Article Series

Years of Life Experience

Article submitted by Joy C. Davidson, End of Life Coach, Pastor, Author, Speaker, owner of Joyful Transitions, LLC. Joy can be reached at 720-244-2660.

I recently attended a workshop and part of my introduction included giving my “years of life experience”. How many of you, especially women, are horrified at the idea of telling your age openly in broad daylight to a dozen other people? Go on, raise your hand. I won’t tell.

Would it surprise anyone to learn that I was, with my 51 years of life experience, the “baby” of the group? Would it also surprise you to learn that all of my elders were proud of their years of experience? Why? Isn’t old age something to fear? Isn’t it something to shy away from? Aren’t the increasing years of life experience something that is accompanied by an ever-decreasing sense of value and ever-increasing sense of uselessness? In America and some other parts of the world, yes, but not everywhere.

In the summer of 2012, I read a book by Zalman Schacter-Shalomi entitled From Age-ing to Sage-ing. The workshop I attended recently was born out of Reb Zalman’s (as he is affectionately called) book. The tagline for the workshop said “Imagine your life and aging as a gift ~ not a burden, an opportunity ~ not a problem!” Those people attending the workshop with more years of life experience than I were there to celebrate their lives, the wisdom gained, and to begin harvesting that wisdom for the benefit of society and future generations. (And no, they were not there because they were suffering from a terminal illness.)

In past generations, being an elder in society was an esteemed role as a seer, a leader, guardian of tradition, and instructor of the young. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, came the fracturing of the family and the idea that our elders, who might not be as technologically savvy as we were, had nothing to offer. We forgot that they are the wisdomkeepers for society and even for the planet itself. We forgot that wisdom is not just about the understanding or lack of understanding of technology. We forgot that there is health for society in the balance between the newness and energy of youth and the “distilled essence” of the wisdom of our elders.

Even as a young mother in my twenties, I think I always felt that something was missing as I saw my grandparents grow old and frail and saw society tell them their time of usefulness was done. I yearned for something more for them and I yearned for something more to look forward to in my future. As I read From Age-ing to Sage-ing, I realized that I had always inherently understood that we, as a society and culture, lose something significant when we tell our older adults they are no longer needed. The long history of experience that elders draw on brings balance to the brashness and energy of youth. Our health and strength as a society does not come from the strength and energy of youth, nor does it come from the long experience of our elders, but rather it comes from the tapestry woven by the merger of the two.

What does this mean for me personally? Reb Zalman refers to the second half of life as the time to purposefully step into elderhood. I have learned that part of being an elder lies in walking a quieter path in life. For much of my life, I lived at a frenetically (frenzied, frantic ) busy pace resulting in little time spent taking care of myself or alone, but instead spent in non-stop activity with LOTS of people interaction. I use to have such strong extroversion tendencies that I referred to myself as the poster child for extroversion.

Since my mid-forties, however, I have begun to feel an internal insistence to take better care of myself (translation: actually getting eight hours of sleep) as well as being more purposeful and calm in my activities. While I still derive a great deal of energy and enjoyment from being with people (networking, teaching, conversation with friends), I find myself looking forward to time alone or time spent in refreshing and contemplative activities (reading, journaling, prayer, and writing) more so than in the past.

Reb Zalman suggests in pages 22 – 24 of his book that a biblical perspective be adopted in consideration of the concept of elderhood. In this thought process, there are general patterns of growth in the human body and psyche that correspond with seven-year cycles in nature. Years 0 – 7 are the years of infancy and early childhood represented by the month of January. February is the time of puberty and the coming of adolescence in years 8 – 14 while March symbolizes the end of winter and the beginning of spring as the age of 21 is reached and one stands of the verge of young adulthood. We continue moving through the months of April (building an adult personality), May (age 35 building a career and family), and June (age 42 completing the social identity) to reach the zenith of midlife, which is when we begin to lose our value, right? Wrong!

This is when the real work begins! This is when we begin to individuate - spending more time connecting with our inner selves and expressing the individual that emerges. The middle years as we emerge from June into July and August are not years to cling to the creation of value via material productivity or money but years for us to emerge into “a full, deeper humanity” in the mastery of leadership (servant leadership), first of ourselves and then others. Finally, we begin harvesting our wisdom in October, November, and December (the ages of 78+) with the intent of leaving a legacy of wisdom dedicated to the purpose of preserving and strengthening our planet and the people on it.

I will leave it to each one of you to make your own decision as to the approach you will take as you age or the attitude you will take as you approach the elders in your life. Will you take the time to individuate and develop a plan for the legacy you will leave or will you allow our society and culture push you to the side? Will you support the elders in your life as they consciously or, maybe only subconsciously, work to harvest their wisdom that they might leave their unique legacy? As for myself, I have stepped with joy and purpose into the second act of my life intent on mastering self-leadership that I might influence others as I serve and leave a legacy of servanthood.

More about Joy Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC

Founded in 2011, Joy C. Davidson and Joyful Transitions, LLC, are a voice of experience working with older adults and their families as they face changes, seek late in life purpose, and search for the resources and confidence to live a powerful life. Our support is available through speaking and educational presentations and curriculum.

© 2013, All Rights Reserved by Joy C, Davidson, Joyful Transitions, LLC

Posted April 2013 on