06/05/2014 06:10 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

At 30, 50 or 70, Who Do You Want to Be?

A huge newspaper headline is unmistakable:


What is startling is the life ended at 57. The age of 90 makes complete sense for such an obituary. So does 78 or 87, maybe even 68. But not 57. Isn't that too young?

I wonder: Do powerful newspaper editors realize the sheer impact of their obits? They touch raw human nerves. Some deceased men and women will be sorely missed because they had an iconic impact on people's lives.

Can we learn something from this? In the first place, we welcome portraits of human beings as examples of courage, heroism, faith, charity, meaning, love and sacrifice. We desperately need them as examples to balance a plethora of journalistic subjects of sheer disaster, egoism, torture, mental illness and a blatant disregard for human life. A statement I like is the classic from "Hamlet"; "To thine own self be true." This implies the existence of certain basic human standards and a core of public morality. Without those standards, do a people perish?

But may I suggest a new approach? Instead of identifying men and women in terms of their age -- something we do all the time -- can we be infinitely more imaginative and creative? In other words, can we open our minds to some altogether new directions?

Who do we want to be? It's a critical question. Common sense is usually more significant than a rigid sense of rules. So, for example, in our 30s we tend to be blessed with all sorts of energy. However, as we grow older, are we able to replace energy with quiet wisdom?

Look at a woman in her 30s. She is contemplating a remarriage following a divorce. She has to be aware of the needs of her two kids. Of course, there's always the urgency of a new career move in her life. The success myth can easily become what we call the elephant in the room. She needs to ask the question: Who does she want to be? Who is she supposed to be?

The answer, I think, is fairly simple. Look around you. Surrounding you are the best teachers in the world. This is especially true in the work arena.

The truth is, we need each other. All of us are, ultimately, are walking examples of human life. We should sincerely pay attention to these hidden teachers of ours.

Whatever our age happens to be, we still can grow up. We can mature. We can learn.

Can we allow our life to open up? There's no moment like the present.