As we get older, we gain perspective. We learn to take the long view, to recognize that no matter what is happening now, it rarely lasts and is likely to be replaced, soon, by something else. Very little is forever, new ideas will continue to emerge; some will flower and some will not.
Perspective also means that we no longer think we need everyone’s approval. We know there is value in who we are and what we can contribute and people will take us or leave us. Either is fine. The best part is that that judgment matters to us less. It’s also a bit of a relief to realize that most of the time, people probably aren’t judging us, anyway. They, too, are caught up in their own lives and concerns, worried mostly about making it through the day.
Experience is one of the great gifts of aging. We’ve seen things, we’ve tried things, we’ve made decisions. Some of those things worked well; others did not. But experience means we have been here before. We now know something we didn’t. Whether it’s good or bad, knowledge is useful. It helps when that next decision or opportunity or risk comes along. We have information and insight – experience – to guide us.
When we’re older, we recognize that some changes we sought in our youth have actually been addressed, if not fixed. When I started working on women’s issues in the late 1970s, working women in the U.S. made 53 cents for every dollar earned by men. Today, that gap is closer to 85 cents to the dollar, according to Pew Research. Not as fast as we’d hoped (that’s youth) and not exactly what we wanted. But it’s a mainstream conversation today, not the purview of activists. That’s progress and that counts.
There will always be work to do. And things do change over time. Especially when we continue to work to make that happen. That’s perspective.
For some people in our region, that work beyond their original careers has meant serving the community, as The Dayton Foundation’s Del Mar Encore Fellows. This initiative takes highly skilled older adults and places them in nonprofits to work on a range of significant community issues.
Because that’s the real gift of getting older. We still have much to do. If we’re lucky.
Noreen Willhelm is a Del Mar Encore Fellow with the Dayton Foundation. To learn more, visit www.daytonfoundation.org/delmarencore.html.