As is our destiny playing this aging game, we may on rare occasion find ourselves in the middle of doing something and no fault of our own, experience a “momentary lapse”, forgetting where we left our reading glasses or questioning if we turned off the stove or double checking to see that our suddenly seemingly emaciated cats were in fact fed this morning. It happens to the best of us and there is no one to blame (well maybe those cats…). Some accept this inevitable state of affairs while others deny it, but few remain untouched.
Thankfully there is a bright side to this aging process, something to take to heart and happily anticipate as we amble down the retirement path. With each event that contributes to the landscape of a life, good or bad, happy or sad, comes valuable experience. Not something that can be taught, each experience must be lived, shaping an individual’s character and allowing real wisdom takes root. Remember the TV series “Kung Fu” where David Carradine inevitably sought counsel from the old white-haired blind guy in matters that were beyond him? And have you ever found yourself asking advice from your parents or others with more experience? We accept, often unconsciously, that by virtue of their many life experiences, older people can provide us with quality advise and guidance. Their many experiences compiled throughout all their years on the planet have endowed them with something that only comes with time – wisdom.
Experiences make the difference
Wisdom outweighs any wealth – Sophocles
True wisdom is not learned in school. It is heavily influenced by our life experiences. And seniors have been through it all – sometimes more than once – so we can most definitely benefit from their experiences. What is it in the normal course of events that builds the wisdom we find in our elderly? Where does it come from if not from a book?
(1) Work experience – assuming a 40 hour work week (I know that is not always realistic these days), one year contains 2080 hours. If you begin full-time work upon completion of college – age 21 – by the time you reach 65 years of age, you have “experienced the working world” for 91520 hours. And with the economy as it is these days, the likelihood that you worked at one job these 44 years is pretty slim. I have moved through 8-10 companies – and counting – over the years. No wonder retirement sounds so good!
However, it is because of these cumulative hours and multiple jobs, with exposure to diverse people over many years, that lasting skills evolve to make you ever better at what you do and as it turns out, at life as well. You can thank your work for:
- Making you an expert at conflict resolution which translates well into family and personal life. All of the negotiating and give-and-take from the job environment adds to your ability to reach a common ground and offer sound advice.
- Teaching you how to smile in the face of adversity and even at a bad joke told by a superior. Bad jokes are not limited to the work environment.
- Educating you to make decisions based upon imperfect information, just like you have to do in the “real world”.
- Teaching you how to ask the right questions to get to the heart of the situation.
(2) Life experience – by age 65, most people have lived a life of various highs and lows. All of these experiences build character and add to the total life-expertise of the individual. Their wisdom is based upon history lived, not learned in school.
- Economy – financial cycles and random events influence perspectives on security, risk and the future. Just as children of the Great Depression tended to be more conservative in later life and likewise with their advice, so will the wild 20th century leave its imprint. What will tomorrow’s sage advise after living through the OPEC oil crisis, the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001, the recent and ongoing housing bubble, and Mr. Madoff and his Ponzi scheme. How individual sharers-of-wisdom assimilate these events will dictate what direction their advice will point future seekers.
- Family and friends – as we age, we are more likely to experience trigger events in our personal lives. The death of a loved one, a sickness of a close friend, an aged relative experiencing dementia as her days advance. Sometimes these events make us tougher, sometimes they throw us for a loop, but whatever the result, they become an intimate piece of the person we are. Advice and counsel will reflect the effects of these events.
Younger people should always be able to elicit the wisdom of their elders, to benefit from their knowledge, experience and advice. What would we do if we did not have our “life experts ” to turn to? And remember that as we approach common ground with those we today call elderly, others will soon come to us seeking our words of wisdom. That wisdom that is a reward and valuable gift of the life we live. As Mark Twain said, “The exercise of an extraordinary gift is the supremest pleasure in life.” So don’t waste it…
Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.