How I wish that when I was a young adult someone had told me to take a long view of life. I wish I knew then what I know now — that I would change profoundly and yet stay the same, that I would overcome challenges that would fundamentally alter the course of my life and that life would grace me with the opportunity to reinvent myself many times over.
I wish someone had told me not to fear aging. That aging brings with it not just aches, wrinkles and discrimination. That it also brings freedom — freedom from the anguish of worrying about what others think of me, from imposter syndrome and from the expectation that my life plays out exactly according to plan. Freedom to live in the moment, to revel in the accomplishments of others and embrace interdependence.
It can be difficult to imagine ourselves at age 90, but the odds are that many of us will live this long, perhaps even to age 100 or beyond. The set of demographic changes that leads to this longer life expectancy also means that our social institutions will need to undergo major changes. Our health care, pension and family systems cannot maintain the status quo in the face of our nation’s changing demographics.
So, too, will the course of our individual lives need to change. The age-segregated structure of our lives — transitioning through life in three distinct stages from education, to work, to retirement — may no longer be sustainable or even desirable. Longer lives bring with them the opportunity to reimagine their structure. It can be liberating to think of our lives as having many opportunities to reinvent ourselves and change course. To invest our energies in our relationships, our communities and ourselves in fulfilling and creative new ways.
As young adults, we often feel pressure to “figure out what we want to do with our lives,” as though somehow in our late teens or early 20s it is possible to anticipate our interests, motivations and circumstances for decades into the future. Adopting a long view of life relieves us of some of that pressure. Yes, the decisions we make today are important, but there is time to make new decisions, to change course and to retool. When we are 100 and look back on our lives, we will likely marvel at all that we did not know, all that we could not have possibly predicted when we were starting out in adulthood. A long view of life encourages us to embrace possibility and keep an open mind to the future.
One great way to broaden our views of life — to take the long view — is to learn about aging. The Ithaca College gerontology department offers students the opportunity to do just that through a range of interdisciplinary social science courses examining many different aspects of the aging experience. Another great way to learn to take the long view of life is to spend time with elders. Longview is a senior housing community up the road from our campus with which the college has had a formal partnership for 20 years. This internationally recognized intergenerational partnership offers students the unique opportunity to glimpse into their futures. Students learn from those who have come before them through curricular and extracurricular programs, field placements, volunteerism and work-study opportunities. In learning about aging, we are guaranteed at the very least to gain knowledge that will be of direct benefit to us and our loved ones in very real ways.
However, we are very likely to gain a transformative new long view of life and gain treasured new friends in the process. To learn more about how you can gain a long view of life, contact the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute or visit us in Job Hall.