If you’re over the age of 50, you likely have fond memories of watching The Wonder Years.
The coming-of-age series ran from 1988 – 1993 and featured the likeable Kevin growing up in the late 60’s to early 70’s. In my opinion, Kevin’s infamous voice-overs were the key to the show’s success, and shed light on his thinking as he shared his memories of his brother (Wayne), sister (Karen), parents (Jack and Norma), and best friends Paul and Winnie.
And, who can forget that opening song, “What would you do, if I sang out of tune….”
For those who missed it, here’s the opening theme song:
(Title image source: Wikipedia)
I had a recent epiphany, and it relates to the show.
In thinking about The Wonder Years, I realized there are some key messages in the show that can help all of us “Achieve A Great Retirement” (my byline). Today, we’re going to examine the philosophy and lessons learned by Kevin as he reflected on his childhood.
Turns out, the lessons Kevin learned as he tried to figure out adolescence are also very applicable to us as we try to figure out our paths in retirement.The Wonder Years was unique in its use of Kevin's voice-overs to share his thoughts on adolescence. Turns out, he taught us some lessons we can also use in retirement. Click To Tweet
The Wonder Years
During my four years at a Midwestern liberal arts college, I was required to take a theater class in my quest for a diploma. I sighed as I signed up for “Messages In Film,” and figured it would be one of those classes that wouldn’t apply in the least, but at least I’d check the box.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the class and learned a lot in the process.
One of the things I remember was the professor’s insistence on looking deeper at a film’s message. “Every film,” he said, “has two layers of meaning. There’s the surface-level story, and there’s always a deeper, hidden message. Our goal with this class is to teach you to find those deeper messages.”
We’d watch movies during the class, and then be assigned papers to write on the deeper meanings we felt were being communicated. Forty years later, I still remember watching Apocolypse Now and searching for the hidden meaning (there are loads of them, by the way. If you’re curious, check out this summary).
As I used this same methodology when thinking about The Wonder Years, I came up with the following deeper messages that we can apply to our retirement years:
The Wonder Years – Hidden Messages For Retirement
As you reflect on Kevin’s journey and hear his voice-over commentary in your head, try to find ways to apply the lessons he was teaching you as you seek your new life in retirement. Yes, it turns out even The Wonder Years had those hidden messages my professor taught me to look for.
To this day, I’m thankful I took that class.
Here then, are the hidden messages from The Wonder Years that you can apply to your life in retirement:
1. Rediscover Your Curiosity
I’m curious if the use of the word “Wonder” in the title of the show had a double meaning. Childhood was a time of wonder, and the very act of wondering is a good way to stimulate our curiosity. Was the use of the word meant to remind us of the wonder we once had, or was it simply a word to define a period of our lives? Either way, our retirement can be defined as The Wonder Years in the same way that our childhood was, and it should serve as our reminder to pursue wonder and curiosity in this chapter of our lives.
Many of the themes in Kevin’s journey focused on pursuing his curiosity. Pursuing our curiosity is a skill that many of us have lost in our working years. It’s a muscle we need to learn to exercise again, and it is one of the most important keys I discuss in my book, Keys To A Successful Retirement.
The best way to find your Purpose in retirement is to learn to listen to your curiosity and take a first step in whatever direction it leads. Just like Kevin, we need to explore new hobbies, interests, and experiences with a fresh perspective. This exploration often leads to fulfillment and joy, like our childhood curiosity did in our Wonder Years. Following is a quote from the show that demonstrates the value of curiosity:
“In every life, there comes a time when that thing you dream becomes that thing you do.”
I love that quote and believe it applies directly to our retirement years. NOW is our time to do the things that were once our dreams.
Learn from Kevin.
Don’t miss the opportunity to live your dreams.
2. Embrace Change
Retirement is one of the biggest changes you’ll face in life. Try as you might to avoid it, the reality is there will come a time when you retire. Rather than resist that change, learn to embrace it. Here’s a quote from the show that captures that philosophy:
“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been and look ahead to what would be.”
“We knew it was time to let go of what had been and look ahead to what would be.” Sounds like a quote about retirement to me. Listen to Kevin and dream about the opportunities the change of retirement offers. Seek out the positives and minimize your time worrying about the negatives. Like many things, your mindset toward the change will likely be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Savor your past, but be excited about your future.
A friend in my Retirement Mastermind Group shared a quote with me, and it’s worth sharing here. “You know a person is getting old,” he said, “when they always talk about the past and not the future.” The future is our lives. Don’t live your life in the past. Dedicate your energy to making your future all that it can be.
In The Wonder Years, the best example of dealing with change comes in the final scene of The Final Episode, which is worth a watch if you are a fan of the show. Kevin’s voice-over is epic in this one:
3. Build Meaningful Connections
Who can think of The Wonder Years without reflecting on the relationship between Kevin and Winnie? Or, the relationship Kevin has with his best friend, Paul? What about those family dynamics that became the plot of so many episodes? The dynamic of these relationships was one of the keys to the show’s success, and the same is true of our retirement.
Kevin invested a lot of time in his relationships, and his authentic approach to caring for his friends and family was obvious. In the same way, we need to invest time to build our relationships in retirement. Those relationships we had at work fade in retirement, and life is not meant to live alone. Take time to be intentional as you foster closer relationships with new people to replace those you’ve lost from work. Focus on tightening your relationships with your family.
Invite a friend to breakfast, or for a hike. Invite a couple over for dinner and a night of playing games (we do that often with our best friends and savor our time with them). Reach out and call an old friend (I did that today, and enjoyed our chat, Bill). Volunteer at a local charity and focus on your interactions with the other volunteers. Take a week and go visit a family member you haven’t seen in a while. Offer to babysit your grandchild so your child can take a much-needed vacation.
If you got into an emergency today, who could you call to bail you out? If you don’t have 2 to 3 people that readily come to mind, it’s time to focus your energy on building meaningful relationships. There’s a reason that fostering strong social connections was Secret #2 in 7 Secrets To A Great Retirement.
To close out this section, here’s a YouTube video with the Top 10 Best Kevin & Winnie Moments from the show:
Learning To Embrace Your Inner Child
When I first started this post, the working title was “Learning To Embrace Your Inner Child.” The Wonder Years connection came later, as I was in the writing process (I love the serendipity that comes with writing). I went with the thought, and I’m pleased with the results.
The seed for the post, however, was planted when I had a recent epiphany.
Retirement is a lot like childhood.I had an epiphany recently: Retirement is a lot like childhood. The more we embrace our childhood mindset, the better our retirement years will be. Click To Tweet
I hinted in my last post (5 Things You Need To Know Before You Retire) about the epiphany I had. It happened spontaneously during my podcast interview on Awe-Inspired & Retired, and it focused on how we can use our childhood mindset to live our best life in retirement. Wonder Years was simply the metaphor I chose to communicate the concept.
Specifically, the epiphany came when Riley asked me “What do you want to do when you grow up?“. (if you’d like to hear it, scroll to the 57:30-minute mark here.)
My initial (unscripted and spontaneous) response to Riley’s question was,
“I hope I never grow up…the interesting thing about retirement is that it’s the closest thing in life that you’ll ever experience to childhood…you’re free to do anything you want to do. So I’m a kid. I’m a 60-year-old kid…”
As I expanded on the answer, I added, “I’m intentionally viewing retirement as a time where I never have to grow up. I can be a child for the next 15 or 20 years.
“What’s a kid do?”
“A kid goes off and rides his bike and plays at the playground…and then he goes out to the beach…they play different ways every day…they’re getting exercise…they’re being outside…
So that’s what I’m doing. I view life in retirement like a hand of cards. At any given point you can put a card down or pick a new one up. And you should. You should always try new cards. And if you find a card you enjoy (like me with my writing), you hold that card for a while.
All those cards are just a kid riding his bike. My blog is just me riding my bike. It’s my plaything.
So, if you want my answer to “what I want to be when I grow up,” I want to be a professional card player, and I want to build the best possible hand that I can. That’s what I’m focused on.”
Embrace your inner child.
Learn to play again.
The Wonder Years is a great metaphor to help you live your best life in retirement.
By looking into the deeper meaning behind Kevin’s voice-over insights into his adolescent years, we’re shown the secrets to living a great life.
- Rediscover Your Curiosity
- Embrace Change
- Build Meaningful Connections
- Embrace Your Inner Child
I encourage you to think about my epiphany and consider how you can apply it to your own life. The epiphany is simple in concept and easy to apply:
Retirement is a lot like childhood.
Sharon summarized it well when she left her comment on my last post. She wrote: “I’m almost 2 years into retirement and I’m going to start thinking like my inner child/teenager, what would SHE want to do??”
Well said, Sharon.
The Wonder Years were presented as a memory. Kevin’s past, and his thoughts about his adolescence as he looked back on those years as an adult. But that doesn’t mean our Wonder Years can only happen in our memory. It should be a part of our lives NOW. I’m living my Wonder Years now and you can do the same. Sure, I’m using the memory of childhood to help facilitate my life in retirement. After all, as a wise man once said (wink),
“Retirement is a lot like childhood.”
The more we embrace our childhood mindset, the bigger the impact it can have on our lives. Kids play, and the more we learn what “play” looks like in retirement, the better off we’ll be. Pick up a new card or put an old one down. Never stop improving your hand.
Go out and play.
Live Your Wonder Years.
Your Turn: Did you watch The Wonder Years? Do you think the lessons it teaches also apply to our lives in retirement? How are you embracing your childhood mindset, and what are the results? Let’s chat in the comments…