I remember around the year 2000, I was facilitating a group of education managers in Los Angeles. They were reviewing some possible consultants they might bring in to provide a little more “zip” to their curriculum and the methods they used to teach children with disabilities. Several names were offered up. The Director of the Center (a bit older than the 40 somethings that comprised most of the group) threw out the name of a fairly renowned man who had been responsible for creating one of the more innovative schools in Southern California.
I noticed a few of the group members exchanging slightly wincing looks with each other. Finally one of the more outspoken managers voiced what clarified the non-verbal hints. She said, “But he’s almost 60!”
It was then that I really got it for the first time. I was startled. I hadn’t fully realized how most Americans place a lower value on those a decade or two older than themselves and their own peers. And this was a group of people who had the mission of integrating younger children with disabilities into the mainstream of the American school!
It looked to me like they may have missed the bigger picture. I’ve never been a person who has ever thought much about age. As an entrepreneurial project manager and organization consultant, I only looked for and worked with people who could get the job done and do it well. But as my eyes more widely open, I could see what was going on between generations. I saw so much amiss and it saddened me.
With my eyes now opening to these generational divides, I remember attending my self-help group that met coincidentally on my sixtieth birthday. Having been asked to lead the group that night I started off announcing somewhat impertinently “I’m sixty and proud of it.”
The remark was met with wonderment by most in the group, yet a few folks who must have been a bit of my “ilk” complemented me on the remark after the meeting. Oddly enough, most of them were the younger members in the group.
And you know what? I now understand that those who “got” my message that evening are exactly the people I want to be spending time with, regardless of the number of years attached to their identity or mine.
Now, here’s some of what had happened as I continued inching up my ladder of time. Most of my clients were older than me as was usually the case in my business. As they began retiring at younger ages I lost many of those connections. Concurrent with my markets thinning,my motivation to make more money in order to live the “good life” waned in comparison to doing what mattered most to me- providing a fun, useful, and locally valued service.
I created a new entertainment related job which found me having much more fun for much less money with like minded people of all ages. I swore off neckties and have remained happily necktie free for fourteen years
I accidentally met up with an old friend from my carousing days back twenty years earlier. We re-connected for what would become my longest and most meaningful long-term relationship.
But that’s only some of the good part of the story. In too many ways I fell into a lifestyle that was problematic. It wasn’t any one thing. I just began to feel more isolated “freezing up more” as the years wore on. I missed the associations of my past career(s). I wanted to travel, but didn’t have the money. Expenses such as major car repairs that used to be just bumps in the road became real obstacles.
Arguments with my wife occurred more frequently. Over time, the stubborn standoffs trumped the good times. We seldom went out, exacerbating feelings of disconnectedness. My body which had always been robust was attacked by a life-threatening auto immune disease requiring major surgery. I recovered but as time went on, other issues, mostly minor but none the less aggravating kept me in touch with life’s impermanence.
And then, my wife died. My world fell apart when she suddenly was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer after thirteen years of being smoke free. She was gone in a month. I was both alone and terribly lonely despite the attempts of my kids and grandkids to console me. There was no family unit, no school gang, no basketball team, no band of like minded folks attached to common values and goals, no job related social group. And now, no one to grow old with. I was full of grief, guilt and loss so intense that I couldn’t stand the ordinary demands of regular life.
And as has been the case with so many others, I am recovering from that loss, little by little, but not along any straight line. My eyes are opening to more of the realities of the past that bring me closer to “the truth,” as most of others see me, not “my truth.” And from time to time some new possibilities come into view. In my case, you might call it “defrosting” from the colder weather of my life.
One of these promising possibilities I’ve recently become aware of is this exciting and bold venture known as WiseTribe. As its name suggests, it is a group of people, sometimes cross-generational, drawn together and dedicated to altering the world view that so many people in their later years need to just rest, take it easy and keep to their own kind because they no longer “fit” the molds of the younger generations in the workplace and social life.
They are classed as “soon to be seniors,” or “aging baby boomers” believed to almost certainly stress out the local, state and national safety nets that have helped previous generations enjoy their final stages.
To me, the boldest idea of the WiseTribe venture is that we may really be able to trigger small transformational movements, away from seeing older generations as hindrances and toward acknowledging and benefiting from the gifts of an amazingly powerful, talented, useful and wise force for good.
The WiseTribe movement is more than adequately described in other portions of this website. But for me, what is so promising is that if some of us can dedicate a significant part of our life to forming small “tribes” that lightheartedly, passionately work for the larger good in our communities, we may become a social network of our own. And in doing so we would not only contribute to altering the public view of what it means to age, but also form a valuable social option, a desperately needed sanctuary for helping one another, no matter what our ages.
Waking up late is better than never waking up. I’m in.
Written by a man in California who asked that we not use his name. We are so thankful to him for sharing this touching post with the WiseTribe community.