It is not uncommon for individuals to avoid thinking about growing old because it conjures up feelings of dread and anxiety as well as images of inactivity, sadness, and decline. The truth is, however, that life can remain rich, satisfying, and meaningful throughout one’s lifespan. Each life stage offers challenges, but incredible rewards as well.
Therefore, it is important to help your financial planning clients view “old age” as one of many transitions in a continuum of life experiences. Those who navigate well through other life transitions will likely have the same experience as they move through the various phases of growing older. The skills, values, interests, and attitudes they accumulate along their life journeys will continue to serve them well in later life.
Erik Erikson was a 20thcentury psychologist who greatly contributed to our understanding of how humans develop—both socially and psychologically—and how they age. He was the first to recognize the potential for growth and development throughout one’s lifespan, even into very old age.
Erickson taught us that the developmental task of elders is to look back and evaluate their lives. He believed that those who are able to look back and accept the course of events and choices made, and to view their lives as being necessary and important, will experience a sense of peace and satisfaction. Erikson wrote that the successful outcome of this later life developmental milestone is wisdom—the ultimate gift to one’s self and to others.
Likewise, many experts on aging promote the concept of Elderhood—a role in later life that brings a deep sense of meaning and purpose. But, what does it really mean to be an Elder? Barry Balkan, co-founder of the Live Oak Institute, describes an Elder in a way that defines—in a clear and concise way—the characteristics, rewards, and responsibilities of Elderhood:
An Elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential, and whose life continues to have within it, promise for and connection to the future. An Elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact. Moreover, an Elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.
One of the most important benefits you can provide your clients is to guide them in identifying and visualizing the various components they want to include in their lives as they grow older. A tool designed for this purpose is the Journey into Elderhood booklet. This publication will guide your clients through a series of exercises that will help them to plan for and take charge of their aging process. Completing this booklet will not only prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead, but also help them recognize opportunities to increase their life satisfaction and sense of purpose as they grow older.
- Carol Anderson