Archives for Work and Career

Different New Year’s Resolutions – from the Wisest (and Oldest) Americans

Are you tired of New Year’s resolutions lists by now? I am pretty much satiated with blogs and media telling me how to lose weight, start exercising, get rich, etc., in 2014. And I recall reading that only a tiny fraction of New Year’s resolutions are ever acted upon. Is there a better source of wisdom for the new year? I think there is.

I reviewed the data we gathered from more than 1,200 elders in the Legacy Project, who shared their lessons for living for future generations. Based on the surveys and interviews, here are  resolutions in five areas of life that are worth a try. These suggestions from the oldest Americans may serve you better than the typical ones we make (and break) each year.

Work. “Ask yourself: Are you glad to get up in the morning?” When it comes to your job, the elders propose a diagnostic test: How do you feel when you get up on a workday morning? You may be ambivalent about your job and have your ups and downs. But when it comes down to it, how do you feel when you are having that first cup of coffee?

Are you at least in a tolerable mood, looking forward to something about work? If instead you feel dread and foot-dragging, the elders say it may be time for a change. As Albert, 80, put it: “It’s a long day if you don’t like what you’re doing. You better get another job because there’s no harsher penalty than to wake up and go to work at a job you don’t like.”

Marriage. “Let your partner have his or her say.” From marriages lasting 40, 50, 60 or more years, the elders find that deliberately showing your partner that you are listening is a major way to defuse conflict. Natalie, 89, told me: “I learned that when you’re communicating, to really listen to what the other person is saying. When I got married, instead of listening to my husband, I would be thinking what to say in reply, to contradict or to reinforce what I was trying to say. That is not the best thing when you communicate. You’ve really got to listen and let them have their say. When I was in my twenties, I had all the answers. Now that I’m in my eighties, I’m not so sure my answers are always right.”

April, 70, offered a specific technique: “If we were in some sort of struggle over something we would stop and say: ‘Which one of us is this more important to?’ And when we could figure that out, the other one found it so much easier to let go.”

Child-rearing. “Abandon perfection.” The elders we surveyed raised over 3,000 children, and from that experience they had a clear lesson: Resist the temptation to seek perfection, both in your kids and in your parenting. We logically recognize the futility of creating perfect children, but emotionally we often hold ourselves up to a perfect standard. The elders, in contrast, are the first to tell you: No one has perfect children. They admit that each of their kids experienced difficulty, a period of unhappiness, a wrong turn. They suggest we lighten up regarding our children and assume that failure is inevitable at times. Gertrude, 76, said: “We were going to have perfect children, and we were going to be perfect parents. It doesn’t work that way.”

Aging. “Accept it.” Unless you’ve been living in a bomb shelter over the past decade, you’ve seen the barrage of advertising for “anti-aging medicine.” There’s a whole subculture of practitioners promising to defeat the aging process. To this the elders say: Forget about it! Instead, they encourage you to accept the aging process and to adapt activities to your changing physical abilities and circumstances. The very active Clayton, 81, noted: “You kind of grow into it. You realize that if you can’t be running this fast, well, you just go slower, but you keep on running. Do what you’re able to do and accept that there might be some limitations.” And don’t waste a penny on “anti-aging” products.

Regrets. “Go easy on yourself.” I recently was asked to do a post for CNN on the topic of how to avoid having regrets later in life. The elders do in fact have some good suggestions on that topic. But there’s another point they make: The goal of living a regret-free life is unrealistic. Their recommendation: Go easy on yourself regarding the mistakes and bad choices you have made. Alice, 85, pointed out: “What I have learned from the mistakes that I’ve made is that you can’t change what’s happened in the past. You have to accept yourself, warts and all. Once a decision is made, you don’t get anywhere by looking back and second-guessing it. As somebody taught me years ago: “if you’ve bought a pair of shoes, don’t look at the shoes in the next store window!”

And a last resolution: don’t forget to seek advice from elders you know. They have practical tips for living a more fulfilling life. Happy New Year!

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.

Jack’s Lesson for Living: Guest Blog from Summer Intern!

Thanks to our summer intern, Laura Museau, for learning Jack’s lesson for a happy old age, and sharing it in this guest blog!

It is said that experience teaches wisdom. During my time with the Risk and Resiliency Internship Project, I had the good fortune to have been taught wisdom by listening to the experiences of older adults. The Legacy Project interviews that I conducted this summer contain valuable information that will be useful as I journey into adulthood. One of the key themes discussed by those I interviewed highlighted using passion as a guiding force in life. Passion can make the difference between living a life filled with regrets and one of contentment. For even if accomplishments fall short, the heart’s desires have been satisfied.

The thoughts that Jack Bronsen, a writer from southern California, shared with me expressed this best. He was clear that having something that he is passionate about has been the critical factor in having a good quality of life in older age:

At the end of your life or in the latest years is when you look back and you assess what was important. I was passionate about my work. I still am. I did a specialized type of drawing, still doing it, for almost 60 years: making India ink drawings of inventions for patent attorneys around the country. I loved to play golf. I still do even though I’m in my 80th year. I don’t do it very well but I still do it twice a week and I do walk a full course.

I love to write. I’ve written 3 novels and quite a bit more as a restaurant reviewer and newspaper columnist. I’m also passionate about acrostic puzzles which I love to do. I do the New York Times one every other week on Sunday.

My father loved his work. He worked until he was 82. Then he retired and he watched television all day. He went straight down hill. And the same basically happened to my mother who lived to that same fine age of 91 but did not seem to have any real passions. And they both kind of faded away mentally and that would be my concern: that if I let go of my passion, I let go of my mind, of my life.

He emphatically stated that each person should “have something you are passionate about. All through your life. Not a person, but something that you do yourself that you love to do.

A Young Person's Dilemma: Readers, Can You Advise Him?

At the Legacy Project, we sometimes receive questions from readers seeking wisdom about decisions they are making. Often, they are trying to apply the advice from the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans to their own lives. But of course, that book can’t deal with every specific situation, and sometimes we take their questions to you, our readers – and you have always come through!

Do you have any advice for this student who is making a difficult career choice? Please let him know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Dear Legacy Project:

First off all, thank you for your book “30 Lessons for Living.”  It has helped me out as a 22 year old! If you do not mind, I have a question regarding that topic and would greatly appreciate a response!

I am curious as to one of the lessons in the book: choosing a career for intrinsic rather than financial rewards. I totally agree. However, I am in a dilemma. I am thinking of pursuing a field which many people around me (family, some friends) consider to be “not worth it” due to job outsourcing of industrial jobs, instability of job market (for example, lay-offs in the industry I would be working in), and rather low pay. Simply googling the field I’m considering will bring up many discouraging, negative posts talking about how it is not worth it and is a bad decision for both academia and industry!

 My reasons for pursuing that field are simply that I love it very much. The passion is there. Do you believe that the experts would still persuade me to follow such a path given the risks? Or would they say that one can develop new passions?

A career advice you do not mind giving me would be very greatly appreciated!

Okay readers: You thoughts?

Learning to Live in the Moment: Why Not Do It Now?

John, 70, lived much of his life looking toward the future, striving in his distinguished career. His lesson is to learn to live more in the moment. He learned this in his sixties, but suggests younger people learn it sooner.

I don’t say people shouldn’t think about the future. But when you really give yourself up to the present, when you’re in the room and you look around you, and there are other people in the room and you’re able to really zero in on those other people, and being able to really sense what they’re feeling and tap in to their own presence, then it’s not aimless at all. You feel very connected, very grounded, and it’s energizing. So you receive energy by making those connections in the present moment.

And it’s not just with people. The same thing is true with a walk in the woods. If you can really open yourself up to hearing the sounds and smelling the smells, and feeling the touches, the wind, and all those things, then you increasingly feel like an integral part of that system, so that you too have feelings, and they begin to connect with what’s going on around you. You may feel small, but it’s not a very frightening smallness. Instead it’s a feeling of being a part of a larger something. There’s a connectedness that is very, very reassuring. So that’s what I mean by being present and being connected to now.

I think you inevitably look at the future, but to the extent that you can still appreciate what is going on today and at the moment, then exactly what that future is going to be continues to be an open question, and that openness I think has great value. You’re allowing in some sense your intuition to play a role, and not being afraid that somehow that intuition is going to compete with and overwhelm your reason. That the two can work together, and support one another, influence one another.

It’s not easy, particularly for those of us who spend a lot of time in academic institutions or other jobs where the rational part of you is applauded. Living in the present and enjoying life isn’t something that you complete, or accomplish; it’s something that you strive toward, something that you work on, something that you engage with. It’s a process, at least in my experience.

Putting Money in Perspective

Many of the elders grew up in the Great Depression, and they knew what it was like to live on almost nothing. But there was something else they learned: you could be very happy with almost nothing if you had a loving family, a supportive neighborhood, and you weren’t competing with a lot of other people who had more than you did.

Maybe this is why so many of the life lessons of the elders had to do with not over-valuing material things. They don’t want us all to be starving artists, but they want you not to be ruled by possessions or an overwhelming urge to make money.

Ed, 76, a retired engineer, told me:

You don’t want your things to own you. The best example that I can give you is my mother and father. Their house was their idol. All the stuff in it was pristine and laid out and my mother saved every book she ever read, every lesson plan, everything she’d ever done, and the house was chock full of all kinds of stuff. Some really good stuff, but, after my father died we took a few things and all the rest went into the dumpster. All that worry, all that thought. And it’s hard to shake. You look at all the stuff and think ‘all this crap owns me, I’m a prisoner of it.’ There’s a lesson in this that I hoped I’ve learned while I’m still alive. I’m not owned by expensive things because they’re expensive.

Micah, 77, stressed not choosing work just for the paycheck:

That was always the way people that measured a success when we were young. Some people went to college but most people went to work. They got a job and went to work, and everything revolved around ‘what are you earning? what are you making?’ and stuff like that. So  the more money you made the more successful you were. And that became of more importance than ‘what should I do with my life? what do you want to develop? what do you want to learn?’ But by learning and experiencing that part of your life, you’re going to be doing something you like doing, you want to do, and money follows. Money follows.

That’s the way it works. And if money doesn’t follow, you’re doing something you like anyway. When I was a kid, down the street we had a shoemaker. He was a father with his kids and they all did the shoes, leather soles and stuff, and they were a pretty cool family. They loved working there. They were making shoes and fixing shoes. So there’s ways to be happy without having to be this big shot corporate guy.

Overcoming Obstacles for Success – Advice from Grace

Here’s our first guest blog from summer intern Ariana Wolk, who interviewed Grace, age 79, about her lessons for living. Grace learned to never give up on a dream while creating a pre-school for young children. Thanks, Ariana!       

Grace raised her children in Brooklyn, where she still resides with her husband. Throughout childrearing, Grace embedded the importance of education in her children’s minds, and encouraged them to use family trips as inspiration for school reports and assignments. Grace’s strong belief in education led her to found a school in her neighborhood.

To this day, Grace is the principal of the school and actively works with the children to ensure they receive the highest education possible. Grace’s early struggle – but ultimate success – in getting the school up and running is a testament to the willpower she exemplifies.

 Grace ran into a few obstacles along the way. Despite the setbacks, her desire to provide a place of enrichment for children helped her overcome the struggles. Grace told me:

Do not let anybody tell you you can’t do it. If you feel you can do something and you’re positive about it, whatever the business is, if you believe in yourself and you think you can do it, you will do it. 

And Grace didn’t let anyone tell her she “couldn’t do it!” When the building she wanted for her school was too expensive, she figured out a long-term payment plan with the landlord. When the city objected to the use of the building, Grace went to directly to the mayor and got his permission. When Grace found out she needed more education to run the school, she went back for her masters degree. Her belief in herself and desire to start this school led her to take action and build the establishment that still exists today.

 Grace’s determination deemed benefits for the entire city of Brooklyn. Grace explained:

 It took me five years to get out of debt. But I didn’t care. I got my school. It was licensed and it was the best thing I ever did…If you were going to buy a house today and you wanted to make a school out of it, you would call downtown and use the precedence of my school! I set a precedent in the whole city. Now anyone who wants to turn a house into a nursery school just needs to follow what I did and the city can’t deny them.

 Grace also emphasized the need to choose a career for its intrinsic rewards: “You have to love what you do. You cannot be in any business if you don’t have a feeling of fulfillment and it’s only for money.” She told me that the feeling she receives when her three-year old students begin to read is defined as fulfillment. She does not work for the money—instead, she does it because she loves it. And Grace  truly practices what she preaches. Just as much as she loves instilling information in young children, she also enjoys enriching herself, and learning new things. After her first initial bachelor’s degree, grace went on to receive a Ph.D.

 If that is not genuine love for education and her profession, then I don’t know what is!

First Job? Learn from the Bad Stuff!

Many new grads are starting their first real jobs this month, perhaps after a bit of well-deserved time off. The Legacy Project elders told us that you may be stuck initially in work that is less than idea (many had not-s0-great jobs during the Depression).

They have an important piece of advice for that situation: Treat a bad job as a learning experience.

Sam Winston, 81, trained as an engineer but also worked in marketing and as a general manager. He attributes his considerable career success specifically to his ability to learn from jobs he didn’t like. The key, he says, is to see them as learning experiences and to take advantage of any opportunity to gather knowledge about an industry or occupation.

One important thing for young people is to be observant. No matter what the task is, whether you like it or not, it’s very important to learn everything you can about what’s happening around you. You never know when that may be of great value later.

I’ve had many different experiences throughout my life where I really didn’t like what I had to do and I would feel what I was doing was inconsequential. But the lessons I learned doing those things played an important part in my life.

For example, I had to work my way through college, in many jobs you may consider meaningless. Later on they were very valuable for me as an employer, to help me understand my people. I would tell younger people that no matter what the experience is — learn. See what’s happening.

“You Can Do Anything for an Hour” – Contest Winner

We asked young people to submit lessons they have learned from an elder in their lives, and we picked three winners. Here’s the first - a great example of what we can learn from elders if we pay attention. Danny Ellison penned this winning entry.

I learned from an older gentleman once that you can do ANYTHING for an hour.

I (a 30 year old man) was casually playing fiddle with a group of older folks at a bluegrass festival when the director of the festival came to our group and told us that there had been a health issue with one of the professional bands due to perform later that afternoon. He asked us if we would like to play in their place.

We excitedly accepted. We practiced as long as we could, and although we played well together, we were no match for the other professional groups playing that weekend. As we approached the stage for our part of the show (following one of the best bluegrass bands I have ever heard, I might add), I told my older friend that I felt like I was too nervous to play. That’s when he said, “Son, you can do ANYTHING for an hour.”

 I have since applied this wisdom to ANYTHING I dread doing and it has gone a long way in helping me put things into perspective.

Just Start! Lesson from Winning Contest Entry

We’re excited to post the first of our six Legacy Project contest winning entries! We’re beginning with the elders who shared their own wisdom. Then we’ll post the three young people who offered what they have learned from their elders.

Our first runner up entry comes from Art Pereira. He highlights the importance of “just starting.” And he’s right – we could accomplish so many things if we would just take the first step.

If you have an idea, any idea, begin working on it. Just start. Start anything, start anywhere, though starting at the beginning is a good idea. Too many times we don’t start or begin because we already have this notion that it is not going to work or it will fail. And so, we don’t start because we don’t want to waste our time on it and fail.

 Don’t worry about failure. If you start on it, anything, you can figure out whether you are making the right moves as you go along. It does not need to be perfect or pretty. You will make changes as you go along. But if you don’t start on it, you will never know how to make it work and it will most certainly have failed before it got off the ground. So be brave, be the one that made the decision, be the one that opened the door for everyone to walk through, be the one to start.

Just Start.