RETHINKING RETIREMENT – A GUIDE FOR MAKING CHOICES
Chapter 3: Sharing and Nurturing Your Wisdom
“We have, if we’re lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. . . . trust me. . . . it’s wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective.”
– Arianna Huffington
By now, you have accumulated a variety of skills, knowledge, and life experiences and have probably caught yourself saying “I’ve seen this before” on many occasions. You may find that your memory is not as sharp as it used to be – who hasn’t gotten up from their chair and then wondered where they intended going? These little memory lapses pale in comparison to the amount of wisdom that fills that brain of yours.
In this chapter, we talk about some of the neuroscience research on the ageing brain and how it can impact your contribution choices. We introduce you to the concept of the Modern Elder, a term coined by Chip Conley, and look at ways you can continue to grow and share your wisdom now and well into retirement.
THAT BRAIN OF YOURS
Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist, psychologist, and professor at McGill University and UC Berkeley, dispels many myths around the inevitability of cognitive decline in his book, Successful Aging.
His research points out that in general, older people have acquired more information and experience by virtue of having lived longer, which leads to a stronger capacity to detect patterns or see similarities in circumstances and situations. This translates into a solid ability to predict new outcomes, defuse situations, and use good judgment both at work and in your personal life. We call this wisdom.
Levitin also points to a willingness to be curious, try new things, and connect with younger people as ways to reduce cognitive decline and stay young longer.
Let’s delve into how wisdom actually shows up in the lives of ageing adults.
BECOMING THE “MODERN ELDER”
In his book, Wisdom @ Work, author Chip Conley presents the concept of the Modern Elder. He invites older workers to think of themselves as bottles of wine that take on value with age rather than cartons of milk waiting to spoil on a shelf in the refrigerator. The metaphor of an aged bottle of wine can show up not only in your work life, but also in your personal life. Sharing your wisdom with those close to you can bring you enormous joy and satisfaction in this stage of life.
We recognize that ageism is alive and well in society, particularly in the workforce, and it can be tempting to allow others’ views to become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. Chip Conley’s list of Modern Elder qualities might give you just the boost you need to disprove the outdated attitudes surrounding age and discover new ways to share your wisdom at work and throughout your retirement life:
- Good Judgment: You’ve seen a lot over the years and this wisdom now helps you calmly navigate situations with more of a long-term view. In addition to applying this well-honed judgment to work situations, you can leverage it when supporting family, friends, and loved ones with key life decisions.
- Unvarnished Insight: Through experience, you have most likely fine-tuned the art of cutting to the chase by filtering out the superfluous and getting to the heart of the issue at hand. And because you probably have learned to leave your ego at the door at this stage, others seek you out for your opinions.
- Emotional Intelligence: Chip Conley quotes an old saying: “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” Modern Elderstend to be more self-aware and in tune with their own emotions, as well as those of others. This translates into a penchant for being a patient listener – a prerequisite for connecting with younger people so they are willing to accept your wisdom and counsel, and so that you can also learn from them. Whether you are sharing your wisdom in the workplace or with your personal connections, fine-tuning this quality can serve you well during your retirement transition and throughout your retirement life.
- Holistic Thinking: Even though your memory and thinking speed may have declined, your ability to quickly detect patterns that help you see the big picture is an asset. Sharing your thinking process with younger colleagues and people in your entourage helps them develop their strategic thinking.
- Stewardship: This is about leaving a legacy, wanting to put all of your experiences and knowledge to good use for younger age groups – be it the next generation of leaders, your own children or grandchildren, or other important people in your life.
If you want to further explore becoming a Modern Elder, check out Chip’s Modern Elder Academy: “a place where mid-life caterpillars turn into Modern Elder butterflies.”
We can’t help putting our former Human Resources hats on when talking about this subject. Employers have a lot to gain by tapping into the wisdom of their pre-retirees as a means of addressing certain labour shortages, boosting engagement and performance, and of course, developing talent. Many employers have already figured this out by implementing programs such as phased retirement, rehiring retirees for project work or short-term skill shortages, mentoring, and knowledge sharing. Even if your employer does not offer these programs, you can still open a discussion and proactively pursue opportunities.
Let’s look at how you might make the sharing of your wisdom an important part of your transition into retirement while you are still working and once you have retired.
SHARING YOUR WISDOM – BEFORE YOU RETIRE
You may have been approached to start documenting and sharing your knowledge as you start your transition into retirement. Many organizations have woken up to the potential loss of information and knowledge their pre-retirees have accumulated over the years: organizational history, product and service information, processes and procedures, and client and supplier relationships. This type of knowledge transfer could be an important part of your retirement transition, so best to check in to identify the knowledge your employer wants you to document and transfer before you retire.
We would like to help you broaden your reach and consider how you can create a special niche for yourself that benefits both your transition and the growth of younger talent in your organization. In other words, how can you become the Modern Elder of your workplace and share your wisdom before you retire?
Here are a few ideas based on ways others have shared their wisdom:
- Step out of your current role and become a mentor for your replacement. Using Chip Conley’s list of Modern Elderqualities, carve out a plan for where and how you can add the most value.
- Get involved in a start-up division or innovative project, positioning yourself as the go-to person for insight and big-picture thinking. Sell yourself as the one to balance out raw, inexperienced talent and ideas with experience and wisdom.
- Become a “mentern” (mentor + intern) – both a learner and a mentor. In his book, Chip Conley talks about joining the fledgling Airbnb organization after over two decades as CEO in the hotel business. He describes being clueless about the emerging technology Airbnb was launching and how the steep learning curve made him feel like an intern. At the same time, he was able to use his knowledge about the hospitality industry along with his well-honed wisdom for managing a business to mentor the management team. Becoming a “mentern” became a win-win for everyone!
- Ask to join your training and development department and learn to effectively share your wisdom and knowledge through learning programs. Become the subject matter expert within a team of learning specialists!
- Return to an early-career passion. You might have fun “playing” in a more junior, less-demanding role for your last years of working. A different work context might energize you at a time when you are starting to live the “been there done that” syndrome one too many times. And chances are strong that the younger talent on your new team will gravitate to you for your wisdom!
SHARING YOUR WISDOM – AFTER YOU RETIRE
Sharing your wisdom is not limited to your pre-retirement transition. In Chapter One, we invited you to broaden your perspective about work by finding ways you want to contribute.
As you consider your Contribution Map ideas, think about the wisdom you want to share with the people in your contribution environment. Consider how you can apply Chip Conley’s Modern Elder qualities in each of your Big C and small c contributions.
If your Contribution Map includes pursuing paid work in the same field as your pre-retirement career, or trying something completely different, taking stock of the wisdom you have accumulated over the years and positioning how it will benefit potential employers might be the winning argument that gets you the job! Keep in mind that the same list of ideas for sharing your wisdom before retirement can be of potential use to new employers.
Chip Conley states that “we age in public, but our true gifts are often private, deeply concealed in our heart and soul.” What better legacy to leave your loved ones and others than the wisdom you have accumulated over a lifetime? We often suggest that our clients choose some intentional activities to help increase their happiness in retirement. What if you became intentional about the wisdom you want to share with your children, grandchildren, friends, and others? What if you created experiences that provide the opportunity to share this wisdom of the heart and soul?
One retiree’s original Contribution Map included a gift of his time doing home renovations for his adult children. He shifted his focus from one of simply doing the renovations to sharing his know-how and life experiences. He learned that listening and speaking from the heart was easier when he was doing something with them, and this became his way of sharing his wisdom and leaving a legacy.
NURTURING YOUR WISDOM
Referring back to Daniel Levitin’s research, trying and learning new things is an important strategy for slowing cognitive decline. With more time to pursue personal interests, retirees have the enviable opportunity to seek out new learning experiences. Chip Conley’s Modern Elders are both “the wisdom keepers of the past” and “the wisdom seekers of the future.” It doesn’t take a lot of ingenuity to become a wisdom seeker. A bit of humility and lots of curiosity to try something new may be all you need to put you on a new path for learning.
Whether you are preparing to reposition yourself for an encore career by updating your skills or are looking to satisfy a life-long curiosity for new knowledge and experiences, there are plenty of learning opportunities available to retirees.
Many retirees pursue the studies they had to put aside when life happened. Some are auditing courses out of pure interest and having fun being around and exchanging with younger people. Others are enrolled in special interest subjects related to the creative arts. Some are stretching themselves to do something for the first time – like us writing this book!
Life-long learning nourishes your brain, provides you with enriching experiences, and allows you to learn from younger people while sharing your wisdom. With the number of baby boomers in or nearing retirement, there is an abundance of learning opportunities in most communities, educational institutions, and online. Go find them, and as Mahatma Gandhi said, “learn as if you were to live forever!”
There are many ways to share and nourish your wisdom, including giving back to others. In the next chapter we will talk about the benefits and challenges of volunteering and caregiving in retirement.
To help you reflect on the wisdom you have developed over the years and how you want to share it, consult Exercise 6: Sharing Your Wisdom.
CHAPTER THREE KEY MESSAGES
- The number of years you have lived has expanded your ability to see patterns in situations, use your judgment, and predict outcomes.
- By shifting your self-image from being elderly to becoming an elder, you are boosting your self-confidence about the wisdom you have to offer.
- You can counteract ageism by embracing Chip Conley’s qualities of the Modern Elder – good judgment, unvarnished insight, emotional intelligence, holistic thinking, and stewardship.
- There are plenty of opportunities to share your wisdom as part of your transition into retirement and once you have retired.
- By engaging in life-long learning activities, you slow down cognitive decline and nourish your wisdom.