I HAVE A STACK OF WELL-HONED opinions ranging from child rearing to climate change, rock music to how things should be cooked on a barbecue, that I think are just wonderful. From where I sit – at the centre of my universe – they all make perfect sense and, if you tell me your ideas, I’ll gladly point out why you are wrong. But, disappointingly, I’m realising this approach (which works so well for Kim Jong-un) doesn’t seem to work for me. Why aren’t people more grateful when I point out how wrong they are?
My generation, the Boomers, are sliding off the perch. Those of us that haven’t grumped off into retirement are finding our corner offices and named carpark spots usurped by bright young things who can’t even do sums in pounds, shillings and pence!
Is there still a place for those who recall chasing moa with our spears and stone axes?
I see myself surfing on the wave of time. I’m trying to keep my feet, racing along the face of the roller. The wave is full of progress and relationships and growth: riding it is fantastic. I remember when my wave was glassy smooth, but now it’s breaking up into white water and foam. My eyes are stinging with the spray of change and the flying spume of fashion. I hunch low and skim under the curling lip, doing my best to get away from the chop and breaking chaos roaring just behind me. Ahead of me, is the beach of inevitable mortality.
My dream is to stay up and ride my board all the way to the shore, step onto the sand and yell, “What a ride!” Follow my damp analogy a little more: if getting to the beach is the end of life, then what is a wipe-out? It’s being swamped by time, overtaken by change, buried in a mountain of events, trends and technology. You’re far from dead, but it’s knocked the wind out of you, left you disoriented, feeling powerless, old and struggling to even catch your breath. You find yourself on the back of the wave, watching it carry on without you.
I could catch my breath and catch another wave, but I see too many of my generation fall off, get wiped out or just bail … and then they quit. It’s more comfortable to just sit on your board out the back of the waves, disengage, talk about how good waves used to be in the old days and occasionally post cranky stuff on Facebook.
Do this little test: inhale. Suck some breath into your lungs. If you can do that, you’re still alive. (If you can’t, please lie down. Staying upright is confusing people). If you’re alive, you can change, you can still be useful, and, just because it’s so much more fun, you can still do a bit more time-surfing.
Here are some tips, some wax for your board, to help you keep your grip as you re-engage with the modern world.
Stay curious. Keep learning. Never believe that most deadening self-deception: that we know it all. Treat people as experts on their own culture, jobs and lives, listening for a long time before we dare to offer them our wisdom. Ask lots of questions. Good questions refuel us and, in a wonderful and kind way, get people thinking far more about what they are doing than our lectures ever will.
Relish change. It’ll be happening anyway, so why not be a cheer-leader encouraging the changemakers, and helping them do it well. Some of this new stuff could be really, really good.
Live your wisdom. Decades of good stuff is composting down in your heart. If you’ve discovered some of the secrets of living well, then live well. An older person with a smile is going to be a far more potent influence and role model than a grump with a PowerPoint.
Don’t cling to positions, power and privilege. They are such hard work, and we could be getting in the way of someone who could do it all better than us anyway. The really fun surfing happens as you start to care a lot less about income and care more about creating legacies in lives and communities.
So, catch the next wave. I wish you a ‘perfect 10’ ride all the way to the beach!
AFTER DECADES STUDYING FAMILY LIFE, JOHN NOW FOCUSSES ON THE ‘PRIME-TIME’ ISSUES OF LATER MIDDLE AGE. CHECK HIM OUT ON JOHNCOWAN.CO.NZ – ESPECIALLY IF YOU NEED SOME WRITING, EVENT SPEAKING, VIDEOS MADE, OR SOMEONE TO HAVE A COFFEE WITH.