Learning from the long-lived
By Lisa Seppala, MBA, BComm, ACC, PHS (Adv Cert)
In the past few years, I’ve enjoyed talking and volunteering with people in their 80s, 90s and 100s. Some had health issues, others were completely healthy, and all were wise with kick-ass attitudes. Dauntless. Ready to contribute and bring light and inspiration to others.
I feel fortunate to have these people in my life. Some are close family friends that I’ve known my entire life. Others are active in my new neighbourhood, and I’m just starting to get to know them. All are impressive masters of reinvention as they’ve met life’s many challenges. Their timelines are long, with many chapters and significant milestones. And all are open to sharing their wisdom. They’ve seen it, done it and are enthusiastic about new experiences and continued learning. Being in their presence is reassuring and calming as they embody the adage ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’.
The shift from youth worship to appreciating the long-lived feels slow in our Western society. And we’re missing out if we’re not tapping into this wealth of knowledge and inspiration in our personal lives and workplace. While age might not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion, if you have older people in your organization, don’t underestimate their value or write them off as being behind the times. Every one of the people I’m thinking about as I write this article is an avid phone texter and emoji user, even my godmother, who will be 100 in a few months!
I write this with bittersweet feelings as my parents and grandparents passed in their late 60s and 70s. My dad was a professional forester who made his way up the corporate ladder, and my mom was a schoolteacher who became a homemaker. All my grandparents were immigrants and entrepreneurs. I wish they had all lived into their 100s. Oh, the stories and life lessons they would have shared. And had they the opportunity to do so, how might my life have been different? What risks might I have taken because they showed me how it could be done?
If you have older people in your work or personal life, and you don’t do this already, take the time to ask them for input. You might not agree with everything they say, but you will gain a perspective steeped in history and lived experience. If your curiosity is genuine, you’ll get worthwhile input, and you’ll also be helping to make someone else feel valued, just because you reached out and asked.
P.S. At the same time as I was writing this blog post, the CBC posted the article and feature TFW your grandma becomes a social media sensation | CBC News that perfectly captured my feelings. I’m including it here, and I hope you enjoy it!