The Wisdom Years – Old Age

Old Age – The Wisdom Years
If you can make it long in life, you accumulate a wealth of experience that has the potential to become wisdom. Wisdom does not mean intelligence or skill as much as it means an openness to all of one’s life experience. There is certainly no one way to wisdom – only one’s way – your way. A life well lived is a life that is unique, unbounded by convention. As one accepts more aspects of oneself as true, one can gain an increasingly penetrating sense of peace. Our society has little understanding about this wisdom and tends to focus instead on the physical decline of these years. But I think it is safe to say that the experience of 80 years has greater potential for wisdom than the experience of 60 years which has greater potential than 40, etc. The beauty in a person that has reached old age is to be sure a different beauty than the physical beauty of youth. But look into the face of an older person who has reached life’s final stage with integrity – you can see the accumulation of years in the skin’s crevasses and in the eyes you can see every age this person has ever been. The persona of old age can be one of tremendous beauty. Can you see it? Can you see it in yourself? This is one area of focus for counseling at this stage when death is no longer something remote.

Midlife Transition

Mid Life – Reclaiming the Losses
It is pretty much certain that after the defining stage of youth with its emphasis on building identity that there will need to be a correction. Youth is often a very social stage of development when one judges oneself against what one sees to be the norms of society. Youth is often focused externally as one needs to figure out how to navigate through the world. Inevitably there comes a time when the regular ways of doing things no longer work, or perhaps the way one has come to think about themselves is no longer accurate or complete enough. One begins to think that something is wrong with them because their way of doing things is supposed to work and yet problems remain. For a while, perhaps a decade or two, one continues to look around for answers in various places, ultimately either finding something that works (at least for a while) or despairing that there is no hope for them, perhaps even feeling that they have failed at life. Depression or anxiety may set in.

What is needed at this point in life is usually to do the opposite of what we’ve been doing. However, the resistance to this can be overwhelming. Navigating this transition is difficult. There are some good books about this, but for some reading is not enough. It is important to look inwardly at this time, to work on reclaiming what was lost in youth. The active processes in youth and young adulthood are geared to defining what one is and what one is not. Some of the parts of ourselves that have been denied or repressed in this way begin to come to the surface and become increasingly harder to ignore, like youthful desires that were never met – or even acknowledged. If we do not increase our awareness of what is happening we can find ourselves lost in an affair, or losing interest in things, or becoming depressed about the state of our career, or the unsatisfying nature of much of what we do. It is important during this time to learn about ourselves, about what is happening inside of us and to reconnect with what has been lost. By doing this we can feel hope again and live more fully and completely as ourselves.


Adolescence and Young Adulthood

Youth/Early Adulthood – Building Identity

When one accomplishes something, it feels good. It is good to know how to do something, and the more challenging our tasks become, the more satisfied we feel in accomplishing them. It is important in early life to learn how to do things, how to interact with others, how to build rewarding relationships, how to think in more complex ways, how to earn a living, how to live life well and the importance of tending one’s needs and eventually the needs of others and society as well. But there are times when we seem to hit a wall, perhaps we lack the tools to work our life well or the skills to use them effectively. Counseling work during this stage will typically focus on building the skills and confidence necessary to navigate effectively through society and the world.