Aging is a stealth process. We hardly recognize it’s at work until we see surprise in the eyes of someone we’ve bumped into after many years. “You’re Caroline Miller, aren’t you?” Have I changed so much, I wonder. Apparently I have. Come to think of it, so has the person asking the question. Hopefully, we both look a little wiser.
Gerontologist, Karl Pillemer, a man still practicing in his 80s, decided to look for a point between age and youth were there might be a connection. He started with young students, asking them “what they wanted to learn about work and careers from their elders.” (Wisdom of the aged,” by Karl Pillemer, excerpted in The Week, March 25, 2016 pg. 41, from Aeon Media.) He was surprised by their almost universal reply. “Do I need a purpose in life?” (Ibid pg. 41.)
Pillemer took that query to a group of seniors and, not surprisingly, they reframed it. A purpose in life? Keeping a flexible outlook was more important. After that, a maven would be nice, one “as close as possible to your imagined future self.” (Ibid pg 41.) A maven is Hebrew for “one who knows.” (Ibid pg. 41)
For young people to know themselves well enough to choose the right maven is a tall order, in my opinion. I’d amend the suggestion of my peers to say there should be more than one. Over time, an individual will travel many roads.
Several years ago, I wrote blog about youth and aging. (Blog 11/4/2010) The inspiration came from a story a woman had written about a class assignment she’d received while in college. Her instructor had asked his pupils to write a letter to themselves as they might be ten years into the future. What did they want to say to their older personas? A little non plussed, the students completed their assignments and turned them in, the work soon forgotten. But the teacher didn’t forget. Ten years to the day, he mailed those letters to their authors. For the writer of the article, her message came as a revelation.
I’m old enough to recognize the folly of planning too far into the future or of setting one’s sails for a single port. Determining the course of one’s entire existence from the shoals of youth is foolhardy, at best. I agree with my peers in one sense: flexibility is a greater asset than having a goal. The race goes not go to the swiftest but to the nimble. A little humor doesn’t hurt, either.
(Originally published 4/5/16)