Bolder + Wiser = Happier
“I want to be ready, to have gathered everything together and sorted it out, as if I were preparing for a great final journey. I intend to make myself whole here in this Hell. It is the thing that is set before me to do. So, in a way, this path inward and back into the past is like a map, the map of my world. If I can draw it accurately, I shall know where I am.”
—Caroline Spencer, a 76-year-old retired schoolteacher, in As We Are Now by May Sarton
Are you successfully navigating the turbulence of life and aging or are you barely coping? If you are just coping with changes in your life or if a major disruption has shaken your foundation, you may need to review your history and figure out how you got to this point.
When you suddenly get a sense of your own mortality—that your time is limited—you naturally come to look back over your life. This process of review has often been described as a form of reminiscence. However, the life review process and reminiscence are not synonymous. The key to unlocking the life review is to identify and address your unresolved conflicts. It is a bold step toward wholeness.
Aging is a natural stage of development. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, personality development goes through a series of eight, hierarchically ordered stages. Associated with each stage is a psychosocial crisis that the individual either successfully resolves or fails to resolve. Failure results in incomplete development of the personality and inhibits further development. The crisis represented by this last life stage is ego integrity versus despair.
This last stage begins when an individual experiences a sense of mortality. It may be in response to retirement, the death of a spouse or a close friend, or a changing social role. In reaction to the event, most people reminiscence or become introspective. Instead of choosing to despair, you can choose to grow and deepen your understanding of life. This process is most productive when it is done with one or more significant others who are willing to listen, reflect, and provide insight so you can identify and resolve your conflicts.
The positive resolution of the final life stage is ego integrity, which is viewed as the key to harmonious personality development. That is, you will view your whole life with satisfaction and contentment. In a nutshell, the positive resolution of your life review is wisdom.
In a recent New York Times article, Phyllis Korkk noted that “Vivian Clayton, a geriatric neuropsychologist in California, developed a definition of wisdom in the 70s, that has served as a foundation for research on the subject ever since. After scouring ancient texts and talking to people in the legal sector, she found that wisdom consists of three key components: cognition, reflection and compassion.”* Korkk also highlighted author Daniel Goleman who believes that an important sign of wisdom is “giving back without needing anything in return. The form of giving back could be creative, social, personal or financial, and ‘the wisest people do that in a way that doesn’t see their lifetime as limiting when this might happen.’”
No matter what your age or circumstance, you can choose to live a meaningful life with hope and joy and make a positive impact on those you love. If you are ready to develop a deeper wisdom and a generosity of spirit that will unlock a sense of satisfaction and contentment, be bold and go for it. Together, we can build a plan to make the most of your future. Let me help you thrive.
*Korkk, P. The science of older and wiser. NY Times; 2014 Mar 12.