A Message for Seniors: When I Grow Up

Mar 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Senior Moments Blog

When I grow up, my first and principle concern is to be a person of honor, integrity and grace.  From all the descriptions I could list, these three are surely my top of the list ideals. There are many more.  Try making your list to see what you come up with.  I’ll bet that you can’t bring them down to three.  I only do so because that was my goal in undertaking this column. 

But, just think of all the ideals that you would like to squeeze into your own life before it is over. I would like to be respected, kind, generous, understanding, incisive, considerate, thoughtful.  And when that list is exhausted  and I’ve accomplished all of that, I would like to go on to address things like: optimistic, courageous, principled, curious, and contented.

Maybe I could even get to the place, that having felt good about where I am, I could just keep coming up with a longer and longer list and the energy and commitment to work toward achieving and continuing at those I had already addressed. Maybe life would just nudge me in the direction of finding more and more ways to sharpen the better part of my own nature.  That’s what I think of when I think of growing up.

To be sure, there will be those pulls that will continue to distract us and draw us away from the nobler goals.  Certainly, there will be those times when our evolving self will come up against other battles and difficulties in trying to stay on track.  There is a book, I recommend.  It was published in 1993.  Its title is “The Evolving Self.”  Its author, get ready for this, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Don’t ask to pronounce it, but find it, read it and start your own journey toward growing up.  It will enable your nobler  impulses, it will help overcome your immaturity, it will open wide your eyes and heart and spirit and soul.  It won’t answer all questions, but it will help in the struggle with them. 

Among the author’s insights is one I leave with you: “different sets of goals are typical at different points in the life cycle.  In other words, the priorities around which people order their psychic energy change with time. Children generally start with valuing their immediate physical needs, like safety, food, and comfort, and their selves are organized to take care of them.  There are people who never progress beyond this phase, however, and continue to invest all their life energy in attending solely to the body and its needs.  While these needs remain essential, for most people a new set of values will slowly emerge, and even take precedence, based on the need to be accepted, loved, and respected by others.  At this stage a person will begin to follow the rules of his community even if they are not to his immediate advantage, and try to be a reliable, responsible citizen.  But if these are the only values one recognizes, the danger is that life will be reduced to thoughtless conformity.  With time, such social values will in turn generate …new antithetical goals:  the drive to be independent and autonomous.  People who reach this stage are fully individualized, unique, interesting.  At the final level the person who has differentiated herself returns to invest attention in broader goals, and derives satisfaction from helping a cause greater than the self—not because of coercion or conformity, but because of reasoned conviction.”

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