A Note from Dennis: I’m just finishing up my break for the holidays, but will be back next week! Hope you and yours had a safe and happy New Year!
This article appeared on February 25, 2016.
Many years ago a friend asked, “Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall at your funeral?” We both agreed it would be cool to hear what people say about you when you are dead.
Today, in my mid-70’s, having experienced a number of funerals where sociopaths, cheats, and downright jerks are regaled like saints I have come to different conclusions.
1. I no longer attend funerals for people I don’t respect. You know what I mean. The person at the podium is extolling their virtues and people in the audience are exchanging glances with raised eyebrows, wondering who the heck they are talking about.
2. If I were a fly on the wall it would be to learn what my closest friends and family say about me ten years later. That is the legacy I care about. It would be my report card!
What would we hope they say?
The bulk of our legacy is built when we are parents and grandparents. Today, “Baby Boomers” could just as easily be referred to as “legacy builders”.
Ask a baby boomer how they would like to be remembered and you are likely to hear things like:
- Always there when I needed them
- The one that is top on my list…he did his job preparing me to live in the real world?
As I look back I realize those who I speak most favorably about were family and friends who became true mentors. They helped me form my core beliefs. They were teachers that gave their time and shared their wisdom and experiences to help me with the tasks at hand. They cared.
How well do we mentor?
I was flattered when MarketWatch asked me to write for them under their banner RetireMentors. They told me to use my “voice of experience”.
My first experience happened quite by accident when I was 60 at a high school class reunion. We sat at big round tables, 10-15 at a table. One friend mentioned her mother was still alive. I asked how people were caring for their aging parents. We discussed nursing homes, assisted living, do not resuscitate orders and the like. Soon we were all sharing our experiences. It was a heck of a good learning experience for all.
At our 50th class reunion the same process repeated itself as we discussed issues relevant to all of us in our stage of life.
How do I cheat?
I borrow from the experiences of others that I trust. I want to be a good and trusted mentor to those who ask for help. Drawing on the collective experience and wisdom of those who have been there and done that is a good place to start. I filter out things like parenting advice from those who are childless, or investing advice from those who have never had a brokerage account.
If a friend or family member asks my advice on something, I may not know the answer but there is a good chance I know someone who probably does.
The old saying, “we learn from our failures” is much too limited. Why can’t we learn from both the successes and failures of all that have been down the road ahead of us?
I recently finished a book written by Karl Pillemer, Ph.D titled, “30 Lessons for Living – Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans”. Dr. Pillemer is a gerontologist, someone who studies people in life’s “third age” – typically thought of as age 65 and older.
He interviewed more than one thousand Americans over the age of sixty-five to seek their counsel on several big issues – children, marriage, money, career, and aging. The research and lessons for living are priceless. His research led him to many parts of the country, including nursing homes, senior living facilities and into people’s homes. As I read his book, I felt like I was the fly on the wall listening to what these true, experienced people had to offer. Dr. Pillemer took our peer group round table discussion to the 100th power.
Some of their advice reinforced what I already believe. In other cases, it put into words things that I felt but never communicated. Here is just one example of how straightforward their mentoring advice became:
On marriage –
“I asked hundreds of older Americans what is most important for a long and happy marriage, and their advice was just about unanimous: opposites may attract, but they may not be the best for lasting marriages.
…. Most important, the experts believe that marriage is vastly more difficult with someone whose orientation and approach to life is different from yours. There are many ways partners can be similar, but the experts focus on one dimension in particular: similarity in core values.
One lady told us… ‘YOU HAVE TO BE friends first’– that’s what I didn’t know – and you have to be willing to work on it. When we got married forty-nine years ago, it was the thing to do by the time you were twenty. Today that’s not the case. And I have a lot of respect for young people who wait until they’re twenty-five, thirty years old because the world is so different. We have spoken to young couples and we tell them, ‘You need to be good friends first and respect each other. Love comes and it grows if you are friends for one another.’
…. If a marriage gets to the point where you can’t discuss things, then you will have two unhappy people.
…. More specifically, we all need to learn how to fight. Fights are inevitable; but it’s how we handle them that matters.”
My revelation? It reinforced my belief that; particularly in today’s complicated world, today’s elders must step up and actively become mentors where it is appropriate.
We don’t have to be the smartest person on the planet. Most of the lessons in the book are just doggone good common sense that needs to be reinforced.
1. As we age, mentoring comes with the territory. It is a truly wonderful inter-generational experience that allows you to connect with several generations of your family.
It builds stronger bonds and friendships. It goes both ways. I have friends ask my opinion on a particular subject, and in turn I do the same on issues where I respect their judgment and input.
2. Embrace peer group relationships. When I moved to Arizona I started a ROMEO (Retired Old Men Eating Out) club. We have breakfast a couple of times per month. It’s a great group of guys with varied backgrounds, interests and expertise. Take the opportunity to discuss common problems and concerns.
3. Do your homework. Be an avid reader on subjects of interest to you and your peers. It is your opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” and learn from others. You are better served sharing your expertise selectively as outlined in the next point.
4. Share what you have learned – respectfully. Many resent those who have a 100-person mailing list and send out everything they read each day. Not only is it not appreciated, but also people will tune you out. It’s much better to read something and send it individually to a friend with a note like, “I just got this – it’s relevant to our recent discussion. You don’t have to be an expert, however you can certainly help others when you see something they are concerned about and pass it along.
5. Be there when they need you, and time your remarks appropriately. This can be a challenge; particularly with grandchildren. There are times I see something and want to jump in with both feet. I’ve learned a more effective way is to let it play out for a bit.
In family discussions when mom and dad are trying to teach the young ones, it works well when you add something like, “This reminds me of a story about….” A decade later I’ve had grandchildren repeat those stories back to me.
6. Implementation is their choice. My “aha moment”? We are likely to know our children twice as long as adults than when they were young. As adults, they are going to do what they want to whether we like it or not. Using a more subtle approach of discussing options, advantages and adverse consequences of alternatives helps them arrive at a good decision on their own.
What about my legacy?
I just love it when one of my adult grandchildren calls their mother with a question and is told to “call grandpa”. My phone rings and the conversation begins with, “Grandpa I have a question”.
Recently a good friend phoned and said, “I just read your recent article and I have a question.”
Those events mean a lot to me; just because you may be nearing the finish line does not mean you can’t contribute. I do the best I can and let the legacy chips fall as they may.
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