Lessons from my parent’s generation

I am 46 years old and from time to time I reflect on what I would do differently if I had my time again. I was thinking about my twenties and a couple of things jumped out at me as potential “improvements” I could have made. Then I realised something quite profound; I have no ability to redo my twenties, but I wonder what I’ll be saying about my forties when I’m in my sixties.

I decided it was time for a little social project and set about to interview one hundred people aged sixty and over to ask them four questions…

  1. What is your happiest memory?
  2. What is one of your biggest regrets?
  3. If you had children, what would you do differently if you were to raise them again?
  4. What do you know in your sixties, that you didn’t know in your forties?

After dozens of interviews, I was quite surprised at some of the patterns that had emerged, and it’s made me think quite seriously about where I put my time and attention now. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt and been reminded of…

Happiness comes from people, not things

When asked about happiest memories, I wasn’t surprised to hear things like “the day my children were born” or “the day I got married”. I was however surprised that the answers always involved people. Not a single person referred to a work achievement, acquiring money or buying fancy luxury items. It reminded me that great relationships can bring so much more joy than possessions can.

How we treat people matters

The statement is perhaps obvious, but I didn’t expect it in these questions. Time and time again people told me their biggest regret was not spending more time with, or doing a better job caring for, their elderly parents. These comments were accompanied by a sadness and a genuine feeling that their actions had not matched up to their love for their parents. I was thankful to hear this lesson while my parents are still alive.

Make the most of the season you’re in

We understand that seasons pass but when you’re experiencing something daily, you can overlook it’s beauty. When discussing raising children, the overwhelming theme was “work less, play more”. People suggested they put too much focus on work and trying to provide things and wish they had spent more time with their children. My three children are aged 12-16 and I’ve realised I have a limited number of years with them to create memories before they leave home and forge their own paths. It’s made me think carefully about the things they’ll recall from their childhood when they’re older.

Worry less and take chances

After dozens of these conversations it seemed clear to me that people in their sixties, seventies and eighties have come to a place where they care a lot less about what people think of them. They often feel like it’s worth giving things a go and failure is just part of the journey. They said phrases like “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about things that didn’t happen”. I recognise that in my forties I have a greater fear of failure than I did in my twenties. I feel challenged to push past this and to continue to step out and live life to the full rather than settle for safety. That, of course, is much easier said than done.

By the end of this experiment, I came to realise it’s far more profitable to think about the changes I can make today, than the changes I wish I made yesterday. I hope you feel inspired to take stock like I have and make some decisions that will lead you to a happier and more fulfilled future.

Consultant Trainer
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