I have three amazing mentees. Late 20’s, assertive but kind, intelligent and amazing professionals. One is the leader of a nonprofit organization. The second is an extraordinay singer and entertainment writer who interviewed me when I first moved to Austin. The last is a social worker who spends countless hours recruiting minorities to mentor at-risk chidren who have become part of the court system and need advocates.
I spend time with each of them individually several times a year listening to updates on their professions, SMART goals, travels, and wonderful or wobbly social lives. I try to listen more than I talk, forming my advice into suggestions they are free to take or leave, knowing they are offered with love and mutual respect. They feel like my daughters but I don’t treat them like children. They honor my weathered wisdom by asking probing questions and regaling me with funny stories from their lives of details. Good time I never regret.
We encourage each other to avoid overcommitment, never neglect close family and friends, eat well balanced meals and get some sleep. That’s not what they recall when they tell me the best part of our walk and talks or chat and chews. The best part, they say, is when I keep it real and unvarnished. When I tell them there are parts of growing old that are far less exciting than AARP discounts at the multi-plex cinema. Their parents talk to them about who they are now. I prepare them for the changes to come, not just higher tax brackets, but, also the endless surprises of reluctantly aging.
Here are a few jewels of advice they say they wish they’d known sooner:
- Hair begins to grow on your face and chin as you age. Random, rogue hairs that come in the night and hide until you appear in bright daylight with sandals on and no make up. Don’t yank them out because three more will grow in their place. Get ’em zapped by a professional.
- Gray hair is not as particular as roses about where it grows.
- Spend more on supportive underwear than stilettos for the club.
- Your actions are decisions. Decide to be happy and strategically implement the personal plan to make it happen. No one else can do that.
- 90% of parents have gray hair. I know it doesn’t look like it but trust…the roots beneath those auburn sprial curls and natty dread locks are ashen from a constant state of shock.
- Seniors enjoy conversation. If you do not talk, they will speak for you, as well. Be prepared to speak with your elders by watching the local and world news. You only need one good line to impress them, then be quiet.
- Silence is a tool. You become more proficient in its use by listening. Be quiet and watch others in the room sometimes. You will learn more about them from their body language than their words. Then, when you do speak, it is more intuitive and more powerful.
Finally, life is hard. It never gets easy. Don’t wait for that day. It will not come with a great house family, or fame. Life is a job.