Do Not Fear the Autumn of Your Life
What do you like about autumn? I have recently realized that autumn is one of the best seasons of the year. The weather is still warm… even as the cold begins to creep in.
The leaves change color. Near my house there are spectacular walnut trees that turn glorious colors of red, and yellow and gold. But, I am not here to talk about the trees… I am here to talk about our lives after 60.
Our society does not value the special qualities of age, except when it comes to a good wine. But, I have come to feel that this is one of the best times in my life. And if there is one thing I have learned in 68 years on the planet, it is to appreciate what you have each moment.
So, what can make this moment so special? I want to highlight three aspects:
- Wisdom acquired: we have learned a few things along the way
- We get to choose: because we have paid our dues
- The energy we have we can use for a life of purpose and there is so much to be done
Celebrate Your Acquired Wisdom
Believe it or not, when a person has been around for 60 plus years, most of us have gained some wisdom. If not from what we have done right, clearly from what we have done wrong!
I had a broken heart when a long-term relationship ended in my 20s, only to have a marriage that has now reached 38 years.
For three decades, my career in education kept moving up, but I suddenly hit a wall when I took on being superintendent of a dysfunctional district I could not fix. Yet, that led to today where I am engaged at a national level, totally focused on my passion for equity and social justice. By now, I know that I can bounce back.
Embracing Your Right to Live Your Way
I believe that we have the right to decide how to spend our time, because we have paid our dues. For me, that included 30 years in public education systems working for educational equity against daunting odds with new overwhelming problems every day.
I loved every minute, well almost every minute, but I certainly feel after working in the trenches I can write and speak about education and life. Now, in the autumn of life, I want to be a “thought leader” on these subjects.
Finding Meaning in Your Life After 60
Consider all of the wonderful opportunities we have right now for a meaningful life. Stanford University has a project called Pathways to Purpose in the Encore Years to explore the power of a purposeful life.
Purpose incorporates far-reaching goals for the greater good where one can make progress even with unattainable outcomes (Barber, Mueller, Ogata, 2013). Researchers have found that when a person seeks a path in life with a commitment to something greater than oneself, a meaningful life ensues that leads to wellbeing.
That concept of purpose is perfect for people in our 60s. We no longer believe that if we stay up all night working or maybe even if we work a few hours longer we can save the world. Rather, our sense of purpose is to continue the “good fight” along with many others over time to make the world better.
For me, that includes public speaking and writing. In this year, I led a bullying prevention workshop for 300 teens in Michigan and led an environmental education trip for 16 college students to the Nicaraguan rain forest.
My sister leads the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride, a yearly 380-mile bike trip with hours of training sessions and my other sister is a team leader for the Step Out for Diabetes walk.
This is a time to take the energy we still have and put our “passion where our mouth is.” Purpose also includes the time and love we devote to our families. Since two of my kids just got married, I’m hoping for grandchildren soon. Family connections also fill our lives with meaning.
In the autumn of your lives, in your 60s, you realize that the road is not endless. You may have watched others slow down and have seen more than one close friend’s life turn on a dime. You have choices. Do you buy into the societal images of getting old? Or do you squeeze every drop of juice out of life while you can? So, I say when you hit your autumn:
Do not underestimate your wisdom.
Know that you have paid many dues. Now it is your time to choose what you want to do and how you want to live.
And, finally, go for it with all gusto!
What passions and new experiences are you embracing in your 60s? Do you agree that life after 60 is an opportunity to do what you have always wanted to? Please join the conversation.
References: Barber, Carolyn, Mueller, Conrad T., Ogata, Sachiko, (2013) Volunteerism as purpose: examining the long-term predictors of continued community engagement. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, Volume 33, Issue 3, 314-333