If You Hate Your Job: Get Out

Miriam has had several careers in her 72 years. She was a single parent for years, then she went to college and has worked as a writer,

trainer, and counselor. Miriam knows first-hand the difficulties of finding meaningful work while being under financial pressure to support a family.

I’ve had a very fulfilling career. It’s ongoing, still. It was the most important thing to find work that fit my principles. My life is about compassion and integrity and love and mostly service. It’s an important choice and a decision that I made. You must make wise career choices when you’re young.

If you fall in a career and you know that it’s not your cup of tea, if you did it because of your parents, or you thought it was what you wanted and you were wrong – get out right away! Because our lives are made up of two important things: work and love. If one of those is off balance, you know, you have a problem.

The Secrets of Communicating with Adult Children

Many of the elders had one piece of advice about getting along with one’s adult children: Don’t interfere in their lives, and wait for them to come to you for advice. But what when they do ask your opinion, what are some good ways to communicate?

Tom, 82, has warm and supportive relationships with his three middle-aged sons. He recognizes that sometimes one is called upon to give advice to adult children; indeed, they ask for it. A problem, of course, is that parents are naturally invested in their children, and it is difficult for them to step outside of their own needs to objectively evaluate the choices their child must make.

Tom’s advice: Take the “I” out of the conversation:

Yeah, the big advice is always be open minded. Forget the business of ‘I’ centered and put the focus on ‘you’ centered. The son that you’re talking to and who has issues that he wants to discuss and forget the ‘I’, or at least put the I in the background so that at least he understands that he’s getting the benefit of your wisdom. You, who can govern how much ‘I’ to project, can inject information or guidance when it’s appropriate, not to dominate the conversation but to augment what the son wants to say. I think it’s a delicate balance of diplomacy among family members. I’ve not always done well.

Grace, 75, found that her enjoyment of her children increased as they grew older and became adults; it was the “pay-off” for more difficult earlier years.

I think by the time my kids were a little bit older and they were able to accept their parents for who they were, as I was with my mother, then it was great. I have enjoyed my children as adults so much, so, so much, and it’s something no one ever said to me. They always would say when the kids were young, “Oh, these are the wonderful years, these are the best years.” They were lovely years, but there is something just as lovely or more lovely when they are adults and you could talk to them as another human being. To know your children as adults is great.

She shares her thoughts with her kids, but accepts that her advice may be turned aside.

Well, there again, I think – don’t be too critical. In fact, don’t be critical at all. Accept them, accept what they’re doing. But I for example just wrote my daughter giving her some financial advice, and said, “I’m giving this to you with love not with criticism,” because she just does such stupid things financially. So – and she will read it, and maybe she’ll do it and maybe she won’t, but I’m perfectly willing to accept it that way.

Advice to Graduates – From a Pretty Cool 91-Year Old

Here in my college town, the campus is bustling with end-of-semester activities and preparations for graduation. Who better to give advice to graduates than the oldest and wisest Americans?

Verna, 91, wrote this “list for living” for young people starting out in life. It’s a good one to pass on to the graduates this month!

1. So many things in the world have changed since the time of my grandparents and parents and the earlier times of my own life, and I know that there will be lots of changes in your lifetime too.

2. I hope you will always take education seriously (I was a teacher) and become well-educated to be ready for whatever kind of work or service you will be doing.

3. I hope that you will respect your body- take good care of it and try to have good health.

4. I hope that the governments of the world will do a better job of getting along with each other so that you can experience peace among nations.

5. I hope you will be a positive thinker, not negative or cynical.

6. Look for the good in people and things, and fill your life with love, kindness, and thoughtfulness for others.

7. I would hope that you will know the peace and joy and courage that come from following a life of love and service- the peace that passes all understanding.

8. Your real success in life lies is the kind of person you become, not with how famous or wealthy you are, so my most sincere wish is for you to live the wholesome life that will lead you to make good choices along the way, to Reach That Star that you are striving to reach.


Sensible Elder Lessons about Money

Sometimes I find myself thinking: Whatever happened to good sense? When it comes to money, the elders offer advice that is, well, sensible. They came from a generation of savers, re-users, and careful consumers. Here’s 91-year old Betty’s advice for financial well-being:

You need a checking account and a savings account. Take each paycheck to the bank and deposit, don’t cash it. Hold out enough for cash purchases, groceries, etc.  Leave enough in the checking account to pay current bills. Whenever possible, put a little in the savings account. This is your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and a start toward your savings.

Be wary of credit cards. Never use one unless you can pay the bill in full at the end of the month. The interest can be devastating to your finances.

Aim toward home ownership. Rent is a constant drain with nothing to show for it.

For major purchases, save first and pay cash. This goes for cars and it can be done.  As soon as I’ve bought a car, I start saving (in the savings account) for the next. Making payments adds much more to the cost. That money can be yours to use.

When you have your finances organized and are keeping out of debt you are ready for the next step. Start your life savings. It is all right to start small but you can’t start too soon. Locate a full service brokerage firm and appointment with a financial adviser, who will listen to your needs and advise accordingly. Medium risk stock will likely serve you best. Later you can use the dividends for extra income. If you keep increasing your stock portfolio, it will provide financial security for retirement. Never buy stock from a small outfit that only deals with a limited type of stock or on advice of an individual.

It Comes Down to Choices: Wanda's Advice

Wanda, 85, worries that young people won’t be interested in her life lessons. I think she’s wrong about that, because her hard-won lessons for living are ones we all can use.

I write poetry for children and for the old. The media generation escapes me. I really would like to know what is going on, but it all seems as alien as the planet Mars. What could I tell them out of my experience that would have any meaning for them? In my 84-year-old case, I feel that I have lost their attention. If I could re-capture it for fifteen minutes, I would say this:

It all boils down to choices. Make a bad one in a few seconds, and live with the consequences for the rest of your life. When you are young, lots of the choices have to do with sex and relationships. Use your head, and go carefully.

If you have a chance, get as much education as you can, because it gives you options you would not have otherwise. Find out what your strong suite is, and follow up on it. Don’t be afraid to seek advice . If words are your thing, and you think you might make a writer, don’t wait until you are 70 years old as I did.

Those who make a plan for their lives have an advantage over those who just float merrily along. This, in fact, is what I did, and I had a wonderful ride – but if someone had asked me “What do you want to do with your life? You’re only going to get one.” I might have focused more, and perhaps made a difference . But no one ever did. Too late for regrets!

One must make a living, and it is not easy these days. But don’t insist on being a millionaire. Focus on making enough money to bring up your children, educate them, save and invest anything extra for your old age.

If you have children, spend time with them, doing “stuff” like going on beach picnics, going to the zoo , reading poetry and stories at bed time, making cookies, at Christmas, singing with them, using art materials( Kids clean up well.) These are things they will remember in later life.

I think I’ll stop here. If I get preachy, no young person is going to listen.

Lessons Learned: John's List for Living

 We welcome contributions of life lessons to the Legacy Project site. This wonderful list of lessons learned was sent to us by John, age 76.

There are no definitive answers to any of life’s questions, but quality joy-in-life can be had in the pursuit of those answers.

Loyalty to one’s own personal beliefs and respect for others’ is the path to a serene life.

Family, country (maybe God if you are religious) need to be honored if one is to survive in an intolerant, unjust world.

Little things do matter and must be tended to so they don’t pile up to become complex things and more difficult to cope with.

Health and marriage must be treated in the same way…daily maintenance with occasional spoons full of sugar to make bad times go down.

You should listen more than speak, which is hard for us to do, so that takes practice.

You should find work that you will be content with because 40 years is a long time doing the same thing.

Heed the advice of your elders. They may not have all the answers, but they have had much more experience than you.

Experience can be a cruel teacher; learn from it.

Being cautiously pessimistic about life will make the sporadic good things that actually do happen seem even better.

You should not fret very long; all things pass. One way or another they will no longer be experienced.

Whether or not you believe in heaven and hell (religion) should not prevent you from being a nice person.

Injustice exists. Get used to it.

Growing Up Is the Work of a Lifetime

Maurice, 77, has a different take on the expression “live life to the fullest.”

The advice I would give to my grandchildren is to treasure every day of  their existence and to do their best at every task they face. 

I do not believe in “living life to the fullest” in the sense in which that expression is often used.  Most important when you look back on your life are the unselfish things you have done, the love and support you have  given to others, and the sense that you have made the most of your talents and  opportunities.

I have learned that growing up is the work of a lifetime and that  we should strive to continue growing until the end of our days.

Lighten Up! A Nice Lesson for the Holidays

Isn’t it ironic to see all the media stories at this time of year about “holiday stress?” How did what should be a relaxing and restorative time become yet another stressful event? As I think about the life lessons of the Legacy Project elders, one message seems to me helpful in staying relaxed over the holidays: Lighten up.

The elders often pointed out that a key to savoring each of life’s wonderful moments is developing and maintaining a sense of humor. Here are two takes on that theme from Alison and Margaret.

Alison, 79, has traveled the world after her retirement for a career as a teacher. She gave this advice:

You should see the fun in the world instead of dwelling on the unhappy things. Take each day and live it, love it, it might be your very last day here. Don’t be aggravated, don’t aggravate anybody else, and just keep a smile on your face. You’ll be happier and everyone around you will be, too. Try to remain upbeat, no matter what, and never lose your sense of humor, even if your jokes are awful. Keep cracking your jokes to whoever you see. Find something fun and pleasant and happy to say to them. You’ll lead a much better life that way. Look at the glass as half full – be positive – look at a problem as to how it can be made to work out, not that it cannot.

Margaret, 71, whose responses sparkled with good humor, wrote:

It’s like I’ve taken the attitude of what difference does it make? So I eat my chocolate, I have my martini at night, I don’t take as good care of myself since I’ve gotten older. But I feel pretty darn good to be as old as I am!

Many elders have learned to take a lighter attitude toward life – perhaps this is a good New Year’s resolution for all of  us!

A Key Piece of Elder’s Marriage Advice: Choose Carefully

I’m fascinated by the issue of regret. On the one hand, it’s challenging to deal with regret, and for some people regrets can drag them down in later life. But regret also serves a highly useful function: It helps us avoid mistakes in the future. One very common strategy for “regret prevention” among the elders had to do with finding a life partner. Over and over, elders told me that the most important thing about this critical life decision is: choose carefully, or you will regret it.

Virginia, 73, wanted to make sure her message about not rushing into marriage was strongly conveyed to younger people. Born into rural poverty, she lost her father at age 6. Her mother remarried, had two more children, and Virginia became a caretaker.

I had big responsibilities for a child my age. I took care of the kids, and I can remember when, I think I was in sixth grade, and my mother was not completely well. I mean, she had dizzy spells, and she would keep me home from school a day or two a week to take care of the little ones. I’d get up in the morning and she’d ask me to stay home from school that day. In some ways, I have been a caretaker all my life. It seems like I’m always taking care of someone.

Virginia describes rushing into marriage as one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make, and we should take her words seriously. She’s done it twice.

The first time, I got married to get away from home. I married young, I was only eighteen. I had started college in the mid-1950s, but lack of money and circumstances just didn’t allow me to continue, and I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I wanted to join the service. And my stepfather said no, and this was in the fifties, you understand, so I listened and I didn’t, but I knew I could no longer live at home. So there was this fellow I’d been going with, and we up and got married the week I turned eighteen. I’d had enough, and my stepfather was difficult to get along with. And they wanted my bed actually, and I didn’t know where to go, what to do, so I got married.

Well, two children and eleven years later, we divorced. It wasn’t a wise decision to marry him but it was an out for me at that time. So please, tell younger people: Don’t marry so young, get an education any way you possibly can. It’s easier in today’s world then it was back then. But when it comes to marriage, don’t rush into things. Give it time before you jump in.

After the divorce, Virginia remarried. Unfortunately, she admitted: “And that was a mistake too. I haven’t had the best luck.” Again, the problem was making the decision too quickly.

I rushed into something I later regretted, it was in the middle 1960s, and my first husband was an alcoholic and he had become very abusive. I decided to return to school, and I was taking courses. I wanted to go to school, get my teaching degree, and then I could leave my first husband and support my children and myself. But it just got so bad I had to leave, and I met this fellow, and there again I rushed into things. It was a way out and my kids liked him.

Well, at first it was good, but after that it was pretty bad. He had girlfriends, he ran around on me, he, oh, he didn’t work, he didn’t provide. So I knew that I had made the same mistake again. By marrying too soon, not knowing the person, he wasn’t what I thought he was. I was really taken in.

I haven’t had an easy time of it, frankly. But maybe I can help others understand. Here’s my advice to the people looking to get married. When you get to be like me in your seventies you realize that life is too short. One of my biggest regrets is wasted opportunities and the need to see that if you’re not happy in a situation you need to change it. I could have made a major difference in my life if I had chosen my husbands carefully, really gotten to know them before committing to the relationships. Know the person in and out before you get married. You think nowadays that you can get out of it easily, but that’s not always the case.

(Do you have marriage advice? Please share it on our new site!

Back from Italy! Which Reminds Me of Maria

I’ve just come back from two weeks in Italy (yes, it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it). While there, I noticed something that one doesn’t often see in the United States.

 In all the little villages, there is the custom of the passeggiata. In the early evening, after the heat of the day, whole families take a gentle stroll, usually winding up in the central piazza of the town. What you see are entire families: small children on bicycles or kicking soccer balls, parents, and grandparents. As you watch the nonni (most often the nonna, or grandmother) keeping a watchful eye on the grandchildren, there’s a feeling of real integration into family life.

Spending time in Italy made me think of one of our Legacy Project elders, Maria. Like many Italians of her generation, Maria immigrated to this country, experiencing a mix of opportunity, hardship, and resilience. Maria has been married for 57 years. It would be hard to find a happier 83-year old, despite what many would consider a hard life.

Maria shared her lessons for living:

I didn’t have opportunity to go to college but we did have a school, and we had to go miles away from home even for that. And sure, it’s very important to get a good education. But now young people expect too much and too soon. We didn’t have what we have today; we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have TV. So today they’re lucky, they can learn a lot. But I feel that they don’t enjoy life, they look for something they cannot find. So they go with the bottle, they go with drugs and all that.

My life has been hard at times. I went through so much that I can’t even explain. The decision to come to this country was the best one at that time, because we had to go someplace, but we lost everything, it was very hard to leave your own country. I left my hometown at sixteen with my father and my brother. What I learned there was how to grow up fast and take care of my brother who was little, be a mother for him. I worked hard, I will suggest to everybody that if they want something, work hard and they’re going to get it.

I wasn’t spoiled, I was happy with nothing, and that made me work hard to get a little bit more. Take life the way it comes, easy. Try not to think about tomorrow too much, you know? Enjoy today because you don’t know when it’s tomorrow, if you’re going to be here tomorrow.

I enjoy every minute! I love my husband; every time he goes out, I never let him go without a kiss because you always wonder if something can happen. Never fall asleep without saying goodnight to the husband, never. And don’t be mad, that’s what I learned in my life, don’t be mad at other people. Enjoy things now, and stop worrying.