Personnel to work investigating whether their people were being exposed to hazardous chemical/materials in the workplace.

That round of investigation turned up no evidence of risk-of-exposure to past/present employees. Further research showed that the death rate cut across all levels of employment, from the installers in the field to the executives in the Head Offices. A conclusion was reached, however, when an examination of life-styles was instituted.

That study showed that whether they worked in the field installing and maintaining equipment or worked in the Boardroom making big decisions and attending meetings, some employees made bad decisions once they retired.

The guy that worked from the elbows out his whole life tended to put a Barcalounger chair on the front porch, prop his feet up and enjoy a cool beverage as he watched the world go by. In fact, his body was not ready to come to a screeching halt.

The executive who spent his life working from the neck up tended to be the guy who planted the 5-acre garden on his new Ranchette and went outside to roto-till under the Noonday sun. In fact, his body was not ready for that much physical exertion.

Bill’s company had two recommendations to their employees who were approaching Retirement:

  1. If you had a physically active job for the majority of your career you need to slow down, not stop, in retirement. Putter around with projects, keep moving and don’t rest on your laurels.
  2. If you had a less active job for the majority of your career you need to gradually work your way into a more active state. Work from 8am to 10am, or from 3pm to 5pm, avoid the heat of the day.

Moderation is the key (yeah, I want more of that).

Over the years I have often thought about Bill. I am approaching the 18 month anniversary of my retirement and have made a conscious effort to put Bill’s message into practice.

At this stage in my life I am tempering my physical activities with a “neck-up” state of mind. I have been taking classes and reaching out to other writers and photographers to broaden my understanding and to have an outlet for my creative urges. It’s not rocket science or dentistry—so no harm, no foul is the norm.

It is safe to say that we have all heard the warning against teaching an old dog new tricks. Allegedly, it cannot be done.

My personal feeling about the subject is twofold: Does the “dog” want to learn AND does the teacher have the appropriate attitude for both subject & student.

Last week I completed the WordPress Blogging University’s Blogging 201 course and this past weekend I signed up for the Writing 201: Poetry course. I have no experience with poetry, but I do appreciate free-form verse and welcome this opportunity to learn something new.

How do you approach new subjects? Do you look forward to the challenge or resist the pressure of change?

I would love to hear what you have to say,



  6 comments for “New Tricks For An Old Dog

  1. alstacer
    September 29, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    I do welcome learning new things and embraced retirement as a chance to pursue many new interests while letting go of very few old ones. Consequently staring at a full calendar while trying to schedule new activities it occurred to me that I may need to return to work to get some rest… Moderation, the need for balance and focusing on essential priorities is a lesson I “relearn” periodically. Currently I’m paring back on new stuff to get some closure on some earlier commitments and feeling blessed that I have choices not just a requirement to work. Thanks for the story and the questions to ponder.


    • September 29, 2015 at 2:29 PM

      You are most welcome, Al. Any day above ground is a good one at this stage of life. Have you finished your degree?


  2. September 28, 2015 at 9:10 PM

    I approach new subjects/challenges with a positive open mind. I was in banking for years but came to the US to see what else was achievable. I learned to drive left steering cars, then got my CDL, drove trucks, learned US library systems & medical coding. Got my 1st garden & learning how to grow veggies by seasons (am from the tropics). So, I guess this old dog is game to learn new tricks. 🙂


    • September 28, 2015 at 10:10 PM

      Yours is a very inspirational story, thanks for sharing it with us. I know what you mean about learning to garden with the seasons. I grew up in sub-tropical South Florida and when we moved to Western Colorado Fall and Winter were a challenge.


  3. September 28, 2015 at 6:39 PM

    In February, at almost 61, I took a part time job at a tea shop. I love working with people, have a good memory, and a good work ethic, but with over 130 teas to learn and all the other things that have to be done, it’s been interesting. It’s also been the first time I’ve worked for someone else for a very, very long time. It’s been good overall, but there were times…



    • September 28, 2015 at 10:23 PM

      Hi Janet,
      I remember that you mentioned working in a tea shop in some of your posts and I bet it’s a lot of fun on most days. 130+ teas, wowser! Congratulations on re-entering the workforce and helping your customers find the sweet spot in their search for tea.


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