“Why did it happen, Deanna?” I recently asked my friend and colleague. I’m 92 and she’s 53 (or at least that’s what I said, and she didn’t correct me.) We’ve known each other and have been working together for only five years. During that time we have come to have deep respect for each other’s strengths and accept each other’s limitations. We each work alone; in that we don’t work for the same company. We are independent, although I have hired her firm to work with me. There is no stress in our working relationship and that’s key. Stress can encumber the freedom to create and grow.
And that had me thinking about two things. One, the nature of friendship, and two, how as aging adults we can structure our lives to continue to contribute and be creative across our lifespan. Some are taken aback when I say, “don’t die until you’re dead.” But I mean it. The time will come but it didn’t come today. So today I will write. I will create, and I will make new friends and continue to grow.
Finding Someone Who Believes in Your Dreams.
This feels like a question one might ask when looking for a life partner or spouse but is wonderful and life affirming when applied to all the people you surround yourself with: How do you connect with people who make you even better? Some of the qualities for that include not trying to outdo each other, being respectful and kind to one another. Trusting and being trustworthy. And not feeling like you always must prove yourself to one another.
We have many relationships in our lives. Some are out of obligation: Family, neighbors, people we interact with daily. But we also have an opportunity to “curate” a vibrant circle of friends out of the relationships we build.
Shared Ideas. Shared Interests.
For me, that comes from sharing ideas. With Deanna, we both believe in the work we do with the family and with the role of grandparents in the family. And that’s something that we both care about. We have a shared creative process, where 1 + 1 always equals 100. That’s achieved by giving time and space to each share ideas and trust that we can discuss them and come up with solutions together.
Listening, learning to disagree, or agreeing to disagree, taking time out to reflect, and then coming back, focusing to really hear what the other is saying…those are the seeds of mutual respect.
What Kind of Friend Are You?
Years ago when I was director of Camp Chi, a residential camp for youth in the Midwest, during the interview process for counselors I always asked, “Tell me about your closest friend.” That would show me how the person related to a group of friends and their strengths in a relationship. Certainly knowing how they would handle scapegoating and bullying in their circle of friends was a great indicator for how they would deal with a cabin full of campers as a counselor.
Some say it’s hard to make friends. More accurately there’s a risk of vulnerability in being the first to reach out. But to have friends you have to be a friend. There’s always someone who needs a friend. I wanted counselors to be the ones who would be a friend to someone in need.
How Do You Surround Yourself with Friends Across the Lifespan?
It starts with you, with a commitment and a passion to enrich your own life. Curiosity is so important. It’s easy as you age to assume you know everything. You’ve seen it all. And you can get away with that–with so much ageism, that’s what society expects from you—to no longer be creative or contribute. Are you willing to risk sharing what you think?
“What book are you reading now” is an easy way to know if people are readers and are open to new ideas (I’m reading Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Friedman). What new theories have you learned lately? Are you an activist about something? You can learn almost anything on YouTube and Podcasts. Just ask Google.
Age is not a factor; it’s about connecting around ideas and an openness to enriching someone else’s life and allowing them to enrich yours. You can choose to grow and learn starting right now. Let the adventure begin.
p.s. If you don’t know how to use the technology, call your grandchild. And even if you do, call them anyway.