Message from the executive director
Life Lessons and an Anti - Defamation League ... for Older People
June 1, 2013Many of my columns have focused on my travels around the country as I visit chapters and attend conferences. This month’s column is about time travel – to our 80s and 90s. Most TTN members will spend a decade or more in what seems that far-away country to me at age 57.
If the thought of being 80+ fills you with dread, I hope this column will help you feel more optimistic. If you view aging as an adventure – as I do – it will increase your confidence that those years will bring learning, joy and new kinds of fulfillment in addition to the challenges we all expect.
Two authors were the guides for my time travel. Ashton Applewhite is the author of two blogs that challenge stereotypes and remind us that “the vast majority of older Americans enjoy their independent lives:” This Chair Rocks [http://thischairrocks.com] and Yo, Is This Ageist? [http://yoisthisageist.com]. Karl Pillemer is a Cornell University gerontologist and author of 30 Lessons for Living - Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.
Applewhite describes herself as an activist – and she’s clearly headed for a TED talk. She notes that the prevailing view of aging in the United States - as a period of disability, disconnection and dementia – is a social construct that contributes enormously to our fear of aging and our own ageist attitudes. “Aging has become a fate worse than death,” she notes. In a country sensitized to race, gender and sexual orientation issues, ageism is alive and well. Applewhite encourages all of us to call out ageism when we see it – whether it’s positive stereotypes that all elders are wise and kind, or negative perceptions of feeble minds and bodies. Her blog Yo, Is this Ageist? is a bulletin board for sharing experiences, articles, signs in store windows and other current events for her comments and community reaction – an anti-defamation league on aging.
In addition to her protests, Applewhite highlights the positive side of growing older, noting that many studies have shown that people are happiest at the beginning and end of their lives. The older they are, the less people worry about death; they are better at living in the moment and focusing on what’s important. Dementia is the great fear, but in fact only 1 in 8 experience profound memory loss. She encourages her audience to aspire to “health, not youth” in later life.
Pillemer’s 30 Lessons for Living builds on more than interviews with 1,000 older Americans, from their late 60s to their 90s, distilling their decades of life experience into the title’s “lessons” on marriage, work, family and aging. In addition to practical advice from these experts on living, Pillemer includes many moving quotes from his interviews:
Edwina Elbert, 94: “My advice to people about getting old? I’d tell them to find the magic. The world is a magical place in lots of ways…You can be grateful, happy for the things that have happened. You should enjoy your life. Grow a little. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean that you need to stop growing.”
Malcolm Campbell, 70: “It seems to take a lifetime to live in the moment, but it shouldn’t….in my own life, I have been too future-oriented. It’s a natural inclination….but boy, is there a lot to be gained by being in the moment and able to appreciate what’s going on around you right now, this very second.”
Kristy Graham, 84: “Learn how to breathe and move on. There is plenty of pain to go around, but if you get stuck in it you don’t move on. …I don’t think that joy and happiness just come at you. You make them….[That] makes it possible to move through this stuff and come out more or less better on the other side.”
Applewhite and Pillemer encourage people to expand their concept of their own potential, and be all that they want to be. The sooner you can bring those perspectives into your life, the sooner you can find a better use for the energy you’ve been using to worry about getting older. That’s very much the spirit of The Transition Network – the same positive energy that we offer our members.
As always, TTN chapters are helping members make the most of this stage of life in many different ways and I’m pleased to highlight four examples.
In May, the San Francisco/Bay Area Chapter launched the first monthly meeting of Bay Area Senior Women's Housing Options to support members struggling to find answers to individual housing issues. The San Francisco Bay Area Women's Brain Exchange (BREX), the model we will use in the new group, has been tremendously successful in providing encouragement for women to brainstorm and think creatively, seek new insights and support one another. By focusing on housing-related questions and issues, Bay Area Senior Women's Housing Options anticipates providing resources, networking and creative thinking. 25 people attended the first discussion, with a wait list of 17, so this is an issue that truly resonates for women in the Bay Area. The chapter is also launching a Yahoo group for information exchange among members of the brainstorming group. The goal is to communicate with one another, find kindred spirits, and share ideas and resources. Contact chapter co-chair Arlene Reiff (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions.
The Chicago Chapter will offer a new Encore Career Transitions Special Interest Group led by Lisa Dworkin, a small business owner and former educator who has facilitated a number of groups on personal finance for teenagers and for adults at various stages of life. Lisa will use the The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboher, as a guide for a goal-oriented, ten-week transition group to help participants make a living and a difference. Contact chapter co-chair Delanne McCormick (email@example.com) with questions.
Our Boston chapter-in-formation featured Abigail Trafford, author, journalist and TTN Advisory Board member in a late May collaboration with Suffolk University’s Lifelong Learners Lunch Club. Abbie spoke about My Time; Making the Most of the Bonus Decades. Abbie’s books celebrate the freedom, contentment and purpose possible in the second half of life and we’re delighted to have her speak to this new group.
And our Philadelphia chapter is connecting members and guests from three chapters at a performance of Ann!, a one-woman show about Ann Richards, the first woman governor of Texas and a larger-than-life personality.
Stay tuned for other cross-chapter events, particularly on the East Coast, and when you’re traveling this summer, don’t forget to contact a TTN Ambassador for advice and a lunch date.
One more note –
You’ve probably seen the posting for TTN’s next Executive Director in this newsletter. Earlier this year, I let the board know that I would be leaving TTN in early August, to make an extended cross-country road trip with my husband, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
The ED role is a wonderful opportunity – and definitely a full-time job! – and I encourage members to apply. I’ll share my reflections on eight inspiring years with TTN in next month’s newsletter.