Monday, September 04, 2006

Will you be useful when you are old?

"An obstacle is something you see when you take your eye off the goal."
- Anonymous

I scoured the internet for the source of this quotation, without luck. It obviously came from an inspirational speaker, likely one associated with business.

Business is filled with problems. Without problems, there would be no such thing as business. The key is for your customers to have problems you can solve, while solving your own with a minimum of fuss. In business, you always have to keep your eye on your objective or goal (usually a part of your mission statement) or you will soon be without a business.

However, keeping your eye on your objective applies as much to life as it does to business. Most of what we do in an average day does nothing to help move us toward our objective in life. Most of what we do in a day is "living" which is an essential part of reaching an objective, just as wearing equipment to the park is necessary on game day for a football player, but it doesn't win a game.

A few things we do, decisions we make, people we choose to help or to associate with, stuff we learn, activities we participate in, times we allow someone else to help us, move us closer to our objective. We can never be certain whether what we do will move us in that direction or not, so we have to keep trying all sorts of things.

It usually takes many years to reach a life goal, especially if it's truly a life goal and not just a lesser objective such as getting a different job or getting married. In my case, I made my decision about my life goal in my mid teens and didn't reach it until I passed my 60th birthday. The old saying that nothing worthwhile in life comes easy applies in this case.

In generations past, young people made decisions about what occupation they wanted to enter for their working lives. Most died before retirement age, so occupation was a good long term choice.

Now most people will live into their 80s, many into their 90s and a growing number will cross the century mark. That means decades of life after the traditional age of retirement. Will that be a time when useless old farts gather together in nursing homes every day to sing songs, do exercises in their wheelchairs and make crafts? Or will it be a time when people who have built their store of wisdom and skills over decades will be able to teach younger generations so that life really can get better on earth as time progresses?

Signs tell us that older people are trying to use the skills and knowledge they have gained to help younger ones, through mentoring programs, Young JayCees programs and so on.

That means that people must make long term life choices about what they want their lives to be like when they are past age 60 while they are still relatively young. In turn, that means that we must teach young people what they need to know to be able to make such critical life decisions.

Right now, most of what kids learn in school will prepare them for their first job in the working world. They learn the knowledge and skills needed for a job, but too few know what they need to build a life. Very few seem to know what they will do with their lives in their senior years.

If they make the wrong choices, we will have horrendous health care bills and infrastructure problems as we need to care for huge numbers of old people. Age alone does not determine "old." Many people of great age live active and useful lives.

As you age, do you want to grow old or grow wise? That question could be asked of every young person. That may be enough to get them thinking about their lives well beyond their problems of the day.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to prepare every young person to plan to live a whole and healthy life.
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