We make presentations and run workshops for many seniors groups about changing the mindset of ageing. Our intention is to implore seniors to embrace this time of life as an opportunity to do new things. Occasionally we get some fascinating comments from the audience.
We often like to do the rocking chair test in which we have people visualise how they see their life as they scan back through the years. The response to this can be quite varied. One woman who was in her mid 70s said, “I can’t wait to die”. Another woman — who was 96 — asked if she could visualise herself at age 105. She looked very vibrant for her age and was enthusiastic even in her 90s.
We have friends from the UK, aged 80, who visit us each year. They are very active indeed, teaching young people in England and Germany about the history of the Holocaust. They both said that they couldn’t imagine not doing what they are doing. They are very inspired about life as they age.
What comes to mind when looking at the various individual “retirees” is that there is a relatively broad spectrum of attitudes as to how older individuals view themselves as they age. There appear to be two contrasting opinions:
“I’m too old”
When people say or think this, they are giving up on life. Sometimes families, though well meaning, may instil this attitude in the older set. The retirees end up doing the same day-to-day chores and have nothing that inspires them. It’s a sad way to spend the last 15 to 25 years of one’s life.
“Life is great, and I make the most of it every day”
These individuals are not hanging around or waiting to die. They have found something that inspires them going forward. They may have started a new business to apply their creativity, or they did not retire but continued to work in a position where they are still valuable.
It all comes down to mindset. Some people are inherently driven. They will always find something meaningful to do for themselves or others. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who feel sorry for themselves, whether because of health or relationship issues. They live in a constant state of inertia and boredom.
If you think life has thrown major roadblocks at you, perhaps you need put things in perspective and consider this true story:
A young man in university started noticing clumsy episodes and slurring of his speech. Soon, at age 21 he was diagnosed with a severe neurological disorder, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Doctors gave him two years to live. Despite that prognosis he survived, and yet his condition continued to deteriorate rendering him totally paralysed. He eventually needed to be on a ventilator to breathe and could only speak with the aid of a computer. Despite the odds against him, this man has survived and today at age 74 is recognised as a pre-eminent physicist and cosmologist. This man’s name is Stephen Hawking.
Despite Hawking’s severe disability, he continues to write and research. He has not given up on life. Most of us will never have this level of impairment even in our later years. Whether you have arthritis, diabetes, cancer or chronic asthma, you have the capacity to live a purposeful life.
The easy way out is to make excuses about our age or health. How about changing the mindset so that we acknowledge that we have abilities that can make a difference for ourselves or others whether we are 70, 80 or 90? Many individuals are doing so today. If they can do it, so can you.
If you can dream it, you can achieve it – whatever your age!