I don't need another line of my resume.
It happens to us all at different times. We realize we are no longer climbing the ladder. The lucky few successful ones want to share their knowledge with others about how to find meaning in life. Witness the growth of charitable foundations started by successful young entrepreneurs who want to add purpose to their millions or even billions. The less lucky may have have plateaued in their careers. They have gone as far as they can go. To add meaning to their lives they want to help others. Most of us get there eventually. We leave careers or jobs and find we have lots of knowledge and experience and no place to use it. For some this happens in their 50's, others in their 60's, and the rest of us some time later in life. But we are a resource. A resource that is largely lying fallow in this country. George Valliant of Harvard Medical School "demonstrates that older people who mentor and support younger people in work and in life are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail to engage in this way."
Marjorie Silver contends that the last stage of life is not necessarily one of decline, but one offering opportunities to teach or to mentor. It is a time to balance caring and being cared for. I recently learned this when I had my hip replaced. It gave me an opportunity to allow my grandchildren to demonstrate their caring skills. My nine-year-old cheered "my personal best" as I walked ten lengths of the hall outside my apartment. He learned the power of motivating another to do more. My four-year-old brought me my shoes and felt great about his ability to help me. Of course I set him up for success. I made sure he wasn't hungry or tired and that the shoe was within his reach. The older kids were thrilled to be the ones doing the "babysitting," assuring my safety by walking beside me on the stairs, bending, and cooking. Instead of feeling disabled, I felt privileged to teach my grandchildren how good it feels to be caring and compassionate. No consulting job could have been more creative or rewarding. I was contributing to the well being of a future generation at the same time as I as re-generating my muscles.
The older and the younger are a great symbiotic couple. The young have abilities the older lack and vice versa. Yet no longer accepted at work, the elderly face the challenges of an age-segregated society. How can we all contribute to breaking down age barriers? How do we engage our younger friends and family members to pursue this important goal? There are some experiments here and there. Lasell Village requires its mature residents to take classes at Lasell College, yielding benefits for both the Village residents and the College undergraduates and faculty. The Brandeis Women's Studies Center LINK requires all work study students to be student-scholar partners that is, not merely help the scholar, but to receive mentoring in return as well as money, Students gain contacts and real knowledge of what it takes to be a writer or musician or scientist. SCORE, a group of older retired business leaders, mentor new entrepreneurs at the early stages of their business launches. Big brother/Big sister pairs older volunteers with youngsters. Older people not only have instrumental skills, but they also have perspective. Life's difficulties happen to all of us and gives us new perspective
We need a national strategy that pairs those who don't want to lie fallow with those who need tutoring, help, coaching, or mentoring. With technology facilitating virtual meetings, tutors don't even have to leave the comfort of their own homes. Could technology help failing schools link pupils and tutors? Let's try it.
Our society has lots of problems. Mentors could help solve some of them. Multigenerational ties could address the needs of the elderly for ongoing engagement in society in meaningful ways and enhance the knowledge, skills, and confidence of the youths they mentor and with whom they share their life experiences. This could be enriching for everyone involved in these innovative, mutually nurturing relationships.
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