Life Advice from Life Experts: The Wisdom of Years

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 06 July 2010

When I worked in senior living communities, one of the greatest perks had to be conversing with the residents. Hearing stories about their life’s adventures and accomplishments; asking them questions and seeking guidance about my own future and knowing I’d receive their genuine feedback (even if it wasn’t always the answer I wanted to hear); laughing and crying together about life and family and things that were happening in the world…it was truly the best part of the job.

Steve Gurney of ProAging.com blogged back in May about a project that a senior living community did for Mother’s Day: residents were asked to share their thoughts on motherhood. And who would know better about being a mother than those who have held the title for 50, 60, or 70 years? (Check the blog for a few of the quotes…)

Around the same time he heard about this project, Steve had just finished a fascinating book called Aging Awakenings: Assisted Living Residents Teach University Students to Overcome Ageism by Richard C. Adelman, Ph.D. The book is a compilation of the thoughts and revelations acquired by University of Michigan students who participated in the school’s innovative program, which sought to debunk the myths and stereotypes surrounding aging/the aged.

Here’s a profound quote from the book that quite aptly summarizes what many of the students learned: “The generation gap is an immensely misleading term. It implies that people from different generations are inherently different whereas people within a generation are inherently similar.”

I couldn’t agree more. And although I’ve always felt comfortable being friends with older people and have always respected and loved elders, I still find myself surprised now and then by how “contemporary” many of them are. They don’t miss a beat. Most know just as many slang words as their grandkids. They’re not out of touch. They don’t all hate rock and roll music.

Recently, a young woman told me that her Grandma sent her a text message asking her to check her Facebook wall ASAP! Her granddaughter had to remind her that she did not have an iPhone and would have to check it later. Nothing like a Grandma who’s got more gadgets than her grandkids!

There is immense value in talking with an elder who has experienced more life, more living, than those who are just beginning adulthood, those who are about to become parents, those who are transitioning into retirement, etc. Elders have been there, done that, perhaps even wrote the book on it, which reminds me of a funny conversation my husband had with my grandfather a few years ago…

Josh: Have you read The Purpose-Driven Life, Grandpa? (The popular best-seller by Dr. Rick Warren)

Grandpa: No, I haven’t.

Josh: Why not?

Grandpa: What does that guy know about life?

Elders know a lot about life. They’re human, they’ve made mistakes, and some of them are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. But they’ve had many years of experience with the ups and downs that life brings to all of us. So if you’re in need of advice – whether it’s about dating/relationships, parenting, careers, what model of iPhone to purchase, or where to stay when visiting Paris – stop by the retirement community in your neighborhood and strike up a conversation.

Maybe the folks from BP should look up a few retired engineers and get some insights on the oil spill!

-Michelle Seitzer


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