Tips from Your Future Self

By Elizabeth Thielke / Posted on 30 December 2011

Wouldn’t it be nice (sometimes, at least) to know what’s in store for you in the future so you make the right choices and avoid mistakes?

Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. is a professor of human development at Cornell University and professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and the author of “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans,” proposes the next best thing to being able to look into the future: listen to your elders.

He has authored several studies involving 1,200 older Americans regarding the advice they would offer to members of the younger generation. Participants ranged in age from age 60 to 108 (average age was 74) and they were asked: “What mistakes should younger people avoid?”

According to America’s elders, here are some of the biggest mistakes young people make:

1. Putting too high a priority on money. Most of the elders believe that a fulfilling job trumps a higher-paying but unsatisfying one any day.

2. Getting into debt. These are folks who have lived through economic hardship so tough that it makes what we’re experiencing look like a minor blip. So listen to them when they point out the dangers of going into serious debt.

3. Worrying too much. They said this as clearly as can be: “Worry wastes your life.” “Worrying never solved anything. So don’t.”

4. Excessive drinking and drugs. They don’t ask you to be a puritan, just to know what moderation is and practice it.

5. Rushing into marriage before you’re ready. As a 93-year-old put it: “Well, nowadays there are so many divorces, and I think they should be more careful about their decisions to get married. I mean, they should think at the beginning, is this going to be for a lifetime?”

6. Passing up opportunities. The elders much more strongly regret things they didn’t do than what they did.

Some wise advice to heed as we start our new year.

-Elizabeth Thielke


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