Spanning ages 65-74, young old is the first of four gradations of being old and serves as a transition zone in which the psychological tasks of middle age give way to the final marching orders: control and legacy.
While preserving independence comes to dominate the landscape of young old, equally compelling legacy issues vie for attention. Pausing to map out a first look at life review, new arrivals are able to identify people and events that played a significant role in who they have become. This retrospective retelling of the life story helps to define legacy-to-date as well as enhancement options in the time that’s left.
An effective way to create a life review summary and decipher its legacy implications is through a mind mapping exercise called Life Review Snapshot:
1. Life Review Snapshot—On a blank sheet of paper, draw a circle in the center and inside the circle label it Life Review Snapshot. Next, draw lines from the center circle to satellite circles that will be labeled with the names of people and events that have helped define your life’s journey both positive and negative.
Start with the major players and events. Births, deaths, parents, siblings, divorces, friends, children, teachers, schools, upheavals, careers, mentors, adversaries, failed relationships and life changing events are all macro-touchstones for first look life review. Try not to arrange them in any particular order. Rather, let each entry trigger new ones and go with the non-linear flow (see this “Initial Layout” example LRS-IL).
After the first iteration is finished, put it aside for a few days. Then reconsider it with fresh eyes with the goal of expanding and annotating the original entries. If possible, repeat the process twice for deeper enhancement (see this “Expanded and Annotated” example LRS-EA).
2. Filtering Questions—Use filtering questions to gain insights and clarity about the legacy implications of the Life Review Snapshot.
Who were the guardians?
We are all blessed to have people in our lives who act as guardians for some aspect of our wellbeing. Parents and siblings are top candidates for this role, but the ranks of guardians include helping hands from all walks of life. A kind aunt who championed our unique abilities, a strict but fair teacher or coach who pressed us for higher goals, a friend who stood up for us when others turned their backs, and a stranger who helped us in difficult circumstances.
Guardians remind us that none of us succeed in life by our own means. Their kindness and loyalty mentor our lives and point to where we can initiate or reinforce similar roles for others.
How did you make a difference?
Interwoven with the people and events of our lives are the threads of how we have made a difference. This is the core of most legacies, the first entries of your influence to make life better for others. Once you have identified them, define the values that inspired your kindness. These values are emblematic of who you are and how your want to be remembered. Chances are your guardians also shared some of the same values.
What do you imagine when you picture the good that will outlive you?
This compelling legacy prompt is from Dan P. McAdam, a psychology professor at Northwestern University and the director of the Foley Center for the Study of Lives. It is both a projection and a wish because all legacies ultimately have a life of their own that we will not live to see. However, McAdam’s question is profoundly useful to young-old adults who still have a window of time to enhance their contributions.
Summarize your insights from the Life Review Snapshot:
Is this what you expected? What did it confirm? What surprised you? What humbled you? What inspired you? What’s next?
3. The Enhancement Factor
The Enhancement Factor is about the final chapter of the legacy story, the unique contribution potential of the last phase of life I call “longevity capital.” Using the insights from the Life Review Snapshot exercise, consider one or more of the following enhancement strategies:
All legacies contain ample amounts of regret that include lost moments, misguided choices, and harsh words that can never be taken back. While these painful moments are gone forever, their long tail of regret is still very much alive and amendable to emotional repair.
Repairing may necessitate awkward conversations or apologies that convey the source and depth of the regret. They may require acts of kindness in memory of what cannot be undone. It is important to remember that repairing is about intention, the change of heart that leads us to seek some form of remediation. We control the act but not the outcome.
All legacies reflect what we value. Lending a hand to someone in need, courage in the face of suffering and dedication to those we love are some of the inspirational milestones that emerge from life review. While being an important part of the story, they also serve as potential on-ramps for legacy expansion. This could be a broadening of an existing project or the pursuit of a new cause that inspires you to take action. The important thing is a desire to contribute and the time left to do it.
All legacies have more dreams waiting their turn, and young old offers the space to explore their potential. As we age, having never done something before proves irrelevant. Not knowing where to start is a minor problem. Not what you thought it would be even more reason to do it. There is something in the newness of pursuing a long denied dream that sparks idle banks of bored neurons and floods the brain with the fumes of creativity, purpose and self esteem. Welcome to the life’s encore.
David Solie was a presenter at the 6th International Conference for Ageing and Spirituality. He is an author, educator, speaker, and thought leader in the area of geriatric and intergenerational communication. His book How To Say It To Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders is a landmark text that has been read and reread by legions of baby boomers searching for a better approach to working with their parents and other older adults. For more information, please see his website.