Old Age is a relatively new thing. Our ancestors didn’t have the opportunity to retire, they just lived and worked until their time had come. In the last century in America, we have gained over 30 years in our life span and now we’re not sure what to do with it all. So we struggle with retirement. Retirement as freedom from hard work is a fine goal for most people. Yet never working again in itself will not provide a truly fulfilling life. We must still participate in life, and in the world, just in a different way.
A fear some retirees have is that they can no longer offer any true value. They do not offer their ideas, experience, or insights, fearing that they are not welcome to participate. When asked to contribute, however, amazing things can and do happen. I designed and managed a co-learning project at a high school with 14 seniors and 60 history students, where the seniors came and discussed the Great Depression. Within a few minutes, the students were riveted on the topic, and the place was alive. Over a 90-minute period, something amazing happened. History became real for the students, relationships began to evolve, teenagers started to see their own lives differently. The seniors couldn’t wait for our next class, and another opportunity to participate.
Baby boomers have set the agenda in our country for the last six decades. They finally understand that material objects, status and achievement are not as important as they once believed. Their perspective can serve as a cleaner palette for recreating a sense of purpose for future generations.
Cultures can lose their way without the wisdom of their elders. Stanley Crouch describes our elders as those who can teach our adolescent society to grow up. Whether it’s teaching, mentoring, coaching, or listening and witnessing, seniors need to be present and visible in a meaningful way; both for their own well being, and that of our society.
I have seen some people live their lives in fear of aging. Their focus is to not age, which is quite different than aging with grace. Facing forward rather than backward and finding new ways to participate in life helps empower older people to find their footing after retirement. Only then can true purpose emerge.
Jane Meyers-Bowen, MN, is the Marketing Director at Garden Court Retirement Community. For more information you can contact her at (425) 438-9080