This last week I had the opportunity to view the newly released Hollywood movie, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Having followed the tragic circumstances surrounding the loss of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, I was eager to view the movie. The film tells the true story of four Americans killed, including our Ambassador, during an attack by Islamic jihadists at a US compound in Libya, as a security team struggled to defend the lives of several dozen Americans.
While there were several scenes and lines that stood out to me in the film, one in particular is the subject of my post today. The main characters in the story, Jack Silva and Tyrone Woods, were retired Navy Seals and long time friends.
In the relevant scene, the two are sitting on the rooftop of one of the building in the compound they are defending, following an intense battle in which they and their small team had just survived one of what was to be several waves of attacks from dozens of heavily armed Islamists. As Jack recounts his frustration with having left his wife and children behind in the US to sign up for another stint on the security team, he expresses his bewilderment at what drives him to continue to return to the battlefield. In response Tyrone explains that, “Warriors aren’t trained to retire.”
If one isn’t paying attention in the movie, it would be easy to miss this line that succinctly explains the behavior of these Navy Seal warriors. But the line, “Warriors aren’t trained to retire” is also a statement that bears examining for possible application to our lives.
No matter where you are in life, the concept of retirement is one that has crossed your mind. In our culture, it’s commonly accepted that all who work will eventually retire and begin a life of leisure. Typically the word retirement is tied to two variables: age and economics. And it generally looks like this. A person will work 40-50 years, create sufficient assets and related income, so that when they are 60-70 years of age, they can “retire” and live happily ever after.
The “happily ever after” can change from one person to the next, but for most it ranges from moving to Florida, playing golf several times a week, traveling, or a host of other R&R type activities.
But this “conventional” approach would seem at odds with the point Tyrone was making to Jack, that warriors just don’t know how to retire because it isn’t something that is taught, or perhaps more importantly, even contemplated. While becoming a warrior involves training and know-how, to be an effective warrior it also requires a certain type of spirit or mental attitude that never quits. A warrior understands that there is always another mission and his skills and know-how are not expendable; rather, they are desperately needed by others.
When thinking of your own circumstances, I’d like to challenge you to consider what you will do with your life once you are no longer gainfully employed. Many eagerly await that day, believing that punching out that last time will be the start of all things new and better, anticipating that the grass is greener on the other side.
But I’d suggest that if we are working today to simply stop working tomorrow, we are overlooking one of life’s greatest purposes. Despite our 21st century way of thinking, the world hasn’t always considered that when one reaches a certain age or economic status, he can then simply turn his attention inward, seeking to devote much of his waking hours at that point to his own fancies and pleasure.
To the contrary, I would suggest that at the point one leaves the office for the last time, it is then that one’s experience, wisdom and perhaps even passion have likely reached a crescendo. And if we believe the truth that “to whom much is given, much is required” then we will be compelled to share the wisdom and life experiences we have gained with others in need. Those “others” could be a young man who is just beginning his family and career, or a woman who is facing a difficult midlife challenge, or even an organization that is in desperate need of our expertise.
I have a friend who is an honorably discharged twenty-three year combat veteran of the US Army who beautifully exemplifies the idea that warriors don’t retire. Rather than head for the golf course or sandy beaches, Bob in his post-retirement years launched a new non-profit organization with a two-fold, synergistic mission: “To support military veterans by training and employing them in schools as classroom volunteers, tutors and mentors.” And today, Bob and his colleagues are making a huge difference in the lives of veterans and school children in my community.
So what about you? No matter whether you are in the first half of your career, or approaching those final years in your job or business, it’s never too early, or too late to be thinking about and planning for life after employment. I encourage you to seriously consider how you will invest into the lives of others in a way that will have deep and lasting impact for good… because “warriors aren’t trained to retire.”