Monday Sep 04 2006
Serene Ambition is about what we can do, and more importantly, who we can be as we grow older.
In 1979, I was designing a marketing seminar targeted to ‘seniors’. I believed that everyone at every age is basically afraid of dying and was working within that assumption. I interviewed a number of people, mostly in their 70s and 80s, and began to see that, after a certain point, they weren’t afraid of dying at all. They were, however, afraid of dying without having left a legacy of some kind or without having made a difference.
Since then, I have asked a few thousand people if they could be really be any age they wanted, how old would they be—and with very few exceptions, almost no one says they would choose the age they are if they had a choice. Most of my sample under twenty want to be a bit older and most over 40 want to be younger. Only a select few want to be the age they are and choose to embrace it with vitality and enthusiasm.
I realized that everyone was in the same conversation about age, what it means, what they could/could not and should/should not do at particular ages. Everyone saw age as a fact of life that is anchored in each of us as individuals, a ‘condition’ somewhat akin to having the flu. Aging is seen as a process of decline. While we may influence the rate of decline with pharmaceuticals, special diets, surgery and healthy lifestyles, the fact is that most of us do not look forward to growing older.
It’s as if our ‘age paradigm’ is a pond and we, as individuals, are fish in the pond. The problem is that we treat people as they age as if they are ‘sick fish’, rather than observing that the pond itself is polluted.
I suggest we need to deeply examine who we are in relation to age and rethink our interpretation of the world and how we choose to relate to it.
What age ‘means’ isn’t about biology or the passage of time. It is true that our bodies will change and we will die someday. But the meaning of age is dictated by our culture, our consciousness and our experience, and by how other people relate to us and how we relate to other people. The meaning we attach to it is purely an interpretation and, therefore, subject to being changed. It is simply an historically determined point-of-view of reality that is neither true nor false. It need not determine what happens in the future—unless we give our power to it. If we do, the past becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I am committed to creating a new interpretation or paradigm for the second half of life. Aristotle once said, “Life is a likely story.” So what is the story we want for our future as we enter what Sam Snead once called the ‘back nine’ of life? If we are the authors of this story, I propose we write a love story that begins with discovering who we are and that ends happily with each of us having as much possibility on the last day of our lives as we had on the first day.NOTE: Wisdom doesn’t count for anything without action. I'd like to challenge everyone to share some bit of wisdom, something you believe can open possibilities for action for others that you’ve learned along the way. Submit it as a story by clicking on "Send a Story" in the left sidebar. Please keep it to a few paragraphs, and I’ll publish it.
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