Those of us that spend our careers in corporate America often unintentionally limit our exposure to the diversity of thinking that makes our country so strong and so interesting. Most of our contacts are business related: coworkers, customers, suppliers, consultants, etc. So this means that most of the people that we spend time with are just like us. They, most likely, have similar social, economic, education and political experiences and values as us. They are, for the most part, also probably from the same generation as us. Friends from outside of the business (neighbors, old classmates, church members, country club members) are probably similarly partitioned. We try to broaden our exposure through books, the news media, etc, but, nevertheless, we have a pretty narrow window through which to view and understand prevailing social dynamics. Retirement gives us a wonderful opportunity to greatly broaden this perspective by cultivating a group of friends representing a great deal more diversity.
In retirement we have more to time to get involved in our hobbies and through these hobbies we develop new and diverse friendships. A couple of my favorite hobbies are fly fishing and wooden boat building. Since these activities attract a very wide array of devotees, my circle of friends has become much more diverse and much richer in retirement. It include teachers at all levels, medical professionals, Native Americans, retired military personnel, artists and, yes, even a psychologist in Port Townsend. These folks often times bring perspectives that are different from the ones that I have developed over the past three or four decades. Some I agree with and some I don’t but, in any event, they always make me rethink how I look at the world.
I have the pleasure of working with NatureBridge, an organization that teaches environmental science to school age children. One of the real pleasures of working with this group is the opportunity to hang out with the educators and staff from time to time. Educators are, for the most part, people in their twenties and early thirties that are transitioning from college to settling down and starting careers and families. These folks are bright, impassioned, confident, energetic and undaunted in their commitment to their students. If our primary connection to the world around us comes from the popular news media (including social media) it would be easy to become cynical and depressed. After spending time around these educators, I come away feeling just the opposite. I think these folks are good for my mental health.
Participation on nonprofit boards has similar benefits but with exposure to a broader set of generations. I have met and worked with some truly extraordinary people on boards. Many of these people are managing high profile busy careers while still finding the time and energy to devote to a cause about which they are passionate. There is no reward for them other than knowing that what they are doing is for the betterment of their fellow man. They donate financial resources, time, energy, leadership and passion. Working with people like this is like playing with a superior tennis player, it elevates our game. I usually come away from these meetings with an extra bounce in my step knowing that there exists a whole multitude of people giving of themselves to make this a better world.
I can’t say that I have a specific game plan to cultivate a wide variety of friends but, because of the richness I have experienced so far, I am always looking for opportunities to do so.
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