I am a fool for meaning and learning, drawn to activities and situations where people’s values are acknowledged and learning is embedded in the experience.
In one life chapter, I officiated at weddings, learning how to create ceremonies of commitment where couples could share what they found most important. In other chapters, as a hospice volunteer and later a facilitator of grief support groups, I learned how necessary it is to grieve losses, and how resilient and brave people can be in the face of tragedy. My current chapter allows me to explore concepts related to happiness and positive aging and facilitate conversations about life purpose and discovery as we age.
Lifelong learning and a sense of purpose and meaning are critical elements to well-being as we mature. The real challenge is to discover what has meaning for us as individuals. One of the ways we connect with other people is through discovering what we have in common: political affiliations, team loyalty, favorite foods. Those are easy to feel good about. But by digging deeper, we discover the differences that make things more interesting. We are all on a spectrum that stretches between the ways we are unique and individual and how much we share in common with each other. Big concepts are just containers that we need to fill with our own content.
Through my organization, Northwest Center for Creative Aging, I use open-ended questions to help people discover their own values and their unique stories. What do you value in the world? What is important to you? What legacy do you want to leave behind—beyond the things you have accumulated? And what would others close to you say are the attributes, strengths, and quirks they love about you? What do they value about you?
Perhaps you have had an uncomfortable conversation with your children where you blithely say something about who you think you are and they laugh and give examples that demonstrate the opposite. My daughter does that regularly when I say I am not controlling and not as “quirky” as some of my family and friends. I can’t deny her examples, and I have had to accept that her experience of me contradicts my “story.”
If we are paying attention, we are constantly reminded that there are many ways of seeing and being. Our job is to find the elements of meaning that work for us. For me, the list includes family, friends, community, creativity, spirituality, learning, and vitality. Think about your list, then be intentional about using these elements of meaning to give voice to your values.
Rebecca Crichton is executive director of Northwest Center for Creative Aging and presents programs on that topic in the Seattle area. She worked at Boeing for 21 years as a writer, curriculum designer, and leadership development coach. She has master’s degrees in child development and organizational development, and she is a certified coach.